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The United States and the United Nations have had a closely intertwined relationship since the organization’s founding in 1945. The UN deals with a broad range of issues around the globe, and its widespread influence is often controversial. However, the influence of the United Nation continues to be instrumental in promoting crucial human rights causes, and the reach of its aid is arguably beyond compare. Despite its numerous shortcomings, the UN plays a crucial role in promoting human rights norms across the globe.

Throughout the 1990s in particular, the United Nations took on a central role in the global justice process. It organized and funded international courts following episodes of mass violence, such as the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, and it made indictments for egregious crimes possible for the first time (including the crime of genocide).  Sociologists find that the existence of these courts have a global impact in providing justice, and the trials seem to have a positive effect in reducing human rights violations in the long run.
The judicial process alone cannot adequately address global human rights issues — humanitarianism and diplomacy also play key roles. The United Nation arguably plays the most dominant global role in these initiatives, with monumental campaigns addressing topics like hunger, refugee needs, and climate change. The UN has been criticized for showcasing Western ideals and not taking into account cultural contexts, such as early endeavors to reduce female genital cutting. However, the UN has made improvements and when programs are approached as an opportunity for partnership and not dominance, the outcomes can be quite positive. For example, the agency has taken great strides in promoting gender equality and access to education.
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President Trump and his administration have insisted that there was massive voter fraud in the 2016 election, although evidence has not supported this allegation. Instead, the evidence points  to significant issues surrounding voter suppression in the United States.

One contributing factor is felon disenfranchisement — when people with a felony conviction permanently lose the right to vote. Since the late 1860’s, U.S. states with the largest non-white prison populations have been more likely to implement voting restrictions for felons. Today, formerly incarcerated persons constitute the largest portion of the disenfranchised population, which also includes people with disabilities and those without valid forms of identification. Importantly, restrictive voting laws have actually altered political outcomes. For example, it is estimated that Al Gore would have won the 2000 presidential election if formerly incarcerated persons in Florida had been allowed to vote.
After the 2010 midterm elections, there was a wave of laws that seemed to bolster voting requirements, such as new ID laws and proof of residence. And while strengthening voter requirements may seem benign at first, these rules restrict access to people who are less likely to have identification and proof of residence — people of color, the elderly, and the poor. In essence, such laws make it harder for only some people to vote. Research suggests that Republican leadership and legislatures are more likely to push for these laws, an irony when we consider that the President Trump is alleging that there were too many votes.
Caracas (Venezuela), April 19, 2013. Photo by Cancillería del Ecuador, Flickr CC

President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela is doing what many learn at a young age not to do — being a copycat.  Since Hugo Chavez seceded power, Venezuela’s current president lacks Chavez’s beloved “Chavismo.”  Maduro’s own brand of charisma and populist reform has not connected with the people as he expected, which has led him to use more extreme political measures in the hopes of garnering respect. This has led to unrest in Venezuela, highlighting the instability of charismatic-based politics.

As Max Weber famously described in his theories of social and economic organization, charismatic leaders are often able to create a unique bond with their citizens. But if that charisma fades, it can create instability. This is also evident when there is a transfer of power from a beloved charismatic leader to a new leader. 
Research finds that charismatic leaders are often good at mobilizing people to join social movements, but that the charismatic bond is often short-lived and unable to be transferred to other individuals. When charisma fails to motivate support, leaders often turn to more conventional measures to reach their political goals, which can lead to disenchantment and unrest among the citizenry.
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Uber has been having a bad time. From reports that venture capital has been propping up a flawed business model, to evidence of racial bias in pickups, rate cuts during a New York taxi strike leading to the #DeleteUber movement, and recent accounts of sexual harassment alongside conflicts with drivers, the romance of Silicon Valley innovation and “disruption” in the company is on the decline. But while this may seem like a fall from grace, research shows these problems are tragically normal. They often plague a wide range of companies because of their organizational structures, and tech start-ups are no exception.

Classic research shows that when a founder also acts as the CEO, it can cause trouble for a company. While they may have a knack for developing innovative products or services, founders don’t always have the management skills to run a large, successful business as a complex organization.
While teams of entrepreneurs can start a businesses together, they often choose who will ultimately run the company. This process is not neutral. Gender inequality in business leadership can emerge from these decisions because friends and family members in these teams often take gendered assumptions for granted.
Racial and gender discrimination in hiring and promotions plagues a wide range of organizations, especially because opportunities for promotion tend to favor homogeneous social networks. These problems also plague organizations and could indicate other organizational troubles, as firms that engage in hiring discrimination are more likely to go out of business.     
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Donald Trump recently falsely stated that the murder rate “is the highest it’s been in 47 years.” Scholars of crime have been energetic in countering this claim with evidence that the violent crime in the U.S. peaked in the early 1990s and has steadily declined since. Although recent data suggests murder has increased in certain cities, Trump’s characterization of the murder rate is way off. But the sentiment behind his statement in some ways reflects a fearful popular discourse about crime rates and “tough on crime” public policies. 

Even after accounting for other relevant factors, people in neighborhoods with higher crime rates are slightly more fearful about crime. While crime fears also vary along demographic lines and victimization experiences, scholars have emphasized the robust effects of social environment as drivers of crime fears. Collective efficacy — the perceived social cohesion of a neighborhood and the willingness of neighbors to intervene on others’ behalf — is a strong predictor of lower crime fears, whereas the perceived level of disorder (e.g. vandalism) is associated with greater fear.
Scholars have noted that popular discourse around crime has revolved around talk of “random violence,” which deemphasizes patterns of crime and victimization and focuses on the claim that everyone is equally at risk. This rhetoric maximizes public concern and favors policy strategies that include individual law enforcement tactics (“tough on crime”) as opposed to changes in structural conditions (e.g. neighborhood dynamics, class) that are correlated to crime and victimization.
Research on the relationship between fear of crime and the emergence of “get tough on crime” policies explores whether the origins of the punitive turn in crime control resulted from the general public’s fear of crime rates or political strategies that influence the public’s perceptions of crime. Some scholars have found that, in combination with increased media coverage, political initiatives surrounding crime (and not actual crime rates) fostered increasing public concern about crime and drugs during the 1960s and 80s.
Others have recently challenged this notion, arguing that punitive public sentiment is what motivated policymakers to develop tough on crime policies. Regardless of this “chicken and egg” dilemma, crime issues developed into a key political strategy. This “governing through crime” expands racial divisions rather than increasing security for American citizens. The concentration of mass incarceration in impoverished minority communities is evidence enough that crime as a political strategy has important repercussions for American notions of equality and liberty for all.
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A recent study in the medical community has shown a decrease in teen suicide, particularly among high schoolers who are sexual minorities, since same-sex marriage was legalized. This is evidence that change in social policy impacts health outcomes among those who experience discrimination. This is important because social science has documented the negative impacts of gender and racial discrimination on mental and physical health.

A person’s status as a racial or sexual minority impacts their exposure to stress through perceived discrimination — a key way that racial, gender, and class inequalities in physical and mental health occur. The centrality and/or visibility of racial or sexual differences in a person’s life affects if and how often discrimination is perceived — the higher the salience or visibility of one’s racial or sexual identity, the higher level of perceived discrimination and the higher level of stress that person experiences.
Those who are disadvantaged in multiple ways, like being both a racial minority and a sexual minority, find themselves at higher levels of exposure to discrimination and have higher rates of depression and worse self-rated health.
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Public housing has a long and troubled history in the United States. In recent years, the demolishing of public housing in cities like Chicago has been one of the most prominent images of decline. For sociologists, it is important to understand not just the problems with and eventual failures of post-war public housing, but also the social forces and sentiments behind their creation.

Consider why the federal government would even see a role for itself in the building of public housing structures in the first place. The origin of public housing legislation can be traced back to Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, a series of laws and executive orders focused on providing more basic necessities for the poorest in America.
However, public housing would eventually become associated with racial segregation. The design of public housing projects ultimately worked to concentrate poor non-white communities into relatively cut-off neighborhoods in the middle of cities. This segregation, combined with heavy degradation of the buildings and a lack of proper care from government officials, led to a heavily stigmatized view of public housing buildings.
Given the sheer intensity of racial segregation and concentrated poverty in public housing, many housing advocates and public officials have declared these programs a failure, leading to the demolition of old public housing facilities. But there have also been various proposals to renew public housing initiatives that look to learn from the mistakes of the past while keeping to the goal of housing the poor. One of the largest programs, the federal HOPE VI program, is an ongoing federal project to revitalize public housing areas with architecture focused on crime prevention. This focus on crime prevention is inspired by Oscar Newman’s ‘defensible space’ concept — the idea that if people feel more ownership over a space, they’ll be more watchful over how their neighbors use it, thus curbing crime.
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In the wake of the 2016 presidential election turmoil, some groups have turned to storytelling to demonstrate solidarity and to show support for what they see as important issues. In the not-so-secret Facebook group Pantsuit Nation, for instance, members share stories of themselves and others standing up against racism and sexism. Sociologists recognize the power of storytelling in many contexts, especially in building movements for social change by shifting opinions or establishing solidarity, but they also point to some important barriers that come with using stories to change social policy.

Narratives are commonly used to establish a common group identity. For example, public officials might tell stories about a certain group of “dangerous” immigrants, thus establishing solidarity between people in the categories of “citizens,” in opposition to immigrants constructed as “enemies.” Public narratives such as these often follow a recognizable formula with actors who engage in typical behaviors, and plot lines that lead to a predictable moral conclusion.
Without people to listen, stories do not go very far. Thus, in order to make progress toward social change, social movement groups must find a way to speak to a broad public audience. Many groups try to gain public attention through protest, in an attempt to attract media coverage. However, news coverage of protests tends to neutralize or undermine their movement’s main issues, and sometimes ignores them altogether. Likewise, much of the news coverage tends to emphasize individual responsibility, rather than systemic explanations for the group’s grievances (i.e. racism).
But what makes a story effective in the public domain? Against common belief, sociologists have found that the ambiguity of personal stories makes them particularly effective for public deliberation. Stories that can be interpreted in multiple ways allow others to offer new ideas or compromises without seeming divisive. Conversely, personal stories that work well in value-oriented discussions, like remembering victims of 9/11, are not as effective in policy-oriented settings where reason-based arguments typically prove more effective. This is important because often it is the people with the most privilege (i.e., white, male, native-English speakers) who create these types of narratives, while stories told by people in less powerful social positions often have little traction in the policy realm.

In short, stories are not just about the meaning people convey through or derive from them — they have a social organization of their own, and require certain conditions to be taken seriously.

NO MORE: Domestic Violence Awareness event in Hawaii. Photo by University of Hawaii, Flickr CC

Russian President Vladimir Putin recently signed a new law that decriminalizes domestic violence. Perpetrators of domestic violence against children and spouses will only face charges if injuries require a hospital visit, and the punishment will take the form of fines rather than jail time. While this is certainly troubling, policies and laws concerning domestic violence in the United States are far from perfect — they are often limited in how much they change the way perpetrators think of domestic violence, even if they sometimes keep abusers from repeating violent behavior.

Often, particularly in the context of welfare policy, a mismatch tends to exist between low-income abused women’s actual needs and the assumptions about those needs that inform policies on domestic violence. While policies and services can help victims to exit abusive relationships and offer protection and material support, they can also come with constraints that make leaving abusers difficult, such as requirements for teen parents to live with a parent, to complete a GED or job training programs, and fear of deportation for immigrants. “One-size fits all” policy approaches, such as those common in state welfare policies, make it hard for victims to make decisions about what works best for their individual situations because their individual experiences get trumped by blanket procedures.
When it comes to arresting and prosecuting perpetrators, abusers often think of their punishments as evidence of an unfair legal system rather than consequences for their own actions. And while abusers who are arrested and serve jail time are less likely to commit subsequent acts of domestic violence than those who are arrested but not charged with abuse, the affect of arrest on subsequent domestic violence is often contingent on whether or not someone has something to lose — research finds that being arrested deters people with jobs from subsequent domestic violence, but does not deter those without a “stake in conformity.”
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The popularity of the movie Hidden Figures has brought attention to the issues that women, and women of color in particular, face when they enter STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math). The film has also had what some are calling a “Hidden Figures effect” — it is providing positive female role models and inspiring young girls to pursue their interests in math and science. Actress Taraji P. Hensen stated, “The movie is important, and I don’t want another young girl thinking that math and science is not for her.” Social science shows that positive role models are indeed a significant predictor of interest and success in STEM for women, and that movie stars are not the only ones who can fill those roles.

The term “role model” dates back to sociologist Robert K. Merton, who coined the term to describe the ways that people model sets of behaviors they admire in others. More recent research finds that women rely on and benefit from same-gender role models more than men do. For example, a longitudinal study of high school students found that an increased presence of female faculty and staff had positive impacts on the educational attainment of female students, but there were no gendered effects for males. And while girls often report that they are inspired by female role models, boys are less likely to attribute their career aspirations to a role model of either gender.
More specifically, women who are exposed to successful females in STEM fields are more likely to do well in STEM classes, feel a greater sense of belonging among their STEM classmates and colleagues, and are more likely to have pro-science career aspirations. When women see other women in science, math, technology, and medical fields, they are less likely to associate these fields with masculinity and more likely to have confidence in their own skills.
However, movie stars and career idols are not the only ones who act as positive roles models. Peer groups are especially important for females in STEM. Girls who develop relationships with peers who are interested and successful in STEM classes are more likely to do well in those classes and are more likely to pursue STEM careers. And while males have been found to be less influenced by participation in educational communities like science camps or extracurriculars, the networks and social supports built in these environments help buffer females from the stereotypes and cultural norms surrounding women in STEM.