Election Day is right around the corner. In this #TSPClassic Collection, we review several oldies-but-goodies about voting and elections. These include pieces on historical and contemporary patterns in voter turnout,  and the evolution of voter laws in the USA.. We also take stock of how political participation and democracy itself goes beyond just voting on Election Day.

Who Votes and Why?

A woman holds up a ballot. Image via flickr, CCO.

Who people vote for, and why they vote for them, is an important element of studying elections and political participation in social science, That doesn’t mean you can convince everybody on the other side of the political aisle to vote for your preferred candidate. This Sociological Images post considers the growing field of cognitive sociology to explain why voter choice and voter preferences are complex and hard to change.

A common question in American politics is whether people will vote: what motivates some people to vote regularly in national and local elections versus others who don’t really vote at all? This Soc Images post describes the answers people give when asked why they didn’t vote? This can range from personal attitudes such as opinions about the candidates on the ticket and or a general disinterest in politics. A lack of voter turnout can also be explained by barriers in the process including registering to vote, finding time to vote, and even dealing with bad weather on Election Day. Importantly, voter patterns differ by demographics. As described by this Soc Images post and this TSP Special, there are clear differences in voter registration and turnout among people of varying races, education, gender, and other differing backgrounds. This research question has been studied at length for decades, and considering such findings over time reveals important trends. This post from Sociological images discusses how voter turnout has both grown and dipped over the 20th and early 21st centuries. 

Gender is an important element in studying voter patterns, turnout, and political impacts during election season. Indeed, the stories of radicalism, feminism, and the women’s suffrage movement were important historical moments when key ideas about democracy and equality developed. These ideas shape how we think about voting, identity, and activism today, as described in this Soc Images post. This is particularly relevant in recent decades as more female politicians are represented in major races and as social conversations, norms, and understandings of gender evolve. This Council on Contemporary Families post breaks down the nuts and bolts of gender, voting, and the 2016 election, which point to interesting directions for for future research down the road; how will gender shape the 2020 election?

Voting in the 21st Century: A New Era of Oppression?

Protests against gerrymandering in front of the Supreme Court. Image via Flickr, CCO.

Voter suppression is on the rise in the USA, which is ironic given the prevalence of “Get Out the Vote!” messaging. Social scientists have investigated voter restriction laws, legislation, and policies implemented in the 2000’s and 2010’s  as a new chapter in America’s troubled history with voter suppression and voting right’s restriction. As described by this TSP Special, we’re over fifty years past the Voting Rights Act, yet voter suppression seems to be gaining momentum in recent years. History is indeed repeating itself as shown in this Soc Images post about voter suppression in the past and in the present.

Voter suppression can happen at the level of large locales or entire states. “Gerrymandering” is a process in which electoral maps are redrawn to favor one party over the others; the name is inspired by a salamander-shaped picture of a district which politicians had  redrawn so that voters from one region would cancel out others. Regardless of political affiliation or partisanship, we should all be concerned by the very real threat that Gerrymandering represents to our democracy, voting, and election outcomes, as explained by this TROT post and this Soc Images post.

One important dimension of voter suppression is felon disenfranchisement, wherein Americans convicted of a felony lose their right to vote. In recent decades, legislators have created new laws which expand the definition of felonious crimes; this has developed alongside other inequalities in policing, incarceration, and the criminal justice system. Thus, felon disenfranchisement represents an important product and driver of contemporary inequalities in the USA that unfold on racial and class lines, as described by several different #TSPClassics. TSP Editor Chris Uggen has been a major contributor to this area; his and colleagues’ research shows that millions of American votes have been lost to felon disenfranchisement, as discussed on The Sentencing Project.

Voter disenfranchisement has taken on a new face, as described in this post from Soc Images.  As Scholar Strategy Network explains, seemingly-innocent but problematic methods of voter suppression include the passage of voter ID laws and other individual requirements. These laws require voters to have financial resources and access to public institutions such as a local DMV. These requirements disproportionately affect racial minorities, the poor, the elderly, and other groups in the USA who already experience structural inequalities. Voter ID laws, as explained here by Soc Images, represent another chapter in voter suppression which thusly works to prevent people from accessing their right to vote.

Scholars in sociology and beyond have raised concerns about the recent growth of voter suppression and its consequences. Learn about the many dimensions of social science research on voter suppression from this post by Scholars Strategy Network’s research compendium. Voter suppression is a fundamental attack on the rights of citizenship and the pursuit of specific laws and rules that  make it harder to vote is often a targeted  strategy to prevent certain populations from voting. This post from Scholars Strategy Network presents research on politicians’ and policymakers’ attempts to suppress the vote of racial minorities.


Voter suppression has not waned in the twenty-first century. Most scholars agree that the problem has only gotten worse in  recent years. An important consequence of ongoing voter restriction is the distortion of the electorate. This means that rather than representing the general American population, the electorate is whiter and more conservative, as described by this Soc Images post. As described in this TROT post, the racial, class, and other inequalities heightened by voter suppression mean that gaps in who can vote have tangible, direct impacts on elections, politics, and policy.

“Democracy:” Elections and Beyond

Image from the 2017 Women’s March in Washington, D.C. Image via Flickr, CCO.

Voting is a cornerstone of our democratic state and is the primary method by which the average citizen can impact politics. And yes, your vote matters!  This post from Sociological Images discusses how voting relates to public policy and how voter turnout predicts how public policies unfold. As described in this post from Cyborgology, elections and voting represent an important symbolic, social ritual for the fulfilment of democracy.This post from Feminist Reflections, aptly titled “When Women Roar,” considers gender in the 2016 election and politics as related to pop culture and equality in representation. 

Voting and election day can tell us a lot about our society; elections and voting are snapshots of social change and progress, as described by this TSP Special about the intersections of professional sports league, profits, and politics. We should remember, however, that being an involved citizen goes beyond Election Day. Social movements and activism are important parts of the democratic process and social change in a democracy, as described by this TSP Special. As we move forward, we should remember that voting is only one way to participate in democracy That being said, the right to vote–which some people take for  granted–has been increasingly restricted in recent years via several forms of voter suppression. We must continue  academic research and provide critical solutions to tackle this source of inequality and threat to our democracy.  We could also expand access to voting by modernizing   voter registration and voting as described in this post from SSN.  And, as many of us vote remotely during COVID, it’s important to reiterate that voter fraud is not a major issue in the USA, as described by this TSP Teaching post. Social science can help us move towards a future  with increased voting access and voter participation.

2020 is a census year in the United States, meaning that this year represents the major moment of a constitutionally-mandated survey about the American population.

Since it was first introduced in the 18th century, the U.S. Census has always provided important data for guiding public policy and served as a crucial source of evidence for social science research. Considering we only get this chance once a decade, here at The Society Pages we took a quick census of our own content to bring you our favorites #TSPClassics about the Census. This collection covers a variety of topics, ranging from the nuts and bolts of conducting the Census itself, to how the history of the Census reflects and impacts changing racial and ethnic boundaries in the United States, and the variety of ways social scientists have used census data in conducting research and building theory. Read on!

The Census and Social Science: Lessons for and from Conducting Research

Advances in social science methodology and research have contributed to developments in the Census. Though it is a rare and large research endeavor unlike any other, the Census is a great example of theoretical and methodological considerations that social scientists grapple with every day. Not only does the Census give us a chance to put sociological theory and methodology into action, but Census data has been important in social science literature and research across a variety of fields.

As one of the largest endeavors in data collection, the Census has many complicated issues to consider as part of the practical processes involved with research and the interpretation of data.
  • In this #TSPClassic episode of Office Hours, we hear from Robert M Groves, a sociologist who was then Director of the Census Bureau, about how the Census manages and works through such complications.
  • In this Clipping, Robin Autry speaks with The Atlantic about how researchers clean census data to deal with ambiguous, fluid concepts such as race and ethnicity.
  • Then, read this #TSPClassic from The Color Line about the preparation and planning behind the 2010 Census; how does such thinking relate to the 2020 Census?
Bar graph with different colored lines shows U.S. regional distribution based on 1850 census. The northeast and south have the highest lines and are about the same. The west line is barely visible and the midwest line is in between.
Click to enlarge. Graph shows U.S. regional distribution based on the 1850 census, SocImages
Census data and related research can tell us a lot about our lives, particularly when it comes to where we live and how we work.
  • Scholars have used such data to understand the history of urbanization and suburbanization in the United States; this Sociological Images post draws on census data to visualize the development of the modern American metropolis and contemporary communities.
  • Read this Sociological Images post about inequalities in Americans’ commutes to work and access to transportation.
  • Finally, see how Graphic Sociology uses on census data to discuss how unemployment and poverty relates to age, gender, and much more. 
Photo shows a collage of pictures featuring people in groups. At the top, it says American Community Survey.
Photo via CCF
The Census can tell us a lot about the big picture, but what can it tell you about yourself?
  • In this article from Contexts, Leah Sabo reflects on how thinking about the Census can teach us about the individual and make us think about our own lives. Read on to spark your sociological imagination about privilege, neighborhoods, diversity, and much more.
The Census, and subsidiary projects it manages such as the American Community Survey (ACS), provide incredibly important data for social science research. Though the ACS reaches fewer people than the one-a-decade Census, it gathers information about ancestry, neighborhoods, and communities in more detail and with more regularity.
  • In this #TSPClassic from Council on Contemporary Families, Philip Cohen challenges proposed budget cuts to the ACS and explains why it is important to fund this survey and social science in general.
  • Furthermore, such research processes are important around the world; read a Sociological Images piece about what other censuses around the world look like, based on resources from the American Anthropological Association.

The Census and Race: The Social Construction of Race and Diversity in the USA

Photo shows a copy of the 2010 census questionnaire. The form is blue with check boxes and grids for the answers.
Click to enlarge. Photo via SocImages

“Race” is a social construction. Social forces shape how physical characteristics and groups become seen in racialized ways, and this happens through a variety of cultural and material processes. The ways the Census approaches race, ethnicity, and identity have changed drastically over its centuries-long history; much of this reflects shifting norms about racial categories and racism itself in the United States. Census data thus shows us how race and racial landscapes change, and the complexities of race in the United States.

Racial identification on the Census has changed and evolved.
  • This Sociological Images post describes how the Census’ racial categories have changed over the years
  • This Sociological Images post describes shifts in Census practices regarding the measurement of race through appearance versus identity. 
  • Be sure to read this summary of research on how the fluidity of racial identification on the Census can itself be a fluid process.
  • These next two Clippings consider how the Census relates to the intersections of race, ethnicity, nationality, and citizenship: the first describes how the Census affects the historical development of “Hispanic” as an ethnic category, and the second points to complexities in measuring American-Indian identities in census data. 
Census research has been used to study racial inequality both past and present.
  • This post from Sociological Images uses census data to illustrate discuss historical quantification of slavery.
  • And this #TSPClassic via Council on Contemporary Families draws on census data to discuss how, despite the passage of fifty years since the Civil Rights Act, racial inequality and disadvantage persist in a variety of outcomes.
  • Finally, read this Sociological Images post to learn more about racial residential segregation in several American metropolises.
Image shows a color-coded map of the United States divided into counties. Each county's color is determined by the percent change in minority population by county from 2000 to 2010. The coasts look darker blue meaning there is more change.
Click to enlarge. Photo via SocImages
The twenty-first century has witnessed the rise of unprecedented racial and ethnic diversity in the United States.
  • This post from Council on Contemporary Families uses census data to capture how America’s children are growing up in a new era of everyday diversity
  • And this #TSPClassic from Sociological Images shows racial and ethnic diversity within American families.
  • This Sociological Images post considers potential contrasts between the demographics of the mid-20th and the mid-21st century.
  • Along these lines, read this post from Color Lines about the rise of interracial marriage and families, particularly for Asian-Americans. 
Image shows an aerial  view of a suburban community.
Photo by Art01852, Flickr CC
The rise of difference and diversity has drawn discomfort, racial tensions, and backlash, and much of this comes from the ways that everyday people react to census data and population projects.
  • This Clipping describes such reactions
  • And this Clipping describes how census data can be used to stoke fears about immigration.
  • Finally, be sure to read this #TSPClassic, a special feature about the “whitelash” against diversity.
As American diversity continues to rise, push back and resentment will surely continue to be relevant to how people use and react to census data. What will we see once the 2020 numbers come out?
Finally, it is important to recognize that rising racial diversity does not necessarily mean that racial inequality will disappear; in fact, sociologists often find the opposite. One such area of research is related to segregation and concentrated disadvantage, wherein non-white communities often have less cultural, political, and economic power.
  • Be sure to read this Discoveries post about historical and contemporary racial segregation between the North and the South,
  • And read this Clippings piece about how segregation persists despite an increasingly racially diverse population. 
As we move into a future of greater difference, such ideas are important to keep in mind; what will the 2020 Census tell us about race, diversity, and inequality?

We hope you enjoy these #TSPClassics as much as we do, and we look forward to working with the 2020 Census data!

It’s Black History Month, and we at TSP have rounded up some of our favorite, timeless posts about the history, meaning, and importance of celebrating black history. These #TSPClassics include articles about Black History Month itself, as well as articles about research related to racial identity, racism, and anti-racism. Read about Black scholars’ early contributions to social sciences, recent innovations in scholarship about race, ongoing issues of racism and inequality, new strategies and actions in advocacy, and much more below; happy Black History Month!

From Our Main Page

Did you know W.E.B DuBois was a pioneering sociologist? Read more at “What Would W.E.B DuBois Do?
Photo of a mural honoring black history in Philadelphia. Photo by 7beachbum, Flickr CC.
Read about black women’s advanced sociology and social science at “Unearthing Black Women’s Early Contributions to Sociology.”
Read about why the idea of a “white history month” ignores the history of race and racism at “Why We Don’t Need a White History Month.”
“Black Panther,” one of the most successful movies in the Marvel universe, was a momentous film for black representation and imagery in Hollywood. Read more at “Black Panther as a Defining Moment for Black America.”
The word “racism” can mean a lot of different things in different contexts; read about different definitions, forms, and research traditions regarding “racism” in the USA at “Different Dimensions of Racism.” 
Even in the 21st century, Black Americans have to navigate racist stereotypes, imagery, and perceptions, and many learn such strategies at a young age. Read about related parenting strategies and challenges at “How Black Mothers Struggle to Navigate ‘Thug’ Imagery.”
Recent research about black identities, experiences, and community analyzes how themes studied by early sociologists of race relate to twenty-first century technology, such as social media platforms and digital communication. Read more about these and other new research directions at “A Thick Year For Tressie McMillan Cottom.” 
Tressie Mc Millan Cottom displays her essay collection Thick, which was nominated as a National Book Award Finalist. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.
Black athletes represent a new generation of leaders and anti-racist advocates; read more at “A New Era of Athlete Awareness and Advocacy.” 
Should educators promote colorblind rhetoric in the classroom? Read about problems with colorblind teaching practices at “Color-Blind Classrooms Socialize Students to Disregard History.”
Research shows that skin color intersects with race and racial identity in ways which perpetuate racial inequality. Read more at “Skin Color, Self-Identity, and Perceptions of Race.” 
Social norms, rules, and laws about mixed-race relationships have changed drastically across history, but many issues of inequality and identity remain for contemporary multiracial families. Read more at “Navigating Multiracial Identities.” 
Photo of a multiracial family by taylormackenzie, Flickr CC.

From Our Partners and Community Pages

Soc Images

Rural Appalachia is often discussed as a mainly-white region, but did you know about the richness of black history in the mountains? Read more at “Hidden Black History in Appalachia.”
Rural sharecroppers in Appalachia. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Sometimes, businesses, corporations, and groups try to celebrate Black History Month in ways which are tone-deaf, ignorant, and just plain racist. SocImages archives several cringeworthy incidents over the years at “From Our Archives: Black History Month.”

Contexts

The field of sociology studies racism, but we’re not above criticism; read about why social science must divest from whiteness and white-centric logic at “Yes, Sociology is Racist Too.”
Why don’t we make WEB DuBois’ birthday a holiday? Read more at “A New Black Holiday, or Why W.E.B. DuBois’s 150th birthday matters.”
Well into the 21st century, discrepancies in the justice system are still a major site of racial inequality; read about racial inequality and policing at “Black and Blue.”
Richard Nixon’s resignation letter from August 9, 1974. Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

The impeachment proceedings have sparked contentious public debates about what should and should not be considered a “scandal” today. From the earliest days of the discipline, sociologists have employed theory and research to study why some incidents and individuals who seem scandalous have major impacts and lasting legacies, while others seem to make no mark whatsoever. They also help us see how both scandals and the public outcry that they can occasion are socially constructed by norms and values, organizational processes, and inequalities that extend well beyond any one individual person or event. It’s so sociological, it’s almost scandalous!

To begin, the identification of something as a social problem or “a scandal” requires that an issue is well known in society and intersects with a meaningful moral set of concerns. The construction of a scandal also involves who or what has the power to apply and enforce social norms about right and wrong. For example, public sanctions and normalized stigma against prominent queer citizens and pro-gray groups reinforced widespread bigotry, marginalization, and violence.
Media obviously plays an important role in creating and framing a scandal. Its coverage is shaped by often invisible social factors such as media businesses’ goals, newsroom budgets, and journalistic practices. In addition, the activities of political groups, social movements, and civic organizations can drive public debate and attention to certain issues or problems. Such groups’ impact is not necessarily a product of their moral beliefs or strength of conviction, but factors such as their name-recognition, finances, and networks. Thus, institutional processes, civic organizations, and material factors shape how a scandal is socially constructed.
Sociological factors such as status, gender, and race intersect with organizational contexts, media factors, and broader public norms to shape the aftermath of scandals as well. In political or corporate contexts, the power and resources of an individual or organization often determine whether and how they are punished for transgressions (or exonerated) and what kinds of reforms must be undertaken. Furthermore, the aftermath of a state scandal can be greatly determined by whether the government has a system of checks and balances, as well as whether criticizing state actors comes with consequences of its own. Unweaving such complex webs can show why some shocking scandals leave affected parties unscathed, while others leave long-lasting scars.


Photo by Sasha Kimel, Flickr CC

We at The Society Pages have written about the study of “white supremacy” in social science. This term can be used to describe overarching patterns of privilege and power that favor whites or a term that bigotry, prejudice, and belief that whites are a superior race. It may be easy to think that this latter meaning has become less relevant in the contemporary, “post-racial” world, but this is not the case.

In recent years, beliefs about the superiority of whites have actually re-emerged within the political mobilization of populist attitudes, anti-immigrant sentiment, and Right-wing political beliefs in Western democracies. To capture these distinctive and troubling realities, scholars, reporters, and cultural commentators have increasingly begun to use the term “white nationalism.” White nationalism is not just a remnant of outdated, obsolete prejudice; rather, it is has been reconfigured and revitalized for the new global world.

Modern white nationalist rhetoric constructs the image of a historically white country and populace under attack amidst a world of 21st-century immigration, globalization, and shifting racial landscapes. By advancing nativist rhetoric and mobilizing such sentiments in the political arena, white nationalist organizations forwarded understandings of “white” that draw on the idea that the Western world is meant for white people. This has had important political consequences in the USA and Europe; politicians and parties who advance anti-immigration platforms have been bolstered by these dynamics.
Even though relatively few politicians and political parties have openly endorsed white nationalist statements, research shows that white nationalist rhetoric and nativist messages can impact political discourse even among moderate groups. In essence, the presence of white nationalist rhetoric can shape the contours of political discourse more generally. Research has studied such dynamics with an eye to common digital media of the 21st century; the discursive impacts of white nationalist rhetoric are particularly visible in studies of the Internet, social media, and other such platforms. In the 21st century, prominence in the digital sphere is important to how contemporary white nationalist groups make their presence felt. 
It is important to remember white nationalism and right-wing beliefs are not simply empty rhetoric without material consequence. Authors have described how white nationalist rhetoric and organization can affect electoral results — the “Brexit” vote being one of the most obvious current examples. In addition, upticks in white nationalism and nativist sentiment have been paralleled by increased hostility and violence against minority and immigrant populations, as well as the institutionalization of laws that restrict such groups’ rights by targeting their cultural and religious practices. For example, the push for “burqa bans” in several European countries reflects mobilization by nativist groups that has cast the burqa as a symbolic challenge to national identity. This and example and ones like it highlight the white nationalist belief that the nation should be defined by whiteness and designed for whites.


Photo Credit: Sun International, Flickr CC

As students get ready for spring break, many leave their textbooks and syllabi behind. They may be unaware that partying is packed with sociological ideas. In fact, sociologists have long observed how norms and customs shape the way people experience festivals and celebrations. Over a century ago, French sociologist Emile Durkheim argued that rituals, celebrations, and festivals are integral parts of society’s function and build solidarity among communities. Rituals can involve small, everyday conversations with other people as well as large festivals, concerts, and major sporting events. Spring break partying, traveling, and interactions are all modern examples of this social process.

Emile Durkheim. 1915. The Elementary Forms of Religious Life.  New York: Dover Publications, INC.

Erving Goffman. 1967. Interaction Rituals: Essays in Face to Face Behavior. Chicago: Aldine Transaction.

Recent work has emphasized one particular ritual in which college students take part: partying. This research details how contemporary norms and common practices regarding partying like hookups, hazing, and excessive alcohol use have become a large part of the college culture. Sociologists are also showing, however, that popular images of spring break and college life do not always match reality. In particular, partying can produce inequalities in access and safety, particularly for women, racial/ethnic minorities, and low-income students. In short, college partying remains an eminently social phenomenon, shaped by social forces, histories, and ideas.

Elizabeth A. Armstrong and Laura T.Hamilton. 2013. Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Lisa Wade. 2017. American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus. New York: W.W. Norton and Company.

Photo by Harold Navarro, Flickr CC

Immigration is a hot-button issue in American politics today. President Trump’s proposed border wall, rescinding of DACA, travel bans for multiple majority-Muslim countries, and increased detention and deportation have meant that the debate has focused almost exclusively on Hispanics and Muslims. This is the latest in a long history of misgivings towards immigrants that has obvious racial dimensions. It’s easy to forget that much anti-immigrant rhetoric is based on American attitudes about who is white, or who has the potential to become white. Social science research reminds us how certain groups who were once cast as racial outsiders eventually came to be seen as “white,” while others have been consistently denied white status and the full citizenship that comes with it.

The meaning of “white” has changed through the course of American history. From the 19th century into the early 20th century, “white” only incorporated Anglo-Saxon, Protestant Americans. American voters and policymakers were concerned that “non-white” immigrant groups such as the Irish, Poles, Jews, and Italians lacked the ability to assimilate into American society. Gradually, however, these immigrants became incorporated into the dominant racial category and were thus no longer considered outsiders.
This did not apply to all immigrant groups, however. Despite the historical flexibility of the category, whiteness never encompassed everybody. Courts, laws, and pseudoscience defined whiteness in ways that excluded some groups from full citizenship in America. Many immigrant communities—such as West Indians, Hispanics, and the Chinese—found themselves in racial categories that shaped their access to various socioeconomic opportunities, belonging, and citizenship.

There are those who contend that it does not benefit African Americans… to get them into the University of Texas where they do not do well, as opposed to having them go to a less­ advanced school… a slower-track school where they do well.

During oral arguments for Fisher v. University of Texas-Austin (in which the Supreme Court just upheld UT Austin’s use of race in their admissions policies), Justice Antonin Scalia’s comments caused quite an uproar. Did a member of the Supreme Court actually say that African Americans aren’t capable of success at competitive colleges? He was drawing from the so-called “mismatch hypothesis,” which suggests that affirmative action places people into positions they can’t handle—that is, that affirmative action could hurt African Americans by placing them in schools where they may not succeed or from which they may not graduate.

A significant amount of academic work debunks “mismatch theory,” deeming it both wrong and “paternalistic.”

Fischer and Massey use the National Longitudinal Survey of Freshman to analyze college outcomes and test the mismatch hypothesis; they find no evidence in its favor. Alon and Tienda use two different longitudinal datasets to run similar analyses, again finding no proof that ethnic minority students fare badly in advanced institutions. Replication results have been consistent over time; Kurlaender and Grodsky piece, for instance, find that students placed in programs considered “out of their league” performed just as well as those in less demanding programs.
In a twist, scholars find that affirmative action may place a different group of people in schools for which they are not equipped. In many schools, particularly prestigious ones, “legacy” students—whose family members graduated from the same school—benefit from affirmative action in admissions. Bowen and Bok show this has disproportionately affected white students, and Massey and Mooney show that legacy students earn lower grades than their peers and have lower graduation rates. If affirmative action is doing a disservice to some students, it is not in the way Justice Scalia suggested.

Photo by Helen Cassidy, Flickr. https://flic.kr/p/6mghmy
Photo by Helen Cassidy, Flickr. https://flic.kr/p/6mghmy

In case you missed it, new fossil evidence suggests that a creature known as the “Siberian Unicorn” may have lived alongside humans some 29,000 years ago. Perhaps that eccentric fellow you’ve seen in the aluminum-foil hat wasn’t so eccentric. In fact, research suggests an openness to phenomena like UFOs, unicorns, and elves is downright normal.

Consider how Scott Draper and Joseph O. Baker describe a wide variety of people across different religious subgroups who all believe in angels. Folklore-phenomena can provide people with emotional comfort and compelling stories.
Such narratives can be transposed across many belief systems and subcultures. Quite a few people believe chasing spirits is a spiritual experience, as discussed by Marc Eaton in his examination of ghost hunters and “paranormal investigators.” Other research looks at the popular pursuits of Bigfoot and alien crash sites.
Sociology has always shown how belief in the paranormal, the fantastical, or the spiritual is a social process (consider founding father Durkheim’s pivotal Elementary Forms of Religious Life). Influential scholars, such as Percy Cohen, who tackled the sociology of myth from a functionalist view, and Richard C. Crepeau, who describes how sport myths and “heroes” help sharpen a society’s moral and aesthetic values, show that the paranormal isn’t losing popularity.

Hazing at the University of Michigan in 1907. Photo via VasenkaPhotography, Flickr CC.
Hazing at the University of Michigan in 1907. Photo via VasenkaPhotography, Flickr CC.

Hazing has been in the news a lot recently. It exists across a variety of settings, including sports and the military.

Why does hazing occur? Some research discusses the function of hazing as rites of passage or as an expression of group solidarity. Hazing can bring members together, validate one another in the group’s eyes, symbolize transition into group membership, bolster group cohesion, and create group conformity within particular hierarchies.
Research on insider’s attitudes towards hazing highlights interesting dynamics within organizations. Individual members often have negative thoughts about hazing, but individuals are unlikely to protest the practice in-group settings. Power dynamics within those groups normalize hazing and silence opposition to it.
The research suggests that hazing takes on a particular character within Greek Letter Organizations (GLOs). In fraternities, for example, where membership and group identity are constructed around ideas of the “all-male” group, hazing can serve as a validation of masculinity and a suppression of femininity. In addition, in GLOs that have been historically raced, hazing can express racial identities, in-group unity, and belonging.