Photo of a Steelers fan watching the Superbowl from a couch. Photo by daveynin, Flickr CC

Each year we are reminded of research on how many calories the average American eats on Super Bowl Sunday (hint: it’s more than Thanksgiving). Other research finds that fans of NFL teams that lose eat more saturated fat the next day than fans of teams that win. News outlets ranging from Men’s Health to Runner’s World to Healthy Women publish guides on how to stay healthy on game day. But sitting on the couch isn’t the only activity that is linked to both sports and food. As plan your healthy (or unhealthy) Super Bowl weekend, take a look at the research on how athletics can affect the eating habits of athletes ranging from body builders to youth basketball players.

Among female athletes, eating disorders are a prevalent issue. However, the research on whether female athletes are significantly different from their non-athlete peers regarding prevalence of eating disorders is mixed. Sport-specific factors such as performance pressure contribute to disordered eating, especially in sports that encourage leanness. The combination of disordered eating, amenorrhea, and osteoporosis is called the “female athlete triad.”
Male athletes are not immune from concerns over eating. Wrestlers may be at particular risk of disordered eating due to the intense emphasis on weight. Other sports encourage weight gain, and specific positions, such as linemen in American football, often achieve weight gain through stomach fat that puts them at risk for health complications like diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Athletes and non-athletes may turn to steroid use to achieve a more muscular body, which can include intense cycles of 6,000+ calories per day followed by weeks of a stringent, low-calorie diet.
Proponents of youth sports expect that these activities instill healthy food and exercise habits. However, one study found that many youth sports events provide participants with unhealthy food and lack healthier options. Although youth involved in sports are more likely to eat fruits, vegetables, and milk than those not involved in sports, they also consume more calories overall and are more likely to eat fast food and drink sugar-sweetened beverages. Parents and organizers of youth activities need to be aware of the food options and information available to young athletes in order to make youth athletics a net positive in the health of children.
Photo of country flags on a building for the 2018 World Economic Forum meeting. Photo by GovernmentZA, Flickr CC

Each year in January, the World Economic Forum hosts its annual meeting in the Swiss resort town of Davos. The event brings together state leaders, business tycoons, and philanthropists who cultivate relationships between governments and businesses, all with the hope of guiding global progress. This year, the annual meeting made headlines for featuring a Somalian refugee, Mohammed Hassan Mohamud, as one of the event’s seven co-chairs. This inclusion marks another stage of a contested history of international business, development, and intervention in the Global South.

Throughout the Global South, colonialism altered or destroyed local systems, such as food production. Agriculture was restructured to serve colonial powers, which often forced farmers to produce cash crops (like coffee or cotton) instead of food for their own consumption. Over time, knowledge about cultivating local crops was lost. In the aftermath of colonialism, many countries have faced challenges in remaking their agricultural sectors. Businesses and governments from the Global North have sought to have a role in this restructuring. Investors and technological innovators partner to develop new foods, often suggesting genetically modified crops as a solution to hunger. Many scholars, however, raise concerns about the cultural loss of replacing local produce with imported goods that look and taste different. Others assert that such approaches do not address the power inequities that lead to hunger.
Large international development organizations that use technology as a tool of development, such as the Gates Foundation, are organized to create and implement “best practice systems.” Often, this means that corporations develop solutions that treat recipients of their products as new customers. Rachel Schurman argues that this structure separates institutions and their employees from the needs of farmers and strategists from the Global South. From this vantage point, events like the annual World Economic Forum meeting serve as opportunities for international businesses to strategize the best ways to find new consumers.
Activist scholars have built on these critiques with tangible suggestions for more equitable practices. Many argue that development actors must treat communities in the Global South as partners in progress, rather than as beneficiaries. This can be done by including local leaders at every stage of the decision making process. More broadly, activist scholars advocate for the role of social science in industry decision making, particularly in instances of post-conflict investment, as social scientists can provide insight into both power inequities and the long-term effects of economic intervention.

The tension between economic expansion and philanthropy has always been an aspect of development. These power hierarchies continue, but scholars are offering new avenues for more equitable involvement of the Global South. While the inclusion of a refugee in a leadership position in Davos could be a step in the right direction, involvement from the Global South must be inclusive, genuine, and sustained to truly make a difference. In Mohamud‘s own words, “We are not asking for too much, just equal opportunity.”

Photo of a closed sign outside Saguaro National Park during the 2013 U.S. federal shutdown. Photo by NPCA Photos, Flickr CC

Originally posted October 15, 2013.

Government shutdowns are (thankfully) rare and tend to lead to a lot of calls to economists: what happens to the dollar on the international market? How do military towns and towns that rely on National Park tourism survive? Will companies screech to a halt while they wait for the FDA to get back to business? In the meantime, we might take this opportunity to remember the myriad ways in which all Americans are dependent upon the government.

Most people don’t realize they benefit from government programs.

In 2012, Mettler asserted 96% of Americans benefit from 21 specific government programs (not including those that affect all people equally, like road maintenance). These include “submerged” benefits (like tax breaks for mortgage interest) and direct benefits (like Medicaid). In Table 3 of the second citation, she shows that even some 44.1% of those receiving Social Security benefits answer “no” when asked if they “have used a government program.”

The government is instrumental in innovation.

Fred Block and Matthew Keller sum up some of their research in a Scholars’ Strategy Network brief on government as the main driver of innovation. Using data from R&D‘s annual top 100 breakthroughs list, in 2006 they identified 88 winners with some government support, 77 of which relied on federal dollars and 42 of which came directly out of federally-sponsored labs. They also focus on a program started by Ronald Regan’s Administration that, today, provides up to 6,000 loans ($2 billion or so) annually to small businesses trying to commercialize new tech.

Photo of cells during in vitro fertilization. Photo by ZEISS Microscopy, Flickr CC

In Michelle Obama’s recent book, Becoming, she shares her experiences with infertility — including miscarriages and in vitro fertilization (IVF) — a subject often fraught with secrecy in the United States. She is certainly not alone: according to the Center for Disease Control, over 12% of women in the United States either have trouble conceiving or carrying a fetus in utero, and more than seven million women have reported using infertility services. Social science research helps us understand how women experience barriers to having biological children.

Issues with fertility come with a variety of social and psychological consequences. Many women do not feel supported by family and friends, and they may even feel stigmatized for their infertility. These unsupportive responses can lead to depression and other psychological distress, especially if women do not conceive or give birth later on. However, some research suggests that psychological distress may not be long lasting. 

Women use various methods of coping with stigma. They withdraw from relationships where the feel stigmatized, they use humor, and even throw the stigma back on pregnant women that they view as undeserving mothers. And research shows that family structure and family responses affect how women cope. For example, in cultures that prioritize the nuclear family (biological parents and children) instead of the extended family, women may have a harder time coping with infertility.

Technological advances in fertility treatments in past decades means there are more options for women who struggle with fertility. However, these treatments — unlike birth control — are often expensive and thus are still inaccessible to women of lower socioeconomic status.

Photo by Steve Rainwater, Flickr CC

Originally posted February 26, 2018.

Justin Timberlake’s recent performance at the Super Bowl Halftime Show wasn’t his first. Who can forget the now infamous “wardrobe malfunction,” when Timberlake tore Janet Jackson’s clothing, exposing her breast to millions across the United States? Jackson was subsequently blacklisted from the mainstream entertainment industry, while Timberlake’s career continued to flourish. To illustrate the gendered and racial double standards in this case, Black Twitter created the hashtag #JanetJacksonAppreciationDay. Yet, the music industry is not unique. Despite significant progress since the sexual revolution, research shows that sexual double standards persist between women and girls, and men and boys.

Women and girls experience social stigma for premarital sexual activity, having multiple sexual partners, and even participating in non-physical interactions like sexting. Men and boys, conversely, encounter praise for engaging in similar (hetero)sexual conduct. For example, one study showed peers were less likely to accept adolescent girls with a high number of sexual partners, but more likely to accept boys with several sexual partners. At the same time, boys who failed to engage in multiple sexual ‘conquests’ endure stigma from peers. So, both sexually permissive girls and sexually inactive boys face social consequences for not following heterosexual gender roles.
Women who engage in casual sexual activity like hookups outside of a committed relationship, are often judged more harshly and called derogatory names like ‘ho’ and ‘slut.’ One study participant noted, “Guys, they can go around and have sex with a number of girls and they’re not called anything” (Hamilton and Armstrong, p. 598). Both women and men, however, may encounter negative attitudes for hooking up. According to one study, almost 50 percent of college-aged respondents indicated that they lost respect for women and men that engage in a lot of casual sex. However, men were still more likely to only stigmatize women for engaging in casual sex.
Protest calling to remove Fort Snelling in Minnesota. Photo by Fibonacci Blue, Flickr CC

Originally posted October 9, 2018.

In recent months, a homeless encampment of over 300 people — most of whom are American Indian — has formed along a highway noise wall in Minneapolis. The encampment has been self-proclaimed the “Wall of Forgotten Natives” by residents and Indigenous activists who point out that much of Minneapolis is built on stolen Dakota land. Social and health service providers have mobilized around the encampment, and city officials have worked with community leaders to begin a relocation of people at the encampment to more stable housing on Red Lake Nation land. The wider context for the establishment of the camp, American Indian solidarity and resistance to disbanding the camp, as well as the government’s response, all highlight the process of settler colonialism.

In the United States, settler colonialism is defined as the control of land and its resources by white settlers who seek political power/control in a new space (i.e. like “regular” colonialism) through both displacement and violence against Indigenous persons in order to eventually replace the Native population (i.e. unlike “regular” colonialism). Until recently, studies of Indigenous people have largely been absent from sociological research and some have referred to this as sociology’s “complicity in the elimination of the native.” Scholars have begun to incorporate settler colonialism into research on the domination and dispossession of various racial and ethnic groups.
In Minnesota, American Indians face the consequences of settler colonialism everyday: generational trauma from historical violence and boarding schools while at the same time, confronting a host of contemporary inequities in health, exposure to violence and the foster care system between Natives and non-Natives. At the national level, the U.S. government’s urban relocation programs during the 1950s serve as further examples of settler colonial logic and contemporary homelessness among Minnesota’s urban Natives today and their political response. While these policies encouraged Natives to move from what were economically deprived reservations to what was promised as training and employment in urban areas, they faced intense discrimination. By 1969, unemployment among urban Natives was nearly ten times the national average and Native incomes were less than half of the national poverty level.
After the U.S. government failed to assimilate Native people through relocation in the 1950s, their attempt to end the legal status of what it meant to be a “federally recognized tribe” led to American Indian resistance across the United States and into the social movement fold of the 1960s and 1970s. Founded in 1968, the American Indian Movement was started in Minneapolis, and Minnesota is a historically important site of resistance to settler colonialism among Native peoples. American Indians continue to resist settler colonial practices and beliefs today. One example of this includes Indigenous protests against federally recognized holidays like Columbus Day and Thanksgiving, which are embedded in settler colonial stories of the past that “whitewash” events and stereotype Indigenous people. Other acts of resistance include ceremonies acknowledging genocide and other violent acts by the U.S. government. Just last spring, Dakota activists illustrated such resistance to the Walker Art Center’s decision to host a piece of a “scaffold” similar to that of 38 Dakota men who were hanged following the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.

The “Wall of Forgotten Natives” highlights both the settler colonial practices that make such a homeless encampment possible but also demonstrate how American Indians have continually resisted settler colonial ideas and actions.


The authors respectfully acknowledge that the University of Minnesota stands on Dakota and Ojibwe peoples’ traditional lands.  

Photo by Ulisse Albiati, Flickr CC

Originally posted August 6, 2018.

Teenager Maedeh Hojabri was recently arrested and imprisoned by Iranian authorities for posting Instagram videos of herself dancing in her bedroom. People around the globe were stunned at the news, although such punishment and censorship is sadly a common phenomenon. In Iran, Hojabri’s actions violated conservative legal norms that impose a strict dress code and condemn women for exposing their hair or dancing in public. More than a century of social science research can help shed light on why governments criminalize the violation of expected gender norms.  

Classical sociological theory argues that state actors use legal sanctions to exert control and enforce moral sentiments, in an attempt to garner social solidarity. The criminalization of dancing, for example, enforces and legitimizes the morality of conservative values and strict social control. To protect dominant social values, elites may use the penal system as a tool to persecute and discriminate against social minorities. The dominant group’s repression of subordinate groups derives from hierarchies that operate around patriarchal, racial, religious, class, national, political, or ethnic distinctions. Hojabris’ case illustrates repression based on patriarchal norms.
The state may also use the penal system to demonstrate competence and authority. Penal repression allows the state to demonstrate its sovereign capacity and reassert political authority under threat. The case of criminalizing dancing in Iran thus illustrates how public authorities use penal policy to address a legitimacy crisis. Many scholars link the loss of public confidence in the political system to the rise of punitive populism and the ascendancy of penal severity in and outside the United States.

The penal state has become a central instrument for the exercise of authority. It can protect conservative values and strengthen the power of political elites, who exploit the penal system to legitimize their political agendas. While criminalizing dancing seems odd in the United States, in Iran it serves to enforce moral rules, extend social control, and demonstrate state power.

Photo by x1klima, Flickr CC

Originally posted August 17, 2018.

Since its inception last October, the #MeToo campaign has extended beyond the red carpets of Hollywood and into other public arenas like high schools and universities, religious organizations, and military bases. Sexual harassment, assault, and rape within carceral environments such as jails, prisons, juvenile detention facilities, and immigrant detention facilities, however, have received comparatively little public or media attention. And when such reports are made, they are often met with public indifference or ill humor with jokes like “Don’t drop the soap!” Nevertheless, there is a a small but growing base of social science research that shows how confined persons experience both the threat and the act of sexual violence.

In contrast to the #MeToo movement in the larger society, much of the research on sexual violence against those incarcerated has explicitly focused on men and male facilities. Male facilities have long been marred by reports of sexual violence, in part due to norms of hypermasculinity that encourage violence as a sign of heterosexuality. Men are expected to prove that they are not “fags,” “punks,” or “bitches” to avoid being targeted for rape. Yet, confined men who exhibit a smaller stature and present perceived feminine characteristics face a greater likelihood of experiencing sexual violence during their stay.
Women also face staggering rates of sexual violence behind bars. In addition to instances of rape through aggressive physical force, guards sometimes coerce women into sex in exchange for certain benefits such as visits, phone calls, food, and cigarettes. Due to transgender discrimination, trans women are often confined with other male inmates, where they face an even greater risk of harassment, assault, and rape, both by their peers and the guards who control them. Despite increased legislation and advocacy following the 2003 Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA), most detained victims do not report the abuse to authorities. For one, guards themselves are often the perpetrators of sexual violence and wield the authority to dismiss an inmate’s claims. Moreover, victims may not disclose for fear of retaliation, shame, guilt, the loss of benefits, and questions about their (hetero)sexuality.
While sexual violence no doubt pervades many carceral settings, researchers also study other forms of sexual activity, sexuality, and sexual social control among confined persons. Recent work, for example, shows that LGBQ inmates often develop consensual and caring sexual relationships within confinement. Yet, institutional restrictions on sexual activity through mandates like PREA criminalize these consensual relationships. Scholars suggest that such restrictions are not necessarily rooted in concerns over public safety and consent, but rather decades-long discrimination against same-gender sex.
As we continue to grapple with the social and political reckoning of Me Too, social science researchers can help disrupt the “sociological silence of sexual violence” and draw attention to power differentials across settings in which people are particularly vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. Highlighting confined persons’ lived experiences of sex and sexual violence within carceral settings, then, contributes to larger conversations around sexual consent and power, as well as the reform (or abolition) of incarceration.
Photo of a protest sign that says “equality” with a female symbol. Photo by Fibonacci Blue, Flickr CC

During this year’s midterm elections, six states adopted Marsy’s Law, a measure that aims to amend state constitutions so that they treat victims’ rights as equal to defendants’ rights in the criminal justice system. Observers like the American Civil Liberties Union warn that the law circumvents due process — particularly the presumption of innocence — by allowing victims the right to deny evidence to defendants and their counsel, and in some states, even curtail the amount of time a defendant can appeal a conviction. The law’s popularity and ensuing debates highlight two key lines of research, the power of victim rights movements in the United States and the racial and gender privilege underlying perceptions of victimhood.

Although different segments of the victim rights movement have different origins, scholars typically point to the 1960s as the time when victim rights hit the national scene. Since then, the mainstream movement has led to state statutes to provide victim restitution, and increase funding for victims’ services. Scholars suggest that while the victim rights movement has had some positive impacts, it occurred alongside the “get tough on crime” movement that facilitated the prison boom. For example, the advocacy of predominately white, elite feminist movements on punishments for rape and domestic violence was viewed as a victory in addressing violence against women. However, it also resulted in a form of “carceral feminism” that increased punitive responses in criminal justice policies in lieu of reforms in other areas such as welfare and other social services.
Other scholars note that the mainstream victim rights movement privileged some victims over others, minimizing and ignoring violence against Black women, Indigenous women, other women of color, and trans women. Research shows that Black women are more likely to experience interpersonal violence but media and even laws often frame “victims” of crimes as white — especially white women. Of the 51 laws named after crime victims in the United States since 1990, only four are named after Black victims, and only three after Hispanic victims. Scholars like Beth Richie show how this dominant political discourse of “preventing crime” not only obfuscates Black women’s experiences with violence but also criminalizes their responses to protect themselves through mandatory arrest and other criminal procedures.

Heightened news coverage and social media attention to the Cyntoia Brown case serves as a clear example of this disparity, demonstrating who U.S. society values as victims and survivors of sexual and other forms of violence. Thus, while Marsy’s Law may seem on its surface to bring an equal playing field to victims in the criminal justice process, researchers and policymakers must pay attention to the broader context from which it emerged and how this law may not only diminish due process, but also privilege certain types of victims over others.


Check out this TROT for more on the racialization of victimhood for missing girls.  

For insight into a social movement that centers women of color as survivors of sexual, domestic, and state violence, check out INCITE!

Photo of two high school lacrosse players fighting for the ball. Photo by H. Michael Miley, Flickr CC

During his Supreme Court confirmation hearings, Brett Kavanaugh repeatedly referred to his experiences in high school and high school athletics in ways that depicted sports as wholesome and beneficial for youth. While not denying the benefits of sports, sociological research highlights the detrimental impacts of athletic involvement as well. And in contrast to Kavanaugh’s characterizations, this research shows that athletic participation is often associated with substance use and abuse, violence, and risk-taking among boys and young men in the United States.

The connection between athletic involvement and alcohol use is well-established through research, and the connection is especially pronounced for white male athletes at the top of their peer status hierarchy. Ironically, being high-status in high school drives both alcohol use and some of the protective features of sports, like connection to school and higher grades. Nationally representative surveys have also demonstrated that involvement in organized sports is associated with binge drinking in college, and that binge drinking continues after actual athletic participation ends. Recent work on drug use indicates that male athletes are more likely to be prescribed opioids, accidentally overdose, and have used opioids recreationally than non-athletes or female athletes.
Classics in the field of sport sociology discuss the “Triad of Violence” that is taught through sports: 1) violence against women, 2) violence against others, and 3) violence against the self. For example, male athletes learn to play through pain and to talk about (heterosexual) sex as a conquest. More recent research continues to find links between sports and violent behavior, especially for contact sports. Since risk-taking is central to both the meaning of sport and the meaning of masculinity, it is not surprising that male athletes are more likely to engage in a variety of “risk-taking” behaviors, from drunk driving to unprotected sex.


For other work on how masculinity norms in sport link to sexuality and race, see here!