Christine Delp and Jillian LaBranche on April 9, 2020
Astrology is on the rise, and a recent New Yorker article argues that 30% of Americans now believe in astrology. This spike in belief has been tied to astrology’s popularity on the internet and social media. Astrological apps like Co-star and Align have gained traction, achieving millions of downloads a year, and mystical services more generally are generating 2.2 billion annually. But why is astrology on the rise? And what does sociology have to say about its practice?
During the 1970s, astrology was marginalized and socially stigmatized — considered part of the American counter-culture. The rise of religious nones and the “spiritual but not religious” category have led scholars to consider how belief systems once considered to be alternative may be becoming more mainstream. Scholars have found that even spiritual beliefs that are not part of organized religion may be highly organized in generating meaning and community, particularly in unsettled times. Given stressors like global warming, economic instability, and the recent COVID-19 pandemic, millennials may be turning to belief-structures once considered to be alternative to find community and to grapple with uncertainty.
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?
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.
Finally, see how Graphic Sociology uses on census data to discuss how unemployment and poverty relates to age, gender, and much more.
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 Imagespiece 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
“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.
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.
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!
A few weeks ago, the Dow Jones fell 20% from its high. To many this is an indicator of great uncertainty about the future of the market and could be an indication of a coming recession. And this was even before the crisis of COVID-19. In these uncertain economic times, we look back to how the Great Recession of 2008 impacted families’ decision-making including whether or not to have children, where to live, and how much to rely on family members for financial support. Perhaps this recent history can help us imagine what might lie ahead.
Demographers and other social scientists are interested in the fertility rate, or the number of live births over the lifetime of a child-bearing woman. After the Great Recession, the fertility rate fell to below replacement rate (or 2 children per every one woman) for the first time since 1987. Scholars attribute this change in fertility to increased economic uncertainty; people do not feel confident about having a child if they are not sure what will come next. In fact, the fertility rate fell lowest in states with the most uncertainty, those hit hardest by the recession and “red states” concerned about the economic future under Obama.
Schneider, Daniel. 2015. “The Great Recession, Fertility, and Uncertainty: Evidence From the United States.” Journal of Marriage and Family 77(5):1144–56.
During the Great Recession there was also an increase in the number of young adults, both single and married, living with their parents. Rates of both young married adults living with their parents increased in 2006 to reach 1900 levels which is surprising considering that the century between 1900 and 2000 is considered the “age of independence,” when many more young people moved out and established households of their own. This effect was particularly strong for young adults with less education and those who had fewer resources to weather the storm of the recession on their own.
The economic challenges of the late 2000s also may have led to an increase in interpersonal conflict within families. In part, this may stem from the pressure family members feel to serve as a safety net for relatives who are struggling financially. For instance, Jennifer Sherman found that some individuals who were experiencing financial hardship withdrew from their extended family during the Great Recession rather than asking for support. This, along with findings that giving money to family members during the recession increased an individual’s chance of experiencing their own financial stress, raises questions about whether or not family networks can offer support in times of economic turmoil.
Sherman, Jennifer. 2013. “Surviving the Great Recession: Growing Need and the Stigmatized Safety Net.” Social Problems 60(4):409–32.
As the economic effects of covid-19 are felt across the country, many Americans are preparing for another severe economic downturn. Understanding how the Great Recession influenced family structure and life is an important lens for considering how large economic events shape people’s everyday lived experiences.
During times of crisis, existing prejudices often become heightened. Fears about the current coronavirus, or COVID-19, have revealed rampant racism and xenophobia against Asians. Anti-Asian discrimination ranges from avoiding Chinese businesses to direct bullying and assaults of people perceived to be Asian. This discriminatory behavior is nothing new. The United States has a long history of blaming marginalized groups when it comes to infectious disease, from Irish immigrants blamed for carrying typhus to “promiscuous women” for spreading sexually transmitted infections.
Historically, the Chinese faced blame time and again. In the 19th century, public health officials depicted Chinese immigrants as “filthy,” carriers of disease. These views influenced Anti-Chinese policies and practices, including humiliating medical examinations at Angel Island — the entry port for many Chinese immigrants coming to America — and the violent quarantine and disinfection of San Francisco’s Chinatown in the early 20th century when a case of the Bubonic plague was confirmed there.
Discrimination against the Chinese is one example among many. Such discrimination had nothing to do with their actual hygiene and health, and everything to do with their social position relative to other racial groups. It’s easy to look back on the xenophobic U.S. policies and behavior in earlier times. Let’s not fall into the same patterns today.
Textbooks are more prevalent in American history courses than in any other subject, and a recent article from The New York Times revealed how geography has influenced what U.S. students learn. Despite having the same publisher, textbooks in California and Texas (the two largest markets for textbooks in the U.S.) vary wildly in educational content. Researchers have also found numerous inconsistencies and inaccuracies in American history textbooks, resulting in the glorification of national figures and spread of national myths.
Depictions of violence in textbooks are also highly politicized. Episodes of violence are often muted or emphasized, based on a country’s role in the conflict. For example, conflicts with foreign groups or countries are more likely than internal conflicts to appear in textbooks. Additionally, American textbooks consistently fail to acknowledge non-American casualties in their depictions of war, citing American soldiers as victims, rather than perpetrators of the horrors of war. Depictions of conflicts also vary over time, and as time passes, textbooks move away from nationalistic narratives to focus instead on individualistic narratives.
Public figures, like Hellen Keller and Abraham Lincoln, tend to be “heroified” in American textbooks. Rather than treating these public figures as flawed individuals who have accomplished great things, American textbooks whitewash their personal histories. For example, textbooks overlook Keller’s fight for socialism and support of the USSR and Lincoln’s racist beliefs. The heroification of these figures is meant to inspire the myth of the American Dream — that if you work hard, you can achieve anything, despite humble beginnings.
Symbolic representation of the past is important in stratified societies because it affects how individuals think about their society. Emphasizing the achievements of individuals with humble beginnings promotes the belief among American students that if they work hard they can achieve their goals, despite overwhelming structural inequalities. Furthermore, as historical knowledge is passed down from one generation to the next, this knowledge becomes institutionalized and reified–making it more difficult to challenge or question.
In cases of public health epidemics, whether people panic depends in part on how journalists cover the issue and which experts they cite. Journalists tend to quote official sources like government officials and public health officials to inform the public about outbreaks of illness including influenza, swine flu, Zika, Ebola, and more recently, coronavirus. Being quoted in news articles gives public health officials the opportunity to share their expertise on said topics to help inform readers about how to protect themselves and avoid infection. From a sociological perspective, focusing on the spread of information about pandemics and infectious diseases provides opportunities for scholars to comment on evolving social structures and processes in a way that will influence the biomedical sciences’ public and policy agenda.
As epidemiologist Adam Kucharski wrote in The Guardian, “stories sparking fear seem to have overtaken the outbreak in real life” and misinformation (a topic The Society Pages has written about here) seems to be more contagious than the virus itself. The “need for speed” in publishing journalistic updates about the virus as well as scholarly work has resulted in several retractions, including the retraction of a preprint of a scholarly paper after its analysis was found to be faulty.
Further, the spread of information — and misinformation, including conspiracy theories — about health crises often occurs on social media platforms including Twitter and Instagram. Scholars found that false information spread especially quickly during Ebola outbreaks in West Africa and in the Zika outbreak in Brazil, which led to the formation of counterproductive policies passed by public health officials who struggled to combat false claims. In recent years, Instagram was found to be the most effective platform for health organizations including Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, and Doctors without Borders to engage followers during global health crises.
Objectivity and neutrality have been cornerstone norms of journalistic practice in democracies in the Western world for over a century. However, in recent years ideals of fairness, accuracy, and balance have come under increasing attack from many different and sometimes unexpected directions.
Many beliefs about the need for media objectivity go back to Alexis de Tocqueville’s 19th century argument that the circulation of newspapers are integral to fostering a functional and effective democracy. Indeed, objectivity became a news value in the 1830s, partly to do with the rise of the Associated Press (AP), created in 1848 by a group of New York newspapers that wanted to take advantage of the speed of the telegraph in transmitting news to multiple outlets. To transmit news to a variety of news outlets with a variety of political allegiances consistently, a sense of objectivity had to be maintained to be relevant to as wide an audience and clientele as possible.
Cutting against these norms was the sensationalism of newspaper content in the late 19th century. While the use of emotion in reporting has often been connected to the commercialization and tabloidization of journalism, in recent years it has also appeared in coverage of disasters, crises, and human rights abuses — and has come to be seen as positive and valuable as well. The roles of objectivity and impartiality have always been contested within journalistic practice, so rather than seeing emotion as the opposite of objectivity, some scholars now argue it can come alongside and inform journalistic practice worldwide.
The role of objectivity has also come into question as a mechanism that can silence marginalized writers and populations. Relatedly, news can also reinforce institutions of power in society, for better or for worse. In populist countries including Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, “professional journalism” is often pitted against “militant journalism” promoted by neo-populist governments and their sympathizers — a movement that has critical implications for the freedom of the press in societies in the Global South. Also, news media has been found to negatively portray protests and protesters.
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!
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.”
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.”
From Our Partners and Community Pages
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.”
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.”
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.”
Over one million people will get engaged on Valentine’s Day, and as a result, diamond sales usually uptick around this time. Diamonds are both historical and cultural objects; they carry meaning for many — symbolizing love, commitment, and prestige. Diamonds are highly coveted objects, and scholars have found about 90 percent of American women own at least one diamond. In the 1990s, war spread throughout West Africa over these precious pieces of carbon, as armed political groups vied for control over diamond mines and their profits.
Given their role in financing brutal West African civil wars, diamonds became associated with violence and international refugee crises, rather than financial prosperity and love. Diamonds became pejoratively known as blood diamonds, or conflict diamonds, and consumers became more likely to perceive diamonds as the result of large scale violence and rape. As a result, major diamond producers have attempted to reconstruct the symbolic meaning of diamonds, turning them into symbols of international development and hope.
As the diamond trade became immoral and socially unjust, new global norms emerged around corporate and consumer responsibility. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) lobbied for the diamond industry to change their behaviors and support of conflict mines while simultaneously creating new global norms and expectations. In the early 2000s, international NGOs, governments and the diamond industry came together to develop the Kimberley Process — to stop the trade of conflict diamonds. Today, 75 countries participate, accounting for 99% of the global diamond trade.
Bieri & Boli argue that when NGOs urge companies to employ social responsibility in their commercial practice, they are mobilizing a global moral order. Diamonds provide an example of how symbols, products, and meaning are socially and historically constructed and how this meaning can change over time. The case of blood diamonds also illustrates how changing global norms about what is and is not acceptable can redefine the expectations of how industries conduct business.
If you believe that taking notes longhand is better than typing (especially that typing leads to verbatim transcription but writing helps with processing ideas), you have probably seen a reference to Mueller and Oppenheimer (2014). We even featured it in a TROT last fall. The Pen is Mightier Than the Keyboard has over 900 citations on Google Scholar, but is also a staple on Twitter, blogs, and news articles. According to Altmetric, it has been cited in 224 stories in 137 news outlets the past two years (two years after it was published), and linked to on Twitter almost 3,000 times.
The new study also expanded the original by including a group with eWriters, an electronic form of notetaking that allows students to write on a screen. As our original blog noted, much of the research on laptops in the classroom revolves around their potential to be distractions, and research on notetaking needs to take into account advances in technology that could lead to better notetaking environments as well as assisting students with disabilities. Morehead, Dunlosky, and Rawson find that eWriters, although not in common use, could be a bridge between paper and the distraction-laden environment of laptops.
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