Public Sociology

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Starbucks and the Issue of White Space


What’s most crucial isn’t whether a company can diminish bias among its employees. It’s the acknowledgment that bias is so pervasive it has to try.

Elijah Anderson, a professor of sociology and African-American studies at Yale, has spent much of his career exploring the dynamics of African-American life in mostly black urban environments. Three years ago, however, he published a paper, titled “The White Space,” which looked at the racial complexities of mostly white urban environments. “The city’s public spaces, workplaces and neighborhoods may now be conceptualized as a mosaic of white spaces, black spaces and cosmopolitan spaces,” Anderson wrote. The white spaces are an environment in which blacks are “typically absent, not expected, or marginalized.”

Academics are commonly dogged by questions of how their research applies to the real world. Anderson has faced the opposite: a scroll of headlines and social-media posts that, like a mad data set liberated from its spreadsheet, seem intent on confirming the validity of his argument. The most notable recent case in point occurred on April 12th, when a white employee of a Starbucks in Philadelphia called the police on two young black men, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, who asked to use the rest room before they had ordered anything. They were arrested on suspicion of trespassing; it turned out that they had been waiting for a business associate to join them.

The incident was both disturbing and disturbingly common. A few days later, an employee at a New Jersey gym called the police, on the suspicion that two black men using the facility had not paid; they had. A couple of weeks after that, a woman in California called the police on three black women who she thought were behaving suspiciously. They were actually carrying bags out of a house they had rented on Airbnb. Earlier this month, a white student at Yale called the police on a black graduate student for exhibiting behavior that struck her as suspicious: napping in a common area. Thousands of social-media users have since shared their experiences as persons of color in a “white space.”

Starbucks didn’t press charges against the men, but protests followed, along with the requisite hashtag directive, in this case, #boycottStarbucks. The men, though, settled with the city for a dollar apiece and a promise to invest in a program to assist young entrepreneurs. They also negotiated a settlement with Starbucks that included an offer of a free college education. (And the company announced that anyone can now use the rest rooms without buying anything.) In the tempest of race in America, the resolution was marked by an impressive degree of good faith. Yet Starbucks’ attempt to address the larger issue—the racial assumptions that lead to such incidents—has met with skepticism.

The company’s C.E.O., Kevin Johnson, announced that, on the afternoon of May 29th, Starbucks will close its eight thousand coffee shops across the country, in order to conduct “racial-bias training” for its employees. This isn’t its first foray into race concerns. In 2015, after the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, the company encouraged its employees to write the phrase “Race Together” on takeout cups. The idea was widely ridiculed, but asking customers to contemplate the most consistently radioactive topic in American society while savoring their preferred combinations of soy, mocha, and caramel was certainly noteworthy.

For the May 29th training, Starbucks has gone deeper, consulting with, among others, former Attorney General Eric Holder; Sherrilyn Ifill, of the N.A.A.C.P. Legal Defense Fund; Bryan Stevenson, of the Equal Justice Initiative; Heather McGee, of the Demos Center; and Jonathan Greenblatt, of the Anti-Defamation League. A video preview of the curriculum released last week featured messages from the company’s executive chairman, Howard Schultz, and from Common, and a film by the veteran documentary-maker Stanley Nelson.

The concept of “implicit bias”—the subtle, unconscious responses that we’re conditioned to display—has lately become familiar, for reasons relating both to its valence among academics and to its ability to bridge a particular chasm in the dialogue about race. The popular perception of racism as mostly the product of the kind of monstrous people who, say, would drive into a crowd of pedestrians in Charlottesville, Virginia, makes it difficult to address the more pervasive daily practices of it. In fact, the bar for perceived bigotry has been set so high that, last week, an attorney caught on video railing against Spanish-speaking employees at a restaurant in New York, and threatening to have them deported, could release a statement earnestly declaring himself not to be a racist.

Implicit bias disassociates racism from overt villainy and, as a consequence, engenders less defensiveness in the dialogue. A series of events in recent years sparked conversations about implicit bias among the police, but, as the Starbucks situation and others like it have demonstrated, there is a companion issue: the ways in which the police can serve as a vector of the biases of individual citizens. The question isn’t simply whether an officer displays bias in carrying out his official duty but whether the call that led to his presence in a given situation is itself the result of bias. The crucial aspect of the Starbucks story isn’t whether a company can, in a single training session, diminish bias among its employees. It’s the implied acknowledgment that such attitudes are so pervasive in America that a company has to shoulder the responsibility of mitigating them in its workforce.

It would be possible to see the recent incidents as a survivable pestering—racism as nuisance—were it not for the fact that the denial of the unimpeded use of public space has been central to the battles over civil rights since Emancipation. In 1883, the Supreme Court heard five cases, collectively known as the Civil Rights Cases, involving the harassment of African-Americans in theatres and hotels and on trains. The Court ruled against the plaintiffs, finding that the Civil Rights Act of 1875 was an unconstitutional violation of the rights of private businesses. In a famous dissent, Justice John Marshall Harlan noted that “today it is the colored race which is denied, by corporations and individuals wielding public authority, rights fundamental in their freedom and citizenship.” He added, “At some future time, it may be that some other race will fall under the ban of race discrimination.”

Not only was Justice Harlan prescient about the current treatment of other races; he also foresaw a Presidency that strives to make the United States itself feel like a white space. Implicit biases often have a way of becoming explicit ones.



By            :               Jelani Cobb

Date         :               June 4 & 11, 2018 issue

Source     :               The New Yorker

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Young Icelandic women “fed up with the patriarchy”


Even though Iceland has been touted internationally as a sort of “paradise for equal rights” a new Ph.D. thesis in sociology by Ásta Jóhannsdóttir points to something different.

She interviewed numerous young women who feel that they are confined to social ideas about femininity and that equal rights have not been attained.

Jóhannsdóttir says everything is however “going in the right direction because young people are starting to doubt and to defy the “norms.”

The thesis focuses on gendered self images of young people aged 18 – 25 in Iceland, the country of equal rights.

The thesis was comprised of four branches, the first concerning ideas of masculinity for young men,  the second on ideas concerning femininity for young women, the third about the #freethenipplemovement and the fourth was an experiment made by the author on habits concerning body hair.

What surprised the author was how young men connected fatherhood with masculinity even if they were not asked at all about parental roles. “The young men spoke about being caring fathers.” She speculates whether new laws on paternal leave from the year 2000 may have something to do with this and how laws can have a positive effect.

The young women spoke of their ideas of femininity which annoyed them. For example, they can’t be too thin or too fat, shouldn’t wear too much make up but not too little, to not sleep with too many guys and not too few.”

“The girls grow up in Iceland, in this so -called paradise for equal rights where people believe that equal rights have been attained, but they do not experience full equality.”

“I think how women were fed up culminated in the #freethenipple revolution in Iceland, women were just fed up with the patriarchy.”

“We looked into why the revolution occurred and how it was received, which was positively by most media. Young women were interviewed by media which they usually weren’t. Older feminists supported them publically and I think that positive media coverage of these events made all the difference. If media had been negative and feminists been silent it could have ended as some sort of failed experiment.”

The fourth branch of the thesis concerned body hair, a study she began in 2012. The importance of women shaving every hair on their body from the neck down and that’s just “how it was.”

“When feminist rap group Reykjavikudætur were formed in 2013, some sort of feministic undercurrent started to form and then following #freethenipple I wondered if body hair habits had begun to change.”

In 2016 the author asked her female students to not shave anything below their necks for 10 weeks and the male students had to remove all body hair from the neck down for ten weeks. Participants had to keep journals about their feelings about this.

In short, the young women felt shameful and very negative and their boyfriends and girlfriends found the hair disgusting. The young men were fairly unfazed by the experiment, just thought the ritual of having to shave annoying but that was about it.”

Jóhannsdóttir feels that a lot has changed in the years 2012 to 2016 including the #frethenipple revoluton and the #metoo movement and that things are looking positive. “These young people are defying conventions and pushing norms, but not all norms, like body hair for example. But they are thinking about all of these things.”

“Although i put “Equal rights paradise” in inverted commas we are of course fairly advanced in many aspects here in Iceland. Feminism is often a media topic and it enters into public strategy. We have a lot of femocrats in public administration who are influential.”



Date         :               June 4, 2018

Source     :               Iceland Monitor

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Men ‘left behind’ as women dominate university places


Scotland’s universities are becoming increasingly dominated by female students, raising fears about the lack of ambition shown by the country’s boys.

Statistics show the gap between the sexes is wider in Scotland than anywhere else in the UK.

For the forthcoming academic year, female 18-year-old Scots were 56 per cent more likely to apply for a university place than their male peers, according to the admissions body Ucas. Even among 11-year-olds, girls were significantly more likely to set their sights on a university education.

Stuart Waiton, a senior lecturer in the department of sociology at Abertay University, said that despite the gulf efforts from government had focused almost exclusively on increasing numbers of women in higher education.

A law passed by the Scottish government, despite objections from universities and colleges, will compel public bodies to strive for equal representation on boards and governing bodies. Meanwhile, there have been expensive and high-profile campaigns aimed at encouraging more women to pursue science-based subjects and careers.

Dr Waiton questioned a lack of attention paid to the “enormous” gender gap among students. “There appears to be little or no concern about this, no political campaigns or signs of outrage or calls that ‘something must be done’. Concern about gender disparity appears to be a one-way street,” he said, writing in The Times.

He criticised a “one-eyed recognition of disparities”, adding: “It is hard at times not to conclude that there is an extreme form of feminist ideology at work here, one that has been unquestioningly incorporated into political and public life.”

The difference in application rates between the sexes is 36 per cent in England, 40 per cent in Northern Ireland, 48 per cent in Wales, and 56 per cent in Scotland. Universities and colleges have been set a target that no course should have an “extreme” gender disparity of less than a quarter of males or females by 2030. Within 12 years, it is hoped men will make up at least 47.5 per cent of all undergraduates.

However, the latest figures show that the gap at universities is widening, with girls making up 58.7 per cent of all undergraduates in Scotland. According to the Higher Education Statistics Agency, there are 25,000 more female undergraduates than males at Scottish universities, and a higher proportion of women than any other UK nation.

A recent poll of 1,781 11 to 17-year-olds carried out on behalf of Universities Scotland found that 48 per cent of girls said they planned to go to university after they left school, compared with 39 per cent of boys. Alastair Sim, director of Universities Scotland, admitted that a “big gender gap is opening up that needs to be addressed”.


By            :               Daniel Sanderson

Date         :               March 5, 2018

Source     :               The Times

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Three Billboards—Beyond Ebbing, Missouri


The Oscar-nominated crime drama has inspired activists around the world to put up massive signs to call attention to social issues.

This story contains plot spoilers for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

In the fictional town of Ebbing, Missouri, it seems like everyone—the town priest, the kids at the local high school—is trying to convince Mildred Hayes to take her billboards down. The 2017 crime drama Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouricenters around the large red signs that Mildred (Frances McDormand) puts up along the road near her home, in order to call out the town’s police chief for not catching the man who raped and killed her daughter, Angela.

The billboards, which read “Raped while dying”; “And still no arrests?”; “How come, Chief Willoughby?,” are extremely divisive in the small Midwestern community. While many in Ebbing empathize with Mildred’s grief, they don’t support her blaming the police chief (who, viewers later find out, is dying of cancer) in such a public and aggressive manner.

And yet, Mildred keeps her billboards up. They become symbols of her tireless search for justice—and, as my colleague Christopher Orr has written, they’re the physical manifestation of “a community struggling to deal with both the horrifying memory of Angela’s murder and the difficult reality of Mildred’s response to it.” The signs, which serve as the film’s visual focal point, are striking as a tool of protest—concise, silently confrontational, memorable. And just a few months after the film’s release, the billboards have begun to inspire activists around the world and inform a wide range of calls for justice.

Days ahead of the Academy Awards ceremony, where Three Billboards is a major contender for Best Picture, a street-artist called Sabo put up three billboards in Hollywood to call on the Oscar nominees to use their platforms to fight sexual harassment. The signs read: “And the Oscar for biggest pedophile goes to…”; “We all knew and still no arrests.”; and “Name names on stage or shut the hell up!”

Three Billboards has resonated outside of Hollywood as well. As the humanitarian situation in Syria continues to worsen, many observers blame the inaction of the international community. To broadcast that message, a coalition of medical and humanitarian organizations put up three red billboards in late February outside the United Nations headquarters in New York City to urge the Security Council to vote for a ceasefire in Syria. The billboards read “500,000 dead in Syria”; “And still no action?”; “How come, Security Council?” (The Security Council has since passed a resolution calling for a  temporary ceasefire.)

In recent weeks, there have been many other examples of similar billboards erected to call attention to government or institutional inertia on issues as diverse as gun control, sexual harassment, and press freedom. After a high-school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that left 17 people dead earlier this month, an activist group called Avaaz put mobile billboards on trucks and drove them around Miami to call out Florida Senator Marco Rubio for his response to the shooting. They read, “Slaughtered in school”; “And still no gun control?”; “How come, Marco Rubio?”

The Three Billboards approach has been put to use outside of the U.S., too. In London, an activist group named “Justice4Grenfell” plastered three red signs on the side of moving vans to highlight the lack of prosecutions in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire that killed 71 people last June and left hundreds of residents homeless. They read, “71 dead”; “And still no arrests?”; “How come?”

Perhaps the most noteworthy of all the real-life billboards erected across the world are the ones that were up for the shortest amount of time. In the small European nation of Malta, just over four months ago, the investigative reporter Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered for her work exposing the government’s systemic corruption. A self-declared “movement of nonpartisan people led by women” called “Occupy Justice Malta” put up three billboards to commemorate the anniversary of Galizia’s death. The group was quoted in the Maltese press as saying: “We were inspired by the film [Three Billboards], because with the Maltese government’s disregard for the rule of law, living in Malta at the moment is pretty much like living in a mafia movie.”

These signs were simple and compelling : “A journalist killed. No justice”: “A country robbed. No justice”; and “No resignations. No justice.”

Within hours, the billboards were taken down: The Maltese Planning Authorities said the signs violated preexisting removal notices—but, as the local newspaper Times of Malta pointed out, “around 40 illegal billboards around the island remain standing” despite receiving similar notices.

This isn’t, of course, the first time on-screen entertainment has influenced real-life activism. In 2014, several students were arrested in Thailand for using the “mockingjay” salute—inspired by the popular dystopian Hunger Games movies—as a sign of protest against the country’s military government. After the release of the Hulu series The Handmaid’s Tale in 2017, activists wore the show’s characteristic crimson robes and white bonnets while marching for women’s reproductive rights and gender equality in cities across the U.S.

Edward Walker, an associate professor of sociology at UCLA, has studied how  movies and other cultural products can change perceptions of social issues and influence political outcomes. In a 2015 study, he found that local screenings of the anti-fracking documentary Gasland in a given state spurred anti-fracking mobilizations, which, in turn, affected the likelihood of passing fracking bans in those states. But part of the reason Gasland ignited such large-scale public protests was a striking scene in which homeowners lit their contaminated tap water on fire. During the gas boom, the release of methane from natural-gas wells and installations was poisoning drinking water across America—and images of burning water from Gasland served as a potent symbol for activists.

Walker explained to me how, in a moment of heightened social consciousness in the U.S. and elsewhere—in the age of the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter movements and of the backlash against the Trump presidency—movies have a critical role to play. “[Films] give people a … vivid image of how social change can be enacted,” Walker said, suggesting that both topical documentaries (like Gasland) and narrative movies (like the Hunger Games franchise) can lead to such change.

The question of why some approaches, like the billboards, seem to take hold more than others has to do with the concept of “tactical diffusion.” Sarah Soule, a sociology professor at Stanford University, conducted a study on the spread of the shantytown-protest technique—students taking over buildings and camping out in symbolic shantytowns—from apartheid South Africa to American college campuses in the mid-1980s. She found that the tactic spread most rapidly within schools with similar institutional structures, endowment levels, and rankings. This means mediums of protest will spread more when people identify with it in a deep, cultural way, as Soule wrote: “Students at colleges and universities similar to one another … more easily forge collective identities.”

In the case of Three Billboards, the central injustice running through the movie is a perceived inaction on the part of the authorities. Similar concerns animated the billboard protests in Malta, Miami, New York, London, and Los Angeles, leading Walker to conclude that the signs are “a vivid, attention-grabbing mechanism that works well for the idea that the authorities are asleep at the wheel.”

This new brand of activism hasn’t gone unnoticed by the people involved in the movie that inspired it. During her BAFTA acceptance speech, Frances McDormand praised “well-organized act[s] of civil disobedience” and said she was “thrilled that activists all over the world have been inspired” by the film.

In Three Billboards, Mildred brushes off most efforts to get her to take her billboards down, hitting back against both intimidation and violence. But the most moving plea (and the one that ends up being the hardest to ignore) comes from her ex-husband, Charlie, who tells her: “Those billboards aren’t gonna bring her back, Mildred.” Relatedly, it’s worth asking whether using this tactic in real life can prompt meaningful change, with the Syrian crisis or gun-control legislation, beyond stirring the public’s emotions. But, then again, perhaps making people feel something is the whole point.


By            :               Anabelle Timsit

Date         :               March 3, 2018

Source     :               The Atlantic

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China’s two-child is policy widening the gender gap: UBC study


Less marital power means less ‘fertility autonomy’, researchers say

Having two children can exacerbate gender inequality for a woman in China, according to a new international study out of UBC.

After the government in China ditched the one-child policy to address an aging population, an estimated 90 million women were eligible to have a second child since rolling out the universal two-child policy.

But motherhood is a major contributor to the gender pay gap in urban China, so this has large-scale implications, said the study’s lead author and UBC associate professor of sociology, Yue Qian.

Women with less marital power — defined by income, resources and education — had what researchers call lower “fertility autonomy”. They were more likely to succumb to pressure to have a second child whether they wanted to or not.

At a disadvantaged status in the labour market, these women face reduced access to resources. Having fewer resources than their spouses limit womens bargaining power, ability to push for equality in the family, and ability to stop childbearing — all of which may jeopardize their careers, Qian added.

In contrast, “no matter the pressure, women with more marital power did not budge for a second birth,” Qian said, adding employment rates and incomes for mothers still lag far behind those of fathers.

Using data from a 2016 Chinese national survey, researchers tested 1124 women who already had a child and preferred no more. By self-reporting, women indicated who had more power in home: the husband or the wife.

“It’s a subjective measure but proven to be a good indicator,” Qian said, whose co-author was Yongai Jin, sociology professor at Renmin University of China.

“In a sense, China’s two-child policy is a vicious circle in terms of gender inequality,” Qian said, noting the policy was implemented with a unique social and political context. Unlike Canada where there are public policies in place to encourage fertility, in China, there are no longer government funded benefits such as childcare subsidies or paid leave.

“China wants to increase fertility but does not implement public policies to facilitate work-family balance,” Qian said. “We hope to urge government policy attention to gender equality issues in the era of a two-child policy.”


By            :               Melanie Green

Date         :               February 27, 2018

Source     :               Metro

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Helicopter parenting is fuelling inequality among college students


In the popular imagination, college offers an opportunity for young people to strike out on their own, away from the watchful eye of parents with the safety net of an educational institution.

But a new study suggests that for some affluent students, college is an experience still managed largely by their parents — and that may be fueling inequality.

The research isn’t definitive, but it’s backed up by previous studies on the issue. It’s based on interviews with only 41 families of young women who lived on the same floor in a dorm at a major public university in the Midwest. But it helps paint a picture of the different resources available to students as they navigate college life. The study also indicates that the variation in resources affects students’ life post-college.

Of the affluent families studied, 87% of parents served as what the researchers described as a “college concierge” for their daughters — talking with them regularly, guiding them to certain majors tutors and academic-focused clubs, providing them contacts for internships and jobs, and even helping to manage their admission into sororities.

In contrast, just 33% of the less-affluent families were heavily involved in their daughters’ college careers, but it made little difference because they didn’t have the resources and connections to necessarily guide their daughters’ successfully. For example, one middle-class family pushed their daughter towards a law school with a shoddy reputation.

“Affluent parents often use their resources to ensure their children have a qualitatively better educational experience at every level,” said Laura Hamilton, a sociology professor at the University of California-Merced and one of the authors of the study. “Parents’ class backgrounds remain really salient for children’s success all the way through their experiences.”

The so-called college concierge service appears to matter, the research finds. Within a year of graduating, 78% of the daughters of the affluent families had a job requiring a bachelor’s degree or were in a graduate program. If they were working they earned between $30,000 and $60,000. In the less-affluent group, just 17% had a job requiring a bachelor’s degree or were in graduate school within six years and the highest earner was making just $40,000 a year.

“This is no longer about merit or ability, this is about what you’re born into,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton’s study cites the fortunes of two aspiring dental students, one from a wealthy family and one from a less-affluent family. Taylor, the more affluent student, was instructed by her mother, a college professor, to join the Crest Club, a dental-themed club on campus, where she eventually became the president. Instead of working over the summer, Taylor took classes to lighten her load during the year at the suggestion of her parents. Her mother also helped her secure a position shadowing a dentist.

Emma, the less-wealthy student, came into college with good grades and an interest in becoming a dentist. But when she started to struggle academically, her parents assumed it was part-and-parcel of the transition to college and cheered her down her intended path. Ultimately her grades weren’t good enough to get into dental school and she never received advice suggesting she should switch course. After graduating, Emma became a dental assistant in her hometown, a position that didn’t require a college degree and paid $11 an hour.

While it’s understandable for parents to want to provide their kids with whatever opportunities they can, Hamilton said, the trend has implications for the ability of college to work as an engine of economic mobility. And that is, theoretically one of its primary missions, particularly at a public institution.

“The institution needs to do more careful work on ensuring that kids that come from low-income backgrounds have the support that they need,” Hamilton said.

That’s becoming increasingly challenging at public universities, like the type where the study took place. Over the past several years, declines in state funding have meant these schools are more reliant on tuition revenue from out-of-state or otherwise affluent families. They not only seek the students who can pay full-freight or close to it, but also welcome their parents’ influence, Hamilton notes.

“When you have greater state funding for schools, you can see your state schools as a public good that was provided to state residents,” she said. “Now, because schools are looking for other sources of money, we’ve really shifted how we think about education.”


By            :               Jillian Berman

Date         :               March 5, 2018

Source     :               Market Watch

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Sociology course “Sex in the 6ix” covers everything from love, hookup culture to sexual harassment


Around the water cooler, on social media and the red carpet, the talk is about #MeToo and the wave of sexual misconduct allegations in the headlines. The conversation is also unfolding in university classrooms.

In a new sociology course, Associate Professor Jooyoung Lee encourages his students not to shy away from contentious topics like what constitutes consent. The course focuses on a subject everyone can relate to: love, sex and relationships.

The news often leads the discussion to the Time’s Up movement and the sexual assault and harassment allegations sweeping industries from show business to politics.

“I’m drawn to topics that people will have disagreements over,” says Lee, who also teaches courses on gun violence, serial killers and hip-hop culture. “I think that’s a healthy and good thing about a university setting. People should have debates, and they should be wrestling with questions for which there are no simple answers.”

Lee encourages participation the old-fashioned way, by show of hands, and by using TopHat, an electronic platform that students can use with their laptops. “Once someone generates an idea, it bounces back and forth,” says sociology major Maria Rocha Abello. “I feel like I wouldn’t be able to talk about this in another class.”

In a lecture last week, Lee addressed what he described as “the elephant in the room,” the accusation against comedian-actor Aziz Ansari, who is also the author of one of the course’s required texts, Modern Romance: An Investigation (co-written by the American sociologist Eric Klinenberg).

Students put up their hands to give their thoughts on the story, in which an anonymous woman who went on a date with Ansari says he ignored signs that she wasn’t interested. One student said the fact that many people had defended Ansari showed how sexual assault has been “normalized.” At one point, Lee asked the students – mostly women – how many of them had been in a situation like the Ansari date. More than half raised their hands.

Lee said later that he raised the topic to get the class to think beyond the popular understanding of consent, which he describes as basic enough to fit on a bumper sticker.

“There are many cases where people are guilty of harassment and assault because they didn’t respect a person’s wishes,” he says. “But there are also cases where it’s more ambiguous. That’s where the really interesting conversation happens, where students are forced to go beyond the kinds of things they’re hearing in the media.”

The course explores a variety of other subjects, including the differences in hookup culture between countries, such as how people flirt in Japan versus the way they do in Argentina. The second-year class is intended to teach qualitative research methods like direct observation and in-depth interviews.

In another lecture, the class discussed American sociologist Laud Humphreys’ study from the 1970s on homosexuality, “Tearoom Trade: Impersonal Sex in Public Places.” Though considered groundbreaking for challenging stereotypes of gay men, the study is used as a prime example of unethical research because Humphreys obtained the information under false pretenses.

At the end of the course, the syllabus circles back to “#MeToo and the politics of sexual harassment.” Lee focuses on people who he says have mostly been left out of the conversation so far: people of colour and sex workers.

Although the course is timely, the inspiration for it had nothing to do with the Time’s Up movement. It came from Lee’s experience dating online on OkCupid. He tried the dating site after he moved to Toronto from Philadelphia, which is where he completed a postdoctoral fellowship after getting his BA and PhD from Berkeley and UCLA. Within three weeks he had found his match – and future wife.

Through talking to students, Lee has found much has changed in the world of dating and relationships since he was single. In some areas, his students are the experts. Last week, they schooled him on the meaning of the term, “Ting,” which they defined as a casual relationship with a sexual partner.

Another reason Lee wanted to teach the course was to show a more positive side of sociological research, demonstrating how one can do research on lighter subjects like flirting. When browsing academic journals, Lee says one gets the impression that sociologists only study inequality and suffering. “These are very important topics,” he says, “but I feel they don’t cover the spectrum of the human experience and the social world.”

The students have proposed independent studies ranging from a study of “Netflix and chill,” a modern euphemism for hooking up, and of curating selfies as a way to make yourself more attractive.

The goal of the course is for students to develop an understanding of qualitative methods, but Lee hopes his class – particularly the male students – learn more than that.

“I also hope that they walk out of the class armed with a critical understanding of what many women go through on a daily basis.  I hope they understand the challenges women in particular face navigating this time in their life when they’re trying to date, explore their own sexuality and meet a potential partner.”


By            :               Geoffrey Vendeville

Date         :               February 6, 2018

Source     :               University of Toronto

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Researcher finds TV’s powerful influence on pregnancy, childbirth


Surfing through cable TV channels often results in catching a glimpse of a woman giving birth or preparing for motherhood in one of the popular pregnancy and childbirth reality shows.

But how much do shows like “Maternity Ward,” TLC’s “A Baby Story” or Discovery Health’s “Birth Day” really influence how women perceive and manage their own pregnancies?

It’s a lot, according to a University of Cincinnati sociology study.

The project, funded by a National Science Foundation dissertation improvement grant and recently published in the journal Sociology of Health & Illness, assessed the TV viewing habits of a diverse group of pregnant women from the New York and Connecticut metropolitan areas.

Danielle Bessett, UC associate professor of sociology, and Stef Murawsky, sociology grad student, drew from a sample of 64 pregnant women from various educational, socioeconomic and racial backgrounds to understand the influence of television on their expectations of pregnancy and birth.

During their pregnancies, a number of women ranked shows such as “Maternity Ward” and “A Baby Story” among the highest for shows that influenced their perceptions of pregnancy and childbirth, but not everyone admitted to tuning in.

The ‘reality’ of TV

Early in the interview process, the women were all asked if they actually watched pregnancy-related programming. Those who reported watching these shows were then asked to distinguish whether or not they thought viewing was a valuable tool for gathering helpful information.

Of the 64 women surveyed, a sizeable minority (44 percent) –– mostly comprised of stay-at-home moms or those who were unemployed –– said they watched at least some pregnancy-related reality television. But the researchers reported that the participants who worked outside the home and had higher levels of education were less likely to admit to watching these shows.

“We found clear educational differences in how viewers believed television influenced their pregnancy knowledge,” says Bessett in the journal article. “Women with higher levels of education generally disavowed all television as an information source for themselves, but instead reported only using reality programming as entertainment or to educate their children about pregnancy.”

“Conversely, women who had less educational attainment were more likely to include reality TV programs as part of their comprehensive approach to gathering information and basically didn’t want to rule out any potential source of information.”

Bessett says this is important because previous studies of women’s means for seeking information about pregnancy primarily focused on interactions with clinicians, pregnancy books or the internet. “But TV is now seen by some as a resource for health information, and social class seems to play a role in that,” she adds.

Influential paradox

Bessett’s study revealed an even more surprising twist. Upon further questioning, those who claimed they didn’t watch or use reality TV to get their pregnancy and childbirth information seemingly contradicted themselves. When asked to describe where they gathered their information, they repeatedly referred to medical or ultrasound-related scenes they had seen in TV shows or movies.

“These were the same women that earlier in the interview process denied any connection to TV viewing and their expectations of their own pregnancy and childbirth,” says Bessett. “We found a real divide by class where women with less education could and would readily admit that they used TV as a source for learning about pregnancy and what they should expect.”

But Bessett points out that women who had higher levels of education initially admitted to only watching the reality pregnancy shows occasionally and only for entertainment.

However, in deeper interview questioning, this same group referred to specific television programs as a powerful information sources, ultimately revealing what Bessett refers to as a “tension and contradiction” when it comes to reality TV’s influence.

“We attribute this phenomenon to an unrecognized influence within the educated group,” says Bessett. Apparently “many women simply don’t want TV to have a strong influence medically because of a lack of credibility attached to television in general, so they have a hard time recognizing TV’s actual influence.”

To view or not to view

Whether the educated group did not recognize that they were as influenced as they were by TV viewing or simply wanted to downplay any influence because of TV’s perceived negative stigma is unknown.

“The literature already shows that women of a higher social class with more education are more likely to devalue TV, especially reality TV,” says Bessett. “And then there are cultural acceptability reasons for why they watch, which is to actually hate-watch or watch with tongue-in-cheek.”

According to Bessett this valuable new awareness suggests that scholars must not only focus on patients’ professed methods for seeking medical information, but also explore the unrecognized role that television plays in their lives.

Previous studies show how unrealistically these programs often portray normal pregnancy and birth. Bessett asserts that women are getting a much more dramatic and medicalized view of childbirth –– scripted more to grab attention and excite the emotions of viewers.

“Because of the higher portrayal of medical interventions in these programs than occur in real life, we feel television producers should assume a greater sense of responsibility to make sure that what they portray on the air is as accurate and contextualized as it can be and to make the public aware of any enhanced dramatization,” says Bessett.

“We argue that the sensationalizing of medical drama in reality shows is a critical issue and definitely something that television producers should be more conscious of, especially now that this study shows how strongly these representations do shape expectations.”

More information: Danielle Bessett et al. ‘I guess I do have to take back what I said before, about television’: Pregnant women’s understandings and use of televisual representations of childbearing, Sociology of Health & Illness (2017).


By            :               Melanie Schefft  (University of Cincinnati)

Date         :               February 13, 2014

Source     :               Medical Express

Posted in Health, Latest Post, Public Sociology | Leave a comment

60% of black women killed by police were unarmed


Black people, especially women, are more likely to have been unarmed when killed by police than non-blacks, according to a new study of nationwide data.

This risk also appears to increase in police departments with a greater presence of non-white officers, report the researchers.

A key finding of the study is that nearly 60 percent of black women killed by police were unarmed at the time of the interaction.

The study is the first in a series of reports from the ongoing Fatal Interactions with Police (FIPS) research project, which includes contributions from public health and biostatistics experts at hospitals and universities.

While the odds of being killed by police when unarmed were about the same for black and white males, the high percentage of unarmed black women killed by police significantly increased the overall odds for unarmed blacks.

“Our analysis finds that the ‘hands up, don’t shoot’ slogan of the post-Ferguson movement becomes most relevant when you also ‘say her name,’” says lead researcher Odis Johnson, associate professor of education and of sociology at Washington University in St. Louis.

“Nonetheless, the odds of an unarmed fatality for black Americans as a whole was a staggering 6.6-to-1, more than double the odds found in several other national studies completed in recent decades.”

The “say her name” social movement was launched in 2015 to draw attention to the death of Chicago resident Rekia Boyd and other unarmed black women killed during interactions with police. This study is the first to provide hard data to back up the movement’s assertion that black women face a high risk of being killed by police.

Efforts so far

The study also suggests that many tactics implemented to curb police violence, such as the use of body cameras and diversifying police forces by adding more non-white officers, have done little to reduce the number of people killed in police interactions.

“Agencies with more officers of color had significantly increased odds of committing unarmed fatalities, suggesting that current levels of agency diversity are not capable of achieving change,” Johnson says.

“We recommend caution in interpreting this result since our data does not track the race of the police officers connected to each fatality. Thus, we are unable to say whether the actions of officers of color directly increase the odds of unarmed fatalities for racial/ethnic groups.”

The project plans to issue two more reports on related findings in coming months.

1,700 deaths in 20 months

The FIPS database includes details on about 1,700 fatal interactions with police that occurred in jurisdictions across the United States during a 20-month time period from May 2013 to January 2015.

It estimates the demographic odds of a fatality occurring during an interaction with police based on the location of the interaction and the characteristics of the likely responding law enforcement agency.

Other findings from the first report include:

Nearly 94 percent of those killed by police are men; about 46 percent are white; about 22 percent had a history of drug abuse or mental illness.

The ages of unarmed people killed by police in the database range from 5 to more than 100 years old, including people who were 101, 103, and 107.

More than 57 percent of African-American women were killed while unarmed; white men were the least likely to have been unarmed when killed at just under 20 percent.

Much more than a listing of fatal police interactions around the country, the FIPS database also contains a wealth of related demographic and law enforcement data that allows researchers to analyze the deaths in the context of local conditions. Database researchers gathered background on each case through an array of public records, including media accounts, death certificates, and obituaries.

In addition to US Census statistics on the location where the fatality occurred, FIPS includes data about local law enforcement practices and police staffing drawn from the Law Enforcement Management and Administrative Survey (LEMAS), and crime statistics from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program.

Collected by the Bureau of Justice Statistics from about 2,800 state and local law enforcement agencies, the LEMAS data offers details on a wide range of topics: agency responsibilities, operating expenditures, job functions of sworn and civilian employees, officer salaries and special pay, demographic characteristics of officers, weapons and armor policies, education and training requirements, computers and information systems, vehicles, special units, and community policing activities.

Support for the FIPS database project came from the Public Health Cubed Seed Funding from the Institute of Public Health at Washington University. Other researchers involved in the project are from Washington University School of Medicine; New York University; Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; Saint Louis University; SUNY Buffalo; and Wake Forest University.


Posted by  :             Gerry Everding-WUSTL

Date         :               February 9, 2018

Source     :     

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What Do Sociologists Do?


Every aspect of our lives is shaped by our relationship with society and its influences. Sociologists’ observations about society and how its influences affect us generates important information used to help us relate to one another, whether as consumers, citizens or community members.

Who are we and why do we do the things we do? How do people relate to one another despite their differences? What lies behind the conflicts that we can’t seem to move past? Sociologists endeavor to answer questions that perplex us when we look at not only individuals but society as a whole.

What Sociologists Study

Dr. Carolyn Paul, a sociologist and faculty member at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), said that sociology is a field of study not well understood and often confused with psychology. “While psychology receives a great deal of attention from the media, sociology does not,” Paul said. A broad social science, sociology is the study of human societies and the wide array of groups existing within them. Sociologists study the way society develops and functions on both large and small scales. From national government and cultural norms to local politics and family values, sociologists analyze the who and why of our society.

Paul explained how sociologists look at how the different societal aspects can be compatible or conflict with one another. Think about the relationship between law enforcement and the communities they serve. If an incident occurs, such as what the public views as an excessive use of force by a police officer against a citizen, these two components of society must deal with increasing tensions. Pew Research Center looked at the social components of how police officers view their jobs versus the public’s perception of the police officer’s role in their community, the incidents that lead to protests and the aftermath. “When components conflict,” Paul said, “social problems result, and this is an important aspect of sociological research.” Information learned from this research is used to educate members of the community, provide demographic information to governments, help businesses better market their products and more.

How Sociologists Conduct Research

The methods sociological researchers use to collect their information is similar to those of other sciences. Beginning with a question or a concept, researchers collect data using social experiments, surveys or participant observation. To give more substance their theory and how they plan to collect their information, researchers revisit existing sources available through academic or government research sites.

A Sociological Experiment

If a researcher wanted to explore the differences in how men and women take up physical space, how could she go about gathering data on this concept?

  • Finding the best way to test their theory.First, she could see if any similar experiments had been performed with results published in an academic journal. Finding an experiment about how people use space in public transportation, the researcher can not only refer to the data collected in that study, but it may help her decide how she moves forward in her exploration of the expectation that women are socially trained to take up less space.
  • Collect data. The researcher decides to create a survey to see how men and women think when it comes to physical space in different situations. While waiting for responses to come in from a population sample, she performs a simple experiment on their own. She walks down a crowded city sidewalk and, against social norms, does not move out of the way when approaching a man. The researcher counts how many men she passes, as well as how many times she bumps into the man instead of the man moving out of her way. If she wanted to have another angle to this experiment, she could have a male counterpart count number of women he passed by and the number of times women moved out of the way to avoid collision.
  • Analyze data. Once she has survey responses and data collected from her own experiment, the researcher can compare how people believe they would react in a situation versus what the results were from her observational experience.

The observations made by sociologists contribute to many fields, including social services, criminal justice, journalism and even politics. “Sociology contributes to these fields as a knowledge base on how social and cultural factors impact people in different ways. It also contributes expertise on research methodology and statistical analysis required in these fields,” Paul said.

Sociologists In The Field

An example of sociologists at work can be found in the collaboration between the justice system and community agencies. Sociologists and criminologists have been working for decades to find a way to reduce the number of repeat offenders and make it possible for the newly released to have a more positive transition back into society.

“Research demonstrates that offenders who earn a high school equivalency diploma while behind bars are more likely to get jobs after release,” said Joan Petersilia, co-director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center. “Those who receive vocational skills training are more likely to get jobs and higher wages after release. And those who go through intensive drug treatment programs in prison are less likely to relapse outside of it,” she said. “If we could implement effective programs, we could expect to reduce recidivism by 15 to 20 percent.”

Petersilia said an approach to help make this successful would have to include community partnerships. “An excellent example is the Boston Reentry Initiative (BRI),” she said. This interagency program has social services, law enforcement agencies and religious institutions coming together and working with prisoners prior to their release, with continued support from the day they get out of prison to help them get reinstated into the community.

With mentorship and treatment options available thanks to this community collaboration, researchers found those in BRI had a 30 percent lower rate of rearrest than those not involved in the program. Research on programs like BRI continue to make progress on the issue of how to use social services in conjunction with the justice system. These programs are helping to find ways to reduce taxpayer spending on prisoners and lower crime rates while helping rehabilitated citizens get a fresh start.

Careers in Sociology

  • Research. Sociologistshave worked to earn a master’s degree or a doctorate in sociology. Their training mainly consists of statistical procedures and methods for group research. “Some of their careers include working for government organizations running demographic studies, working for private sector corporations as corporate culture advisors and being employed by marketing firms seeking customer and client profiles for target marketing initiatives,” Paul said. “A sociologist at work is focused upon the social and cultural variables which can and have impacted people in their thinking and in their behaviors.”

There may be an opportunity for an entry-level position in the field, but most graduates with bachelor’s degree in sociology gain their initial experience by finding jobs in related fields.

  • Social services. Social workers help people within the community by serving schools, clinics and human services agencies. In schools, social workers can help with peer mediation programs. Social workers with clinical certification work in clinics as counselors. Within the human services sector, case workers help run programs in places such as halfway houses, mental health facilities or youth centers. Case workers also help in areas such as child services and domestic abuse. Rehabilitation counselorsaid members of the community who struggle with substance abuse.

The community and social services sector is an in-demand field. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), social services will see a faster than average growth through 2026.

  • Health. Efforts are being made to include social aspects of patients’ lives into their health care. Taking into consideration social factors such as socioeconomic status when diagnosing physical and mental health issues helps improve treatment plan options for patients. Sociologists have foundaccess to healthcare, options for social services, working conditions and home-life all contribute to mental and physical wellbeing.

Earning a bachelor’s degree in sociology with a concentration in community health can give you the opportunity to help the public. Community health workers gather information from people in their service area to address specific concerns that may be present, such as an increase in substance abuse or a need for diabetes education. Health educators strive to inform the community of issues regarding physical and mental wellness. Health educators and community health workers will see a 16 percent increase in jobs through 2026, according to the BLS.

  • Justice. Working with courts and correctional facilities, correctional treatment specialists and probation officers help rehabilitate offenders, including juveniles. These positions typically require a bachelor’s degree, according to the BLS, and are expecting a 6 percent growth through 2026. Using concepts learned while earning your sociology degree, you’ll be able to understand how to help people become productive members of the community.
  • Media and Marketing.Marketing professionals use the advice of sociologists to improve the way they present products to the public and how they use branding. Market research analysts help companies understand their audience, what will sell and how to reach their target demographic. Knowing how consumers interact and respond to social media and advertising campaigns, a cultural marketing specialist can provide insight into how social media accounts would be most effectively used.

The research that sociologists do have far-reaching effects. Their studies direct the steps taken to improve results in health, justice, human services and marketing fields. Earning your bachelor’s in sociology opens up a wide range of opportunities to create change and impact the lives of people in the community.

Ashley Wallis is an Army veteran and writer with a bachelor’s in English language and literature from SNHU. She is currently living in the Denver area. Find her on Twitter @AshDWallis.


By            :               Ashley Wallis

Date         :               February 2, 2018

Source     :               Southern Hampshire University

Posted in Latest Post, Public Sociology | Leave a comment
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