Month: December 2012

Race and class privilege in daily life: Stones in the wall

We have a fieldstone retaining wall that runs most of the length of our property. It’s great for curb appeal, but it also tends to slowly come apart. Occasionally, sections need to be rebuilt. On the face of it, this involves taking the stones down and then stacking them back up, but there is more to it. You need to have a plan and some knowledge of building a stable wall to do it right. A few years ago a portion of the wall got to the point where it was clearly going to collapse fairly soon, so something had to be done. I don’t have the strength, the knowledge, nor the desire to prove my manliness to do this job. So, I called two landscape companies for estimates.

Just making the call made me aware of my middle class privilege. Not only can I afford to live in a desirable neighborhood with nice landscaping and well cared for houses, I can also afford to pay someone else to do my part to make sure it stays that way. I do this with the vast majority of the maintenance on my house. Walking into a Home Depot or Lowes makes me feel overwhelmed, but buying and using something as simple as a can of WD-40 gives me that “I’m a man!” rush. I’ll usually watch whoever repairs whatever is broken and feel like I’ve accomplished something. But, that’s not what this post is about. This post is about privilege and racism in everyday life. (more…)

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Public Sociology: Mark Regnerus on porn and same-sex marriage

Mark Regnerus contributed a short piece on a correlation he found between watching pornography and support for same sex marriage to The Witherspoon Institute’s ‘Public Discourse.’ In the essay, he attempts to be very clear about what he is not saying. He’s not writing about “any correlation between same-sex relationships and porn use (although that would be an answerable research question)” and he’s not “talking about women’s support for same-sex marriage” because women just aren’t that in to porn. His question is “Does heightened porn use matter for fashioning attitudes about marriage?”

Here is the data analysis Regnerus presents as an exploration of his question: (more…)

What I’ve learned from reading the comments section of the Syracuse Post Standard

This is a very short post because I think what I’ve learned can be summed up very quickly: Everybody thinks everybody else is an idiot, and everybody just wants some more common sense.

Obviously, that is somewhat tongue in cheek because I’ve said before that the interaction on these web forums is actually quite complex. There are questions of authority to be explored, of friendship, of deliberation, of play, and of the consequences of pseudonymity for everything else that happens on the web. Still, I do think that aphorism sums up some of the cognitive dissonance I see pretty regularly on those boards. There are subtleties you can discern when you start to understand the various tribes of posters. Posters keep returning for some reason, and they like and even respect some of the other posters. They even enjoy a good troll. When they say ‘everybody,’ they don’t really mean everybody. When they say ‘common sense,’ they don’t really mean common. There is a lot of interesting sociology to be done discovering how these identities and boundaries are formed and enacted.

Now, back to the boards.

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Making Sense of the Shootings

Friday’s attack on Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT is difficult to comprehend. Nonetheless, a social science that can’t use its tools to begin to make sense of the act and the political and social response to it is not worth pursuing. Since 11 am on Friday, this is about the only issue to which I’ve given serious thought. I’ve watched hours of television coverage, mostly on CNN, I’ve read news articles and watched countless relevant tweets scroll by, and I’ve tweeted a lot about it myself. I’m fortunate to have very thoughtful friends from multiple disciplines, and we spent some time Saturday night discussing the shootings and the response. I’d guess my experiences are similar to many others who are trying to make sense of what is undeniably awful news.

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Teaching the Regnerus Controversy

I’ve been thinking about how I might use the debate about Mark Regnerus’ article “How different are the adult children of parents who have same-sex relationships? Findings from the New Family Structures Study” from Social Science Research to cover the research process, the social scientific community, and research ethics the next time I teach undergraduate Research Methods (and how it might be used in other courses). I won’t retrace the controversy, but here is a good rundown from fairly soon after the article was published. I’m assuming it’s not yet over as this very good blog from Neal Caren appeared just a few days ago at Scatterplot.

From a teaching standpoint, I think the ‘Regnerus Affair’ has a number of advantages over the examples often used to teach about ethics in social scientific research. I would guess that most who teach methods use common examples like the Stanford Prison Experiment, Tuskegee, Milgram, or the Tea Room Trade. I’ll continue to use these examples, even if just for shock value (get it!), but the Regnerus case has the advantage of being not only current, but also ongoing.

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Where nobody knows your name: communities of the anonymous

Anonymity is often identified as a key variable for explaining the quality and content of online interaction.  I’ve done it myself in this article written with Le Moyne political scientist Dr. Delia Popescu and appearing in Information, Communication & Society.  Anonymity is conceived by some as a cause of the well known Internet activity of trolling or flaming, but others see it as the key ingredient of what they view as the revolutionary potential of the Internet.  Revolutionaries are thought to be empowered by their ability to hide from authority figures, while Internet bullies are portrayed as those cowering behind unidentifiable screen names and tossing insults they likely wouldn’t in a face to face setting. Of course, these claims need to be considered skeptically. Governments, or the more powerful revolutionary factions, can shut down the Internet if they choose, and the government still has tanks and tear gas. Anonymous trolls, like Reddit’s Violent Acrez, can be tracked down, site administrators can delete accounts, and we hear as much about bullying on the non-anonymous Facebook as we do on other websites.

The offline consequences of Internet anonymity are only part of what is sociologically fascinating about online social life. In terms of web mediated social interaction, if we stop after pointing out that screen names are often not ‘real’ names, I think we miss some of the richest action on the Internet. I spend a lot of time on the web forums of the Syracuse Post Standard reading the threads that appear after most articles, and sometimes commenting. (more…)

Academic tweeting and blogging: Some thoughts, questions, and links

I’m the first to admit that I’m a late adopter of Twitter and blogging for academic use, and therefore I’m also late to the conversation about how it fits into our existing models of academic work. That said, right now I’d have to classify myself as a true believer in the utility of platforms like Twitter and blogging for the kind of sociology I’d like to do. The potential of blogging to share creative ideas outside the typical channels like conferences, journals, and books is exciting to me for several reasons. When inspiration strikes, you can publicize your ideas, as opposed to writing a stale article and hoping it ends up on the reviewer’s desk on a good day. You don’t have to travel hundreds of miles to get folks into the hotel meeting room at 8:30 AM on a Sunday to hear a talk. There is potentially a much greater audience for a blog, so that your work might be seen by more than those who specialize in your field. It’s been rewarding to get feedback from non-sociologists on my various posts, sometimes academics in other fields, and other times interested readers from outside the academy. As for Twitter, a few days ago I tweeted that I was thankful about how Twitter helps “overcome the tyranny of the small department.” Small departments aren’t likely to have multiple members with shared research interests because that’s a disservice to students. Over the last 8 months or so that I’ve been seriously using my account (I feel bad for the 2 years I let it sit there unused) I’ve made connections with scholars I’d otherwise not know of and have been introduced to work and resources that I’ve found very helpful. In a way, I’d like to think these are like conversations one might have in the hallway of a department with colleagues whose interests are closer to your own. (Sure, I don’t really know what those departments are like…)

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