Archive for May, 2009

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The Economics of Law?

May 31, 2009

Amsterdam has Marijuana or Pot Bars, a popular attraction for part of the city's  tourist industry. This sign warns against smoking marijuana or drinking alcohol in the street.

Amsterdam has Marijuana or Pot Bars. This is an attraction for part of the city's tourist industry. This street sign warns against smoking pot or drinking alcohol in the street.

Many sociologists who specialize, in part, in the study of crime or “sociology of crime” have long since come to the conclusion that what is right or wrong varies from place to place and time to time. So does what is illegal or legal—in other words, what is considered a crime and what isn’t varies, too. One reason why some sociologists suggest this variance exists is that social institution reflect the general values and norms of society.

One example might be marijuana. In many states, the use or possession of this substance in large quantities is currently illegal. But, in the 1920s, smoking marijuana was not an uncommon practice among many people in the southern and southwest states. Some historians and sociologists hold that marijuana wasn’t made illegal because of its dangerous biological and psychological effects, but because of economic conditions!

The theory goes that as the job market shrank during the Great Depression, people from the South started migrating to other parts of the United States looking for work. They brought with them the habit of smoking marijuana. These immigrants from other states became a threat to the local job market that was already strained. Partly in response to this threat, local authorities outlawed the use of marijuana to discourage the immigrants from coming to or settling in the area. The law was an economic tool.

Would you like to post a reply or comment to this article? If so, select a talking point below and respond to it. Feel free to also respond to other people’s posting as well.

1. Can you think of any other social issues the law might be used to regulate?

2. What other groups of people might have been targeted through the manipulation of the law?

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Sociological Warfare?

May 19, 2009
Societies respond to war differently. In America, we might make films about war or record songs. In Afghanistan, one way the culture is responding is by producing War Rugs for decoration.

In Afghanistan, one way the culture is responding to war is by producing War Rugs for decoration.

American fighter jets have apparently killed a large number of innocent Afghan villagers in response to calls for help from the Afghan military. The preliminary military report said Taliban terrorists used villagers as human shields at military positions in two different villages in Farah, Afghanistan during an air strike.

Some sociologists might argue that American values, which hold that innocent life should be protected, are being used to hobble a war effort and turn the public against the war—that this is a form of sociological warfare.

Would you like to respond to this topic? If so, tell me what you think with regard to one of the discussion points below:

1. Who do you think made the mistake? Who should be held responsible for the deaths of those innocent people: the terrorists who used them as shields or the pilots? Why?

2. From the same selections above, who do you think the terrorists think you will blame? What insights does this afford you into how a person might use sociology in conflicts?

3. What do you think could be done to prevent America’s values (or another society’s values) from being used against her in similar situations in the future?

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Dependency Theory and Wealth Creation

May 19, 2009
Are entire societies caught in a global caste system?

Are entire societies caught in a global caste system?

Dependency theory attempts to explain that technologically advanced societies create new wealth through technological innovation and invention. This idea holds the amount of wealth in society isn’t limited—we create it!

While this might sound like a good thing (no one needs to be in poverty if we can increase the amount of wealth available), some sociologists argue it might not be. They suggest that third world countries are prevented from developing, causing those societies to become dependent on the more advanced societies. If so, this leads to a disproportionate share of wealth being accumulated in technologically advanced countries while third world societies are artificially kept from evolving.

What do you think?  Would you like to respond to this posting? If so, respond to one of the discussion topics below:

1. Do you think wealth in a society is a social creation and thus can be increased or reduced? Why?

2. Do you think that wealthier countries limit the development of countries that are less well off? If so, how? If not, why?

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Bigger Prisons, Bigger Problems?

May 19, 2009

Britain is going through a prison crisis—they have more criminals to put in jail than jails! Until recently, the British government was planning to build large prisons to hold these criminals. The prisons, dubbed “Titan Prisons” by the British press, were to be designed similarly to American prisons, each holding close to 3,000 prisoners. But now it appears the British government is not going to build these huge prisons. Instead, they are going to a build a larger number of smaller scale prisons.

Pilikan Bay Prison in California, a "super max" mega prison.

Pilikan Bay Prison in California, a "super max" mega prison.

Sociologists worry about the idea of prison altogether, since it can be a form of secondary socialization. Socialization is the social process a person goes through to learn the rules of society. Some sociologists hold that prisoners are re-socialized in prison—they are taught how to be more violent, have less respect for authority, and become more criminally active by other inmates. This negative socialization process is called “prisonization.” Some of these sociologists hold that the bigger the prison, the less control authorities have over the prison population and the more likely it is that this negative re-socialization process will occur.

What do you think? If you would like to voice your own sociological insights, please respond to one of the topics below:

1. How can putting people in prison protect society? What other remedies do you think society has? What are some advantages and disadvantages of these alternatives?

2. How can putting people in prison ultimately hurt society? Would the size of prisons increase the negative social processes you’ve listed? How?

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Studying Human Ecology in Cities

May 19, 2009

Some sociologists study the connection between human populations and the physical environment in which these populations live. This area of study is called human ecology. Most studies of this type deal with urban sociology—they study cities. Cities can be defined as relatively small and specific areas where large numbers of people live in a nonagricultural mode of production. Some sociologists question the credibility, or how well a study’s results can be trusted, of social studies in cities because of the environment within a city.

Do large numbers of people living in a small area help spread illness?

Do large numbers of people living in a small area help spread illness?

Other social scientists contend that these problems are not caused by city living, but become more apparent in a city because so many people live in a comparatively small area. They argue that this is what makes the city such a fertile ground for sociological study. What do you think? Would you like to post a response to one of the topics below?

1. Some researchers argue that social problems are magnified when studying large numbers of people in small areas, such as a city. How could you use the current worry about a Swine Flu epidemic as an example to illustrate this point?

2. What social problems do you think a society might experience in a city? Are any of these only found in cities? Which ones? Why you think this is so?

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