Archive for February, 2010


Homosexuality: more than just preference

February 26, 2010

Posted by: Chad M. Gesser

Twitter: @profgesser


The issues that gays face go well beyond social acceptance of their sexual preference.  Heterosexuals certainly do not recognize the advantages that they reap in a culture that is deeply rooted in heterosexuality.

The Heterosexuality Questionnaire was developed by Martin Rochlin, Ph.D., in 1977.  While it certainly appears humorous to the average heterosexual reader, a closer examination can help one examine the social implications of a heterosexual society, particularly if you’re homosexual.

1.               What do you think caused your heterosexuality?

2.               When and how did you decide that you were a heterosexual?

3.               Is it possible that your heterosexuality is just a phase that you may grow out of?

4.               Is it possible your heterosexuality stems from a neurotic fear of others of the same sex?

5.               If you’ve never slept with a person of the same sex, is it possible that all you need is a good gay or lesbian lover?

6.               To whom have you disclosed your heterosexual tendencies? How did he or she react?

7.               Why do you heterosexuals feel compelled to seduce others into your life-style?

8.               Why do you insist on flaunting your heterosexuality? Why can’t you just be what you are and keep quiet about it?

9.               Would you want your children to be heterosexual knowing the problems that they’d face?

10.             A disproportionate majority of child molesters are heterosexual. Do you consider it safe to expose your children to heterosexual teachers?

11.             With all the societal support marriage receives, the divorce rate is spiraling. Why are there so few stable relationships among heterosexuals?

12.             Why do heterosexuals place so much emphasis on sex?

13.             Considering the menace of overpopulation, how could the human race survive if everyone were heterosexual like you?

14.             Could you trust a heterosexual therapist to be objective? Don’t you fear (s)he might be inclined to influence you in the direction of her/his own leanings?

15.             How can you become a whole person if you limit yourself to compulsive, exclusive heterosexuality, and fail to develop you natural, healthy homosexual potential?

16.             There seem to be very few happy heterosexuals. Techniques have been developed that might enable you to change if you really want to. Have you considered trying aversion therapy?

For most heterosexuals, perhaps some of the above questions can seem a bit humorous, or even ridiculous.

Consider the plight of the homosexual couple below, and the children.

Besides sexual preference, what other areas of stereotyping, prejudice, and/or discrimination might gays encounter?  Should a gay couple be allowed to legally adopt a child?  She gays be allowed to marry under the rule of law in the United States?  Do gays confer the same legal rights as someone who is heterosexual?  Why are they separate?  Should they be equal?  Why or why not?


Issues of Health and Health Care Reform

February 26, 2010

Posted by:  Chad M. Gesser

Twitter:  @profgesser


The effort of passing health care reform has been a major source of national interest for several presidential election cycles.  Until recently though, health care reform was an idea without much substance or potential of being realized in the United States.

Health care as a social problem is a very complicated issue.  This is precisely why any effort of passing major health care reform has consistently been blocked.  There are several dimensions of health that have rightfully generated a substantial amount of interest in the United States over the past decade.  The issues surrounding health care are not limited to health care insurance.  They include issues of lifestyle and nutrition (including the high incidence of overweight and obese citizens in the United States), the health care costs for the poor, senior citizens, and the health care costs enacted on the government due to a very unhealthy population.
Certainly a big factor influencing President Obama’s effort of enacting health care reform centers around the number of people not covered by some of health insurance in the United States.
When we drill down into the uninsured data, the picture begins to take twists and turns.  Below you’ll see how gender and race of children can be a deterrent for having no health care insurance coverage.

While this data is startling, it’s important to note that the uninsured rate and number for children are the lowest since 1987.

An interesting aspect of the health care reform efforts is the role that social media is playing in the debate.  Go here to view viewer submitted video clips, questions, and politician’s replies regarding health care questions.

Should their be universal health care insurance coverage?  Should there be a sliding scale?  Is health care coverage a right or a privilege?  Should everyone pay into a health care plan, and everyone be able to use that health care plan?  Is the health care coverage problem tied to social class?  Gender?  Race?


McDonaldization and Starbuckization

February 19, 2010
Posted by: Chad M. Gesser
Twitter: @profgesser
“I’ll have a Big Mac, Filet of Fish, Quarter Pounder, French Fries..icy Coke, Big Shake, Sundae, and Apple Pie…”–yeah, I didn’t need to Google that to find the lyrics, that was from memory.
That was a popular “nursery rhyme” when I was younger, a chippy jingle by McDonald’s that served its purpose: to lure me in like the sad fast food sap that I am.
I’m sure you can relate, but what is it that can be made of this “McDonaldization of Society”?  George Ritzer uses McDonald’s as the primary example to illustrate the modernization of society, a move from cultures built on tradition to cultures that are mechanized and highly organized.
The principles that Ray Kroc used to build his food empire have been modeled in businesses from motor companies to coffee: 1. efficiency, 2. predictability, 3. uniformity, and 4. control.  Look at the pervasiveness of both McDonald’s and Starbucks in the world.  This graph dates back to 2003, so imagine the extent this pervasiveness has grown over the past seven years. Notice the profit versus the gross domestic product of Afghanistan.
To what extent have these principles of economic productivity spilled over into the various groups and institutions by which we associate in daily life?  How has the fast food culture come to characterize how we live?
Ritzer built on his ideas surrounding McDonaldization and provides an updated and extended version of his analysis with the concept of Starbuckization.  Hear some of Ritzer’s thoughts on the role and influence of Starbucks as a global business chain at the video below.
Ritzer mentions his focus on structures.  How do businesses and the models they employ promote efficiency, predictability, uniformity, and control?  Why are these important in terms of profit?  How do the business structures affect employee productivity?  How do they affect creativity?  Innovation?  Morale?  In what ways is a highly organized bureaucracy good or bad?

Values and the Media

February 18, 2010

by Sarah Michele Ford

One of the many parts of culture that both reflects and reinforces values is the media.  This happens on all levels of the media, from the lowly commercial to the high-budget action movie, from Ke$ha to opera.  But like so much of culture, often we are so immersed in it that we don’t even notice the subtle ways in which our culture is influencing our behavior.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I am a fan of Grey’s Anatomy.  Yeah, it’s a trashy medical soap opera, but it’s also entertaining.  There’s no doubt, either, that Grey’s both reflects and reinforces our values.  As I watched this year’s Valentine’s Day episode, entitled “Valentine’s Massacre”, I thought about how values were illustrated within the show.  And yes, there are spoilers below the jump. Read the rest of this entry ?


Who Are You?

February 17, 2010
In a previous post (Facebook and Connection) I introduced some concepts related to Georg Simmel’s work around associations and sociability.  One of the more popular self help gurus of the late 20th and early 21st centuries has been Stephen Covey.  An extension of Covey’s work “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” involves a retreat and an examination of one’s circles.
Each of us as individuals can gain great depth of understanding of who we are by examining the positions we hold in society (status) and the expectations of those positions (role).  These are philosophical and questions of meaning that have been explored for quite sometime.
Let me provide a brief introduction to the video below.  This is a studio snapshot of The Who, you know, that band that played at halftime of the 2010 Super Bowl?  For most Who fans, this is The Who that we would rather you come to know and love.  This is a song of theirs, not part of the Super Bowl medley, called “Who Are You”.
So let’s explore the question, posed by Simmel, Covey, The Who, and thousands over time, “Who Are You”?
Considering the social institutions (particularly the Family, Education, and the Economy), what social positions do you occupy in society?  Social positions in this regard are not necessarily paid work.  For example, within the institution of the Family I am a father, a husband, a son, a brother, a cousin, an uncle, amongst other status positions I hold in the social institution of the Family.  With each of those positions, I hold a role or a variety of roles: social expectations for any given social status.  What is expected of me as a father, a husband, etc..?
Take a few minutes to list all of your social statuses (think about your social position in relation to the Family, Education, and the Economy).  Then list your roles for your various positions.  As you begin working through this you can to see the variety of “persons” you are in the world.  As you list roles, you can begin to see the variety of expectations that you have of yourself and the expectations that others have of you.  To add another layer, what is it that defines the social positions we occupy, and the expectations of those positions?  How do we learn our “roles”?
So….Who Are You?

Learning Gender

February 16, 2010

By Sarah Michele Ford

Interacting with young children can be a great window into the ways in which we are socialized into all sorts of things, but most especially gender. This weekend my husband came downstairs wearing a hoop earring instead of his usual stud. As soon as our five-year-old daughter noticed this, she protested.

Kid: DADDY! You can’t wear that earring!
Husband: Why can’t I wear it?
Me: What makes it a girl earring?
Kid: It just IS! Daddy, go change it!

We probed further to try to get her to explain why dangly earrings are for girls and stud earrings are for boys and the best we could get out of her was that girls wear big earrings and boys wear small earrings. Despite us providing her with lots of counter-examples, she stood firm in her belief that certain types of jewelry are gender-marked.

How did she come to make a connection between hoop earrings and gender? What subtle forces are at work here?

(Image credit: Native American Art – Ear Rings; Originally uploaded by Tobyotter)


For the love…of consumerism

February 15, 2010

Posted by: Chad M. Gesser

Twitter: @profgesser


Happy belated Valentine’s Day!!!!

….wait, humor me for a minute.  Would you rather celebrate a holiday for its meaning or are you moved by the overload of consumerism that surrounds our holidays?

Don’t get me wrong, I like to celebrate events, holidays, birthdays, just about anything.  But I have found that the consumerism in my environment, the availability of too much “stuff”, has gotten to be so much of an overload that I’m turned off from celebrating.  That’s a difficult thing for me to consider, because I try to focus on the intent of events (why the celebration is occurring).
That picture above is not an example of overload in and of itself.  But let me clarify something: that is a picture I took at my local grocery store on New Year’s Day.  Doing some last minute shopping on Valentine’s Day a friend I ran into nearly purchased an Easter gift for Valentine’s Day: the marketing and promotions from Easter goodies had mixed in with the Valentine’s Day goodies.  Valentine’s Day on January 1?  Easter on Valentine’s Day? Do I need to mention when Christmas decorations and Christmas merchandise starts to appear?
I suppose what really opened my eyes to the consumerism of any particular holiday season was when I began to uncover the origin of diamonds.  Remember: diamonds are a girl’s best friend.  If you are going to marry someone in the United States, it most likely will involve an engagement ring and/or a wedding band: with a diamond.  Diamonds, much like red roses, are two of the most popular symbols of love in the United States.

But what do you know about diamonds and flowers?  The movie Blood Diamonds brought international public attention to issue of diamonds mined and produced in conflict torn areas of Africa.  Check out this video produced by Current TV that illustrates the issue of country of origin and the conditions by which some of the most sacred objects of Valentine’s Day originate.
Do consumers bear some responsibility for their consumer habits?  Who, if anyone, should accept some level of responsibility when the market plays unfair?  Does it matter?

Facebook and Connection

February 10, 2010

Posted by: Chad M. Gesser

Twitter: @profgesser


All the world is Facebooked, Twittered, MySpaced, Googled….connected.

I have been particularly interested in themes related to connection in my physical community since around the year 2000.  One of my areas of focus as a Sociologist is the Sociology of Community.  Among German Sociologist Georg Simmel’s many contributions is his work examining group size and relationships.  What is integral to the study of community are relationships and connection.
In the year 2000 a major work in the social sciences was published by Robert Putnam, a book entitled “Bowling Alone“.  This book was a national bestseller and spent time on the New York Times bestseller list.  Putnam’s work spoke to the loss of attachment and connection that people had with one another and how the sense of community had declined over the period of the 1970s-1990s.
A basic level research question that I have examined over the past several years is how does the role of internet technology, particularly social networking sites and services, impact relationships and connections?  On a practical level, have Facebook and other social networking services played an important role in meeting the needs of connection and interaction of people not only in the United States, but the world?  Is the void that Putnam highlighted now being filled through the internet?
Let’s examine Facebook a little more closely.  Literally.  Let’s look at my “connections”.
Below is a Facebook application I used back in February of 2008 to map my connections.
I decided to take another snapshot of my friends one year later in February of 2009.  That’s it below.
Notice in the friend wheel above that you can now barely see my name.  I’m literally “covered up with friends”.  This makes me feel loved, connected, friended when I look at this.
Then this month, I took another snapshot of my friends list.  Check this out.
When I first looked at this, it reminded of the sun, or the Earth.  Have my friends and me transcended something extraordinary?
I absolutely love the Friend Wheel application.  It’s striking to see my visual connections.  My “connections” have grown to nearly 300 “friends” over the past three years.  Sure, I have a large quantity of friends, but do I have quality relationships too?  If you are on Facebook, look at your friends list.  How would you characterize your friends?  Are they from high school, former boyfriends/girlfriends?  Family?  Neighbors?
After characterizing your friends, now think about those you maintain contact with, whether physically or visually, on a regular basis.  Some of these may also be Facebook friends.  What is the difference between “real life friends” and “Facebook friends”?  Do you consider the Facebook friends real?  What is the purpose of Facebook?

Developing a Sociological Imagination

February 8, 2010

by Sarah Michele Ford

One of the most difficult things for the new sociology student is to understand what on earth the “sociological imagination” or the “sociological perspective” is.  The idea of learning to relate, as C. Wright Mills puts it, your biography to your moment in history and realizing the ways in which that combination of factors influences how you view the world is challenging to say the least, and one of the major goals of any introductory sociology class.

Probably the easiest way to develop the muscles of your sociological imagination is to USE them; the only way to learn to think sociologically is to challenge yourself to DO SO.  This week, I asked my class to do just that – to think about how their own biography and history would impact their interpretation of a social phenomenon such as poverty, educational inequality, gender inequality, or the changing divorce rate.

As an example, we spoke about how my own biography and history might impact my interpretation of the childfree by choice movement.  In this growing social movement, individuals and couples of childbearing age are making the conscious decision to forego parenting for a variety of reasons.

Every individual would come to an analysis of this phenomenon based on their own experiences.  For me, a number of factors will impact how I look at the movement.  First off, I am a parent.  Not only that, I did not come by parenthood easily.  That personal experience naturally must shade my thoughts about people who would choose not to raise children.  I’m not just a product of my own relationship to parenting, though; my opinions are also influenced by the historical context in which I live.  In particular, I look at the idea of choosing a child free life through the lens of our growing knowledge of the impact that the growing human population is having on the planet.

Somewhere in the space between those considerations lies my sociological perspective on the childfree movement.  We all go through this same process, whether consciously or unconsciously, whenever we try to flex our sociological imaginations.  The challenge is to be aware of the process.

How do your own biography and history impact your sociological imagination?


A Girl Like Me

February 4, 2010

Posted by: Chad M. Gesser

Twitter: @profgesser


Socialization is characterized as the life long social experience by which individuals develop their human potential and learn culture.  The socialization process begins soon after birth, as babies are cared for (or not) by their parents or other loved ones from their family.  Of course that experience is as varied as there are cultures in our world.  We begin to learn at a very early age how to love, to hate, to care for, to fight, and to ultimately relate to other people in our society.

We also learn our position in society, particularly in terms of social class, gender, and race.  We are influenced by history and the social norms of society.  Norms aren’t necessarily right or wrong, but we gauge ourselves to the cultural standards in society, and as Mead would characterize, we develop that sense of self.

As an example of how we internalize what we perceive in society, watch the “Girl Like Me” video below

.  Many students question the validity of these girls’ interpretations of what others think about them.  Keep in mind these are the experiences of these girls, right or wrong, and it is the “job” of the Sociologist to ask the critical questions as to why.

What shapes their viewpoints?  What popular messages in society influence their perceptions?  What ideas and/or behaviors have they garnered from their family and peers that influences their sense of self?