Archive for May, 2010

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Tarballs and Golf balls and Top Hats, Oh My – or – the Sociology of an Oil Spill (part 1)

May 14, 2010

by Sarah Michele Ford

NASA Satellite image of the oil slick

May 9th satellite image of the oil slick. (Photo from Nasa Goddard Photo and Video - http://www.flickr.com/photos/gsfc/4593725964)

The continuing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico offers us the opportunity to look at a wide variety of sociological questions ranging from humans’ impact on the environment to organizational sociology to the connections between types of work and socioeconomic statuses.  The first issue I’d like to explore related to the oil spill, however, is how it relates to the global economy.

BP & TransOcean LogosThe Deepwater Horizon rig is owned by BP – British Petroleum; the rig was being operated by TransOcean.  The blowout preventer – the piece of equipment that failed when the rig exploded – was installed by Halliburton and owned by TransOcean.  Here already we see the global economy at work.  Just sorting out which multinational corporation is responsible for which parts of the equipment is practically a Herculean task.  The spill’s economic impacts, however, are much bigger than just the losses that will be incurred by those three corporations.  Most immediately, the spill is hurting the fishing and shrimping industries along the gulf coast.  Tourism, which is also a major industry, is another immediate victim.  It remains to be seen how much of the rest of the national and world economy will be affected.

What can the sociologist  learn from this?  First and foremost,  that we live in a world economy that relies on multinational corporations.  This makes it hard to pin any one entity down as responsible when an accident happens (as this week’s Congressional hearings showed).  It does, however, raise more questions than it answers… which is why next time we’ll look at what the Deepwater Horizon spill tells us about global demand for oil.

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Why do we care about gay marriage?

May 2, 2010

by Sarah Michele Ford

The gay marriage debate casts a light on a wide variety of issues that are relevant to the sociology student.

Fundamentally, this is a debate about our values, about the role of religion and government in our society, and about definitions of family.  Where you come down on the question of gay marriage depends on how you look at each of these issues.

  • Proponents of gay marriage frame the issue in terms of equal rights.  They argue that to exclude gay couples from the legal benefits of marriage is a violation of civil rights; they argue that allowing religious groups to control what couples may or may not get married violates the separation of church and state.
  • Opponents of gay marriage frame the issue in terms of religion and traditional family structures.  They argue that within Judeo-Christian tradition, homosexuality is a sin and marriage is defined as a union between one man and one woman.  Some also add that marriage is the creation of a family and that a family means parents and their children; since it is biologically impossible for a gay couple to have children (that get their genetic material from those two parents) there’s no reason for them to get married.

And therein lies the challenge.  Gay marriage exposes the seams in our society, seams around what constitutes a family and who gets to decide on that definition; seams around the importance of equality and around the role of religion in American culture.  All of these conflicts revolve around things that many people hold so dear, it’s no wonder this has become such a divisive issue.

Can the gay marriage debate be resolved in a way that’s satisfying to everyone?  Or does one of these sides have to lose the fight?