Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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Nature versus Nurture

April 27, 2010

by Sarah Michele Ford

A few weeks ago my family and I took a weekend trip to Boston.  On the way home, we were assigned seats that had the three of us sitting separately.  My five-year-old daughter had been assigned an exit row seat and the two adults had been seated together at the front of the plane.  Not a problem, we thought – I would just take the exit row seat and The Kid would sit up front with her dad.  When our boarding group was called, we went to get on the plane.  The gate agent (a middle-aged woman) asked “Who is The Kid?”  I indicated that it was, in fact, The Kid but added “But I’m going to take her seat.”

Home Again“Oh,” the gate agent says.  “I’m going to change your seat.”
“Why?” I ask.
“You’re a mother.  If there’s an emergency, your first instinct is going to be to go to your child.”  And she printed up a new boarding pass, still in The Kid’s name, that put me even further away from where The Kid and her dad were sitting.  As she handed it to me she said, “There.  Now you can sit with your baby.”  (I assume that she meant for The Husband to take the distant seat.)  And she tousled The Kid’s hair as we walked by.

When we treat gender and socialization in Introductory Sociology courses, the question of the nature versus nurture debate always comes up.  Which has a stronger influence on our behavior – biology or socialization? Clearly the gate agent and I were coming at this “problem” (which really wasn’t a problem at all) from very different perspectives; she thought that, as a mother, I would be incapable of dealing with the responsibilities of sitting in the exit row when seated apart from my child.  That the “mothering instinct” would win out in an emergency situation.  She was favoring nature over nurture.  I, on the other hand, was simply looking forward to a little extra leg room and and hour and a half of peace and quiet.

When it comes to gender, and in particular to parenting, which do you think is more influential: nature or nurture?

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Teaching Social Adaptation through Sports

March 17, 2009

A number of sociologists suggest that some socialization research identifies competitive team sports as an avenue to teach social cooperation under pressure through productive competition. Others might suggest it underscores the need for membership in a social collectivity. Many sociologists would identify the resulting social skill set and understandings as important for young people’s adaptation to complex societies.

The above perspective is based in part on a foundational sociological concept called the “generalized other.” This refers to a person’s ability to understand what society expects of her based upon her understanding of overarching values and norms within society as a means to achieve goals and objectives. These social insights help her to determine where and how she fits into society.

What do you think about the above interpretation of sports? Do you have an opinion you want to share? If so, respond to one of the talking points below:

1. Some might argue a key assumption in the analysis of sports presented above is a basic principle: “it isn’t whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” Otherwise, people’s behavior would be organized under a set of rules. Anomie or confusion would result—preventing the participants from being taught stable forms of social cooperation. What do you think is most important in school athletics: following the rules or winning? If you answered “following the rules,” what do you think is preventing such an environment from developing? If you answered “winning,” what changes have occurred in society in the last 100 years that supported this view? Why?

2. Can you think of some positive effects that sports might have upon society, other than providing a medium through which to teach social cooperation?

3. What other social institutions teach cooperation or productive competition in society today? How?

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Mainstreaming Academics through Failing Newspapers

March 11, 2009

If you watch the news, read newspapers, and view Internet-based news sources—as I do daily—then you can’t help but be aware of an apparent downward trend in the readership of local and national newspapers. Everyone seems to be writing about it, especially newspaper journalists. There seems to be what many sociologists call a “flow-of-events” associated with the phenomena.

Readership of a newspaper drops. Business responds by reducing advertisements in newspapers and going to other media in an attempt to communicate with more potential customers. Newspapers lose money and respond by releasing staff, reducing issues, or closing. This process may result in the reduction of information sources for the public.

Some academics, such as Jonathan Zimmerman, suggest that newspapers turn to college professors for help. He argues professors could donate quality writings for free or at a much lower cost. Some sociologists would agree with him, concluding scholars in social sciences would be pre-qualified for such a task through their own expertise in such fields as economics, criminal justice, criminology, politics, education, history, or military studies (academics often refer to these as “field of interest” or “specialty”). Most college professors would bring to the table the writing experience associated with a long list of publications.

Would you like to discuss this possibility from a sociological perspective? If so, select one or more of the discussion topics below and post your response:

1. Zimmerman suggests that having professors donate writings to newspapers might re-introduce academics to the general public—a process sociologists have referred to as “mainstreaming.” Mainstreaming could result in a strengthened respect and appreciation for economics, history, philosophy, political science, or psychology in the public mind. What would be some additional advantages to these academic disciplines? Can you think of some disadvantages or dangers this might have for these disciplines?

2. Do you think the skill set of a journalist is different than an academic researcher? If so, how? Do you think such differences would improve or degrade the content of newspapers? Do you think such differences would increase or decrease newspaper circulation? Why?

3. Some sociologists would suggest instead of “propping up” failing newspapers by reducing operation costs, newspaper management should review why readership is dropping and address that issue instead of trying to adapt to a lower level of readership. What social factors do you think might explain reduced levels of newspaper readership? Can newspaper management control or adapt to the social facts you’ve listed? If so, explain how. If not, explain why.

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The Green Movement in a Flush?

February 28, 2009

Controlling the human impact on the environment has become quite an issue lately. How different societies attempt to become more responsible varies depending upon the specific character of each society. For example, if primitive coal production is high in a society, then more advanced “clean coal” production methods might be adopted. If a nation is heavily involved in commercial fishing, then the amount of fish harvested might be reduced or the number of fish raised to replenish populations might be increased.

Some societies might attempt to conserve natural resources by reducing consumption. Canada and Australia are two examples. Both want to reduce the amount of water people are using to flush their toilets, but they are approaching this goal very differently. Australia wants to develop a tax law that will charge Australians for each flush. Canada has passed legislation to pay people a tax rebate to use smaller toilet tanks.

Would you like to comment about this or other consumption control measures? If so, you can start by responding to one of the topics below:

1) The Canadian flush tax might seem far fetched, but can you think of a consumption tax used in the United States designed to reduce the use of a product or service? How successful was the tax? What insight does this give you to a similar approach in reducing natural resource consumption?

2) Which do you think would be the most effective in changing flush behavior: charging someone to flush or paying them to flush less? Explain your answer. How can the principles and assumptions of your response be generalized to control other behavior such as drunk driving, crime, or smoking?

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Discrimination In a Word?

February 13, 2009

Carol Thatcher is the daughter of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Until recently, she appeared regularly on a morning program in the United Kingdom called “The One Show.” It has been reported that Carol Thatcher remarked that tennis player Jo-Wilfried Tsonga reminded her of a “golliwog.” This term refers to a minstrel rag doll and has been used in Britain as slang to refer to blacks.

Recently Prince Harry referred to his friend in the army as his “little Paki friend.” Paki is a slang term referring to Pakistanis. Prince Harry, who also wore a Nazi uniform to a costume party, has since apologized. Some people have wondered if such behavior might be an older generational phenomena largely manifested in the British upper class. Other people argue that racism is a serious persisting problem in most societies. Still others seriously condemn this type of response as an overreaction.

Discussion Topics:
1) Do you think levels of racism vary from generation to generation? Do you think specific groups targeted by racism can also vary from generation to generation?

2) If prejudice is an idea and discrimination is an act, then can someone discriminate without being prejudiced? Provide an example.

3) Do you think people’s age or social experiences (groups created based on these variables are what sociologists call cohorts) should be used to determine blameworthiness for discriminatory behavior?

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Applying Your Sociological Imagination to the Draft

February 13, 2009

Rep. Rangel is a highly decorated Korean War veteran

Rep. Rangel is a highly decorated Korean War veteran


In his book “The Sociological Imagination,” C. Wright Mills explained that sociologists should be concerned with understanding how social history and individuals’ life courses were connected through society. For example, consider how war can alter the course of a person’s life. He might have to leave home to fight or leave home to avoid fighting. She might have to postpone her education. He might have to postpone his wedding. She might have to adopt a different career to serve in the war effort. He might have to raise his children by himself. Individuals cannot control war, but war affects individuals.

In 2006, Rep. Charles Rangel (D-NY) attempted to introduce legislation in Congress to re-introduce the military draft. Supposedly he is considering introducing draft legislation again in 2009 after the economic stimulus plan is addressed. Using your sociological imagination, respond to one of the discussion topics listed below:

Discussion Topics:
1) What potential effects do you think a military draft could have on Americans today? Make sure your responses include both constructive and negative ramifications.

2) Do you think women should be included in a military draft? Why or why not?

3) Do you think a military draft and compulsory community service would have different effects on individuals? Which would you prefer? Why?

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