Posts Tagged ‘culture’


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?


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 ?


The Sociology of Avatar

January 15, 2010

Posted by: Chad M. Gesser

Twitter: @profgesser


I’m not a movie connoisseur or reviewer by ANY stretch of the imagination. Seriously, you would likely bow your head, shaking it in shame if you knew the movies I had NOT seen.

Ok, so I got that off my chest.  Now, let’s turn our attention to a little movie that came out late December of 2009 called “Avatar”.  Without question the most significant aspect of Avatar was/is how the movie was made.  Groundbreaking technology was used in filming the movie, not to mention the movie came out in both 3D and normal movie viewing mode.  While numbers of movie goers having seen Avatar is hard to come by, the dollar figures aren’t.  At the time of this blog post, Avatar has made well over $1 billion, making it the fastest movie ever to reach that amount in box office sales.

There are those movies that I went into expecting a ton, and was quite disappointed.  I didn’t even want to see Avatar, so I went to say I indeed had seen it.

Needless to say, it was definitely a “wow” experience.  The visual effects were stunning.  But what I did not expect going into the movie, and what still captivates my memory of the event that is Avatar, was/is the clear examples of Sociology.

My first reactions after seeing Avatar can be found in a series of tweets I made on Twitter:

There have been a wide range of reactions to Avatar, and the Sociology of the movie.  Josh McCabe at The Sociological Imagination weighed in.  A widely distributed post by Annalee Newitz at the blog io9 highlights the racist overtones of the movie, comparing it to Dancing With Wolves, Distict 9, and others.  Twitter friend of mine “SocProf” had a similar reaction,  found here.

Regardless of one’s positive or negative viewpoints of the movie, no one can argue the Sociological metaphors found throughout the movie.  Did you notice the difference in cultural beliefs of the people of Pandora pitted against the humans from Earth?  What about the role of religion on Pandora compared to the traditional practices of religion we have come to know on Earth?