Wednesday April 16, 2014
"Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." This oft-repeated old adage is taught to children to encourage them to let insults roll of their backs, instead of allowing them to cause pain and make one upset. However, when it comes to race, sociologists Michael Omi and Howard Winant demonstrate, with their theory of racial formation, just how much words, and the ideas they represent, can hurt people. This theory, which frames how we understand race and how it organizes society as an ever-unfolding process, helps us see how common sense notions of race and about racial categories have very real connections to things like access to rights and resources. How we understand and represent race in language, images, and in media for example, has an impact on who gets which jobs or any job at all, who gets into college, and who goes to prison, among other things. Click here
to learn more about this influential theory of race.
Monday April 14, 2014
Today, many in the United States like to believe that we are "beyond" race and our country's racist past. Some might point to the election of President Barack Obama, to the artistic and financial success of musicians and entertainers like Jay-Z, Beyoncé, and Jennifer Lopez, the recent accolades heaped upon actor Lupita N'yongo, or to rising high school graduation and college matriculation rates of Latin@ Americans as proof that racism is a thing of the past. But despite the success of some, sociologists today document patterns of unequal access to rights, resources, and privileges on the basis of race, as well as harsh penalties paid on the basis of race. These include the mass incarceration of black and Latino boys and men (and increasingly, women), the disproportionate losses suffered by black and Latino home owners during the recent foreclosure crisis, and lower life expectancy and higher rates of chronic disease among the same populations. Theorist Joe R. Feagin helps us see and understand the connections between our country's racist roots and the realities of racism today with his theory of "systemic racism." Click here to learn more
Wednesday April 9, 2014
Not all forms of prejudice are equal. While some might think that referring to a black person with the n-word is no different than assuming a blond person to be dumb, sociologists see important differences between prejudice--holding preconceived notions about a group of people--and racism. While many forms of prejudice are negative, not all forms result in the kinds of structural inequalities that define racism. So what exactly is racism? It's much more than insults and prejudices. Click here to learn more
Wednesday April 9, 2014
What sort of identities, group affiliations, and values are fostered by shopping in the Apple Store? Is it possible to be an ethical consumer in today's world? Is there a connection between consumption and racial profiling? What happens to a neighborhood and its inhabitants when it suddenly becomes cool and hip? At what age does advertising begin seeping into human consciousness?
These are the kinds of questions that researchers pursue within the subfield of the sociology of consumption. A prominent aspect of sociology in North America, Europe, Australia, and the UK, and now growing in China and India, the sociology of consumption builds on the theoretical foundation of sociology to examine the central role that consumption plays in social life today, and to tease out the social, economic, political, and environmental implications that follow it. Learn more here.
Monday March 31, 2014
How do sociologists parse the ethics of consumption in today's world? Is it simply about making the "right" choice in support of sustainable and fairly traded products? Or, is there more to it than that? Pierre Bourdieu, Jean Baudrillard, and Zygmunt Bauman offer some useful insights for thinking about ethics beyond product choice, especially as consumption intersects hierarchies of race, class, and culture. The question of whether it is possible to be an ethical consumer today is more complicated than a first glance might suggest. Click here
to read more.
Monday March 31, 2014
On April 24, 2013, the Rana Plaza factory in Savar, Bangladesh collapsed, killing 1,129 people and injuring over 2,500
. The building contained several garment factories that were contracted to do work for global brands like Walmart, Benneton, the Children's Place, and Zara. A few months prior, a deadly fire tore through
the Tazreen factory in Bangladesh, which was also fulfilling orders for Walmart brand clothing when over 100 workers were killed. As recent as 2011, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers exposed slavery in industrial farming in Florida
. On March 30, 2014, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its latest report
, stating that global climate change continues unabated, spurred by ever-increasing levels of carbon monoxide emitted into our atmosphere. With the mounting bad news related to global capitalist production and consumption, one wonders, is it possible to be an ethical consumer in today's world? Click here
to read the Sociology Expert's answer to this question.
Saturday March 29, 2014
Sociologists describe "culture" as the commonly understood symbols, language, values, beliefs, and norms of a society. They also conceive of it as central to how humans live in societies. It is via the tools available in a culture that we can understand each other and communicate, knowingly navigate the world around us, learn and amuse ourselves, share in experiences together, form relationships, and it is even that which allows us to engage in thought. Culture is a deeply important aspect of society.
So what then does it mean to live in a consumerist culture? Well, it means that all of those things described above, and many other aspects of our lives, are colored by consumerism, the principle and propelling force of Western societies today. Something that makes consumerist culture distinct from other types of culture is that its values favor that which is ever changing, be that individual identity, membership in groups or communities, or the trends that dominate the culture. The consumerist culture promotes a life constantly in flux, and not rooted to anything or anyone in particular. Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman developed this concept, and theorized some troubling implications that follow it. Click here to learn more.
Wednesday March 26, 2014
Consumerism is a word that gets tossed around quite a bit, but what does it actually mean? Does it simply refer to the fact that we buy stuff regularly, or that our culture is inundated by advertising? Well, in a way, yes. But, it also means much more. Sociologists including Zygmunt Bauman, Robert G. Dunn, and Colin Campbell (among quite a few others!) offer smart discussions of what makes consumerism distinct from consumption itself. In short, while consumption is a thing that we do
, consumerism is an attribute of society, an ideology, and a way of life. It is the channeling of all of our desires, wants, and longing into consumer goods in a quest for happiness and fulfillment. But, troublingly, consumerism is actually defined by the perpetual non-satisfaction of those very things.
We can see consumerism in action, for example, in the lines that wrap the exterior of Apple Stores in the 24 hours prior to a release of new product. Many of those who wait in these lines already have an iPhone or iPad, but they swarm the Apple Store and wait on line for the newest and best version of the product, because Apple, like all strategic corporations, thrives on the planned obsolescence of its products. When a customer exits the store with their new product in hand, those waiting outside often erupt in applause and cheers, and smile gleefully as they await their turn to upgrade or buy in to the brand. But, the fulfillment that comes from that purchase is fleeting, and decays over time. The slow growth of dissatisfaction in the afterglow of consumption is a defining characteristic of consumerism. Click here to learn more.
Saturday March 22, 2014
In his book Consuming Life
, Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman argues that we live in a society of consumers in which consumption
dominates culture, everyday practices, lifestyles, values, identities, world views, and behavior. In such a society we understand ourselves and operate primarily as consumers, and are urged by society to not only keep up, but to stay ahead of others in order to stand out and be seen as valuable members of society. He argues that this causes a crisis of ethics, because we view responsibility as solely to and for ourselves, rather than to and for others. Further, he suggests that this has lead to a weakened democracy, wherein we conceive of freedom simply as "freedom to choose," and view consumption as our primary obligation to society. This rings true, when one recalls that President George W. Bush urged Americans to support their country by going out and shopping
in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Do you agree with Bauman's assertions? Read more
to find out.
Friday March 21, 2014
Consumption is a mundane thing that we all do on an everyday basis. Most of us think of it as something we simply have to do to survive. But when you think about it, consumption plays a large and important role in the way we live our lives. Sociologists recognize that consumption adds value to our lives by helping us express our identity, relate to others, celebrate holidays and important events, and by giving us enjoyment and pleasure. Yet, they also realize that there are negative implications that follow the central role consumption plays in society. Just as consumption serves as a way to belong to a group, it also serves as a method of exclusion along lines of race, class, culture, religion, and nationality. Read more
about how sociologists understand consumption.