Contexts – Summer ’11

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Today’s summaries come from the American Sociological Association
magazine Contexts (vol. 10, no.3).  My summaries include the sections on sociologists in the field, & from the journals – discoveries. I don’t write about every article, just those that I thought were noteworthy and interesting.  I’ll try to keep them short, but you know me…

From the editors

As with every edition of contexts, the one page “from the editors”, starts the publication with, not only a preview of coming attractions in this edition, but an upbeat focus on sociologists and their relationship to society.  They begin the essay commenting on the Slate article “What’s the matter with sociology?”  Venkatesh criticizes sociology as having lost its way.  While sociology once “examined cherished beliefs and institutions…  Stereotypes and misguided policies”, Venkatesh suggests that it is not taking on big public problems and divisive social issues that were once the focus of attention.  Hartman and Uggen (contexts editors) disagree with his proposition and begin their highlighting of the articles in this edition that take on big issues (as did the last issues). I’ll get to those on later posts.

They write about the problem with making sociology public and the impression that the public gets when sociologist speak of social problems.  I’ve experienced the comments they cite when discussing articles on social inquiry as sociologists being the “Debbie Downers” of the social science world.  They contend that sociology and sociologists have responsibilities to conduct research and ensure that it finds its way to those who need it, “and sometimes  even when they don’t even realize that they need it”.

Sociology of culture – canines and class conflict

K.G. cites the popularity of cat videos on the Internet and high ratings of animal behavior shows as a safe bet that pets fill important roles in society.  Blouin, Indiana university, provides three categories of pet owners: a) dominionists love their pets but see them as replaceable and rent both teams; humanists, cherish their pets and treat them as children; and protectionists, try to consider the needs of each animal.  As with most group interactions, they are critical of each other.

What sociologist Elizabeth Terrien found that these views vary dramatically by class, ethnicity, and geographic location. Whether the dog should be nestled under the covers or relegated to the yard isn’t just personal preference.  People from roll backgrounds of sea dogs as Guardians to be kept outside were middle class folks generally treat them as children.

Benedict Carey, in a recent New York Times article, explored the pet’s position within the family.  In the article he reminds us that sometimes even the most personal choices are linked to larger social forces.  “Class matters, even for dogs and cats.”

War on terror – goodbye, bin Laden

H.N. discusses how the United States perceived the death of bin laden.  People across the United States spoke of a sense of closure and relief. Others partied.  Revelers draped themselves and flags and openly celebrated. Sociologists suggest that it was actually to be expected.

Because of the high percentage of Americans who embrace competition, his death was confirmation that our approach is superior to his.  “that’s what’s being  celebrated, and that’s why you see the flags.” Sociologists point to both political and generational differences for an explanation.  While older cohorts interpreted the events as an attack and a solemn event, those who were children, or even adolescents, at the time of 911 have experienced it only as an interpreted and thoroughly understood cultural event.  For these young people “when enemy #1 gets taken out, it’s time to break out the champagne”.

A fall guy on the stand

This short piece talks about the options of a corporation mired in scandal: court and a public airing of the details, settle out of court for a hefty sum, or “blame individual bad apples for the crime”.  Benediktsson’s 2010 article analyzed six large-scale scandals between 2001 and 2002.  He found that most corporations pick option C.

Think of the Enron scandal.  CEO Kenneth Lay took the heat to divert public attention from the corporation itself. Letting individuals tend for themselves protects the company’s
reputation and saves millions of dollars in legal fees and other services.  It reduces corporate costs – in 2001, Xerox paid $10 million but the six fall guys paid $22 million – and it satisfies the media’s preference (and us readers) for a face and a story that’s much more interesting than the legal proceedings against some faceless corporation.

Crimequakes

In four paragraphs, S.S. summarizes a forthcoming American Statistical Association article on projecting the incidence of crime.  The authors used a seismological model, normally used to predict aftershocks from earthquakes, to analyze the occurrence of burglaries in Los Angeles during 2004 and 2005.

This predictive method did a much better job than the retrospective crime-mapping system currently in use.  “If your neighbor’s house is burglarized, yours might be next in line… burglary and gang violence tend to happen close to each other in both time and space.”

Hate housework?  get rich

This cute summary by H.N. Affirms what most of us already realize.  Across 33 countries, lower-income men and women spend more time on housework than their higher-income counterparts.  Differences were greatest for women when economic inequality was high and domestic work was outsourced.

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