Friday, August 31, 2007

Secret Word of the Day

When I was a child, I sometimes (usually when there was nothing else on) watched the show "Pee-wee's Playhouse."* In a nutshell, this show consisted of the host, Pee-wee (played by Paul Reubens), who would do crazy things with a cast of characters for 30 minutes. This was all designed to make kids laugh, but usually it made me want to pull my hair out, especially the infamous "Secret Word of the Day" segment. In this segment, Conky the robot would generate a secret word. Then, for the rest of that episode, whenever somebody said that word, everybody had to yell and scream. Paul Reubens yelling is not my idea of good television.

Anyway, while reading an article this afternoon, I came across a word that I was able to figure out in context, but decided to look up anyway since I had never seen it.** And so, I shall present all of you with my own secret word of the day, but I want to change the rules. Instead of yelling when the word is used, I would like you to try to use it as often as you can over Labor Day weekend. It will be an interesting experiment to see how people react. I'm predicting that they're going to say, "What?" a lot.

So, without further ado, here is my secret word with a link to its definition...

Have fun!

*You should really go to this site by the way. The music is WAY trippy, as is the house.
**As a side note, if you already knew this word, then I'd like to know. Where has it been hiding all my life?

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Role Conflict

I am both a sociologist and a fiance/woman/real person. This combination of identities, and their consequent roles has caused me more trouble than usual* this weekend, as my fiance and I are trying belatedly and madly to finish wedding invitations. Role conflict has occurred in two ways:

  1. Publishing an article (any article) in a journal (any journal) has become so salient that even with a template of a response card in front of me that gives the options "Accepts" and "Regrets," I accidentally typed "Accepts" and "Rejects." My fiance also did not notice this, which makes me feel some better. Thankfully, we've only printed half of the response cards, so we anticipate sending the incorrect ones to our sociologist and blind friends and sending the correct ones to the people who love Miss Manners. This is definitely a case of my sociologist role getting in the way of my "real person" role.
  2. Beginning with my father, I forgot to add the appropriate "Dr." title to the addresses. This means that our lucky friends who have already graduated, and several of my parents' friends, will not be getting the appropriate status labels on their invitations. Normally, I might not care about this, but I know enough about Status Characteristics Theory (and I value my own higher education enough) that the sociologist in me is quite angry at the "real person who is really stressed" in me and is tempted to madly call people to apologize (especially our friend who is single but has gotten her Ph.D.).

Thankfully, there are other parts of me, including the "rational self," who reminds me that if people are that worried about their incorrect status then they can just Reject us and we can move on with our lives. Back to work, then...

*Academics have a very hard time separating their work from their home lives from time to time.**
**Okay, you caught me. I mean 95% of the time.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Guilty Pleasure

I have to admit that I get addicted to reality shows every once in awhile. It's just incredibly interesting to me to watch identity maintenance in action. It's also a perfect microcosm of reality construction in the Berger and Luckmann sense. Hm...maybe I should start showing clips to my students.

Anyway, for those who haven't been exposed to Berger and Luckmann in the past, the main idea is that humans are born into an existing society and internalize the messages from that society accordingly (thus, a little girl will probably grow up feminine and a little boy masculine*). However, existing society came from somewhere, and this is where it always stumps my students. Individuals (and more commonly groups of individuals) are constantly creating and recreating their social worlds. So, an individual is born into a society, but that individual will help perpetuate (or change) that society with his/her actions. Today in class I used the example of my students sitting in seats staring at me, much as they have for the past 15 years of their lives in similar classrooms (because they were socialized to do so from the age of 5). Nobody challenged my status as a teacher. Likewise, I played my role** as teacher, and didn't start doing cartwheels, which I can't do anyway...maybe I could have done a somersault. Anyway, I digress. Ultimately, Berger and Luckmann argue that the relationship between individuals and society (or any social system) is dialectical; you can't understand one without the other.

What's most fascinating about reality shows is that the participants both conform to/recreate the norms learned/internalized in their larger social system, as well as create new "realities." I linked to "Age of Love" earlier, which I am hesitant to admit watching.*** The show's producers created an artificial rivalry between the "cougars," or 40-somethings and the "kittens," or 20-somethings, who were all vying for 30-yr.-old Mark's attention. What was interesting to me was the way that the women so quickly bought in to the rivalry, but this wasn't surprising. Hierarchy is a part of human life (especially when a valued good is introduced to the situation, although I still don't understand the draw of that man), as is homophily (the tendency for people to choose similar alters). In America, age stratification is not always that pervasive, but these women made it so. They started identifying themselves less on their occupational or parental status, and almost solely by their age status, which created a nice little "reality" that looked somewhat similar, but not quite the same as the normal reality of most of us who don't constantly think of our age.**** In other words, age became a more important status characteristic than it usually is for the majority of us...or perhaps it just became more noticeable that we have deep stereotypes based on age.

*Although this is a simplistic example, given ongoing findings about biological differences between the sexes, gender is one of the easiest things to observe in our everyday lives, and so it serves as a good jumping off point here.
**Brad Wright has a nice discussion of role theory on his blog here.
***Did any of the rest of you find the guy completely devoid of substance? If we trust homophily, that says a lot about the woman he chose.
****To be fair, I may feel differently about this when I'm no longer in my twenties.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Public Sociology in National Geographic?

I've recently been thinking about venues through which sociologists could get our insights out into interesting, public venues that highlight good science. National Geographic (N.G. from now on) seems like it would be an excellent candidate.

For a long time, I have immensely enjoyed reading about anthropological studies in N.G. More recently, N.G. published an article in March (2007) titled "Orlando Beyond Disney: The Theme-Parking, Megachurching, Franchising, Exurbing, McMansioning of America." The title of this piece alone should send shivers up any respecting sociologist's spine - they used some of our terms!!! More concretely, this article discusses sociological concepts in a very straight-forward, commonsensical way, without using a lot of mumbo jumbo or reams of statistics with effects that only those versed in logistic regression can read.

I really encourage you all to read it (especially those of you who have been to Orlando, or any other location with rampant suburban sprawl - think Atlanta, Phoenix, Los Angeles, etc...). Then I'd love to hear your thoughts on using N.G. as a venue for our work. Perhaps I should suggest a section at the ASA next year to discuss this topic. Hm....

Monday, August 20, 2007

No, Our Wedding Website is NOT a Porn Site

Funny anecdote, as well as a sociological insight into the technological rifts that course through different generations...

My mom called me yesterday to tell me that the fiance and I had made our wedding website overly difficult to find. I replied, "Didn't you type in the address that was included on our save the date card?," thinking that perhaps I had mistyped something (or miss-cut & pasted).

Do you think she just typed in the URL? No, she had typed in part of the address in Google, because Google is the first window that comes up when she opens the internet, and she always uses Google to find everything.

Fair enough. She was an excellent executive secretary for a time a long time ago (when typewriters were still in vogue), and my father's frustration with computers over the years* has led her to be overly scared of messing them up,** which explains the over-use of Google.

Anyway, when she typed in part of our wedding website address into the computer, reams of porn*** sites came up. And, to be fair, one of our family friends (from my mother's generation) also did the exact same thing my mom did, and came up with the same porn sites.

When I told my fiance**** this anecdote over breakfast this morning, he just laughed and said he should have figured that people might accidentally find porn when they went looking for us. When I asked him why (I never expected them to find porn sites, you see), he replied, "For one thing, people are stupid. For another thing, there's a lot of porn on the internet."

And that seems to explain it all.

*I'd like to mention that my father gets frustrated with computers because he always expects them to do the most complicated tasks, and then gets cranky when they don't cooperate.
**My father also instilled me with this fear. Fortunately, I was taught about computers early on in my life, and somewhere around the age of 22 realized that I know WAY more about them than he may ever know. However, I will always also know that when the computer is bad, you should "damn it to hell."
***Don't worry...this link won't take you to actual porn.
****Interesting trivia of the day...Tom Selleck was originally recruited to play Indiana Jones.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007


This past weekend I went into Victoria Secret to redeem a coupon I had for a free pair of underwear. While there, I decided to try some stuff on (while my fiance patiently waited in the store for me*).

Anyway, while in the dressing room, I heard a pair of teenaged girls talking. In addition to talking about whether their bras were "cute,"** one of the girls decided to declare, "God, I wish I were anorexic! I tried not to eat today, but my mom made me eat because I was grumpy." To the other girl's credit, she had no reply to this.

I, on the other hand, was very, very disturbed.*** Obviously, the pressure to be thin has not waned since I was in junior high or high school. But it's going a bit far to wish you were anorexic.****

I realize that generations are always lamenting the awful morals of subsequent generations. However, my experience in Victoria Secret, coupled with Slag's excellent analysis of the "morals" of Bratz dolls over on Total Drek, brings out the same reaction in me. I'm more than a little frightened about what my children will face in middle and high school.

*He hates doing this, mind you. I believe his exact words were, "I either look like I'm waiting for somebody, or I look like a random pervert." Ah, impression management...
**I swear, I must have been quite backward in my teenage years. What my bra looked like made very little difference to me, but then I was the only one seeing it.
***My fiance was also quite distressed when I told him this story. My parents, on the other hand, laughed. I still don't get their reaction.
****I could go into long sociological analysis here, but I'm going to stop my analysis here, and just let this anecdote speak for itself.

Friday, August 3, 2007


Well, next week the annual meeting of the American Sociological Society is going to occur. I'm getting nervous as I prepare my talk. I'm not nervous about my talk per se, but the criticisms I might receive. However, disagreement is inherently built into the scientific machine - otherwise we would still be thinking the sun revolved around the earth. In addition, occasionally facing the fire and coming through to the other side is good for my growth as a scholar and a human being.

Our garden is growing, too. I am so excited that we will soon have our very own tomatoes and jalapenos. Yum!!!

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Well, I'ts Nice to Know I'm Not a Slytherin

The sorting hat says that I belong in Ravenclaw!


Said Ravenclaw, "We'll teach those whose intelligence is surest."

Ravenclaw students tend to be clever, witty, intelligent, and knowledgeable.
Notable residents include Cho Chang and Padma Patil (objects of Harry and Ron's affections), and Luna Lovegood (daughter of The Quibbler magazine's editor).

Take the most scientific Harry Potter Quiz ever created.

Get Sorted Now!