Earworms: How and Why Music Gets Stuck in Your Head

Have you ever had a song playing in  your mind that you just can’t tune out? The social science term for this is “involuntary musical imagery” (IMI) otherwise known as an “earworm.” In this post, I’ll discuss research about IMI, focusing on data from a study by Victoria Williamson and colleagues tracing the “earworm” phenomenon. I end by discussing some gaps in the research, and I reflect on my experiences with earworms.

Much of our thinking happens without our conscious attention. Involuntary thoughts are always running in the back of our brains. These unconscious thoughts happen spontaneously, but they reflect our prior experiences. So why do earworms exist? It turns out that they serve both a functional and a socio-psychological purpose.

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Weekends With a Sociologist

The Canberra Times Fountain by Bob Woodward. Public art in Canberra City

Canberra is Australia’s capital city, but you may not necessarily know this if you were parachuted in blindfolded, out of the blue. While Sydney is bustling with tourists and attractions, and Melbourne is brimming with multicultural events, Canberra is seemingly pedestrian. On a Sunday, the majority of the shops close at 4 PM, even in the city’s central business district, and on holidays, there are few people in the centre of the city. That’s because Canberra is, in many ways, a satellite city: our politicians fly in on weeks when Parliament sits, which ramps up the pulse of taxi drivers and plumps up some of our cafes and bars at peak times, every other week. Many people who live here are not locals. Young people tend to move away, while public servants and academics move their families here for their careers.

I had previously lived in Canberra for six months as part of a secondment for another job, many years ago. I was much younger then and, looking back, I did not really enjoy the city. I mostly spent my free time with groups who knew each other from graduate placements and often talked about work, even at 1 AM outside clubs – which is, by the way, the time that most clubs clubs closed back then (and likely do still). “Did you know he’s still an APS5?” (Australian Public Service Level 5) “He’s never going to be promoted!” I was surrounded by Anglo-Australian people who had little interest in multicultural experiences – having come from a highly multicultural part of Melbourne, this was a big change.

Back then I worked very long hours (and do still but not quite so intense) and, to be honest, I was often tired and I own the fact that I did not make a big effort to get to know the city. This time around, knowing that I’d be here a bit longer, I have gotten to know different types of people and have gone out of my way to get the most out of Canberra, by exploring more of its heart and culture. I aim to bring you a few visual stories of how I reacquainted myself with this city, with a visual sociology series I’m calling, Weekends With a Sociologist.
Weekends with a sociologist

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Applied Sociology in Action: Student Protests in Taiwan & Australia

Photo: Jimmy Kang via Flickr
Photo: Jimmy Kang via Flickr

In March, sociology students in Taiwan were criticised for being released from class to attend peaceful protests occupying the Legislature Yuan from the 18th of March 18 to the 10th of April 2014. Sociology lecturers called this “the most practical lesson of sociology.” Since dubbed the “Sunflower Student Movement,” the youth were protesting a trade-in-service agreement with China. On the one hand, Taiwan’s Education Minister said that teachers should support their students’ education rights. On the other hand, he criticised teachers for supporting this through peaceful protest. Instead, he argued that teachers should have done this “through rational debates and discussions.”

Today in Australia, students are being similarly critiqued for protesting the deregulation of university fees as a result of the impending changes to the national budget. Universities Australia told the ABC program Lateline on the 3rd of June that increased fees will mean up to a 60% increase in debt for some university degrees. This translates to an additional 6 years of repayments for full-time workers. For a part-time worker who takes time away from paid work to start a family, the research suggests this could mean up to 20 years of additional debt.

The similarities in the media and political discourses of how the Australian and Taiwanese students conducted their protests are worth exploring further.

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Why Don’t More People Join Social Justice Movements?

Photo by socialistalternative via Flickr
Photo by socialistalternative via Flickr

By Zuleyka Zevallos, PhD

This week I interviewed sociologist and activist Dr Dan Brook for Sociology at Work (video below). I enjoyed chatting with Dan about his philosophy that sociology is inherently about social justice and social transformation. Any sociologist would agree with this – but how do we actually help achieve tangible social change? I’ve been thinking a lot about why some social justice movements are more successful than others. This has been on my mind for awhile, since I met with an old colleague a couple of months a go.

My colleague is a fellow sociologist and a political refugee who can never return to their birthplace due to persecution. After resettling in Australia, my colleague had been an academic for some time, but he felt limited in his capacity to achieve social change. He left academia and has been working as a researcher for law enforcement for the better part of a decade. This colleague is older than I am and he has a wistful view of social activism in the 1960s. He wondered,”Why don’t people care today like they did back then?” I explained that people back then were not inherently more radical – the fact is that social justice was at their door. It was on the news every night. Many people they knew personally were dying in wars overseas. The political economy was personally affecting their everyday lives. My colleague did not like to hear this; he wanted to think that people were simply “better people” back then. As he saw it, people simply cared more about the world before and they don’t care much today.

Today’s post shows that “caring” is only part of the picture when it comes to social justice activism. Resources such as money, time and technology have a significant impact on people’s ability to turn a grassroots social justice issue into social reform. Social context also matters. What is the political, social and economic climate in which activists work? I will also show that there are two general types of activists whose resources and networks help them yield higher returns on their efforts.

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It’s Time to Bring Academic, Applied and Public Sociology Together

Art by John Haggerty via 2HeadedSnake.
Art by Jason Haggerty via 2HeadedSnake.

By Zuleyka Zevallos, PhD

Below is a great interview with sociologist Dr. Tina Uys, who talks about the urgent need for sociology in South Africa (where she lives). Inequality is shifting rapidly in many ways, for example in education, but it does so without adequate institutional support. Uys discusses the problems facing South African sociology, such as funding cuts. Uys then talks about her journey through her sociological career, one which did not begin with sociology in mind. I see that Uys’s story may be common. It certainly echoes my own career.

Today’s post is about the pressing need to better market a unified vision of sociology to our students. Academic, applied and public sociologies serve different interests: one is about theoretical development, the other about serving government and community services, and the latter is about engaging the public’s imagination. Elsewhere, I’ve shown that applied sociology is poorly understood by academics. It’s like we’re a collective of practitioners working adjacent to one another, without a broader external view of how we fit together. It’s time to bring our various sociological approaches together.

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Adapting Sociological Teaching and Learning for Online Environments

ImageA new sociological study finds that students who study online perceive that they have learned less in comparison to students who attend face-to-face lectures. The researchers, Kelly Bergstrand and Scott Savage, find that online students also feel they have been treated with less respect by their lecturers and they generally rate their courses more negatively. Is there an issue with the way sociology is taught specifically that does not translate well to an online environment, or is there something broader at play? Today’s post examines the skills and resources that sociology demands of students, and questions whether the training and delivery of these skills are being adequately supported by the higher education system. I also discuss the influence of larger online courses that are offered “free” to the public and how this relates to funding cuts and a push for online learning in the tertiary sector.

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Sociology for What, Who, Where and How? Situating Applied Sociology in Action

Photo by mapgirl271 via Flickr. Text: The Other Sociologist

By Zuleyka Zevallos

The discipline of sociology has grappled with several overlapping issues regarding the purpose and utility of our profession beyond its intellectual pursuit. Debates about the social impact of sociology have been historically centred on three questions relevant to applied sociology – which I define here as sociology conducted outside universities for particular clients. These questions are: sociology for what?sociology for whom?; and sociology for where? In today’s post, I will discuss the who, what and where of sociology, before introducing a fourth question that is so taken-for-granted we don’t spend much time talking about it in any concrete way. That is: how do we actually do sociology outside traditional academic research? We assume sociologists can go out into the world and apply their training to different problems. But what kind of problems do we work on and how do we actually carry out the work in different places? I argue  that applied sociology is set up as the “other” of academic sociology because of the context in which we practice our craft. This stops sociologists from engaging with one another effectively, and hinders the transformational work we do separately with our respective audiences.

I seek to build upon the framework discussed in this post for a series exploring the practicalities of doing sociology outside academia. I hope that the ideas explored here and in future posts can open up dialogue about how to better address collaboration  between academic and applied sociologists.

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Context and Outcomes of Intercultural Education Amongst International Students in Australia

By Zuleyka Zevallos

Here’s the abstract of my latest journal article, titled “Context and outcomes of intercultural education amongst international students in Australia.” It’s published by Intercultural Education:

International students represent a large economic and international relations investment for Australia. Australian universities are increasingly relying upon overseas students for their revenue, but these institutions are not adequately addressing the special learning, linguistic, cultural and religious needs of these students. Despite their Australian education, international students experience various difficulties in finding work in their field of study after they graduate. Poor English-language, communication and problem-solving skills are the biggest obstacles to securing ongoing and satisfying jobs. Employer biases regarding international students are equally a problem. This paper provides a demographic context of the international student population in Australia and it also addresses the gaps impeding their full social participation in Australian educational institutions. This paper argues that a stronger focus on the socialisation of international students is likely to increase their educational and career satisfaction. Educational providers would better serve international students by focusing on practical learning, career-planning and reinforcing the social and cultural skills valued by Australian employers.

australian-intercultural-society

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Sociology of Jay-Z: Implications of Studying Celebrities

Mike Barry via Flickr.

I feel ambivalent about this: an American sociology course on rap maverick Jay-Z is being offered at Georgetown University. This story has received a lot of press over the past few weeks. I believe this story was first reported on MTV in the USA. Michael Eric Dyson, the course creator, reports that the course has attracted four times the size of an average Georgetown course (with 140 students). I first saw this story on Ology, but it’s also been picked up by The Daily Beast, The Washington Post, The L.A. Times and on many other sites. In this post, I consider the applied sociological implications of studying courses on celebrities. I place this in broader context of the ongoing problem that sociology has in preparing graduates for workplaces outside academia.

As a sociologist who is interested in promoting the study and break-down of otherness, I can only applaud Dyson’s premise that rap, hip hop and African American culture deserve greater legitimacy by mainstream culture. He tells MTV:

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Sociology of Altrusim

The Bad Chemicals, Sharing is Caring

In a vexing new twist on the established theories of altruism, a neurologist, an engineer and a veterinarian argue that ‘selflessness’ can be ‘pathological’. They’re talking about human behaviour, even though they are not social scientists who are trained to study the social consequences of human behaviour. Natalie Angier’s New York Times article interviews the researchers about their upcoming book, ‘Pathological Altruism’, which will explore the hazardous and self-destructive extremes of ‘helpful behaviour’. The research used to exemplify ‘pathological altruism’ includes:

  • highly empathetic nurses who ‘burn out’ because they care too much for their patients
  • anorexic patients in hospitals,
  • victims of abuse,
  • so-called ‘animal hoarders’ (people who take care of too many animals they cannot afford to keep).

There are several individual and institutional causes for stress, mental illness and abuse that are not easily explained by altruism-gone-wrong. It seems especially problematic to suggest that a victim of abuse is being altruistic through their experiences of violence. Provocative, yes. Helpful? Probably not. The sociological study of altruism reveals why this is the case.

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