“Culture of Silence”: Why Common Sense Stops Us From Seeing Substance Abuse in Middle Class Families

Photo by Alan Cleaver via Flickr. CC

By Zuleyka Zevallos

The British not for profit organisation 4Children has published a study that finds parents who are wealthier tend to drink and use drugs more frequently than people from lower socio-economic backgrounds. Most middle class parents do not see their alcohol and drug use as having a negative impact on their families. At the same time, these parents are overwhelmingly worried about substance abuse in wider society.

These findings seem to defy “common sense.” First, the results go against the social convention that substance abuse is a bigger problem for poorer people. Second, if middle class parents are consuming drugs and alcohol at higher levels, why don’t they see this as a problem for themselves, when it causes them alarm in others?

The 4Children study suggests that there is a “culture of silence” about substance abuse in middle class families that British society is not prepared to acknowledge. I use this  study to make a point about the social construction of deviance. This means that, because there is already a high degree of moral panic and stigma about being poor, drugs and alcohol abuse is seen as symptomatic of poverty.

Middle class groups enjoy certain social benefits, which include not having their personal problems define their character. This is why drinking and alcohol abuse is seen as a private affair for middle class families, and not a social illness. Poor people and other minorities are not entitled to such privacy.

I show how social perceptions of deviance are shaped by class privilege and the problematic values that lie beneath “common sense.” My analysis is not an indictment of people who are drug and alcohol dependent; instead, I seek to move away from frameworks of shame and stigma generally associated with substance use and abuse. My post explores why the personal troubles of some groups are positioned as a public issue for others.

Continue reading “Culture of Silence”: Why Common Sense Stops Us From Seeing Substance Abuse in Middle Class Families

Challenging the Social Value of Child Marriage

By Zuleyka Zevallos

Challenging the Social Value of Child MarriageThe 11th of October 2012 was the inaugural Day of the Girl. This year, the focus was on the eradication of child marriage. Around the world, 70 million girls were married before they reached the age of 18. My post today explores how the interrelated issues of gender, education and child marriage might be addressed by sociology. My focus is primarily on girl brides. While young boys are also married, the research I review shows that the adverse effects of child marriage have chronic health and socio-economic impact on young girls. The “value” attached to child brides refers to the cultural and economic issues underlying child marriage. Young girls are married off according to dominant beliefs about preserving women’s “honour” (that is, ensuring virginity before marriage), as well as the costs of raising girls. Child marriage has been linked to people trafficking in extreme situations. In most other cases it maintains the status quo in poor or underdeveloped areas, where economic deprivation is used to justify men’s dominance over young women’s reproductive and life choices. In order to eliminate child marriage, communities need to be shown practical demonstrations that delaying marriage increases everyone’s welfare. Continue reading Challenging the Social Value of Child Marriage

Sociology of Death: Mummifying Ancestors in Toraja, Indonesia

Family members hold up a mummy before giving it new clothes in a ritual in the Toraja district of Indonesia’s South Sulawesi Province, August 23, 2012. The ritual, called Ma’nene, involves changing the clothes of mummified ancestors every three years to honor love for the deceased. Locals believe dead family members are still with them, even if they died hundreds of years ago, a family spokesman said.

Words via Yahoo News. Image via REUTERS/Yusuf Ahmad.

South Australia’s Apology for Forced Adoption

To all those hurt we say sorry… We apologise for the lies, the fear, the silence, the deceptions. We hear you now, we acknowledge your pain and we offer you our unreserved, sincere regret and sorrow for those injustices… We seek to reconcile the South Australian community with these people who have suffered so much.

South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill delivers a public apology to the parents, children and communities affected by the State-sanctioned practice of forcing unwed mothers to give up their babies. It is estimated that 17,000 children in South Australia were adopted before 1980 “and some of these were forced adoptions.” Forced adoptions were a common practice around Australia between the 1950s and the 1970s, affecting around 150,000 unmarried mothers across the country.

Source: SBS Australia.

Bad Methods Used Against LGBTQIA Families

It seems to me that, rather than trying to answer questions when you don’t have the necessary data to do it, perhaps you should ask different questions. Certainly, we all do the best with the data we can get, but it is never alright to draw conclusions that your data don’t support—and Regenerus’ data simply cannot answer the question he set out to ask. And when your research questions the legitimacy of people’s families—my family—I demand higher research standards.

In Sociology Lens, a blogger named only Amanda critiques the new study by sociologist Mark Regenerus. Regenerus has published a paper arguing that children from heterosexual parents are better off than children raised by lesbian and gay parents. I recently posted that academic research actually shows that this is not true. Studies actually show that children of LGBTQI families are slightly better off than kids from heterosexual families with respect to aspiring to more progressive gender roles. In other respects they are similar, when you factor in class differences.

Amanda notes that Regenerus’ research on gay and lesbian families has produced contradictory findings due to the study’s poorly conceived methodology. Simply put: Regenerus’ methods for data collection do not match his research questions (meaning the methods are invalid). Regenerus defines homosexuality according to anyone who has had a same-sex experience, without taking into account their subjective identities or family experiences. Regenerus has not controlled for the fact that some children from gay and lesbian families are being raised in single parent households. This generally puts any child at an economic disadvantage when compared to dual parent households. Amanda argues Regenerus’ findings are tinged with homophobia, possibly influenced by Regenerus’ ties to the Christian site that hosts his blog.

Sociologists are not above having their politics influence their research interests – including you, me and everyone else. We do not have to agree with one another; however we are trained to make our assumptions explicit and to have our methods match our research questions. I know many sociologists who conduct studies that go against my political and personal beliefs and yet I can engage in useful and challenging discussion because the data and methods warrant attention. Bad science still warrants attention, but for all the wrong reasons. What a shame that Regenerus’ lax methodology will only fuel public fear and misunderstanding, rather than making a contribution to empirically-informed debate.

Read Amanda’s article at Sociology Lens.