Otherness, Racism and Police Violence

In early February in Alabama, USA, police were called to investigate an elderly Indian man simply because he was walking suburban streets. The caller identified Sureshbhai Patel as as a “skinny Black man,” and therefore suspicious. Patel had only recently arrived in the USA to help his son with his newborn baby. He did not speak English, but he complied with the officers as best he could, but he was still thrown violently to the ground. Continue reading Otherness, Racism and Police Violence

Sociology of the Mundane Poster Edition

The Sociology of the Mundane sheds critical light on everyday habits we dismiss as unremarkable. These posters illustrate the power of the mundane. Using humour and creativity, the artists and designers re-imagine routine behaviour and familiar frustrations in Western cultures as scintillating and poignant movie posters. Brought to you by Every Day Posters Every Day.

Calling Tech Support, by Peter Stults

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Continue reading Sociology of the Mundane Poster Edition

Sociology of Technology

Speaking on the historical and social influences on technology adoption, science Professor Bernard Carlson, (University of Virginia, USA) tells engineering students: “they are going to produce sociotechnical systems,“ meaning they need to understand how people “interact with technology.”

Society shapes the development and use of technology (this is a function of social determinism; for example, cars didn’t really become ubiquitous until they became easy to operate and cheap to buy), but technology also shapes society (technological determinism; think of the way cars then essentially created the suburbs). Over time, the two interact with and change each other, an idea known as technological momentum, which was introduced in 1969 by Thomas P. Hughes, a historian of technology. According to Hughes’s theory, the technologies we end up using aren’t determined by any objective measure of quality. In fact, the tools we choose are often deeply flawed. They just happened to meet our particular social needs at a particular time and then became embedded in our culture.

 

“Why Your Car Isn’t Electric.” Source: The New York Times.

Fluid Traditional Families

globalsociology:

It always amuses me when I hear people or pundits discuss “the traditional family” as if there were such a thing. Look guys, there is no such thing as “the traditional family’ historically or anthropologically. Family structures have always been fluid arrangements that reflected social, economic, political and cultural structures under the umbrella of power arrangements, mostly in patriarchal contexts.

Case in point:

“Japan has the world’s second highest adoption rate of more than 80,000 a year but most are adult men in their 20s and 30s.

“Historically, it’s been far more common with families in the western part of Japan where merchant families tried to choose the most capable successor,” says Mariko Fujiwara, a sociologist at Hakuhodo Institute of Life and Living.

If you did not have a capable son to succeed, you would try to find a more capable man to marry one of your daughters, she says.

“But the chances are, you didn’t have as capable a son as you’d want so you’d search through your network to find a more capable man to marry one of your daughters.”

“It was a very pragmatic decision for that family business to survive,” she adds.

Even today, the vast majority of Japanese companies are considered family businesses. They include household names such as car-makers Toyota and Suzuki, camera-maker Canon and soy sauce firm Kikkoman.

(…)

Suzuki is famously known to have been led by adopted sons. The current chairman and CEO Osamu Suzuki is the fourth adopted son in a row to run the company.

“Family businesses that are run by sons-in-law are much better in many cases than family businesses run by their own sons,” says Yasuaki Kinoshita who invests in Japanese companies at Nissay Asset Management.

“When I make a decision to invest in a listed company which is still owned by a family, the big negatives are corporate governance and succession.”

At Matsui Securities, its fourth president Michio Matsui was adopted into the family, but this meant ditching his own name.

“I was my parent’s oldest son so I was a bit hesitant to be adopted by another family,” he recalls. “But my biological parents said maybe it was my fate.”

Historically, however, changing names wasn’t a big deal because many simply didn’t have one.

“Only 150 years ago, people didn’t have family names unless you came from a significant social class of Samurai,” sociologist Mariko Fujiwara explains.

“And when you changed your name, it was usually because you were given a new name as an honour or as an award for something that you’d accomplished.” It became aspirational, she adds.”

Samoa Loses a Day: Sociology of Time

Samoa (Credit: sarah|rose, Flickr. CC)

The island nation of Samoa wants to improve its trade relations with Australia, New Zealand and China. As such, it is getting set to lose a day in order to align its time zone with its trade partners. Tomorrow, on what should have been Friday the 30th of December in Samoa, time on this island will jump ahead to Saturday the 31st of December.

I want to explore this shift in time in Samoa through the broader lens of the sociology of time. The theory of social construction states that the things that we take for granted as ordinary, mundane or commonsense are actually social ideas shaped by culture. The idea of temporal time is measured through our watches, calendars and other scientific instruments and technologies. As such, the passing of time is perceived as an unremarkable fact of life. The social meaning of time in different cultures varies. The idea of time as a fixed entity is actually a social illusion. I will show how history, social forces and life situations shape our ideas about time. I include a case study of ‘island time’ to show the variability of how time is understood and valued in island nations such as Samoa and Gabriola Island in British Columbia, Canada. I use the impending time change in Samoa to introduce the idea of ‘social time’, which is a useful way to understand how people in different cultures organise and think about time.

Continue reading Samoa Loses a Day: Sociology of Time

Beauty, Biology and Discrimination

Several recent articles recreate the ever-popular idea that beauty aesthetics are based on biological imperatives. The premise of this argument is false – beauty, sex, gender and the social consequences of their related biological processes are not pre-determined. This line of thinking lumps the complexity of human experience and sexual expression into a uniform category and it provides the false impression that nothing can be done to change human behaviour. Sociology can help unpackage how and why so-called “common sense” ideas about beauty become established as commonplace knowledge. Contrary to what mainstream culture may have us believe, beauty ideals can be challenged and transformed. Beauty-based discrimination is not natural nor is it unavoidable.

We need to theorise the meaning of beauty in our lives so that we can educate for critical consciousness. - bell hooks
We need to theorise the meaning of beauty in our lives so that we can educate for critical consciousness. – bell hooks

Continue reading Beauty, Biology and Discrimination