Friday, January 29, 2010

Sport and Society

Just posted over at The Social Lens

Sport and Society

“Do you know what my favorite part of the game is? The opportunity to play.”

That’s a quote made famous by former Chicago Bears linebacker Michael Singletary, current head coach of the San Francisco 49’ers of the National Football League (NFL). Singletary’s quote speaks to the innocence of spontaneity, play, and competition.

While we are early in 2010, we have already witnessed major sporting events here in the United States. It has become tradition at the beginning of each year for the college bowl series to kick high in to gear, signifying the end of the college football season and the crowning of the national college football champions. During the first few weeks of January, college football dominates the sports world in the United States. But as soon as that ends, the NFL playoffs and the Super Bowl are front and center.

As I write this week’s post, I’m taking in the Winter X Games from Colorado (might I recommend watching it in HDTV; fabulous!).

In early February, the “Super Bowl” of auto racing hits Daytona Beach, Florida as the NASCAR season begins. This year alone after these major sporting events, consider what remains: the NBA All Star game, the Winter Olympics, the PGA and LPGA majors, the World Cup in soccer, and playoffs in every major professional sport. The list could literally go on and on. This is not to mention the role of sports in the elementary and secondary schools and in the backyards and streets throughout the United States and the world. We begin engaging in sports soon after birth, and come to know and love our favorite athletes and teams as we move through adolescence and adulthood.

Are we naturally drawn to sports and leisurely activity? What is it that influences someone to play baseball versus soccer, basketball versus volleyball? What is the difference between high culture and pop culture, and how does social class and social position influence us into the types of sports we engage? What role do sports play as part of our culture?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Allow me to introduce..the Turtleman

A subculture is a group that exhibits some cultural characteristic that distinguishes them from the mainstream society. Most patterns of the group, and the behaviors of the individual members are consistent with the socially acceptable behaviors. Countercultures vary in that their cultural patterns go against the mainstream norms. Often times countercultures engage in behaviors that are consider illegal.

Subcultures and countercultures vary over time. The benchmark of gauging a group as a subculture or counterculture are the norms of the society. At one point in history, a group that is now considered mainstream (for example, Christians) were seen as a counterculture. As values, beliefs and attitudes of individuals in a society change, so do norms. Thus as the rules, guidelines, and expectations for behavior in society change, so then does our definition as to whether a group is considered a subculture or a counterculture. Certainly in the 21st century United States, Christianity plays an important role in the culture.

A couple of years back I heard the story of the Turtleman in central Kentucky. The Turtleman engages in very odd behavior by current social standards. Given that he is somewhat an isolated case, his behavior is unique in and of itself, but not considered a subculture. There are not large numbers of people that engage in turtle hunting as the Turtleman.

Compared to U.S. averages and norms, Kentucky ranks well below the standards for income, education, and other standard measures of achievement in society. While the Turtleman may be a novelty, how do images and behavior like his serve to validate stereotypes and cultural perceptions of “hillbillies from Kentucky”? If Kentucky ranks on average well below the United States average on many socioeconomic indicators, then on some level our stereotypes can be validated.

Do habits, hobbies, and behavior vary according to social class? What elements of high culture tell us something about particular subcultures of our mainstream society? What elements of popular culture give us a better understanding of the general patterns of behavior of individuals? How does understanding what groups of people do for fun and entertainment provide insight into their values, attitudes, and beliefs?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Language: from coke to Coke

Just published this blog post over at the Social Lens.

Language is the fundamental basis for culture. Language allows us to communicate with one another. It allows us to pass on information from generation to generation, whether through cave drawings, folk tales, or textbooks.

Language allows us to also glimpse into the culture of the individual. Here are two interesting pics that illustrate the cultural differences of language.

(Source of pic)
In most of Kentucky, we refer to soft drinks as coke. Not the Coke with a capital “C”, but all soft drinks. When we visit a restaurant or head up to the counter at a sporting event, we order coke. Coke, rather coke with a lowercase “c”, applies to all Pepsi, Coke, RC, and generic cola soft drinks. When visiting northern Ohio, Michigan, or even Washington state, we do not understand the snickers and perplexed looks we get from waiters and waitresses when we order coke and they ask us if “Pepsi is ok”. Of course it is.

In all seriousness this is the culture in which we live, reflected in our language. It’s not necessarily right or wrong, but how we communicate. What do you call soft drinks? Do you find it to be consistent with the map? Notice the Maryland area on the map. Why is there more diversity in what people call soft drinks there, but such widespread commonality in most regions of the United States?

Taking this notion of the role of language one step further, how important is a common language for people living in an area?

Take a look at the linguistic map below of central Africa country of Chad. The color differentiation reflects dialect and or language differences.

(Source of pic)

This area has a tremendous amount of diversity of dialect and language. If members of the same geographical areas do not speak a similar language, what will be their capacity to live together in relative harmony, and to establish stable societies? What do we know about social conflict over the course of the central Africa history? How does language factor into this instability?

Symbols: Meaning and Interpretation

There is something intriguing to me about the use and message of signs, symbols and physical representation of ideas. I have a tendency to notice bumper stickers, crosses on the sides of the road, messages on signs that go against the norm. I suppose it appeals to me in a “symbolic interactionist” kind of way. What!? Don’t you remember the definition of symbolic interactionism as a major theory in the field of Sociology? Ok ok, I’ll remind you: “a framework for building theory that sees society as the product of the everyday interactions of individuals”.

Certainly a big component of our interactions is the play and interplay of our use of symbols. Symbols say something about the type of music we like, the type of clothing we “support”, our favorite race car driver, sports team, and brand of religion we practice. But symbols are not only significant in a material kind of way. They say something deeper about what we think, how we feel, our emotional state. Personal use of symbols allow us to say something without saying anything.

On a fundamental level, symbols are used in simple communication.


Think about it. For example, I have a wonderful time watching my five year old daughter learn the alphabet.

Without learning what the squiggly lines mean she will not be able to read nor write, and will obviously struggle in a 21st century society that relies on reading and writing for communication. After all, we are not hunters and gatherers.

Sometimes messages and ideas stick out to me in what I deem to be places where you do not expect to see such messages. I see these around my community in Kentucky all the time. For example, I was quite shocked when I read this message on a local church sign.

Our class discussed this message early in the Fall of 2009 and I learned that the reference may be to a book that is popular in self-help and Christian circles. I certainly didn’t read it that way, leaving me astonished that a church would approve a message that uses flatulence as metaphor.

How about pizza and politics? This particular restaurant owner is taking advantage of the public space of his restaurant sign. But socialism and pizza? I never knew that pizza could taste…political?

I’m also glad to know that the person driving this vehicle is married to a coal miner…I guess.

Then there are those that strive to achieve that shock value. Yes, there are homophobic people in my community, but they usually don’t wear it on their sleeve, or on the bumpers of their cars.

What symbols or signs do you notice in your neighborhood or community? What are people trying to communicate? Do they cross the line? How do symbols contribute to how we understand everyday life? How do they influence your local culture? What do they say about the community in which you live?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A Call for Immediate Disaster Response

The events of the past week in Haiti have been unbelievable. The complete destruction wrought by the earthquake has made an underdeveloped nation rely on far less than nothing.

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, I watched in agony the incredibly slow response of national and international assistance to a human population in need. Many of us throughout the world are witnessing and reliving the agony of a slow response to a human population that is desparate and strugglng to survive.

There are two projections that I'd like to call to our attention: 1) the global population is expected to rise from 6.5 billion to near 11 billion in the next 100 years; and, 2) global warming is expected to result in a highe number of catastophic events and with greater intensity and impact.

Our state, national, and international responses need significant attention and investment, a new strategic focus is in order to meet the needs of an evergrowing global population that will continue to fall victim to an increasing number of powerful disasters.

A legitimate reponse time of 7 days is unacceptable. The international community, while it's ciizens and institutions come to help in times of desperate need, has to get immediate response organized, distributed, effective: now. We must start thinking about waves of response. Emergency medical care, water, and food must arrive within 36 hours of the event. Necessary equipment and so on arrives 48 hours after, 3 days, etc. We do not seem to be prepared for what will become more and more common: natural disasters.

The work of groups such as the Red Cross and others is not in question. It is time for both the public and the private to step up and better organize a response strategy to address what the future holds for people and the planet: an increasing number of disasters which will require more resources, quicker response, in the efforts to adequately meet the coming tidal wide of human need during times of crisis.

The global population is expanding, and our planet is sick and getting sicker. How will we plan and respond?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Haiti: poverty and disaster

Just completed a blog post over at the Social Lens.

Haiti: poverty and disaster � The Social Lens


Disasters, whether man made or natural, have a dramatic, everlasting impact on people and where they live. In the blink of an eye, a disaster turns everyday normalcy into chaos, survival, and despair

Not only are property, buildings, and physical structures destroyed during a disaster, but the social relations of the people are too. People are creatures of habit, and when disasters strike, the cultural fabric is ripped apart, leading to panic, hysteria, and organized chaos.

The reason that the earthquake in Haiti (January 2010) is particularly significant is due to the lack of infrastructure. As documented in this report by the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting, Haiti appeared to have been making slow, but some progress prior to the earthquake.

Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. This translates into a substandard built environment. As a result of the earthquake, not only do we see buildings destroyed, but entire neighborhoods and communities. The availability of services such as medical care and emergency assistance were minimum prior to the earthquake, and we find now that they are virtually non-existent. Basic necessities such as food, water, and shelter prior to the earthquake were hard to come by: now victims are living in parks, on the streets, with no food or water. Transportation grids were haphazard at best prior to the earthquake given the lack of resources and equipment to build and sustain these networks. After the earthquake, with no equipment, the rescue operations were led simply by Haitians using their bare hands and makeshift tools to lift tons of concrete and debris in efforts of finding and freeing survivors.

Understanding the impacts of natural disasters on human populations allows us to better address more effectively and efficiently the needs of the victims. The study of collective behavior is about understanding and addressing the social and psychological dimensions of individuals and groups during times of crisis, when the social structure and normalcy are compromised.

The Haitian earthquake is what I call a complete disaster. Traditional services to meet the needs of the citizens were substandard. Because of the substandard nature, the natural disaster completed destroyed existing infrastructure, leaving survivors with no means to begin recovery.

In normal times, medical care is sought after, sometimes scarce; when the entire population all of sudden needs medical attention, it is very easy for medical services to be overwhelmed with the need of survivors. At current we are seeing medical camps being established to provide basic and emergency medical services. In cities and countries on the coast, we have seen organizations like the Coast Guard set up mobile hospitals due to the difficulty of travel and mobility in the area of devastation. In Haiti this is being done initially at the airport in Port-au-Prince, and likely will follow suit in some fashion in Bay of Port-au-Prince.

During times of normalcy law enforcement serves the purpose of keeping the peace and to provide public safety. During a complete disaster, establishing and/or assuring law and order is desirable. However, law enforcement is asked to meet a variety of community needs, and they too can become overwhelmed. In the days and weeks following a natural disaster, an increase in crime is a concern as survivors work to deal both psychologically and sociologically with the slowly improving situation.

How can emergency personnel address the needs of the families, the community, and the society that is stricken by disaster? What personal needs should be addressed? What group needs should be addressed? What has to be done to help survivors return to a sense of normalcy? Is the response of the international community quick enough? Does it last long enough?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

New Year, new opportunities

Greetings with a New Year to colleagues, friends, students, and followers!

I was really pleased to look back on 2009 and see that I had indeed increased the amount of blogging for the year. There is no doubt that my Twitter use greatly influenced that change, along with the purchase and robust use of my iPhone.

This year, particularly over the course of the next six months, my blogging will continue to increase as I add blogs to six sections of sociology, in addition to a partnership that I have with Pearson Education to blog at The Social Lens.

I also am looking at expanding the topics that I cover, and developing a range of content. The content will range in quality as well, as my dive into Twitter has impressed upon me the possibilities with content. Some posts will be more developed, some won't.

I continue to work to integrate a variety of services which house my content, and am currently developing a local project which will exhibit that same type of integration. I hope to speak and post more about that within the next few months.

So let's welcome the New Year, keep our sociology eyes open and aware, and further the introduction to sociology and our perspective on the world in which we live.


Friday, January 1, 2010

Corporate, retail driven society

Today is New Year's Day. Christmas was just a week ago.

By the way, Happy Valentine's Day!!!