Thursday, March 4, 2010

Be Afraid…Be VERRYY Afraid…(not) � The Social Lens

Be Afraid…Be VERRYY Afraid…(not) The Social Lens

Originally posted at The Social Lens

March 3, 2010
Posted by: Chad M. Gesser
Twitter: @profgesser

Each semester I cover different aspects of deviance and crime with my Sociology students, and I’m always intrigued to hear their varying perceptions of crime and violence in our community, the nation, and the world.

It is inevitable that the prevailing viewpoint is that we do indeed live in a violent society. In discussions this week, I had one particular student who is married to a local police officer share that her husband refuses to allow her to walk, jog, or run alone at night in her neighborhood and community for fear of violence. An argument can be made that he is just being safe, but it certainly does beckon the question: How safe is my community? My country? Society in general?

Ten years ago Barry Glassner released his “Culture of Fear“, which examined how various social forces from media to the government influence Americans’ perceptions of safety and violence in the United States. Glassner has since updated his book, continuing to provide documentation and evidence that the culture of fear we live in is largely unjustified. In most places in the United States, and yes there are exceptions, but in most places in the United States, a fear of violence and crime is largely unfounded. This fear rests in an inaccurate assessment based on opinion, largely influenced by the mass media.

Let’s examine a couple examples that influence our culture of fear. The image at the beginning of this post is the threat level diagram that was implemented by the United States Department of Homeland Security following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The system was designed “create a common vocabulary, context, and structure for an ongoing national discussion about the nature of the threats that confront the homeland and the appropriate measures that should be taken in response. It seeks to inform and facilitate decisions appropriate to different levels of government and to private citizens at home and at work.” (Source link) During 2002-2004, anxiety rippled through the U.S. population as the threat levels fluctuated from blue to orange. In late 2009, Wired magazine reported proposed changes to the threat level system, given the lack of public confidence in the system and the suspicious nature and use of the system for political maneuvering.

Various organizations (academic and government) monitor the types and degree of crime committed all across the United States to determine the extent of violence and safety to the population. Historically, serious crimes have been monitored to get an accurate assessment to the degree of violence and crime occurring in the United States. Serious crimes that are monitored are homicide, aggravated assault, robbery, and rape.

The data above from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics (image no longer available) shows both the recorded rate of violent crime and the rate of victimization reported to the police. These two measures combined give us a very good assessment to the extent that violent behavior and crime are occurring in the U.S. Given the recent history of the war on terrorism and terrorism in the United States, perhaps American society is doomed to be scared out of it’s wits for some time to come. However, the fact of the matter is that total violent crime in the United States is lower now than it has been in over 35 years.

A closer look at the victimization rate shows us the changes by age group over time.

This data further verifies that few people are being victimized by violent behavior and crime (image no longer available).

While most people indeed are not afraid of walking alone at night, data from the Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics documents that the fear, while changing somewhat over time, has not changed over the past 45 years.

How else does our society nurture and foster a culture of fear? Do you feel safe in your neighborhood, your community? Why is feeling of safety important? How does a one’s perception of fear and violence affect one’s outlook on life? How does it affect how you might interact with strangers?

Durkheim and Anomie � The Social Lens

Durkheim and Anomie � The Social Lens

Anomie is one of those concepts in the field of Sociology that can be applied in a variety of ways. Coined by French Sociologist Emile Durkheim in his 1897 study “Suicide”, anomie refers to a sense of normlessness, resulting in individual detachment and disconnection from other members of a group or society at large.

Sociologists see society as an organism, much the way the human body is an organism. Society, just like the human body, is a sum of its parts.
Staying with the human anatomy and physiology theme, I like to think of the above image as the “skeleton” of society. Below you’ll find the makeup of the “central nervous system”. These are the fundamental elements of culture.

Keep in mind that norms are the guidelines and expectations in society. They are not right or wrong, but we as members of society determine at any given moment in time or history the makeup of norms. For example, it once was the norm for males to hold the door open for females. That is a particular folkway that seems to not carry as much importance in relationships anymore. Norms, just like culture, change. The “skeleton” of society, and the “central nervous system”, remain the same.

This is the stuff that theory is made of, and precisely the insight that Durkheim was seeking to provide in his study on suicide, and his coining of the term anomie. Individuals that feel connected to the prevailing cultural norms, to groups, to society as a whole, engage in conventional behavior and have more in common with others in the group or community. Some would suggest that those that feel more connected also have a more positive sense of self or self concept. When people feel detached, when they feel that they do not belong, this is anomie. What groups or individuals in society are seen as detached or disconnected?

In order to understand anomie one has to understand not only how society and culture is organized, but also the subjective nature of society and culture. Therefore anomie, just like society and culture, changes. This poses a challenge to members of society; the need to change, to adapt, to fit in. Structural functionalists would say that social institutions play an important role in this regard of keeping society organized and efficient, that members of society feel included. Social conflict theorists may suggest that anomie is a byproduct of society; that varied access to resources inherently breeds anomie in society, thereby leading to constant inequality and social change.

Can you think of other examples of anomie? Do you feel that you are connected to the prevailing social norms? Do you feel that most people in your community have a sense of anomie or feel like they belong in the community? How does sense of connection change over the life span? What can members of social institutions and organizations do to make sure people feel included and connected?

Issues of Health and Health Care Reform � The Social Lens

Issues of Health and Health Care Reform � The Social Lens

The effort of passing health care reform has been a major source of national interest for several presidential election cycles. Until recently though, health care reform was an idea without much substance or potential of being realized in the United States.

Health care as a social problem is a very complicated issue. This is precisely why any effort of passing major health care reform has consistently been blocked. There are several dimensions of health that have rightfully generated a substantial amount of interest in the United States over the past decade. The issues surrounding health care are not limited to health care insurance. They include issues of lifestyle and nutrition (including the high incidence of overweight and obese citizens in the United States), the health care costs for the poor, senior citizens, and the health care costs enacted on the government due to a very unhealthy population.

Certainly a big factor influencing President Obama’s effort of enacting health care reform centers around the number of people not covered by some of health insurance in the United States.

When we drill down into the uninsured data, the picture begins to take twists and turns. Below you’ll see how gender and race of children can be a deterrent for having no health care insurance coverage.


While this data is startling, it’s important to note that the uninsured rate and number for children are the lowest since 1987.

An interesting aspect of the health care reform efforts is the role that social media is playing in the debate. Go here to view viewer submitted video clips, questions, and politician’s replies regarding health care questions.

Should their be universal health care insurance coverage? Should there be a sliding scale? Is health care coverage a right or a privilege? Should everyone pay into a health care plan, and everyone be able to use that health care plan? Is the health care coverage problem tied to social class? Gender? Race?

Homosexuality: more than just preference � The Social Lens

Homosexuality: more than just preference � The Social Lens

The issues that gays face go well beyond social acceptance of their sexual preference. Heterosexuals certainly do not recognize the advantages that they reap in a culture that is deeply rooted in heterosexuality.

The Heterosexuality Questionnaire was developed by Martin Rochlin, Ph.D., in 1977. While it certainly appears humorous to the average heterosexual reader, a closer examination can help one examine the social implications of a heterosexual society, particularly if you’re homosexual.

1. What do you think caused your heterosexuality?

2. When and how did you decide that you were a heterosexual?

3. Is it possible that your heterosexuality is just a phase that you may grow out of?

4. Is it possible your heterosexuality stems from a neurotic fear of others of the same sex?

5. If you’ve never slept with a person of the same sex, is it possible that all you need is a good gay or lesbian lover?

6. To whom have you disclosed your heterosexual tendencies? How did he or she react?

7. Why do you heterosexuals feel compelled to seduce others into your life-style?

8. Why do you insist on flaunting your heterosexuality? Why can’t you just be what you are and keep quiet about it?

9. Would you want your children to be heterosexual knowing the problems that they’d face?

10. A disproportionate majority of child molesters are heterosexual. Do you consider it safe to expose your children to heterosexual teachers?

11. With all the societal support marriage receives, the divorce rate is spiraling. Why are there so few stable relationships among heterosexuals?

12. Why do heterosexuals place so much emphasis on sex?

13. Considering the menace of overpopulation, how could the human race survive if everyone were heterosexual like you?

14. Could you trust a heterosexual therapist to be objective? Don’t you fear (s)he might be inclined to influence you in the direction of her/his own leanings?

15. How can you become a whole person if you limit yourself to compulsive, exclusive heterosexuality, and fail to develop you natural, healthy homosexual potential?

16. There seem to be very few happy heterosexuals. Techniques have been developed that might enable you to change if you really want to. Have you considered trying aversion therapy?

For most heterosexuals, perhaps some of the above questions can seem a bit humorous, or even ridiculous.

Consider the plight of the homosexual couple below, and the children.

Besides sexual preference, what other areas of stereotyping, prejudice, and/or discrimination might gays encounter? Should a gay couple be allowed to legally adopt a child? She gays be allowed to marry under the rule of law in the United States? Do gays confer the same legal rights as someone who is heterosexual? Why are they separate? Should they be equal? Why or why not?