Back to top
Back to top
Plea Bargaining, Benign Neglect, and Symbolic Racism: Teaching Students about Criminal Justice (with Dustin Gourdin)
This paper is based on a thought experiment conducted in introductory sociology classes.
Three brief vignettes describing a violent confrontation and theft of property between two twenty year olds who had ended a dating relationship was handed out to students.
The behaviors were described as potentially serious felonies: robbery and aggravated assault.
One third of the class randomly received the vignette describing the involved parties as students at their university;
another third received an identical vignette except that the described parties were minorities residing in a housing project
; and one third received an identical vignette except the described parties were low income whites living in a trailer park.
The experiment then provided a menu of punishments that students could select to provide justice.
Also included was a brief set of questions describing demographic characteristics of the students completing the thought experiment.
The findings were discussed in class and illustrated a number of key concepts.
First, very few students were in favor of calling the actions in any scenario as felonies and called for penalties that did not involve incarceration for any length of time.
They were "soft on crime."
Second, they were more likely to advocate jail time and also more likely to advocate no punishment for minority offenders compared to punishments proposed for college students.
Third, students were most punitive toward low income white offenders.
We discuss whether this difference in punitiveness is the result of race, class, or social distance between the students and the hypothetical parties involved.
This experiment takes just a few minutes to complete and is a useful teaching tool.
The Disaster at El Mozote (with Sally Morris)
Erikson (1976:253) notes that the term disaster
is used by social scientists to describe an event "with a distinct beginning and a distinct end, and it is by definition extraordinary—a freak of nature, a perversion of the natural processes of life.
Disasters customarily leave a tremendous amount of damage in their wake…So the two distinguishing properties of a disaster are, first, that it does a good deal of harm, and, second, that it is sudden, unexpected, acute."
On December 10, 1981, approximately one thousand peasants from the Salvadoran village of El Mozote died, virtually the entire population of that community.
They were not killed by a hurricane, landslide, or flood.
They died from decapitation and bullet wounds inflicted under the authority of the Salvadoran government.
We argue that genocides such as the incident at El Mozote fit the sociological conceptualization of a disaster,
and should be included as a topic of study in the sociology of disasters.
By reframing events such as El Mozote as disasters
instead of genocides
, one avoids the legal complexities attached with the latter concept and places emphasis on uncovering antecedents of these events, finding ways of minimizing their impact as they occur,and examining ways to restore social order. Furthermore,this broadening of disaster sociology helps link the field more with general sociological theory. In this paper, we will briefly summarize various sociologically based definitions of disaster, describe the incident at El Mozote, and elaborate on the value to considering such events as disasters.
Durkheim, Suicide and Positive Deviance
This paper examines the concept of "positive deviance." I argue that while some of the conceptual features of positive deviance are attractive theoretically, I think the term itself is too vague and somewhat value-laden.It has been used, or proposed to be used, in a number of different ways (cf. Goode, 1990). I propose that if the term be granted "intellectual approval,"that it should be used only to describe a positive public reaction to rule breakers. It should not be used to describe atypical behavior that is highly regarded, over conformity to norms or to identify rule breaking that the researcher considers positive for society. I then provide a theoretical framework for the analysis of "positive" deviance and apply it to the study of what Durkheim has called altruistic suicide.
Bend it like Bourdieu: Class, Gender and Race in American Youth Soccer
This paper examines American youth soccer and describes how it differs from soccer in most parts of the world in regard to the demographics of participation. Drawing from Bourdieu, I argue that youth soccer is used by middle and upper middle class parents to create social boundaries between their families and lower social classes and minorities. This is done primarily through economic cost, but there are forms of cultural capital attached to youth soccer in this country that repel lower class interest in the sport while at the same time marking its participants as individuals of refined taste. High female participation rates help define American soccer as an "unmanly" team sport but enhance its image as middle and higher class activity. In so doing, youth soccer itself becomes a form of cultural capital and a field whereby social capital may also be acquired. The economic exclusivity of and cultural meanings assigned to elite youth soccer make it one of the few popular team sports in the United States that has limited racial and ethnic participation. Youth soccer provides a social context for highly emotional, family based interaction rituals reinforcing class identity and preserving social class and racial boundaries.Yet because of a strong emphasis placed on competition and success, there are persistent pressures to expand access to youth soccer across class and racial lines. Combined with American higher class values on cosmopolitanism and inclusiveness, attempts to use soccer as a way of preserving class boundaries are undermined and only of limited success.
Football (soccer) and Technology: The Class Divide
Football -- the "people's game"-- is noted for its simplicity. There are only thirteen basic rules, making it a highly accessible sport for individuals from all economic strata. Recently football, like so much of social life, has been shaped and altered by changes in technological innovations on a variety of levels. This paper examines the relationship between football and technology,particularly in the ways it intersects with social class. While some forms of technology have increased accessibility to the sport (such as the internet,satellite and cable television) other technological changes have contributed to increasing bureaucratization, rationalization, and stratification of the"beautiful game." Some of these include high cost equipment for players,specialized training, modernized stadiums, and sophisticated surveillance systems. We use examples from European and American football (soccer) to show how technology has created boundaries in terms of access to the sport for both participants and spectators. Specifically, technology has been used to enhance football's appeal to middle and upper middle class (often white) people and to reduce accessibility for working class or poor (often nonwhite) players and fans.
Gender Roles and American Youth Soccer: Revolution or Reproduction?
Throughout history women have been perceived as inferior to men and denied access to equal opportunities in most social institutions, including sport. A remarkable feature of American youth soccer is the extent of female participation. In 2003 there were 9.1 million girls registered, accounting for 45 percent of all soccer players in this country.This paper discusses whether soccer in the United States reflects a revolution in gender roles or reproduces gender inequality. Among issues raised are the lack of women in sports leadership positions, obstacles faced by women coaches,and the role that sports play in reproducing gender inequality.
Teaching Children to Lie, Steal and Kill
Fifty years ago Sykes and Matza (1957) published a brief piece in the American Sociological Review describing what they called techniques of neutralization.They were writing in response to criminological literature which proposed that much juvenile delinquency sprang from the existence of deviant subcultures where the norms and values of conventional society were rejected (cf. Cohen 1955;Wolfgang and Ferracuti 1967). Sykes and Matza proposed that juvenile delinquents were not necessarily committed to the norms and values of a deviant subculture. These rule breakers often revealed guilt for their wrongful acts and expressed respect and admiration for law abiding citizens. In fact,delinquents often showed a firm commitment to conventional norms. They noted that the normative system of any society is flexible, sometimes ambiguous,occasionally contradictory, and norms are qualified guides for conduct. Rules for proper behavior are variable and situational. Drawing upon an assortment of rationalizations, what Sykes and Matza termed "neutralization techniques," the delinquent was able to define a situation in such a manner that excuses violation of law. Sykes and Matza identified and described five techniques of neutralization. They also recognized that there were more of these techniques,and in subsequent years more of these were added (cf. Lanier and Henry 2004:173-4). Neutralization theory has been used to describe a wide range of deviant behavior, ranging from employee theft (Ditton 1977; Hollinger and Clark 1983; Hollinger 1991) to rape (Scully and Marolla 1985) to genocide (Alvarez 1997).
A major criticism of neutralization theory is that it does not explain where or how these neutralizations are learned. We argue in this paper that neutralizations are embedded in core myths in a culture, tales that explore the moral ambiguity and important issues a society faces. Furthermore, these neutralization techniques are widely found in the mythic tales told to very young children, what we are conventionally called fairy tales. From a very young age, children learn rationalizations for lying, cheating, stealing… and even killing. To illustrate this proposition, we performed content analysis on traditional fairy tales represented by the works of the Brothers Grimm, Charles Perrault, Hans Christian Anderson, and English fairy tales collected by Joseph Jacobs in the 19th century. We also included an analysis of a more contemporary narrator of folk tales—Walt Disney.
Alien Abduction and the Quest for Legitimacy
This paper argues that social problems might be conceptualized as cultural products that are marketed in much the same way as automobiles, rock bands, or politicians. We propose that there are three essential and interconnected aspects to consider when explaining how social issues become widely recognized as social problems. First, we consider the "authors
"of social problems–who is instrumental in the marketing of certain social conditions as social problems. Important here are resources available to help shape public perceptions. Second, we consider the "product
." How is an issue packaged and promoted, or "framed for public consideration? What facts are gathered and assembled to construct arguments. Social problems are virtually always based on some verifiable "facts" taken and assembled in a coherent package for audience consumption; what causes and consequences are asserted. Finally, and often overlooked, is the part of key "audiences
" who play an important role in the way social problems are marketed. These key audiences include government agencies, media gatekeepers, the scientific community, the general public, and religious organizations.
A particularly important aspect is how these key audiences interpret and use the frames of issues put forth by advocates. In some cases, audiences may reject the issue for consideration because it does not resonate with their concerns or experiences. In other situations, these key audiences may find utility in the issue but reject the manner in which it is framed, instead substituting its own frame. To illustrate this process, we examine the "alien abduction" issue.
Back to top