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January 31, 2008

A Sociological Look at Molalla

This is an excellent Paper 1 example by Maggie Kercher.

I come from their very ranks. I have a deep understanding of what it means to “conform” to the social norms of the group. A “deep understanding” is most thoroughly valuable when one has personally experienced the subject in question—which is just what I have done.

We live in the country. Molalla, Hubbard, Mulino, Colton—towns you have never heard of, ones that can barely hold space on an Oregon map in competition with the non-descript farmland surrounding it. We are home-schooled. We do not dress in style. We are Christians. We grow our own vegetables. We each have approximately three freezers—two are full of frozen fruit picked from the neighbor’s farm during the summer, the other houses a neighbor’s cow, cut and wrapped by the community butcher. We do not go out much; ‘going out with friends’ means deciding on one of their houses in which to congregate, and doing so.

Renting a movie, playing a game, or making a video. We entertain ourselves. Most of the women wear skirts exclusively. Most of the men do not go to college—they merge into the labor workforce before they are even fully graduated from high school. They marry young, as soon as a young man can buy a house. We don’t date—we practice courtship. We all go to the same chiropractor for our aches and pains—he is an elder in our church.

My inclusive verbiage is habitual; I say “we” because I grew up feeling a part of it. I was! Am I still? I have changed. I go to college. I dress fashionably. I wear pants. I love nothing better than heading into Portland to ‘go out with friends.’ My personal meditations on the effectiveness and value of this community has caused me to think about it sociologically—with interesting conclusions!

A Functionalist might say that this system of life works perfectly. Like-minded parents raise like-minded children that will have no problem finding like-minded spouses within the community. The community works together like a set of gears: My mom was a seamstress so she teaches sewing classes. Mrs. English has a doctorate in history, so she teaches us history and literature. Mrs. Langsather knows Latin so she teaches it to our highschoolers. Mr. Shrock is a business owner so he schools our young people in economics. As said before, Mr. Stutzman the Butcher slaughters our front-yard beef so that we have healthy, hormone-free meat to eat all winter. We have everything we need. We all believe the same, therefore social order is present. The inequality that is present is acceptable, unchallenged and vital.

A Conflict Theorist might argue that with such a strict, abnormal set of norms, one from this group will have difficulty merging into larger society. This is a valid claim. Often we unconsciously shy away from public situations that may be uncomfortable. It is a major adjustment to marry outside of the community—often potential suitors are intimidated by the strict rules and values of courtship. College is an adjustment for us; not academically, as our mothers have gifted us with a more-than-adequate education—the adjustment is in the collision of a different perspective, and the softening that must happen in order to allow us to merge with, appreciate, and tolerate differences in larger society. We are cultivated in the country, and it is an adjustment to merge into society, like coming into a bright light from a dark room. This ‘fear’ forces the members of this community to stay within its ranks, reinforcing it, and creating a deeper appreciate for its comfort. The norms are perpetuated through a kind of power; it is a positive power, one that says an individual in this social structure is promised a successful, comfortable, friend-filled life if he will conform to the norms and hold to the values. There is also a negative power, one that says the individual—once marred by the adoption of outside social norms—will be sanctioned, alienated by his own insubordination.

In looking at this social structure through Symbolic Interaction, we find that the people and their social norms are interdependent because of the values that dictate them. For example, the standard for marriage is based on the Christian tenet that the man is the head of the household—the breadwinner and the leader. The woman is his helper—she bears his children, cares for his house, spends his money wisely and supports him in his leadership. These values create the social norm of the man being the pursuer in courtship. He waits until he can provide a good home for a family, then seeks a young woman who will fulfill the requirements of a good wife. He goes to the father of the young woman to ask permission to court her, which is a symbol of the father’s headship over the daughter. Were the young man to violate this norm, he would be sanctioned—seen as shady, underhanded or of questionable intentions. This may be viewed as an inequality of individual rights, but according to the social norms, it is perfectly functional and vital to the sustaining of the social cycle.

On a macro sociologic level, this community successfully regenerates itself. It has been thriving for many years and with every additional generation, the values and norms become embedded even deeper into the structure. It shifts only slightly over time, and because of its fixed foundation on conservative, biblical tenets and values (which are unchanging), will predictably remain anchored in the same spot throughout history.
An individual in this community reveals that on a micro sociologic level the degree of the social norms’ grip and the tenacity of the values that one holds to dictates how robotically he or she will conform to this society. While a person may hold to a very conservative lifestyle view and mostly agree with the majority of his community, he may differ slightly in his interpretation of values and his expression of the norms. This serves to widen the breadth of the social space this community holds.

However, when one of these individuals strays significantly from the unyielding values of the community, there is a kind of mild sanctioning that occurs. I have become somewhat disjointed from my subculture because of this noncompliance to various norms. For example, I do not feel that women must wear skirts to be feminine; therefore I wear pants. In doing this I violate the norms in such a way as to semi-alienate myself from their ranks. My values are not contrary, per se, but they do vary to some extent, and my own personal observation of society causes me to have a more balanced set of norms for myself. This has happened in part to my conscious decision to slightly blur the dark, straight line of separation between my subculture and society at large.

It is interesting to note the vast difference between a personal and a sociological view of a given community. Being inter-related and stemming from the same source of observation, the two views provide an effective study of the social structure, both at a macro and micro level. Through sociology, my ‘deep understanding’ of the community is lent a language by which to express the intricate system it operates under.
The community of Molalla thanks you, Sociology.

January 30, 2008

What is Diversity…Really?

This is an excellent Paper 1 example by Kay Pettygrove.

Diversity at Portland Community College appears to be everywhere. But is it? Diversity is defined in the Encarta English Dictionary as "ethnic variety, as well as socioeconomic and gender variety, in a group, society, or institution." Based on that definition, it appears that Portland Community College embraces a culture rich in diversity of all types. Walking the campus, it is easy to identify the many different ethnic groups as well as the varying ages of the students. What is more difficult to determine is the differences in socio-economic groups and particular sexual preferences of individuals. Is diversity however, a numbers game? True diversity should be judged by the institution's efforts to increase educational opportunities that identify and promote understanding of the differences and similarities among different cultural groups. Being able to meet a predetermined quota of minority students is not enough.

The benefits of diversity in a college or university environment can be far reaching. Patricia Gurin, professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, suggests that

"A racially and ethnically diverse university student body has far-ranging and significant benefits for all students, non-minorities and minorities alike. Students learn better in such an environment and are better prepared to become active participants in our pluralistic, democratic society once they leave school. In fact, patterns of racial segregation and separation historically rooted in our national life can be broken by diversity experience in higher education."(1)

True diversity benefits everyone however it doesn't exist in a vacuum. Placing diverse populations in similar environments does not constitute true diversity. It should be about learning from one another in positive and inclusive environments.

Dartmouth College has made great efforts to understand the role of diversity on campus. Along with understanding that diversity is not solely about how many minority students are enrolled at the college, the leadership at Dartmouth is realizing it is also much more.

"The whole discussion used to be framed around numbers,” said Prof. Jeffrey Milem of the University of Maryland, an expert on the racial dynamics of colleges, referring to the earlier efforts to recruit minorities. Now it's about what kind of educational environment is in place to allow these diverse people to learn from one another" This fall, signaling the college's (Dartmouth's) intention, the president, James Wright, made diversity the theme of his welcoming address. Dartmouth is offering diversity training to any student of faculty member, and many are taking part. It is mandatory for all non-faculty staff members, from administrators to groundskeepers."(2)

A true commitment to diversity would be making diversity training a mandatory requirement for any person associated with the college or university including all enrolled students. There is a danger associated with making diversity an issue of quotas and neglecting the importance of the more latent consequences.

There are researchers that claim increased diversity can have negative impacts. "Segregation actually increases as larger numbers of a minority group move into an area."(3) People tend to congregate with those they understand and are comfortable with. Without rigorous attention on the part of the academic community, what are well intentioned efforts towards diversity could inadvertently fail.

There are many questions that can be asked from a sociological perspective regarding diversity in this environment. What types of diversity are going to be addressed? There are many options on the Portland Community College campus to choose from. The obvious choices involve race, gender and age. The less obvious would include socio-economic groups, sexual preferences, and religious affiliations.

Does a larger number of minorities in each of the aforementioned groups constitute true diversity on campus? The study of focus on this issue would center around how not only the minorities felt about their experiences on campus, but how the non-minority students viewer their experiences as well. What might be considered a diverse environment by some, may be experienced in completely different ways by others. Is diversity about how many people can be counted in a group, or by the experiences that define the environment?

How do students congregate? Are they gathering primarily with students of their own ethnicity, religion, gender, or sexual preference? What would minority students like their experience at a diverse college or university campus to look like? What would majority students like their experience to look like? What are these differences and similarities?

Another important factor in addressing the issue of diversity is in regards to how institutions can encourage multiple diversities. While much of the focus of diversity efforts are aimed at racial differences, there are many other minority groups to consider. It is a daunting task to be totally inclusive and educationally proactive with numerous groups at one time.

Identification of what type of activities that currently exist is also another important element to consider. What is Portland Community College doing now that encourages and embraces diversity? What is working? What isn’t working? Is there room for improvement? How would success in diversity programs be identified? Other schools across the country have incorporated extremely successful diversity programs at their institutions. (Carnegie Mellon, Harvard, Haverford, University of Maryland, the University of Michigan, Mount Holyoke, Stanford and Swarthmore) What are they doing that Portland Community College can learn from?

Are there positive interactions occurring between minorities and non-minority groups? Are those interactions more likely to be between individuals or groups? Which groups are more likely to seek out the opportunity for diverse experiences?

Diversity is a topic that is loaded with opportunity for exploration and understanding. It appears that research is trending toward favorable outcomes from diversity efforts. Patricia Gurin states that "Research suggests a variety of positive educational outcomes that result from being educated in a diverse environment. It also suggests a positive impact for those students with high degrees of social intergroup contact."(1) It appears that even if efforts to increase diversity are not perfect, any effort is better than none.

The understanding of diversity as an increasingly important issue in higher educational environments seems to be taking place nationwide. It is in these settings that the framework for understanding outside of the academic community is formed.

"College campuses are not dominated by widespread racial/ethnic segregation and the racial/ethnic clustering that does occur isn't impeding intergroup contact. In fact, the existence of racial/ethnic groups and activities, along with other comprehensive campus diversity initiatives, is contributing to the success of today's college students and preparing them to help build a healthier multicultural America for the future. Diversity experiences during college had impressive effects on the extent to which graduates in the national study were living racially and ethnically integrated lives in the post-college world. Students with the most diversity experiences during college had the most cross-racial interactions five years after leaving college." (1)

What begins in the academic environment carries over into student's lives after graduation. Diversity is certainly a subject worthy of much discussion, consideration and action.

Citation Page

1. Gurin, Patricia. “New Research on the Benefits of Diversity in College and Beyond: An Empirical Analysis.” Diversity Digest, Spring, 1999, (Washington DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities, 1999): 5/15

2. Rimer, Sara. http://aad.english.ucsb.edu/docs/rimer.html, "Colleges Find Diversity Is Not Just Numbers", November 12, 2002

3. Kathleen Odell Korgan, James Mahon, Gabe Want, “Diversity on College Campuses Today: The Growing Need to Foster Campus Environments Capable of Countering a Possible "Tipping Effect". College Student Journal, March, 2003,

The Importance of Objectivity in Sociology

This is an excellent Paper 1 example by Kindra Kerp.

Pick up a National Geographic magazine, flip through the pages and describe what you see. Perhaps the pictures that stand out are the ones that display people of different cultures practicing rituals or chores that you find extremely odd, maybe even frightening and horrifying. Why do you think that is, and what is it's relevance? What conclusions do you make about the people on those other-world pages?

Some cultures in Africa paint their faces with colorful paint, some Native American tribes used awls to pierce holes in their skin, and others wore their hair in specific and flamboyant styles. Each of these behaviors would be seen as odd in the modern American world, though a large chunk of people in our society practice variations of these activities (without flinching) every day- and they never get a second glance. Ladies wear ornate makeup, body piercing is all the rage in the teenage groups, and hairstyles can get down right freaky- but it's all attributed to personal expression and the individual's place in society. You wouldn't see an orthodontist with a green mohawk, a politician with blue eye shadow, or a punk rocker in a business suit. As long as the expresser is a part of the right population subgroup, it's all good.

So exactly why, as a people, do we shun that which is different and alien to us? In Sociology in Everyday Life, authors Margaret L. Andersen and Howard F. Taylor state that “People have strong opinions about social questions, and they may have deeply felt commitments” (44). Differences in culture often cause misunderstandings and, “The consequences can range from trivial to serious,” according to David Funder, professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside (405). Trivial misunderstandings may include language misinterpretation leading to some inconvenience or another, while a serious misunderstanding could entail law breaking in a country abroad where you thought you were practicing a common or casual behavior. Also described by Funder is the “outgroup homogeneity bias” where the group someone belongs to includes several vastly different types of individuals, but everyone outside that group is “all the same.” The assumption is that if they aren't like us, they're all the same, they're all wrong, and they just don't belong.

Personal biases are hard to escape. Many are obvious and known to us, making them somewhat controllable, while other biases are subconscious and have a mind and influence of their own. Biases and assumptions are variables in scientific research that make a difference in the outcome of whatever it is that's being studied. As a science, Sociology needs to be as objective and fact based as possible. Science teaches truths. Without objectivity, whether due to an intentional action or an unconscious stereotypical assumption, misinterpretations can occur to invalidate or transform research into something false. Over-generalizations- they're all the same, bias- I don't like those guys, and selectivity- let's just forget about that- are some behaviors that can discredit the field of Sociology and mislead some who are genuinely seeking an understanding of a society.

If one relies on the first impression upon seeing something new and mysterious, it shuts down the opportunity to learn. If a cultural practice strikes one as odd and alarming, that person
may decide that practice is revolting, then turn and run. A roadblock has forever been placed between the two cultures: native and foreign. The first impression says to rebel, not to accept the new experience as relevant or how it contributes to the foreign society- that's all one would need to know while walking (or running) the other way. But suppose the outsider looked on with objectivity and ignored or suppressed the inclination to reject what he or she beheld. Perhaps that person would stick around and learn about that culture and the context to which that behavior belonged. Suddenly appearing is a unique opportunity to obtain new knowledge of humankind and to expand the idea of the collective human experience. That would be much more valuable than to simply observe, reject, and forget, both on a personal level and on a much more broad context- for the good of knowledge.

“Different cultures see the world very differently, and to understand them... we need to seek to understand how reality looks from an alternative point of view” (Funder, 400-01). This statement fits right in with the “Insider-Outsider” debate of sociology. Should one be an insider- a member of- or an outsider- foreign to- the society or culture being observed? An insider might ignore some facets of culture that are ingrained and taken for granted in their own culture. Fish aren't aware that they breathe differently than other species, they just do. But is sure is a huge difference that a scuba diver would appreciate. In contrast, an outsider might have difficulty interpreting a behavior and might over-emphasize differences. A certain college professor distributed a report to her class on a prominent North American people in which the author set himself up as an outsider looking in. The report included terms such as “extreme”, “torture”, “magic-ridden”, “supernatural”, “exorcism”, “masochistic”, and “sadistic”. Very few would adopt these descriptors as a part of their own culture, and many of her students were shocked and appalled upon the revelation that these words were being used to describe daily activities of Average Joe in the United States. Perhaps the best way to learn includes representation and collaboration from both the insider and the outsider.

Without a firm grip on objectivity, barriers for communication, learning, advocacy, and education are inevitable. Real learning relies upon the necessity of looking on with the intent to and success of gathering only the facts in detail- without selectivity. The power of influence rests in the hand of the writer. For good or bad, benevolent or malevolent, to contribute to society's understanding or stifle it, an author or researcher holds the responsibility to the rest of humankind to be accurate and fair in reporting observations of something new and alien. Knowledge and education depend on it.

Works Cited

Andersen, Margaret L., and Howard F. Taylor. Sociology in Everyday Life. Mason: Thomson Wadsworth, 2008.

Funder, David C. The Personality Puzzle. 3rd ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc, 2004.

January 29, 2008

The Nursing Shortage as a Sociological Issue

This is an excellent Paper 1 example by Christina Jones.

In April of 2006, officials with Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) released projections that the nation’s nursing shortage would grow to more than one million nurses by 2020 (HRSA, 2006). A report by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) states that nursing schools in the U.S. turned away 42,866 qualified applicants from nursing programs in 2006 (AACN, 2007). The current nursing shortage and the difficulty of qualified applicants getting into nursing programs is therefore an issue that interests me so I am choosing it as the topic of this paper.

I will begin by a description of some of the personal troubles this issue has created. Our text points out that troubles are personal problems that an individual feels or experiences in their own life (Anderson and Taylor, 2008:5). In 2001 my mother began her second battle with breast cancer. She went into Swedish Hospital in Seattle with severe back pain and this is when my personal experience with the nursing shortage began. I should point out as background information that both my mother and I had a history with both the nursing profession and with this particular hospital. My mother was an LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse) who worked at this hospital for many years when it was Providence Hospital and had two of her three children there. I was treated there twice for an appendectomy and a D&C procedure as a teenager. After high school I went into a RN nursing program and did some of my training there. I did not complete the nursing program because I decided to become a counselor instead. Within a couple days it became apparent that the care my mother was receiving was not adequate. She could not get assistance in a timely manner for a great number of things and missed one of her radiation treatments because no one showed up to take her. Once someone tried to give her the wrong medication. The only reason she didn’t take it was because she had just taken her meds and didn’t understand why they were trying to give her more. As a result my stepfather and I started to take shifts at the hospital to help care for her. My mother was at Swedish Hospital for about three and a half weeks before she died there. I spent about eight to ten hours a day at the hospital during that time. This gave me a lot of time to observe what was behind this inadequate patient care, which I will address later in this paper.
In fall of 2005 I went back to college to become a registered nurse. I had all my prerequisites for the R.N. program last year at PCC and applied--I did not get in. This year I have the prerequisites to apply to five schools and am doing so at significant personal expense in time, money and effort--my chances of getting in are still not good. Though I have worked hard and am a Phi Beta Kappa student with a 3.72 GPA it may not be good enough to get me into a nursing program in this area. This also is classified as personal trouble. However both of these personal experiences are examples that illustrate a sociological issue--meaning something that affects large numbers of people because of a particular social structure or arrangement (Anderson and Taylor, 2008:5).
This concept of understanding the difference between troubles and issues is used for organizing concepts within the sociological imagination and is from the work of C. Wright Mills, an eminent sociologist. In order to do this, one has to imagine the point that biography and history crosses and how the structures within our society affects individuals (5). One way to do this is through observation.
Anderson and Taylor point out that observation is an important tool in sociology and is used to reveal certain trends or patterns that may lead to certain conclusions or eliminate others (6-7). In this case my observations resulted in my starting with one opinion and arriving at a different one. My mother, who had been out of nursing for over 20 years, kept saying that this care she was receiving, “… is not anywhere near the standards of care provided in my day”. At first my parents and I assumed Swedish Hospital had become a second rate hospital and that it was staffed with incompetent and uncaring people. This idea gradually changed as I spent considerable time at the hospital and debunked that theory. Debunking is looking behind an accepted assumption and seeing it from a different perspective (7). Since my mother’s experience, I have spoken with many people who have had negative experiences with their own hospital care or someone they knew. I have also read numerous articles about such experiences. The general consensus is that the nurses today are not as caring or professional as they used to be. My observations and conversations led me to a different conclusion. When my mother needed something I could not do for her she pressed her call light, we would wait for a reasonable amount of time, depending on the need, and then I would go to search out a nurse. Rarely did I find idle, uncaring nurses at the nursing station, ignoring call lights. Instead they were all busy helping other patients. That is when I came face to face with the reality of our nursing shortage and the result it has on patient care. The nurses on duty simply had more patients than they could adequately take care of. Because there are numerous stories like my mother’s and mine, it illustrates not just a personal hardship, but the social issue of a nursing shortage, which is something a sociologist would seek to understand and resolve.
A sociologist would want to discover the sociological origins of this issue. Nursing has a long history, of which I know a little. When my mother became a nurse, most of her training was in the hospital under the guidance of other nurses. My mother was not a good student but she was a very loving and caring person and she became a very competent nurse, but I know she would not have managed the academics required today. When I originally went into a two year R.N. degree program, I did so right out of high school in 1970. I had no difficulties getting in with my 3.0 GPA. Going to school full time would have taken me two years (six terms) to complete. The same degree today takes at least one year of prerequisites to even apply to a program and then your chances of getting in, if you do not have a 4.0 GPA, are slim--at PCC your chances are slim with or without a high GPA. Even with the added difficulty, there are more people who want to become nurses and have done their prerequisites than there are programs to train them.
From a sociological perspective there are a number of possible reasons for this. One is that colleges need money to run and a major source of that money comes from tuitions the students pay. At colleges the cost per credit is the same regardless of the class. However, nurses require classes that can be quite expensive to deliver because they consist of so many science classes with labs and nursing classes that require clinical experience and highly trained instructors. By necessity, these classes need to be small. Because of the social/economic structure of education there is more of a need to have this kind of education subsidized because the tuitions are not going to cover the cost. In lieu of such subsidies it may be more viable for a college to turn out more students with Associate of General Studies or Associate of Arts Degrees than Associate of Applied Science Degrees in Nursing. This would involve focusing on the economic structures of society as a possible source of this particular sociological issue. I am sure Karl Marx’s ideas of sociology would have a lot to say about this but that is beyond the scope of this paper.
Sociological imagination is defined as “…the ability to see the societal patterns that influence individual and group life”, a term first described by C. Wright Mills (5). I have attempted, in this paper, to differentiate troubles from issues while also illustrating how they interact. Mill’s argued that personal biographies are determined within the social and historical context in which they occur. I have tried to illustrate how this works by using a personal biography and examining its specific social and historical context and possible sociological origins. In this case the personal and sociological perspective are both troubling to me but that seems to be the nature of the beast.

Bibliography

Anderson, Margaret L. And Taylor, Howard F. 2008.” Sociology in Everyday Life” Thompson/ Wadsworth,: Portland Community College, US.

HRSA, 2006, “What is Behind HRSA’s Projected Supply, Demand and Shortage of Registered Nurses. http://bhpr.hrsa.gov/healthworkforce/reports/behindrnprojections/index.htm
AACN, 2007, “ 2006-2007 Enrollment and Graduation in Baccalaureate and Graduate Programs in Nursing” ? http://www.aacn.nche.edu/Media/FactSheets/NursingShortage.htm

January 20, 2008

Excellent Student Paper Example

Seeing Through New Eyes: The Sociological Perspective

By Student Author Genevieve Andersen

What is Sociology? Sociology is the study of human behavior in society (Andersen & Taylor 2006). ‘Well, that’s all well and good,’ you say, ‘but what do you mean by that statement? There are many components to human behavior, not to mention human interaction; many parts and pieces of society. In fact, what does one mean by society? Does a sociologist study the individual or the group as a whole? Does he or she study the reasons for behavioral patterns and or simply the statistics – what they are? What is so special? And why should it matter?’

Well, a sociologist studies all these things and infinitely more. In sociology, one begins to discover that personal perception is tainted – or colored, if you will – by many more things than just ones own opinion. It studies how – and why – those opinions came to be. Rather, you begin to see that everything you thought was ‘true,’ everything you thought was ‘reality’ and ‘unbiased’ is in fact only a half truth; every thought you may believe to be solely your own, is indeed, in a sense, created for you. Granted, thoughts and opinions may vary from one person to another in a relatively small way, but there is a general framework and way of thinking that people share when they belong to a society. People's opinions as well as their personalities, habits, and choices in life – from what toothbrush to use to our career choice to the people they find attractive – are all highly influenced by society. But what happens in a society that creates this influence on an individual and his or her choices? Well, in essence, it’s a double sided question, because what makes a group of people a society and not just some random gathering is exactly that: a society is a group of people sharing, not only a common culture, a social structure, and a territory (Wolf…in class on the overhead 2006), but a common reality. This reality is created by both the group as a whole and the individuals making up that group. Sociologists study the different societies of the world and sub-societies therein, their common points and differences, and the ways in which they form these different realities and how that makes them view others in turn. They study both the group and the individual created by that group, as well as the patterns of change and adaptation each group takes on accordingly. But in order to do this efficiently, the sociologist must first be able to recognize the societal influences in his/her own perceptions and step back from their own preconceptions and judgments when viewing others.

As an example of the w3ay in which the common person views the world, let us take a look at something we are all too familiar with in this country. Most Americans may believe that they are uninfluenced in the personal choices they make. After all, we are all unique individuals, are we not, and have a right to be so? In fact, that is what we as a nation pride ourselves on… But everywhere you go in America, whether you are in a big city or out in the middle of nowhere, what do you see? Advertising. And what do these advertisements tell us? To ‘buy Double Mint Gum’ because, ‘only Double Mint makes your breath stay fresher longer?’ Well, yes. These advertisements are there to sell particular products and many people are susceptible to them. The people who believe they are not swayed will say, ‘Well, I’m not so easily influenced. I make my own choices! I can see right through that.’ But a sociologist knows that they are wrong. A person may not succumb to a specific company's product, but they are still swayed by the product itself and the underlying societal implications connected with each product or advertisement. What an individual is aware of is the product being sold: Double Mint Gum. But what they are unaware of is that with Double Mint Gum and its slogan, this company and society itself are also trying to persuade the individual that in order to be happy and successful, it is necessary to have a beautiful and bright smile and good breath. Note the actors and models used in these commercials and billboards: they are people that are almost always thought to be ‘beautiful’ or attractive in this particular society. This in itself sends 3 messages:

1. That beautiful people chew gum or, possibly, that gum/fresh breath/a clean, white smile is what makes the individual into something attractive and ‘good’ or that, if it can’t make one beautiful, it will at least make them appear to be so. If this is so, than obviously something else can be concluded:

2. If you maintain a fresh smelling, flavored and beautiful mouth, than you will be beautiful and other beautiful and successful people will like and be attracted to you. It is also reinforcing the opposite: that a mouth the way it is – the way it naturally tastes, smells and looks – is somehow ‘wrong,’ ‘bad,’ or undesirable.

3. By seeing these people and the pleasant and positive situations they appear in these ads, we as a society are also having the idea of what beautiful and successful is and how it looks continually demonstrated to us and reinforced again and again and that if you are not this idea of ‘beautiful’ or ‘successful,’ than you must be something else…something ‘less than.’

Even the most open minded of us can be easily swayed by society's voice. In fact, even when you can recognize it, your reactions, judgments, and feelings are already coming from it. And if one has so much trouble recognizing it in oneself, imagine trying to recognize it in another's society, not to mention in one's view of another society.

As humans, we tend to separate all people into 2 groups: us and them; they are either like us or they are something different, and since our ideals are undeniably ‘best’ for what is considered to be ‘human,’ than whoever make up ‘them’ must be somehow wrong; somehow slightly less than human. What is interesting to note is the inability of the individual to see this subconscious logic used when viewing other peoples and conveniently left out when viewing our own. In “Body Ritual among the Nacirema,” (Miner 1956) we were given a new society to examine, a dark and masochistic society, obsessed with the body and all it’s apparent ‘flaws.’ This society was filled with horrifying and painful ritual, the like of which, it seems one of normal sense and sanity would be appalled by and which would seem to be unnecessary and unhealthy. After reading this dissection of a people, it was easy to distinguish a few biased words and an obviously prejudiced opinion from Miner's description of this people. He tainted his work with judgmental adjectives like “barbaric” and “sadistic.” It was also easy to attempt to make these people understandable by likening their rituals to some of our own. We however would never go so far as to commit such masochistic atrocities as this ‘tribe’ under examination. What is interesting to note is that, in reading this, we, the class, had failed to recognize ourselves. Taken from an outsider's perspective, we could not see the rituals as our own: how could something so sadistic and wrong be our own? We are natural and normal – these people are “barbarians.” But what we take for granted in ourselves we will subconsciously judge in another culture and label it as odd and wrong.

Without sociology, we might never come to understand one another, and – perhaps even more importantly – we might never know ourselves for what we are. These are just a few of the ways in which society influences each and every one of us and all these things are the study of a sociologist. We feel we are individuals, and yet, every choice we make is so intertwined with this non-existent reality we have come to create for ourselves. But say for just a moment that you could take a step back from all these rules and ideals that are supposedly real, everywhere and inescapable? Think of the freedom you might find there… These everyday manipulations of perception are exactly what a sociologist must learn to remove from his/her observations and, indeed, must begin to learn from. Once this transformation of the usual human thought process begins, it seems to me, the sociologist can almost begin to hear that other language all its own – perhaps not universally understood, but universally spoken – embedded in our everyday thoughts, actions, and lives: the language of society; our ever present, ever subtle, ever-changing dictator.