Tuesday, December 6, 2016

1960's Counterculture Movement: Is it relevant?

In the 1960s, there were many pressures and values that a group of individuals didn't agree with. They felt society should have different values, and so they took an 180-degree turn on the typical American values. These individuals were called the Hippies, and their goals and strategies were similar to the Beatniks.

It's the 1950s. You made it home after fighting for your country in WWII and all you want is to never leave them again. Money, fame, power, all that pales in contrast to stability, but they would still be nice. What if you could have both? Well, that's what a lot of individuals in the 1950s and 60s wanted. They valued material possessions and stability. They went through enough hard times, the War, the Great Depression (to just name a few), and they wanted it to end. Little did they know that their decisions would have impacts on others.

It's the 1960s. You look around and see everyone fighting over territory, trying to hold jobs, and grabbing at money everywhere they can. And you think to yourself "why do we do this?"

The hippies noticed that the American society placed a lot of emphasis on stability, success, and material possessions. However they were different - they just wanted to be happy. This is where there is a large difference in goals between the hippies and the typical Americans of the 1960s. Growing up with access to television, they were able to know what was going on in the world a lot faster, and they didn't like seeing the inequalities present. They believed they could change these inequalities, and so they acted counterculturally.

Counterculture is a sociological term. defines it as:
A counterculture is a subculture that rejects and opposes significant elements of the dominant culture. Countercultures can take many forms, from religious cults to communes to political parties.
The counterculture movement that began in the 1960s came about out of a desire to reject and go against the common values of the American culture. They saw people who only cared about success and material gain, and they wanted nothing to do with that. Instead, they pursued happiness, even to the point that many dropped out of high school to join the Hippie movement. Part of the things the Hippies enjoyed doing were things that would be starkly opposed by their parent's generation, such as casual sex, the use of psychedelic drugs, their vegetarian diet, and their eco-friendly lifestyles. But don't let me lump all the hippies into one group. I'm sure there were individuals that did not fit my examples, and that is the limitation of my viewpoint. I am writing based on the common understanding of hippies, and this important to remember when reading through this post.

Hippies, or as they are more commonly called, hipsters, were the first one to bring about a new era of change. In other words, they were doing what was cool to do before everyone else realized it was cool to do it. It's unique looking back on the 1960-70s countercultural movement and seeing that the major way it grew was by word of mouth and general attraction. It grew because it was appealing to the younger generation. But it is worth noting that there was the attraction of travel. Hippies didn't stay in one place. Rather, they were encouraged to go and explore. This, among other ideas and beliefs, was appealing to the younger generation.

Before I go too far, let's make sure I hit on at least one major meeting the 1960 counterculture movement created. In January of 1967, there was a large gathering in San Franciso's Golden Gate Park to promote peace; over 30,000 showed up to support the movement, launching what became known as the summer of love. All this definitely expanded the movement to new horizons. And while it would be nice to say all protests went well and the movement had no negatives, I cannot lie. Because many lived on the streets, the original hippies within Haught-Ashbury became to go back to normal life or die due to malnourishment, disease, and general crime. But this did not stop the movement from continuing. In fact, it continued into April of 1969 when a university started to harm the environment of a vacant  lot on their campus, the University of California. The university took many homes on the 2.8-acre lot and demolished them, leaving just the rubble. Unfortunately, rubble is not very nice to look at, so the hippies decided to plant shrubs, flowers, and trees on the lot, allowing it to earn the name "People's Park". However, President Reagan nor the public enjoyed this and not-so-nicely broke up the peaceful protest.

One of the major implications of the counterculture movement is its sociological significance. Without hippies and hipsters balancing society out, society could move along on a bad path. Counterculture provides the necessary balance society needs.

But how does this apply to today? Today there has been many changes around us. Trump became the President-Elect, the LGBTQIA+ movement is growing, and different ____ Lives Matter groups are making their voices heard. The hipsters of the 1960s were some of the first to go against societies beliefs, but they definitely were not the last.


Friday, November 18, 2016

Immigration Today: Is it flawed?

There are 11.1 million unauthorized immigrants in America, 8 million of which are employed (Pew Research Center, 2014). Around two-thirds of those adult immigrants have been in the US for over a decade (2014). What this means is that there are individuals living in America who want what America offers, they are willing to obey are laws, and they desire the American Dream, but our process does not allow them to become citizens. According to Marilyn Hepler, her friend lived in America for 22 years (unauthorized). They wanted to become a citizen but could not. Out of a desire for citizenship, they attempted to become a citizen of Canda. After 18 months, $1500 and some paperwork, they were able to work legally in the country and obtain a sponsor. Then after four years they were able to apply for citizenship (Marilyn Hepler, 2014). This story brings light to a problem America has: our immigration process needs reform.

One out of five of Canada's population is foreign born (National Household Survey, 2011). Yet when Jeffery Reitz, a sociologist at the University of Toronto, found that unemployed Canadians will insist that immigration does not take away jobs from the native born (Economist, 2011). A large issue I often hear is that immigration takes jobs away from Americans. While this may be true under today's model, it does not have to be so. A look into immigration would show the opposite, however. According to the fact sheet published by the White House, immigration brings more jobs to Americans, increases our GDP and thereby increasing our economy, and enables us to fill critical jobs (White Hosue). Hopefully I have made the issue clear: America needs to reform it's immigration policy.

Let's stop for a minute and look back upon our history. We like to say "we the people..." and "one nation...", but where does this come from? It turns out that most of America would be labeled as immigrants. Less than 1% of Americans are Native Americans (US Census, 2010). When you look at the past you can see that immigration is what formed the nation we have today.

I think America should look at other countries and model their immigration process. I am going to compare and contrast America and Canada in an attempt to show the difference (and hopefully you can decide for yourself which is better). America has Mexico on its southern border. Mexico, though, is not as prosperous as America, and so many Mexicans want to come to America. It can cost upwards towards $5000 to hire a human trafficker to help one move to America and not get caught, but the risk is still there (Marilyn Hepler). Canada has us on its rather large southern border. Yet when Americans decide they want to move to Canada, they have an application process they can easily pursue. Since there is a fair legal process in place, many prefer to pursue this route. However, America does not have a system like this. Many who do apply for citizenship after meeting the requirements get deported for some reason or another (NY Times, 2008). To make matters worse, these individuals would not have been deported nor investigated if they had not applied for citizenship. Under the current policy, there is a high risk of being deported (2008) rather than becoming a citizen. If the United States were to address this issue, one might be more willing to seek out becoming a citizen.

To sum up, there is an issue with immigration in America today. I believe we must first look at the problem and identify it before we can move on. Far too often we accept what society tells us without examining the evidence. Leaders will say many thins to get power, but that does not make what they say right. Hopefully you will go and do your own research after reading this. If you have any ideas as to how best to solve our immigration problem, write to your local government. They are in place for that purpose.

Pew Research Center:
Marilyn Hepler:
National Household Survey:
White House Fact Sheet:
US Census:
NY Times

Friday, November 11, 2016

Why do gender norms define us?

Norms categorize our everyday lives and, to some degree, affect everyone. Gender norms are no different, except that with the LGBTQIA+ movement going on they have attracted more attention. A group of sociologists, including myself, decided we would test out what it is like to break a gender norm. What norm did we choose? Walking in/out of the wrong bathroom.

Some background. A norm in sociology is something society does that holds it in some form of cohesion. William Graham Sumner coined the term more, which are norms society requires. In some places walking into the wrong bathroom might break a more, but because of recent events individuals are realizing it doesn't have to be polar. Karl Marx would say that these norms create our roles that allow us to function in society. He continues to say that these norms sustain and uphold our social order.

I'm sure it has happened to everyone. You are walking along and you really have to go to the bathroom. I'm sure you don't walk into the wrong one on purpose, but the second you do, you know you did something wrong. To ease the feeling of extreme awkwardness you run out of the bathroom hoping no one noticed. What you might not know, however, is that this demonstrates a gender norm.

My team discussed various options for how we wanted to break a gender norm. We wanted to challenge the typical norms associated with being a man or woman, so we decided to violate one of the more recently publicized: the bathrooms. Before actually doing it, one of the team members was freaking out. She was really uncomfortable and was worried about seeing too much when she went into the bathroom. We agreed to walk in and check the bathroom beforehand before anyone would go into either bathroom in order to prevent permanent scarring from this experiment. We moved locations once in an attempt to get a larger crowd of people but ended up with only one or two people seeing our experiment.

I was the least awkward and ready to do the experiment, but even I still found it really awkward. The other male in the group wanted to spectate and the only female found it too awkward to walk in (leaving me to perform the experiment). I walked into the female bathroom and there was one person in the stall. I went and washed my hands, but I felt like I should leave before she came out; that is where I went wrong. In order to have had a better experiment, I should have been there to see her reaction when she came out. But I came out before that, and only a few people saw me walk out of the bathroom. And of the few that saw me, few had any reaction to it.

Why does this matter? Our experiment taught us more about what norms are and how it feels to break them. We all felt the awkwardness, and I encourage you to try breaking some norm. Maybe you could try wearing the wrong clothes to the gym, or try holding hands with the same sex as a male. Whatever you end up doing, you will learn more about how our society creates and upholds norms.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

One Question Everyone Asks:Why?

It's halfway through my last class of the day and I just want to leave. But my professor is going on about equality between men and women. Then he says something that perks my ears: a statistic. "Women earn less in their careers than men," he states. In my head I am already poised against him, wondering where he is getting this fact from and if it's reliable. So I whip out my smartphone and Google it.

Nathan Pulmer explains a similar account, but from a different perspective. In his blog post, Why a Student Yelled at Me & I Thanked Him for It, Pulmer describes a student who confronted him on one of the class topics. The student was so pleased to have found a piece of evidence that proved his professor wrong, yet he was the one who ended up being incorrect (as it reveals latter in the story). Why was the student so pleased at the chance to prove his professor wrong?

From a young child through to when you graduate, high school or college, you go to school and learn from various teachers. Your only job is to learn, and in a traditional system, all knowledge comes from your teachers. If you listen to your teachers, you get a gold star. But if you do something the teacher doesn't like, you get a star taken away. Now these stars have no actual value, but we are taught their value by our teachers and our peers. This is the start of a long process embedded within the education system: socialization.

Teachers are smarter than us - according to the education system that is. It is not uncommon to blindly read the textbook or listen to the teacher and think there words and ideas are novel. The interesting observation always missed, though, is when we start asking "why". Why is the teacher right?

Putting the Pieces Together

Pulmer analyzes disproportionate relationships within his post. He specifically hits on how when you look at one group a certain conclusion can be made, but if you look at it in proportional to a larger whole, your conclusion is more accurate. While this is an important topic, it was not as interesting to me as the other sociological ideas bubbling within his post. Why did the student challenge him? Why did the student challenge him after class instead of in front of everyone? How does a calm demeanor affect the conversation in respect to a defensive demeanor?

Earlier in this post I hid a bit on the topic of asking "why". I merely pointed out that it is common, and I challenge you to take it further. What has led us to ask why? Is it to rebel against the system? Does it have a purpose?

I liked Pulmer's approach to sociology. He starts with a story and then brings light to different points as they come up. Then at the end he wraps it all up and leaves the reader with a few questions. It's a nice approach to use, but as you may have noticed reading this post, my brain has trouble working on only one train of thought.


Tying all the ideas together, the education system teaches students to believe their professors and teachers. Whether it is taught or not, though, I think many students eventually start to ask why in response to many concepts taught. This is step one to being a sociologist, and from what I have learned over the years, it helps you understand the topics even better. As you can see from Pulmer's post, both the student and the teacher benefited from the encounter. The teacher learned more about how the class viewed the topic and the student understood there was more to evidence than what just meets the eye.

Food for Thought

  1. How is creativity affected by the modern American school system?
  2. Why do we ask "why"? Does it have a social purpose?
  3. How often do you go in-depth when listening to others? How often do you hear one side or the other and blindly believe them?


Thursday, September 29, 2016

Bats, Birds, and Socioloy

Most people would say that bats and birds are quite different. And upon first inspection I would agree, they do appear different. Bats fly at night and eat fruit, while birds fly during the day (because they cannot see in the dark) and eat insects. But could these two seemingly random animals be analogous to something today? What if Stellaluna is trying to portray different cultures and how they interact?

Stellaluna wonderfully illustrates a concept within sociology called socialization. Stellaluna is a bat who gets separated from her mother after an owl attacks them. Stellaluna manages to escape the encounter, but has no where to go besides a bird nest. Desperate for food, she forces herself to eat the insects they eat. This is the first action of socialization. Typically, bats eat fruit. However Stellaluna is forced to eat insects in order to survive. She also might notice the other birds eating the insects and might think that it is the right thing to do. This can be compared to the norms within society trying to compel others to act a certain way.

After some time, Stellaluna starts to teach the other birds her own ways, such as hanging upside down from a branch. This could be someone in today's culture trying to show others their way of life and how it differs. But just like Mama Bird in Stellaluna, society shuns those who are different and essentially makes them socialize as a member of their population, aka enforce the norms.


Eventually Stellaluna reunites with her mom and finds her bat family. When she reunites, she learns about how bats are supposed to behave and what they are supposed to eat. The bats make a point about perspective, saying that what is upside down to a bird is actually right-side up for a bat. This scene helps to bring light to the sociological issues present in the story.

After Stellaluna realizes her true nature, she goes back to her bird family, wanting to show them how cool it is to be a bat. But unfortunately, the birds cannot see at night and Stellaluna has to rescue them from falling to what may be imminent death. It is after this moment that she and her bird family make a profound sociological discovery: we are all very similar, yet there are some differences that go deeper than the norms, like Stellaluna being able to fly during the night while her bird family cannot.

Now let's take a look at some of the deeper points within the story. First, notice Stellaluna's color: she is white/beige; but isn't she a fruit bat? Typically fruit bats are a black or darker color, rather than a creme or lighter color. Could Janell Cannon be trying to build on the white supremacy that is common in today's American culture? Is Stellaluna slowly building on the idea that whites are better, despite other cultural norms? I think the answer is that she might be.

Second, let's take a look at the bird family: three young kids, one mother. Why is there only a mother? It's a bird family, so that makes sense, but can there be any sociological reasons? I think there is. Janell Cannon, whether she tries to or not, is ingraining in children the idea that mother's should take care of their kids. This is a cultural norm that has been around for many centuries, and is further reinforced in the story. Interestingly the mom is also a rule maker and enforcer, which is different than society presents women. However Mama Bird is a single mother and rules still need to be, so we see her with this slightly male role.

Lastly, I want to make a point about the end. In the end, both Stellaluna and her bird family reunite and become one happy family. This is often portrayed in children's books, this idea of a happy ending where differences can be set aside. But it is not always the case in society. I think Janell Cannon is trying to present the ideal norm, where everyone is at peace and in harmony, despite its practicality in real life. I do agree that it is good to have that, but it is interesting that we have so many stories which portray this idea to children.

That's it: bat, birds, and sociology. Who knew they went together?

  • Cannon, Janell. Stellaluna. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1993. Print.