Welcome to the Undergraduate Corner!
The descriptions you see below offer brief summaries of some of the best research occurring in the field of sociology. Each paragraph describes a recent article appearing in the American Sociological Review. We know you will find some intriguing ideas here. If you would like to read further, please contact your library to view the complete articles. Please also visit: http://asr.sagepub.com/.
The Temporal Structure of Scientific Consensus Formation
Uri Shwed and Peter S. Bearman
Is there scientific consensus about the causes of climate change, whether smoking is cancerous, or whether vaccines cause autism? If there is consensus then science speaks with a single voice and policies can be based on the state of the scientific knowledge at the time (for example, policies encouraging parents to vaccinate their children). If, however, there is no consensus, then serious scientific controversy remains, and social policy will be contentious too. In a recent study published in the American Sociological Review, sociologists Uri Shwed and Peter Bearman develop a systematic procedure for determining when science is consensual. They show that as consensus forms, the importance of internal divisions among scholars declines. Shwed and Bearman consider substantive cases that are now considered facts, such as the fact that smoking causes cancer and coffee does not cause cancer. They employ the same analysis to currently contested cases: whether cell phones cause cancer and whether vaccines cause autism. They find that virtually all scientists agree that vaccines do not cause autism, and that there is no strong scientific debate on cell phones, but no clear answer either. This new way of describing scientific literatures offers some fresh views on older scientific debates, and sketches different ways that scientific questions get resolved.
Making the News: Movement Organizations, Media Attention, and the Public Agenda
Kenneth T. Andrews and Neal Caren
Social movement organizations work hard to get their ideas and activities in the news. The media can play a crucial role in communicating a movement’s goals, activities, and significance to broader audiences. While some movement organizations are able to make the news, others never gain media attention. In a study recently published in the American Sociological Review, sociologists Kenneth Andrews and Neal Caren ask what kinds of resources, tactics, and issues allow some organizations to capture greater media attention than others. Specifically, they study local environmental movement organizations that are diverse with respect to their resources, strategies, and issue focus. Andrews and Caren combine detailed organizational survey data from a representative sample of 187 local environmental organizations in North Carolina with complete news coverage of those organizations in 11 major daily newspapers for the two years following the survey (2,095 articles). Their analyses reveal that local newspapers are more likely to cover professional and formalized groups, rather than volunteer-led organizations. Reporters give preference to large, membership organizations, but they are more likely to cover organizations with no members than organizations with only a few members. While confrontational tactics might earn organizations some coverage, routine advocacy tactics or sponsoring public demonstrations are more likely to gain attention over the long run. Groups that work on issues that overlap with newspapers’ focus on local economic growth and well-being are more likely to garner attention than those that advocate on behalf of novel issues. These findings challenge widely held claims about the way movements shape the public agenda through the news media.
Worldwide Trends in the Criminal Regulation of Sex, 1945 to 2005
David John Frank, Bayliss J. Camp, and Steven A. Boutcher
Between 1945 and 2005, countries around the world revised their criminal laws regulating sex. Using a unique cross-national and longitudinal dataset, the authors of a study recently published in the American Sociological Review examine changes to the law in four areas: rape, adultery, sodomy, and child sexual abuse. They find striking evidence of a worldwide wave of reform in all four areas. Where criminal laws regulating sex were once designed for the protection and celebration of collective bodies such as the family and the nation, they are now increasingly designed for the protection of individuals. This process has rearranged the cultural and organizational underpinnings of “sex,” resulting in some counter-intuitive trends in how national criminal codes prohibit and punish particular kinds of acts. Using a variety of statistical techniques, the authors find that some areas of the law have expanded in scope: this pattern includes laws regulating rape and child sexual abuse, which are increasingly regarded as crimes of violence perpetrated against individual persons. By contrast, laws that once existed primarily to protect the cohesion and sanctity of the family unit -- such as prohibitions against adultery and sodomy -- have been repealed or restricted in scope. The overall findings demonstrate a sweeping reformation of criminal laws regulating sex, rooted in an intensified global celebration of free-standing personhood.
Cultural Foundations of Tokenism: Evidence from the Leveraged Buyout Industry
Catherine J. Turco
Under what circumstances do race and gender become the targets of workplace discrimination? In a study recently published in the American Sociological Review, Harvard University sociologist Catherine Turco argues that an occupation’s culture is a key determinant of the workplace experiences of numeric minorities. Specifically, Turco finds that an occupation’s culture can define certain characteristics (e.g., race, gender, class, or age) as more relevant to or incompatible with the occupation’s work than others and, thus, discriminate against some typically disadvantaged groups more than others. Turco’s study draws on 117 interviews with professionals from the leveraged buyout industry (LBO) and a comparison of the experiences of women and African American men in that context. The LBO industry is overwhelmingly white and male, and women and African American men face substantial barriers to entry into this industry. However, once hired, women report greater difficulty integrating and bonding with colleagues than do African American men. Turco’s data suggest this is because the LBO industry’s macho culture makes it easier for men of any race to integrate when compared with women: the industry’s culture (1) privileges resources that, on average, women lack but men possess -- namely, an interest in and knowledge of sports and (2) defines the ideal LBO worker in a way that directly conflicts with cultural beliefs about motherhood. Consequently, in this context, gender is a more relevant characteristic for exclusion than race, and women are differentially disadvantaged.
Religion, Social Networks, and Life Satisfaction
Chaeyoon Lim and Robert D. Putnam
Does religion make you happier? Many studies show that religious Americans report greater happiness and life satisfaction than do non-religious Americans. However, skeptics posit that this trend is due to the fact that happier people are more likely to attend church, rather than church attendance making people happier. Some scholars also suggest that religious people may share certain non-religious characteristics (e.g., a “happiness gene”) that make them happy. In a recent study published in the American Sociological Review, scholars Chaeyoon Lim and Robert D. Putnam examine the nationally representative Faith Matters survey, which interviews the same set of people twice in a one-year period, to show that increased church attendance during the period increases life satisfaction. Lim and Putnam find that the connection between happiness and religion is not a result of theology (what you believe and what religion you belong to) or private religious practices (e.g., frequency of prayer or feeling God’s presence in one’s life). Instead, they find that frequent churchgoers are more satisfied with their lives because they build intimate social networks in their congregations, anchoring a strong sense of belonging in these religious communities and receiving morally-infused social support. If one seeks life satisfaction, it is neither faith nor communities alone that are important, but communities of faith. For life satisfaction, praying together seems better than either bowling together or praying alone. These findings suggest that religious leaders should invest more of their time, resources, and talent in deepening the social dimensions of congregational life, such as through small support or worship groups, potlucks, and choirs. This is likely to pay dividends to their congregants in making them happier, while benefitting religious leaders by making their congregants more likely to stay active religious members.
Have Asian American Men Achieved Labor Market Parity with White Men?
ChangHwan Kim and Arthur Sakamoto
Are Asian Americans the first minority group to have achieved full equality with whites in terms of how they are treated in the labor market? Using recent data for white and Asian American male college graduates, ChangHwan Kim from the University of Kansas and Arthur Sakamoto from the University of Texas provide a careful statistical analysis that removes the effects of a variety of potential influences on financial earnings -- such as a respondent’s educational level and major field of study. Kim and Sakamoto find that, compared with whites, Asian Americans who were schooled overseas are substantially disadvantaged in terms of earnings; however, this result probably derives partly from having foreign educational credentials. Asian Americans who completed graduate school in the United States are less disadvantaged but still do not obtain full equality with whites. Kim and Sakamoto consider that part of this negative effect may be a result of reduced English skills. However, they find that even native-born Asian Americans whose native language is English earn 8 percent less than whites. Kim and Sakamoto conclude that although notable racial progress has been made in the case of Asian American college-educated men, they still lag slightly behind whites in terms of achieving full equality in the labor market.
Neighborhood Context and the Gender Gap in Adolescent Violent Crime
Gregory M. Zimmerman and Steven F. Messner
Research consistently demonstrates that females engage in less criminal behavior than do males. This gender gap has been observed across different ages and races, and for most crime types -- especially violent crime. Yet little is known about whether the size of this gender gap varies across different types of neighborhoods. In a study recently published in the American Sociological Review, researchers Gregory Zimmerman and Steven Messner examine variation in the gender gap across neighborhoods using data from the Project of Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods (PHDCN). Results indicate that gender differences in violent offending are smaller in more disadvantaged neighborhoods; that is, levels of violent offending for females are more similar to levels of violent offending for males in these neighborhoods. This narrowing of the gender gap occurs because exposure to violent peers is greater in disadvantaged neighborhoods for both males and females, but females are more strongly influenced by their peers than are males. Zimmerman and Messner also find that females are more highly influenced by peers because (1) females tend to have more intimate friendships than do males and (2) violent peers exert a stronger influence on behavior when peer relationships are more intimate. Results reaffirm the fundamental insight of feminist criminology that explaining criminal behavior and other social phenomena requires an understanding of how gender shapes daily interactions, relationships, and patterns of behavior.