Desert Flower

desert flower

Is female genital circumcision in Africa immoral?  Is it really mutilation?  This divisive topic gets at the polarized views of cultural relativism and ethnocentrism.

Waris Dirie’s book Desert Flower (1998) gives a powerful argument for the ethnocentric side of the debate by taking the reader on an autobiographical journey of a young girl who was welcomed into womanhood through a rite of passage that cost her sexual pleasure for the rest of her life.

Dirie is now one of the leading advocates against female genital circumcision.  Check out her website ( in addition to her book.

Posted in Gender, Introduction to Sociology, Marriage and Family, Social Problems, Social Stratification | Tagged , , , , ,

The Truly Disadvantaged

The Truly Disadvantaged

William Julius Wilson’s book, The Truly Disadvantaged (1987), was a groundbreaking work that changed the way our nation looked at poverty.

Previously our idea of what caused poverty in the U.S. stemmed from the misuse of Oscar Lewis’ work Five Families: Mexican Case Studies in the Culture of Poverty.  The main theory of this book is that poverty persists over generations due to a defective culture of poverty that encourage laziness and overspending.

One of the problems with using Lewis’ findings to explain poverty in the U.S. is that his case study was of 5 Mexican families and he did not actually study poverty in the U.S.  Thus, Lewis’ work was misused.

Wilson, changes the paradigm of how to look at poverty by suggesting that what causes persistent poverty is not individual choices, but rather inequalities in social institutions.

Check out Wilson’s book for yourself for details on who “the truly disadvantaged” are.

Posted in Introduction to Sociology, Race and Ethnicity, Social Problems, Social Stratification | Tagged , , , , , , ,

The Un-Tv and the 10 MPH Car

The Un-Tv and the 10 MPH Car

“Warning: studying sociology can be harmful to your ego and to your illusions,” the opening line of The Un-TV and the 10 MPH Car (1994) by Bernard McGrane, gives the reader an accurate view of what to expect from this book.

If you read this book be ready to reflect on “Why you do the things you do” by questioning sense common assumptions.

For example:

  • Why do we stand in elevators facing forward?
  • Why do we say hello when answering the phone?
  • Why do we always have to act busy?

McGrane encourages you to explore these questions by doing social experiments that break these norms.

For example:

  • For a week, ride every elevator you go on backwards.
  • For a week, answer every phone call you receive without saying hello.
  • For 10 minutes, stand in a social space doing absolutely nothing.

See the book for more experiments and an in depth analysis of the social implications of them.

Posted in Introduction to Sociology, Social Psychology | Tagged , , ,

Suicide a Study in Sociology

Suicide a Study in Sociology

Emile Durkheim investigates the morbid subject of suicide in Suicide (1897).  Most people see suicide as an individual act committed in isolation, but Durkheim challenges this assumption.

Durkheim contends that the choice to commit suicide is influenced by the type of society one is living in.  For example, in his book he outlines four different suicide typologies based on the society type.  Consider the below graph that summarizes his suicide types:

Durkheim's 4 suicide typologies

Explanation: The parts in blue refer to society types.  For example, “Weak Tie” would be a society that has weak social integration.  Thus, people who are at the extreme, feeling isolated and disconnected, are at risk for committing suicide.  Durkheim titles this suicide egoistic.  To learn more about his suicide types I strongly suggest reading his book.

In addition, to discussing suicide types, this book goes into detail about what types of people commit suicide and even how people choose to commit suicide.  Check out this detailed summary of his work

Impact of Work: By arguing that the individual act of suicide is caused by social contexts, Durkheim’s groundbreaking book carved a niche for sociology in the academic world.

Posted in Introduction to Sociology, Social Problems | Tagged , ,

Eat the Rich

Eat the Rich

P.J. O’Rourke sets off in his book Eat the Rich to see international examples of good and bad economic systems.  His hope is to answer the following core question “Why do some places prosper and other places suck?” (O’Rourke, 1998).

O’Rourke’s sharp wit and enjoyable writing style takes the reader on a journey that will make them laugh out loud, yet deeply challenge conceived notions about economic systems.

Look here for a more detailed review

Posted in Introduction to Sociology, Social Psychology, Social Stratification | Tagged , , , ,

Black Identities: West Indian Immigration Dreams and America Realities

Black Identities

Black Identities: West Indian Dreams and American Realities (1999), is an ethnography by Mary Waters, that details the experience of West Indian Blacks.*

When studying immigration in the United States a consistent pattern has emerged -assimilation benefits immigrants.  This pattern is not true for West Indian Blacks.  Water’s documents the surprising trend of second generation West Indian Blacks purposely trying to unassimilate.

Why would an immigrant group do this?  The reason Water’s found is, that West Indian Blacks are treated better when they had their native accent.  Apparently, people gave them higher status, because they were not Black American.

For example, Water’s interviewed a number of employers who interpreted the same behavior of their employees different based off whether they thought the employee was Black American or West Indian Black.  In one case, an employer was talking about a West Indian Black employee who was late.  The boss excused this tardiness, because the West Indian Black employee was still on “island time.”  However, when a Black American employee was late they were labeled as lazy.  As a result, in the case of West Indian Blacks, being labeled as “foreign” resulted in group privilege.

Make sure to read the book for more details about this unique exception to assimilation patterns.

*Fun Fact: The arrival of this relatively new immigrant group caused a shift in politically correct terms.  Specifically, African American is no longer considered politically correct.  Black is the new politically correct term, because West Indian Blacks were adamant that the term African American did not fit them since they were not from Africa.

Posted in Introduction to Sociology, Race and Ethnicity, Social Stratification | Tagged , , , , , ,

The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

WebThe Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

In The Protestant Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (1905), Max Weber poses the question Why is it that capitalism is most successful in Protestant nations?

Weber argues that this happens, because the religious doctrines of Protestantism, especially from the sect of Calvinism, compliment the economic principles of capitalism.  For example, the Calvinist doctrine of predestination -the idea that salvation is predetermine before you are born and thus cannot be influenced by any good works on earth- made people uneasy.

People found a way to cope by assuring themselves and others that they were part of the elect few who had salvation.  They showed this by accumulating wealth.  Having wealth could be viewed as an outward sign that a person had God’s favor, and thus were saved.  Thus, capitalism and Protestantism were compatible principles.  Check out Weber’s work to see the full depth of his compelling theory.

In applying Weber’s principles today, one can see the remnants of the match between capitalism and Protestantism in the Republican party of the U.S., which tends to be associated with Protestantism and tends advocate for economic policies that favor capitalism.

Posted in Introduction to Sociology, Social Stratification | Tagged , , , ,