Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College
Sociology

Departmental News Archive

  • Let’s Grow Old, So We Can Get Sick

    …and stay sick because there will not be anyone there to help us. By Wyll Everett ’14

    Let's Grow Old, So We Can Get Sick

    by Wyll Everett '14

    Wyll Everett '14

    Wyll Everett '14

    And stay sick because there will not be anyone there to help us.

    Along with its statistics on life expectancy (a list the United States does not lead), the World Health Organization (WHO) calculates a Disability-Adjusted Life Expectancy (DALE) for most countries. The DALE represents how many healthy years someone born in the U.S. can expect to live on average, a measure that is always below life expectancy in a country. Even though life expectancy in the U.S. has been rising steadily since the early twentieth century, the DALE affirms that a fraction of this “gained” life will most likely be devoted to illness. Illness will consume more of Americans’ lives than those in any other industrialized nation. During our final years we will live with illness because death today is not often caused by the terrible, but quick, infections of the past. The majority of death in the U.S. comes from chronic diseases, the three most prevalent being heart disease, cancer, and lower respiratory diseases, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). This trend has been growing steadily for years. We would imagine that the close to 20 percent of its total expenditures which the U.S. spent on health care in 2011 would be working to address this clear health issue in our nation. Unfortunately, this is not true.
    The chronic illness plaguing approximately half of the U.S. population will need to be addressed with new medical facilities, treatments, and mentalities. But this change can be facilitated only if we actually train people to treat chronic diseases. As of now, the goal of Western medicine is to cure. And if medicine does not currently have a cure, the medical community will bide its time by keeping people out of the hospital. The U.S. health care system is designed for acute care; if there is an immediate problem (e.g. heart attack, unbearable pain) physicians will treat it, so that a patient may go home.

     

    The end of days

    The end of days

    Chronic diseases are the cause of a major portion of hospital visits in the U.S. The immediate problem in these visits is that a patient still has a chronic disease when he leaves the hospital. Because physicians cannot reliably provide a cure, they simply alleviate symptoms to a tolerable level. When these symptoms become unbearable again, patients return to the doctor and he will fix them again, for the time being. This means that the daily treatment of chronic disease -- necessary because of the daily struggles of chronic disease -- is performed by the non-medically-trained, ill patients. And right now, the U.S. does not provide a better option because, truly, no one is trained to provide this type of care.
    Medical schools teach our future doctors what these chronic diseases are, why they happen, and how to handle them when approached by a symptomatic patient. Then students will train on the job, practicing treating chronic diseases. But where does all of this training occur? Well, where we like to think most sick people are, in a hospital. The only time a physician sees someone for heart disease is when that person just had (or is very close to having) a heart attack. Doctors learn to treat the attack and stabilize the patient, and then the patient gets to leave. No part of the medical curriculum includes how to help a patient, over time, deal with the daily hassles of living with chronic disease. The most trained caregivers in medicine in our country are not trained to provide the adequate consistent care needed by aging patients.
    Even the doctors who are the most consistent medical caregivers in a patient’s life, primary care physicians, are trained in the same way. These doctors usually train in hospitals or large practices and patients -- more critically -- generally see them at most twice a year. So when the Affordable Care Act takes full effect, with its provision to provide financial incentives to motivate medical students to become primary care physicians, are we truly gaining more doctors that can provide the help needed by those suffering from chronic diseases? The answer is clearly, no.
    The closest we have to daily caregivers are nurses, nursing assistants, and particularly home care aides that visit patients regularly at home or look after them in nursing homes. They are critical in the health care delivery system but these professionals receive even less training than physicians do. And much of their work is helping patients with daily tasks that are now difficult (e.g. bathing, eating), not management of a disease or its symptoms. Simply, we do not train anybody to help the millions of people in the U.S. that suffer from the daily trials of living with a chronic illness.
    So let us enjoy our longer lives as best we can. In the end we will be sick and, most days, we will be stuck dealing with our medical issues without much help.

  • Margaret Walsh, Professor of Sociology at Keene State University
Photo credit: Maeve Walsh. Living Sociology

    Knapton Hall was my favorite building when I started at Wheaton.

    Living Sociology
    by Margaret Walsh '91

    Knapton Hall was my favorite building when I started at Wheaton. Professor Grady taught a course called Making Connections, designed to promote demographic literacy and critical thought. He had been to Haiti, Argentina, and Egypt, and he told stories and shared his home movies with us. He urged us to develop our own questions about the world. To begin, we read the classic “Body Ritual among the Nacirema” by anthropologist Horace Miner, which helped us think differently about cultural practices in the United States. Just last month I gave a copy to my dentist after trying to explain “the holy mouth man.”

    After leaving Wheaton I went on to graduate school at the University of New Hampshire. Although I was certified to teach high school, I needed to learn more first. I still have a graduation card from my advisor Professor Yllo, assuring me that I could get a PhD and still have a life. Now I am a professor at Keene State College teaching courses in families, stratification, social problems, and research methods. Even now, I make connections – students to books, books to ideas, new ideas to social networks and service work.

    My research has examined social conditions in rural and urban communities focusing on social inequalities, primarily linking economic changes to the rhythms of family life. Some years ago I began traveling to Nicaragua with students and my colleague, Professor Eleanor Vander Haegen. We team-taught a class on revolution and social change and split our time between urban Managua and a rural farming cooperative in Rio Blanco in the highlands. I am lucky to work in a department where many faculty members are doing international work – in Rwanda, Bosnia, Malaysia, Belize, and Ireland – and students can get involved.

    If you are a student who enjoys sociology, look for others who do too. At the Eastern Sociological Society conference in Baltimore I serve on the undergraduate committee. This year we had over 100 poster submissions from students on topics ranging from barriers to health care, to peer aggression in the classroom to aromatherapy. Choose internships that give you practice in research, statistics, writing, and policy analysis, especially if you are looking for a career outside of education. One of my former students was outstanding at picking up the phone and talking to alumni when she worked for our college’s advancement office. A great conversationalist, she now works in community relations at a local hospital.

    What I value about sociology is learning from others. If you agree, I recommend Dorothy Smith’s Institutional Ethnography: A Sociology for People (2005) who said she finds research exciting because there is plenty of dialogue, but no conclusion. Marjorie DeVault’s People at Work (2008) offers examples of how the “new” global economy shapes work lives. What books are you reading? Contact me at mwalsh@keene.edu

  • Professor John Grady Professor focuses on visual sociology at seminar

    Sociology Professor John Grady travels to Belgium for international seminar.

  • Thumbnail image of Service Sociology and Academic Engagement in Social Problems Service Sociology and Academic Engagement in Social Problems

    A new book edited by Trevino and McCormack asks, “What do sociologists do to respond to social problems, and how do they do it?”

    Edited by A. Javier Trevino and Karen M. McCormack

    This new book challenges sociologists and sociology students to think beyond the construction of social problems to tackle a central question: What do sociologists do with the analytic tools and academic skills afforded by their discipline to respond to social problems? Service Sociology posits that a central role of sociology is not simply to analyse and interpret social problems, but to act in the world in an informed manner to ameliorate suffering and address the structural causes of these problems.

    This volume provides a unique contribution to this approach to sociology, exploring the intersection between its role as an academic discipline and its practice in the service of communities and people.With both contemporary and historical analyses, the book traces the legacy, characteristics, contours, and goals of the sociology of service, shedding light on its roots in early American sociology and its deep connections to activism, before examining the social context that underlies the call for volunteerism, community involvement and non-profit organisations, as well as the strategies that have promise in remedying contemporary social problems.

    Presenting examples of concrete social problems from around the world, including issues of democratic participation, poverty and unemployment, student involvement in microlending, disaster miitigation, the organization and leadership of social movements, homelessness, activism around HIV/AIDS and service spring breaks, Service Sociology and Academic Engagement in Social Problems explores the utility of public teaching, participatory action research, and service learning in the classroom as a contribution to the community.

  • Exploring Society Visually

    by John Grady Visual sociology enters the mainstream. Here’s how…

    by John Grady

    "Exploring Society Visually" consists of fifteen visual essays and slideshows (vignettes) produced to complement various chapters in three introductory sociology textbooks: Dalton Conley’s You May Ask Yourself,  Kerry Ferris and Jill Stein’s The Real World, and Anthony Giddens et. al. Introduction to Sociology, all published by W.W. Norton. Each of the vignette addresses an abiding concern or issue in the study of society today.

    “Unintended Consequences”

    “What do we celebrate today?

    “Young people and altruism?”

    "Who are our superstars and what do they want from us?"

    “Good people and dirty work”

    “Is women’s work still never ending?”

    “How are whites’ racial attitudes changing?”

    “How have kids’ worlds changed?”

    “Do Americans support civil liberties?

    “Occupational prestige in cartoons”

    “Contemporary shrines”

    “Can chronic conditions be solved?”

    “Is sex out of control?”

    “Girly Girl”

    “Is demography destiny?”

  • Miranda's Great Adventure

    As an ESL teacher living in Korea I have a particular skill set. I’m a pro with band-aids. I can fix anything with twine and glue.

    Miranda Joy in class

    Miranda Joy in class

    As an ESL teacher living in Korea I have a particular skill set. I’m a pro with band-aids. I can fix anything with twine and glue. I can break out into song and dance about any topic based on the daily lesson, be it weather, counting, clothes, household rooms, or colors. My charades skills have no equal. If you think a crying child is impossible to handle, you have simply not applied enough stickers. An average day for me involves blood, tears, and loose teeth.

    The ability to teach anything involves the ability to plan, schedule, coordinate large groups of people, and above all, maintain a level head in the face of madness. A teacher must be aware of themselves at all times within the classroom. A teacher can hold the attention of a classroom full of children while working their way through triathlon of structured activities and lessons. In a day I run a marathon. I can tell you exactly what I will be doing in five-minute increments while at work. I have back up lessons for each class and one completely alternate lesson for absolutely crazy days.

    Miranda in class

    Miranda in class

    But where does the sociological aspect come in to play? Teaching in a foreign country demands you learn the culture, the language, the diet, the walk, and the dress of that country before you can even begin to teach. Korean children cannot be understood without first understanding their parents. Korean parents cannot be understood without understanding their parents.

    Korea’s crazy push into a high-tech and modern world of cheap soju and crazy love motels has everything to do with how one should approach teaching in Korea. I’m in charge of socializing children on both Korean behavior and American behavior. I must choose what words my kids learn, the slang they should pick up, and the attitude they assume within my classroom. I’m not allowed the luxury of simply asking “what” of Korea, I must always ask “why” as well.

    Teaching English allows me to really examine the role of language as both a barrier between societies, as well as a dynamic and fluid structure within societies. I must constantly explain why I say ‘knock it off’ when I don’t want them to remove things from their desk, or why English speakers say ‘hang up’ the phone when children have only known cell phones can put a lot into perspective. Tell a child they are eating gummies instead of jellies in Korea and -- surprise! -- you have just told them they are eating spiders. Jokes simply do not translate between languages and puns are doomed from the start.

    Coming to Korea allowed me to step into a complete unknown and structure myself. I go to the gym, volunteer at a homeless shelter twice a week, participate in several writing based groups in Seoul. I keep a detailed schedule of my weeks and I hold myself to those commitments. I don’t flinch at Korea’s more creative meals, and I can navigate the Seoul metro in my sleep. I visit museums, I still go on tourist tours of Korea, and I travel to surrounding countries whenever possible.

    So much of my time in Korea has been spent working to simply understand Korea. I have come to love the idea of ‘couples attire’ and ajumma and ajushi privilege. I will forever crave kimchi with my meals. I know the lyrics to several kpop songs, and when I visit the doctor it costs less than my morning coffee.

    This is my last year teaching. This is also my last year in ROK. I will miss everything about my time here, but I also acknowledge that I am ready to move on. Traveling for me is all about learning to fall in love with uncomfortable bedfellows. It means reevaluating what I know to be correct. I went to the Philippines last year for vacation and wound up staying in Manila and volunteering in a program for feeding and clothing homeless children in the streets. I spent Christmas cooking a meal for over 200 people. Life is funny and fickle and sometimes you wind up eating silkworm pupa and finding it tastes pretty darn good.

    Miranda Joy graduated from Wheaton College in 2012 with a degree in sociology. She participated in the Bhutan program where she worked with the city municipalities as well as the UN in trash collection and coordination. She has been an ESL instructor in Korea since 2012, and – guess what? -- you can find out the meanings of unfamiliar terms by some online exploring.

  • Photo of Chris Kelley smiling, in a red shirt Putting Sociology Skills to Work

    Chris Kelley ‘96 finds sociology is a natural fit for market research and consulting

    Since graduating from Wheaton with a degree in Sociology I have built a 15+ year career in market research. Across my career, I have guided leaders at global companies, universities, and government agencies on their product and marketing strategies based on research that I designed, conducted, analyzed, and presented. I currently work at Forrester Research in Cambridge as a Senior Data Engagement Director. Basically, I work with consumer technology companies (Apple, Microsoft, Samsung, Google, etc.) helping them better understand consumer attitudes, adoption, and usage of technology.

    One of the most gratifying aspects of my career is that the skills I use every day are directly related to the skills I developed in my Sociology studies at Wheaton. These skills include those learned in my classes, in the ample one-on-one time I spent with my professors, and the time that I spent researching, writing and defending my Senior Honor Thesis. These experiences taught me how to design and conduct research, analyze data, translate that data into an easily-understood story, and speak in front of an – often intimidating – audience of professionals.

    When I work with my clients they often ask me where I got my MBA. I always enjoy responding - gently correcting them - that my academic background is in Sociology, not Business. I then explain how Sociology is a natural fit for market research and consulting because of what you learn about the research process from design to presentation. I then go on to say how Wheaton’s academic environment and committed Sociology Department faculty were ideal for developing these skills.

    Chris Kelley ‘96

  • Chris Wellin reviews "Mission Hill and the Miracle of Boston" and other films

    Read the review

    Wellin_Review

  • Saving the Children

    By John Grady
      
    The dramatic decline in infant mortality has lifted a burden of sorrow.

    Real Photo Postcard of Mother with Dead Infant, ca. 1909. Courtesy of Luc Sante

    Real Photo Postcard of Mother with Dead Infant, ca. 1909. Courtesy of Luc Sante

    SAVING THE CHILDREN

    By John Grady

    Pictures of a dead child or other family member were common in the late nineteenth and very early twentieth centuries. It was a way of remembering someone who had never been photographed when they were alive. The pictures seem strangely morbid to us today due in part to the obvious efforts made to make the corpse look alive – eyes propped open, sitting, or even standing. Usually, the live people in the photograph dress formally and are emotionally composed.

    This photograph of a grieving working class mother and her dead child is quite different. We feel her desolation. We see her exhaustion in the slump of her shoulders, her body, and the left arm and hand dangling helplessly at her side. She has a blank stare, but her eyes are alive with sorrow. Her jaw is clenched. The woman standing directly behind the mother looks at her steadily with a gaze that is both tender and sad. This photograph is not a formal moment fixed in amber, but rather an instance of misery. The woman to the left has just turned toward the scene. The blurred motion is distinct enough to create a double exposure that makes the scene come alive and takes us back to a day in 1909 when, next to a plank house on a rough wooden porch, and somewhere in America, a mother grieved as her baby was being prepared for burial.

    When life expectancy improved from forty years to eighty over the course of the twentieth century, it didn’t mean that everyone on average just added another forty years to their lives. There were then, as now, many people who lived well beyond the average life expectancy. Many of us know people in their late eighties and nineties and many did back then. What improved life expectancy really meant was an enormous reduction in child mortality. It was babies and kids getting beyond the hurdles of childhood diseases and infections – and not dying -- that made it possible for many more people to live at all, and in time for a growing number to live quite long lives in good health. In 1900, the infant mortality rate (the number of deaths per one thousand live births for children one and under) was 162 per thousand. As of 2011, it is down to 6 per thousand. In other words, the odds were one out of 6 that a child born in 1900 would not live into a second year. Today, the odds are only one out of 167.

    When we factor in the fertility rate (the total number of children on average that women bear during their lifetimes), we summon up an even bleaker tableau. The fertility rate in 1900 was 6 children per woman. Multiply that by the infant mortality rate (162/1000 times 6) and you have 972/1000 or nearly a statistical certainty that in 1900 a women would lose a child under one year of age at some point during her child bearing years. Today women have a fertility rate of 2. Doing the numbers – 6/1000 times 2 – yields 12/1000, which means that the odds of a woman losing a child in 2013 is roughly one out of eighty.

    Today, young women -- like young men -- are exhorted to be all that they can be and strive to realize their dreams. What could possibly be wrong with wanting to “have it all”: material rewards, a challenging career, supportive relationships and a loving family with children. But, at the turn of the century mothers and grandmothers would never tell their daughters such a thing and instead reminded them that it was women’s lot to suffer. They weren’t being cruel. It was just that knew that it was certain that someday their daughters would be sitting in a chair like the woman in the photograph, holding a dead child, and drowning in sorrow.

    It still happens and when it does the grief is just as deep as it was for this woman whose name we do not know. But the dramatic decline in infant mortality not only ensures that human life is abundant, but also that much of the burden of sorrow for men, and especially women, has been lifted.

  • Charting Life

    by John Grady
    Life expectancy as a chronicle of civilization.

    US Life Expectancy for Men and Women, 1900--Present

     

    Life Expectancy for Men and Women in the United States, 1900 to the Present.

    Life Expectancy for Men and Women in the United States, 1900 to the Present.

     

     

    CHARTING LIFE

    by John Grady

    This is a simple line chart and easy to read. The vertical axis scales one type of information -- in this case, how many years someone born in the US might expect to live -- while the horizontal axis lists when people were born. A point on either line is an estimate based on projecting the death rates prevailing at that date into the future. Projecting a trend in this fashion, however, does not account for what the actual future might bring. Life expectancy in real time could be lowered by war, disease, famine, or a cataclysmic natural event. Conversely, our lives could extend beyond what was predicted at birth by improvements in living standards, medical care, and healthier lifestyles. For Americans, the big take away story from this chart is that the good far outweighs the bad.

    Throughout human history, average life expectancy was anywhere from 30 to 40 years at best. Around 250 years ago in Western Europe and the United States, things slowly began to change. There was more food available; public health measures were taken; medical science improved, and housing became more secure and comfortable. By 1900, life expectancy was almost 50 years. What happened during the next century was without precedent in human history. By 2000 life expectancy had nearly doubled and men and women on average lived into their late 70s and early 80s.

    Line charts are one of the best ways of visualizing a trend. They show direction: is it going up or down; is it even or uneven; curvilinear or cyclic? They show whether the rate of change is fast, slow, or non-existent. They also can be designed to include more than one line – in this case trends for men and women – and these can be easily compared. With these observations in mind, what does this chart tell us?
    • While the growth of life expectancy is a steadily progressive trend over the course of the century, it tends to slow down from the early 1950s on for both men and women;
    • Women tend to live longer than men and this discrepancy has generally widened since the beginnings of World War II. There is some evidence of a narrowing of the gender gap during the 1990s, which is probably due to men beginning to quit smoking in the 1960s in significant numbers, while women were just embracing the habit. There is a lag in outcomes for men and women because it takes about 30 years for the negative health effects of smoking to begin to take their toll – and for the positive effects of not smoking to have an impact.
    • Before 1945 changes in life expectancy were very volatile. They go up and down by one or two years of life expectancy from year to year. This volatility is most likely due to outbreaks of various infectious diseases. After World War II, mass vaccination and expanded health care probably accounts for how steady the trend becomes for both men and women.

    Because of the way that life expectancy is measured, it is very susceptible to being influenced by a dramatic increase in the death rate, even if that jump is limited to a very short period of time. The influenza epidemic of 1919 is considered the most lethal worldwide epidemic in history and killed more than 20 million people, 500,000 of them in the United States alone. This singular event was so massive that the slaughter it records leaves a distinct graphic trace on the chart as a plunging spike.

    Charts are one of the best ways of examining social indicators. When done well, they provide us with clear measures of patterns that we might not otherwise be aware. Nevertheless, the care we take in viewing them is only as good as the care that must be taken in their preparation as well as observing and collecting the original information. The data that went into making this chart on life expectancy is reliable for just these reasons, and -- because we can imagine what it measures – these simple lines speak volumes about what American civilization accomplished for its people over the last century.