Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts
Wheaton College
Sociology

Departmental News Archive

  • Tough Gun Legislation: It’s just a matter of time… but don’t hold your breath

    By John Grady and Karen McCormack.
    After the tragic shooting in Newtown, the issue of regulating gun ownership became a topic of hot debate across the country… at least for a while anyway.

    By John Grady and Karen McCormack

    After the tragic shooting in Newtown last December that killed twenty children, regulating gun ownership became a topic of hot debate across the country… at least for a while anyway. At the time many commentators predicted that the interests of the gun lobby would prevail over the best efforts of reformers and they appear to have been correct. But a look at trends in gun ownership – and people’s attitudes about guns -- reveals that Americans’ investment in gun ownership is steadily declining. What seems likely, therefore, is that we should expect Congress to consider – and pass -- more encompassing and effective gun regulation within the next several years.

    The General Social Survey (GSS) reports that gun ownership in the US has dropped steadily since the early 1970s, from more than a half (54%) of all households to a little over a third (36%) in 2012. This decline in gun ownership over time covers the entire spectrum of the population (whether by sex, race, income, or region).

    Moreover, today’s youngest generation owns fewer guns than their elders. Whereas 46% of Baby-Boomers lived in a home with guns when they were 18-29, and 35% of Gen-Xers did, under a quarter (23%) of Millennials – including today’s college students -- do. In fact, the group with the highest rate of gun ownership (54%) over the course of their lives is the Silent Generation, whose youngest members are already in their early seventies. With each passing year, therefore, a slowly growing proportion of Silents is being replaced by Millennials who have little interest in gun ownership. In addition, anywhere from three quarters to four out of five Americans (75-80%) have consistently told the GSS that they favor requiring gun permits and background checks for gun purchases.

    Chart showing percent of US population owning guns, hunting with guns, both, or neither. Also showing percent owning handguns. Data from 1977

    Figure 1: Proportions of the Total Population (Entire Chart) Consisting of Gun Owners (Beige), by Hunting (Cross-Hatching) and Hand gun Ownership (HG’s), 1977. Source: General Social Survey

    One way of imagining the proportion of the total population that is invested in the gun culture is displayed in figure 1. Everything within the perimeter of the largest square represents the total population. Those who participate in the gun culture are to be found represented in Beige (Gun Owners), cross-hatching (hunters), and cells marked HG stand for those gun owners who own handguns. The blank space represents households that neither hunt nor own guns (42%). Numbers like these suggest that it is only a matter of time before the gun lobby will have lost the popular support they rely on to block strong gun legislation.

    But if opposition to rational gun legislation’s days are numbered, the GSS also reports that the commitment of those who do own guns may be hardening even as their overall numbers shrink. Handgun ownership, for example, is increasingly concentrated among those who hunt. Even though households who hunt have declined from 32% in 1977 to 20% today, they are far more likely than non-hunting households to possess handguns, which, of course, are not needed for hunting. In fact, in 1977 hunters were only twice as likely as non-hunters to have a pistol or revolver in their house. Today, almost half the hunting population possesses a handgun; four times the rate of the population that doesn’t hunt.

    Chart showing percent of US population owning guns, hunting with guns, both, or neither. Also showing percent owning handguns. Data from 2012

    Figure 2: Proportion of the Total Population (Entire Chart) Consisting of Gun Owners (Beige) by Hunting (Cross-Hatching) and Hand Gun Ownership (HG’s), 2012. Source: General Social Survey

    Comparing figures 1 and 2 clearly shows this process. Note that the blank space has grown to three out of five households (60%) but also how prevalent handgun ownership has become within the gun culture.

    These changes suggest that those who do own guns are increasingly conflating recreational and economic pursuits with more gut level concerns about self-defense. It should be noted that if possessing handguns is correlated with concern about personal safety then this is a puzzling trend as the last two decades have witnessed a dramatic long-term decline in both crime and personal violence in America.

    In the long run increased gun regulations appear to be inevitable. Unfortunately, the debate that pits gun rights against government regulation should become even more rancorous as the gun lobby’s base shrinks and its power wanes. So we should expect a great deal more bitterness before the issue is finally resolved. (Remember the ferocious resistance to the Civil Rights movement!) But, as always, we should not mistake the volume of dissent for the opinion of the majority.

     

     

  • Photo of G. Brujó Gonzalo Brujó, '97

    Gonzalo Brujó ’97 is the Chairman for Latin America and Iberia of Interbrand, the world’s leading brand consultancy. “My studies in Wheaton have also secured me a challenging, yet interesting job which I look forward to and enjoy every single day.”

    Gonzalo Brujó is the Chairman for Latin America and Iberia of Interbrand, the world’s leading brand consultancy. Ever since he joined Interbrand he has held different managerial positions. His role involves working daily in the business growth, identifying new business and marketing opportunities and supporting and overseeing consulting projects. He is also a renowned speaker at conferences, a columnist, a consultant in major firms, a writer of various best sellers and a lecturer at several business schools. Prior to joining Interbrand, he worked in Green Team Advertising in New York and in Future Brand in New York and Mexico for several years.

    “Ever since I left Wheaton I pursued a career in marketing, advertising and branding which was at the time my main area of interest and is still my passion today. After holding different roles in various companies and regions (Latam, USA, Spain), I have come to realize how important my Sociology background has become. In Interbrand we believe brands have the power to change the world and most importantly that the best brands are sensitive to human needs and desires. In today’s changing world we need to fully understand the evolution and changes in consumers and trends and that is where I always like to think of my Sociology studies, as understanding today’s social movements is crucial for brands and businesses to succeed.

    "Education is no doubt the beginning of every successful career. My BA in Communication, Politics and Sociology in Wheaton has given me the tools and the analytical and critical thinking needed in today’s increasingly competitive world. My studies in Wheaton have also secured me a challenging, yet interesting job which I look forward to and enjoy every single day”.

  • Radio Documentary

    Michael Beneduce On Thursday April 18th, my visual sociology class gave a warm welcome to Rob Rosenthal, one of the world’s most renowned radio documenters and directors. Rob performed about an hour-long presentation, which covered different aspects and the importance of radio documentary and what it has to offer our understanding of humanity and the […]

    Michael Beneduce

    On Thursday April 18th, my visual sociology class gave a warm welcome to Rob Rosenthal, one of the world’s most renowned radio documenters and directors. Rob performed about an hour-long presentation, which covered different aspects and the importance of radio documentary and what it has to offer our understanding of humanity and the way we live our lives. Rob truly believes that if he is doing his job correctly and using active tape, he can help to create a picture without using visuals. He suggests that there is something very unique about the human voice and that it is much more content rich than any other mediums. Something that Rob felt very important in the radio industry was the ‘power of the voice’ within story telling. When people tell stories, they are usually able to grasp full attention by the listener, out of hope for an ultimate purpose or conclusion. Rob had several examples of the power of the voice and sounds, and was able to demonstrate them by using recordings.

    Rob believes that story telling and sound is embedded within us. He demonstrated the power of the human voice by showing us several recordings, the first of which was of a young boy who was forced to kill rabbits in order to feed his family. However, it wasn’t until the end of the recording that we found out what the actual purpose for the killing was, which mentally kept me, as a listener, engaged in the story. In another example, our class learned of a murder case that took place in Texas in the early 2000s. The recording is simply of the voices of both sets of parents of the children who were involved in the murder (the victim and suspected murderer). Although there was no background music or sounds, the power of the words and voices of the sets of parents was more powerful and significant than any picture can depict. Rob also displayed another recording about a photographer who went out at night and photographed people from outside their homes –“She Sees Your Every Move”. In this example, there was a strong use of eerie music that helped me to truly feel as if I were there with the lady, taking pictures at night. Rob stated that if he is doing his job correctly, the listener should feel as if he/she is a co-author of the story. Given these examples, I truly felt as though I was apart of the experience.

  • Importance of Radio

    Janine Kopeski Rob Rosenthal, an accomplished radio producer and teacher, came in my Visual Sociology class to discuss the importance of radio. What makes radio shows different than most media broadcast is that the audience can only hear the show, they cannot actually see anything except in their imagination. Therefore, the radio producers must make […]

    Janine Kopeski

    Rob Rosenthal, an accomplished radio producer and teacher, came in my Visual Sociology class to discuss the importance of radio. What makes radio shows different than most media broadcast is that the audience can only hear the show, they cannot actually see anything except in their imagination. Therefore, the radio producers must make sure to blend sounds that are important to the story because the sound is what gives a radio show its edge. The interviewers for a radio show must record all the sounds organically meaning that the sounds must come from the people that they are interviewing in a natural setting. For example, one of the radio interviews that Professor Rosenthal had us listen to was of a man who would spend his days recording everything that he does on his typewriter, “Robert Shields, World’s Longest Diary”. The radio interviewer integrated the sound of the man’s typewriter and classical music (because that is what the man would listen to when he wrote on his typewriter). In order for the radio interviewer to get those sounds he had to record them from the typewriting man doing it himself. He couldn’t ask the man just to type on the typewriter but had to record the man when he was doing it himself. The same goes for the recording of the classical music; the interviewer recorded it when the typewriting man was playing his music on his own.

    Radio is important because it gives the listeners a chance to hear the truth about people’s lives through recorded interviews. It also allows people to really listen to others stories and not to become distracted by what people look like. For instance, the audio clip called “Leaving a Mark” is an interview given by Emily Hsiao and she interviewed a freed prisoner who has a swastika tattoo. It turns out that the prisoner had no reason for getting the swastika tattoo aside from the fact that he thought it looked cool when he was younger. He actually now wants to get the tattoo removed. We can only hear the conversation between Emily and the prisoner but I felt that I could really just sit and listen to what the prisoner had to say without being distracted by what he looked like. The prisoner told Emily what he really felt about the tattoo and I was able to listen to the story without judging the prisoner because all I could hear was the recording of the interview. Radio shows allow an audience to listen to the people and the world around them. Listening is something that sometimes gets taken for guaranteed, but radio shows are a way to remind us why it is important to listen to what people have to say without judgment.

  • “We Don’t Need No Stinking Pictures”

    Brooke Powers Radio documentary allows the story to tell itself. As Rob Rosenthal, an audio journalist stated, “we don’t need no stinking pictures.” The combination of ambient sound, the active tape recording of someone performing an action, and narration create a clear sense of the story. In this way the listener is the “coauthor” that visualizes […]

    Brooke Powers

    Radio documentary allows the story to tell itself. As Rob Rosenthal, an audio journalist stated, “we don’t need no stinking pictures.” The combination of ambient sound, the active tape recording of someone performing an action, and narration create a clear sense of the story. In this way the listener is the “coauthor” that visualizes the piece and engages with the work through this visualization. The audio piece that Rosenthal played at the beginning of his lecture  – “Willie Young, Rabbit Hunter” -- is an excellent example of how visualization is an active part of audio journalism. The piece featured sounds of fire crackling, the “whack” of a stick hitting the bunnies, and the interviewee’s voice. The fire crackling is an example of what Rosenthal labeled a “signature sound,” or a familiar sound that a listener can identify easily such as a siren or bell. These signature sounds are a key component to an audio piece’s success.

    The ability to hear the intent behind someone’s words and the emotion that those words carry also attribute to the general success of audio journalism. The interview with the parents on either side of a terrible crime – “Witness to an Execution”-- provides a terrific understanding of the weight words have in a story. As Rosenthal stated, audio journalism gives primacy to sound because of human’s innate storytelling ability. Emily Hsiao describes how her work -- Leaving a Mark -- had to be told through audio journalism in order to capture her banter with her subject and the turn that the story took in the middle of the interview. Audio journalism provides flexibility and versatility. Further, this mode of storytelling relates well to listeners because of an innate ability to tell stories audibly and interpret them as well.

  • Image of a generic graph The Art of Not Freaking Out

    By John Grady
    On the first Friday of every month the American Media goes nuts! What they do is as predictable as clock work and just about as insightful. Their exercise in panic wouldn’t be such a big deal except that it tends to freak out Wall Street and unnecessarily confuses the American public.

     By John Grady

    On the first Friday of every month the American Media goes nuts! What they do is as predictable as clock work and just about as insightful. Their exercise in panic wouldn’t be such a big deal except that it tends to freak out Wall Street and unnecessarily confuses the American public.

    In a nutshell what happens is this: at 8:30 AM the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) announces the employment figures for the previous month telling us how many jobs were added to the economy and the current unemployment rate. These numbers are eagerly anticipated and estimated. At the beginning of the week several groups of economists predict what they think the numbers will be. On Wednesday a private company ADP Research releases its own estimate of job growth (or loss) in the private sector and then on Friday the BLS announces what they believe actually happened.

    Here’s how it all unfolded in the first week June 2013. A poll of mostly unnamed economists predicted that there would be a growth of 165,000 jobs in the private sector. Not bad! But not nearly as much as would be needed to undo the damage of the Great Recession. On Wednesday, June 5th, however, ADP announced that the increase only amounted to 135,000 jobs. A little less good than what the economists predicted, but not a disaster. Remember we are talking about a difference of 30 thousand jobs in an economy that currently totals 136 million positions. This news, which was widely touted by every news service, contributed to a drop of over 200 points in the Dow Jones on Wednesday.

    On Friday the 7th, however, the BLS reported that the private sector had actually added 178,000 jobs, which was higher than what both the economists predicted and ADP reported. Predictably, the immediate response of the stock market was to jump up 170 points or so within an hour of opening trading. This kind of manic response to the job news between Wednesday and Friday is not unusual. In April and May the oscillation in the stock markets was even wilder.

    For sociologists this kind of response is harmful and the remedy is clear: put the numbers into context. In this case, the press should realize that the BLS job figures for any given month are only preliminary and will be revised in the two succeeding months. In February, for example, the BLS reported a job growth of 236,000. Two months later the second and final revision put the number at 332,000, or almost a 100,000 more. Similarly, March’s dismal report of 88,000 jobs -- when the dust finally cleared -- was revised upwards to 142,000, or 54,000 more than the original count. Sometimes, of course, the figures are revised downward. But always the lesson should be to look at the long-term trend.

    Graph showing a deep dip around 2009, with start and end points roughly the same.

    Figure 1: Series CES0000000001. One Month Net Change in Employment, Hours and Earnings from the Current Employment Statistics National Survey, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2000-2013.

    Figure 1 shows that not only do extended periods of dramatic job growth or loss correlate with the business cycle, but also periods of growth tend to fluctuate widely from month to month even as the trend continues. What this means is that trying to read the tealeaves in each month’s report is an exercise in futility. What the chart documents is that the economy today is growing, although not fast enough to repair the damage caused by the Great Recession any time soon.

     

    Graph showing ups and downs but little overall change between 1946 and 2009

    Figure 2: Series CES0000000001. Three Month Percent Change in Employment, Hours and Earnings from the Current Employment Statistics National Survey, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 1939-2013.

    A bleaker picture emerges, however, when we adjust the chart to cover the period from 1939 to the present and have it measure the percentage change between periods – here measured in three-month intervals – rather than just the absolute number of jobs created or lost from the previous month. After all, an increase of half a million jobs over a three month period is a lot more substantial if the size of the employed work force was only 50 million as opposed to 140 million.

    Figure 2 shows the same wave like alternation between recessions and periods of economic recovery except that it now covers almost three quarters of a century. What the chart also shows is a steady decline since the mid-1980s in the proportion of new jobs created in comparison to the economy as a whole, which is especially marked in the two recoveries since 2003 and 2010. This glance at a bigger picture reveals that we have lived through a prolonged quarter century of slow job growth with no real end in sight. Any discussion of policies that would improve the job picture has to identify – and then grapple with -- what is causing this long-term slowdown in job creation.

    The monthly media coverage of the job figures only focuses on the short-term and tends to trumpet two exaggerated take away stories: either jump for joy or off a building. Thinking sociologically, however, is a more responsible approach and always begins by putting an issue into context, which in this case means looking at longer-term trends. Reporters and pundits who have eaten their sociological spinach might find themselves not only writing in more measured tones but also addressing issues in a way that truly informs the public.

  • Molly Hislop ‘08

    “I now know that my sociology studies helped me develop invaluable skills that are especially useful in marketing.”

    The years since graduating from Wheaton in 2008 with a major in Sociology have been rewarding, scary at times, and full of possibilities. I spent nearly four years working in the sustainability industry, first at the US Green Building Council and then at Green Education Foundation. These jobs inspired in me a passion for the environment, as well as a deep appreciation of the value of sustainability, or how well the needs of the environment, society and the economy are balanced. When those three elements are considered equally in any scenario  -- a classroom lesson, a business decision, or every day life choices – both a more holistic understanding of our situation as well as more responsible policies become possible.

    Recently, I had to decide whether to continue my work in the sustainability industry or to shift gears to another major interest of mine: marketing. I chose marketing because I thought that marketing would develop transferable skills that would provide me with more options for my career.

    I am currently the Marketing Specialist at Genscape, a company that works to make the notoriously opaque workings of energy markets visible through proprietary technology and fundamental energy data. I found that what the company stands for - transparency, innovation and technology - offered a comfortable transition from my previous work. I'm looking forward to the ways in which my experiences with sustainability will help me bring a new perspective to the company and my department in the future.

    My job choices – to be honest – were never part of any grand plan. But they have always felt right at the time they were made and have enabled me to build new skills, grow my network, and discover my passions.

    Before coming to Wheaton I had it in my head that I wanted to 'do marketing.' Of course, I didn’t know what marketing was all about, nor what I really wanted to do, so I wisely opted for a liberal arts degree. I understood that a solid training in the liberal arts would make it possible to pursue a career in marketing without limiting my options in case it turned out that marketing wasn't for me.

    Today, I now know that my sociology studies helped me develop invaluable skills that are especially useful in marketing. In all the jobs I've held my supervisors have expressed relief and surprise that I know how to write, a talent that I took for granted since, at Wheaton, I was surrounded by students who were amazing writers and professors who always pushed me to do better. I've also found that all the practice I've had thinking holistically, critically and with empathy about how people live their lives has made an easy transition to marketing and a great fit for me. Making my employers and colleagues aware of my writing and analytic abilities is something I wished I had highlighted sooner, when I first started working.

    In addition, the time I put into activities beyond my regular class schedule has helped me stand out in a highly competitive job market. As a January freshman, I found time during the summers to catch up on my credits and graduate with my class in May. Also, thanks to the Filene's Center I spent one summer interning at Smith Barney and a semester working part time at Wilde Direct Marketing. When it came time to look for a job, I found that employers quickly realized that I had a lot of experience, had learned many skills and had a really strong work ethic. Having these experiences opened many doors for me.

  • Only the shadow knows: Rob Rosenthal in Malawi Doing Radio

    Rob Rosenthal, an acclaimed producer who Ira Glass has called the best teacher of radio in the country, came to Wheaton and spoke in John Grady’s visual sociology class. Three students write about what they learned.

    On April 18th, 2013, Rob Rosenthal, an acclaimed producer who Ira Glass has called the best teacher of radio in the country, came to Wheaton and spoke in John Grady's visual sociology class. Three students who were touched by the lively interaction they had with him -- Michael Beneduce, Brooke Powers and Janine Kopeski  -- write about what they learned. In particular, they were struck by five examples of radio documentary they listened to in class. In their essays they talk about the pieces and include the links so that you can listen in too.

    See what you think! What's so special about radio as a way of exploring what people's lives are like? What can sociology learn from these pieces?

    Brooke Powers: "We don't need no stinkin' pictures"

    Janine Kopeski: The Importance of Radio

    Michael Beneduce: Radio Documentary

  • PatriciaFlaherty '83 Patricia Flaherty '83

    “You can achieve what others think is impossible.”

    Link to Patricia Flaherty's 2013 Commencement remarks

    Patricia Flaherty '83 has been the Senior Project Manager for Mission Hill Neighborhood Housing Services since 2004. Prior to that she was a teacher in Boston's Catholic Schools, a project coordinator for the Back of the Hill Community Development Coordinator, the Director of Community Relations and Special Projects for Boston City Councilor Michael Ross, and worked as a real estate manager for the Jamaica Plain Neighborhood Development Corporation. Put simply, she more than anyone else has been responsible for rebuilding large sections of the Mission Hill section of Boston and making it possible for a vibrant mixed income and racially diverse neighborhood to survive.  Boston is a very different place now than it was in the early 1980s and Pat is one of the people who helped it become, arguably, America's most exciting city. She will be receiving an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Wheaton College in May 2013.

    “Not too many people get to live their passion every day.  What I do for my living, is how I used to spend my summer vacations, it’s what I did as a volunteer, it is what I do for fun. I was very lucky 30 years ago to land in the Boston neighborhood of Mission Hill, my community, my home.  It has been my privilege to be a part of the transformation of the physical neighborhood. Not too many people get to sit in their neighbors’ living rooms and kitchens and envision how things could be, should be, and then get to be a part of making that vision a reality.  From turning vacant lots used for torching cars into homes for families with children riding bikes, to the reclamation of Harvard land used for snow dumping into the community’s center and the Kevin Fitzgerald Park, I have been able to be part of a collective process, joining my neighbors to fight for something rather than against everything.

    “Wheaton College and the Sociology Department in particular played a key role in setting me on my life course.  I learned the critical thinking, problem-solving and research skills necessary to the work I do.  My early fieldwork and study gave me the confidence to sit and negotiate with the powers-that-be in government or medical and educational institutions while recognizing the life intelligence of working people.  And it was in my Political Sociology course where I first came to know the tenacious group of women that challenged me and my classmates to do ‘real politics’ – ‘not the politics you learn working in your Congressman’s office, but the politics you learn on the streets of Mission Hill.’  I took that challenge, and it may have been a longer journey than I thought, but the work, and the people, taught me that you can achieve what others think is impossible … and by building buildings together you can create community.”

    One Brigham Circle and the Kevin Fitzgerald Park

    One Brigham Circle is a pathbreaking partnership between community residents, the City of Boston, real estate developers and the Harvard Medical School."

     

  • Peace-Social-Justice New minor in Peace and Social Justice

    Students pursuing Wheaton’s new minor in Peace and Social Justice Studies will be encouraged to explore relevant opportunities through fieldwork, experiential learning, internships, and study abroad.