Contexts

understanding people in their social worlds

Feature

In-depth, analytical storytelling about how and why our world works the way it does.

Telling Stories about Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks has usually been portrayed as a highly principled but non-political person, not the long-time civil rights activist that she was. Sociologist Michael Schudson finds several factors that account for this, including efforts of civil rights movement participants to deflect criticism of the movement as instigated by outside agitators; participants' efforts to explain their own actions to themselves; and their efforts not to present themselves immodestly as morally superior. Read More

India’s Reproductive Assembly Line

Why do working class women in India choose to become surrogate mothers? Sociologist Sharmila Rudrappa explains that these decisions make sense when contexualized within larger changes in the economy, the appallingly low wages these women command for their labor, and the lack of meaningful work.  Read More

Can’t Ask, Can’t Tell: How Institutional Review Boards Keep Sex in the Closet

Insitutional Review Boards (IRBs) pose many challenges for sexuality researchers. Sociologist Janice M. Irvine explores how IRBs marginalize sexuality research and the effects of this process. Read More

U.S. Prisons and the Myth of Islamic Terrorism

There is a great deal of concern that U.S. prisons are generating high levels of Islamic extremism. Sociologist Bert Useem argues that the evidence fails to support this fear. Read More

How Rachel Carson and Michael Harrington Changed the World

The 50th anniversary of two pathbreaking books—Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and Michael Harrington’s The Other America—that helped change public opinion and public policy about the environment and poverty is discussed. Peter Dreier looks into what contemporary academics, including sociologists, can learn from the lives and careers of these two influential public intellectuals. Read More

Dancing the Body Beautiful

Using accounts from several professional Latin dancers augmented by the author's own experience, Julia A. Ericksen traces the ways bodily perfection has become an important part of dancers’ identities. In addition, Ericksen argues that this is a more extreme form of general cultural pressure to engage in bodywork. Read More

Understanding “Occupy”

Leading social analysts Ruth Milkman, Mohammed A. Bamyeh, Benjamin Barber, William Julius Wilson, Dana Williams, and Deborah B. Gould offer their views of the Occupy Wall Street movement—and its offshoots. Read More

Nature’s Looking Glass

How we see nature is to a large extent a reflection of ourselves. Sociologists Hillary Angelo and Colin Jerolmack use the example of New Yorkers’ fascination with two red-tailed hawks to reveal deep insights about how we represent and understand nature. Read More

Home Cooking: Marketing Meth

Making and selling methamphetamine is a business of personal ties. Henry H. Brownstein, Timothy M. Mulcahy, Bruce G. Taylor, Johannes Fernandes-Huessy, and Carol Hafford provide a nuanced understanding of meth markets, from mom-and-pop to import markets. Read More

Banking on the Poor

Sociologist Dwight Haase explores how one man’s efforts to help his village neighbors evolved into a global corporate market--with unintended consequences. Haase provides insight into how the microfinance movement turned into an industry. Read More