October 17, 2014

Who is a Low Wage Earner?

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

The mayor of Los Angeles has proposed increasing the minimum wage to $13.25 an hour in the city, and requested an analysis of the potential impact an increase would have on workers and businesses.  Researchers from UC Berkeley’s Center on Wage and Employment Dynamics produced a report and concluded that more than a half a million workers in the city would get a raise (those earning minimum wage and those earning below the proposed minimum wage).

The report provides a demographic profile on these low-wage workers. They comprise 37 percent of those earning wages in the private sector; 39 percent of women and 35 percent of men. The vast majority—83 percent—are persons of color.

Despite the widespread belief that most low-wage workers are teens earning extra spending money while attending school, in Los Angeles few of them are teens; 38 percent of low wage workers are in their twenties, nearly 22 percent are in their thirties, and 37 percent are over forty. The majority work full time, and 36 percent have children.

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October 14, 2014

Understanding Violence Sociologically

Peter_kaufmanBy Peter Kaufman

Violence is ubiquitous. We see it in television shows, movies, video games, and advertisements; we read about it in news articles, magazines, and books; we speak about it—both literally when we recount what’s happening in the world, but more often figuratively with an array of violent phrases that pervade our everyday speech;  we fear it with our security systems, gun purchases, and police forces; and we experience it, directly or indirectly, in our homes, schools, communities, workplaces, playing fields, and battlefields.

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October 10, 2014

Sociology, Sidewalks, and Walking

TigonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

If a city’s streets look interesting, the city looks interesting; if they look dull, the city looks dull. (Jane Jacobs).

Have you ever noticed that your walking pace changes depending on where you’re walking, and where you’re walking to? Have you noticed that walking involves an interaction with space as you’re moving through it?

I love walking, I love walking quickly, and I love walking on sidewalks. Even though sidewalks lead to paths already known, they also provide an opportunity for one to really look at the surroundings, notice shifts within social life (boundaries between neighborhoods, class divides, etc.), and to explore and find treasures along the way.

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October 06, 2014

Sociology, Murals, and Communities

RaskoffBy Sally Raskoff

Have you seen any murals in your community? If so, do you know what they depict? Do you know the history behind them? Finding such murals can be a good exercise for your sociological imagination.

There is one mural right next door to my college: The Great Wall of Los Angeles. It is a half-mile long, located along the interior wall of the Los Angeles River – yes, our river runs within a concrete channel, built to control the unruly flow of water. With our current state of drought, however, we don’t have much water flowing so we can see the entire mural!

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October 02, 2014

Social Interaction and Drought Shaming

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

There is currently a severe drought in California, and this summer new rules went into effect to conserve water. For instance, a water feature (like a fountain) must re-circulate the same water. You cannot hose down the sidewalk, nor can you wash your car with a hose that doesn’t have a shutoff nozzle. Your lawn cannot be watered between 9 am and 5 pm (to limit evaporation). A violation of these new rules could result in a $500 ticket.

Authorities can’t possibly police every violation, so they are hoping that the public helps by complying and asking neighbors to comply. In response, a Twitter hashtag #droughtshaming has emerged to embarrass people caught needlessly wasting water. Tweets range from photos of neighbors overwatering their lawns to puddles in parking lots and public fountains. Perhaps the biggest example of drought shaming was the backlash to the recent “ice bucket challenge,” where people challenged others to dump a bucket of ice over their heads and post a video or photo to raise awareness about amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Critics argued that this was a waste of water, albeit for a good cause.

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September 29, 2014

The Social Context Behind Street Food: Authenticity, Culture and Ethnicity

WynnBy Jonathan Wynn

This weekend I went to go see the Jon Favreau movie, Chef. The film chronicles a chef’s fall from a gig at a high-end restaurant to rekindling his passion for food by operating a lowly food truck specializing in Cubanos and other Caribbean treats. Drawing from the explosion of interest in food trucks—due in part to the film’s co-producer, Roy Choi, owner of the real-life Korean-Mexican mash-up Kogi-BBQ trucks—the film is a love letter for simple, working class food as “authentic cuisine.”

Favreau’s chef, however, doesn’t offer the same kind of inventive spin on the Cubano as Choi does with his tacos, but instead adopts the common ”white folks do it better” film trope as he embraces, honest and authentic Cuban cuisine. But what is authentic, anyway? The chef, doesn’t speak Spanish yet capitalizes off of Caribbean food culture. Can a white guy like Favreau really make better cuisine? But what is Caribbean cuisine anyway, since it is, itself, a mixture of Native American Taino, French, African, and Mexican influences?

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September 25, 2014

Living with Strangers

Peter_kaufmanBy Peter Kaufman

 “You cannot know that you have a particular view of the world until you come in contact with differing views” (Inge Bell and Bernard McGrane, This Book is Not Required)

 For two weeks in July I was living with a family of complete strangers. They spoke a language I barely understood, lived in a town I had never heard of that was nearly 2,500 miles away from my home, and they had cultural norms and practices that were quite different from my own.  I was in Costa Rica for one month studying Spanish and as a way to augment my learning—both in terms of the language and the culture—I opted to do a homestay for part of my time there.

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