Out of Copyright Monographs?

As I’ve mentioned before, I am experimenting with open education resources this fall in Intro to Sociology. I typically assign Conley’s You May Ask Yourself, Everyday Sociology Reader, and The Blind Side.


I am using the Sociology Wikibook to replace You May Ask Yourself and an assortment of scholarly journal articles, newspaper and magazine articles, and blog posts to replace the reader. I am struggling with assigning a comprable reading to The Blind Side.


I’ve explored Project Gutenberg, but have not found a book that is out of copyright that would work. My only idea is to use The Jungle. One of my journalism professors read a few pages from the book to us to illustrate yellow journalism. The people falling in the vats and left had me intrigued. I eventually read the book. Though The Jungle may be about turn of the century social issues, I do not believe it would work in the same way as The Blind Side


I may have to just drop The Blind Side altogether this semester for the sake of the experiment. In the spring, I could assign it to the class even if I am using only open education resources because our school already owns enough copies of the book. There would be no additional costs until the books fall apart.


Do you have any ideas for out of copyright monographs that could be used in Intro to Sociology?

Monographs for Deviance?

Here is the question I posed to the Teaching Sociology Google Group yesterday:


I am teaching Sociology of Deviant Behavior this fall and I am looking for suggestions for monographs. I plan to have students write book reviews, but need some ideas for books for them to review. What are books that you and your students like in deviance?


Some background: I teach at a community college. Most of the students in the course should be sophomores, but there will be a few that will be freshman. They have a range of reading levels. Many are planning to continue in criminal justice or social work, so I would like to have a few books with a criminal justice or social work bent. The class overall, is weak regarding deviance at the global level, so suggestions here would also be appreciated. We already use Adler & Adler’s Constructions of Deviance and Venkatesh’s Gang Leader for Day as our course texts.
So, tell me, what are your favorite monographs for a deviance course?


Chrome Extenstion to Refine Google Search

I’ve been using Google to search for useful resources for my OER project but have become frustrated by the over simplification of much of the results. I searched for a way to eliminate certain websites from the results (e.g., ehow.com, about.com). If you use Chrome there is a handy extension you can use to block certain sites from your results. What a great tool to get rid of the crap and just get the types of sources that are actually relevant.

Preliminary Guidelines on Selecting Open Education Resources

The following is my mostly unproofed ramblings on the preliminary guidelines I am placing on myself for selecting open education resources for the fall semester. Any and all input is appreciated. Thanks!


I currently use the following W.W. Norton’s intro books: You May Ask Yourself (Conley), Everyday Sociology Reader (Sternheimer), and The Blind Side (Lewis). I am very satisfied with these texts. The challenge is that I work at a college that uses a textbook rental system. This means the college buys new books every 3-4 years. Students rent the books. All sections of the same course use the same books. Textbooks are increasing in cost that the college has to absorb somehow while limiting tuition increases or textbook rental fee increases (this is a community college). Enter open education resources (OER). Due to our rental system restrictions, I see OER as giving me the ability to assign the texts I want instead of what works mostly for me but also for adjuncts. I can also drop readings that don’t work and add readings more easily. 


I was approached to pilot on OER textbook in sociology. The book I was given was not up to my standards for a textbook and does not jive with how I approach teaching Intro to Sociology. I agreed to the pilot, but on my terms. I would compile the OER materials myself instead of relying on one of the OER books alone. In this process, I have been pleasantly surprised by the quality of the The Introduction to Sociology Wikibook. I do not intent to assign the entire text, but am using portions of the book. It still doesn’t jive completely with my teaching, but the quality is there and I am comfortable using portions of the text.


I am supplementing with newspaper articles, magazine articles, and materials from the world wide web. The idea is that the materials are freely available. So, The New York Times only sort of works. Readers are able to read a certain number of articles for free each month, but then they hit a limit. I’ve opted to use only those newspaper and magazine articles that our library subscribes to to get around this limitation. The articles, then are not open education resources, but access is available to students.


I have even found a couple of book excerpts posted online (authorized, not from Google or Amazon’s previews) to use. A book excerpt is the perfect size for many students and if it is from a book that I have read, I can certainly fill in any blanks that were not included in the excerpt.


There are some really excellent sociology websites out there geared towards Introduction to Sociology. I am relying on The Society Pages (especially Sociological Images), The Everyday Sociology Blog, and Sociology In Focus (full disclosure–I write there). I am approaching my use of each website differently. I am limiting my selections of material from The Everyday Sociology Blog mostly to those articles that I consistently talk about in class. The Everyday Sociology Blog is the basis for the Everyday Sociology Reader, so I don’t feel that it is ethical to draw too heavily from this site without purchasing the book (though my college has already purchased this book…well it was free with the bundle). I feel that I can use a larger proportion of articles from The Society Pages because they have organized course guides on Sociological Images, for example. I am mostly using my posts from Sociology In Focus, primarily, because I am very familiar with those posts. Some of my posts are based on material I already use in class.


My goal is that no one source outside of the Wikibook makes up more than 10-15% of assigned course material. Another consideration is whether students have to be online to access the material. Once I am done with my Wikibook selections, I can convert it to a .pdf, which students then can read offline. I want them to have some material that is accessible offline–ideally 50% of assigned reading (with some for each unit). I don’t want lack of internet access to prevent students from doing the reading.


Now, on our campus students have access to computers and free printing. Students could spend a couple of hours visiting each site and printing out each article. (I remember that this was what I did as soon as I got to a computer after getting the syllabus in graduate school.) If students opt to print everything out on campus, then the college may not realize substantial savings. A more tech-savvy student might use Readability combined with Reeder for offline reading. Students, however, would not have any highlighting or notemaking ability with the Reeder app. With the textbook rental system, students already can’t highlight if they want to get their money back at the end of the semester. Giving my students the ability to mark up a text is one of the advantages of OER. 


Students in my face-to-face section will be able to rent a tablet computer for the semester so they can easily access their readings. The tablet is an Android device. I am an iPad user, so I need suggestions for apps for students to help them organize their readings, make notes, and so on using an Android device. I would suggest GoodReader, but it is not available on Android.


Once I have my preliminary list of materials pulled together, I will compute number of pages (40 pages/week as suggested by Arum and Roska), where the material comes from (proportionality–see above), and readability (as I want to strive to have materials at a range of reading levels).


Do you use OER? What works for you? What doesn’t work? I’m all ears…or I suppose, eyes.

A Common Sense Guide to Gun Violence

This post originally appeared at Sociology In Focus on June 3, 2013.

Sociologists study common sense because what we take to be common sense does not always match reality. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explores the ways in which common sense about gun violence differs from the realities of gun violence.

Hand Gun

Sociologists often study common sense. Common sense refers to those things that everyone knows are true. Think about all of those warnings on many products. For example, a coffee cup with the warning that it is hot. Common sense tells us that coffee is hot. We shouldn’t need this warning, but it remains. These warning labels are in place because somebody once was harmed by the product. We often assume that they were harmed due to a lack of common sense (or lapse in judgement), rather than the product or manufacturer is at fault. So what does a warning lable on a coffee cup have to do with sociology?

Sociologists use research to access the accuracy of common sense because much of what we take as common sense is actually either incorrect or just a bit off from reality. Take gun violence, for example.

In recent months, gun violence has taken center stage as a focus of concern. Due to tragic, mass shootings, we have once again become occupied with what we perceive to be increasing gun violence (we were concerned with it in the late 1990s due to Columbine and other school shootings). Mass shootings, once again, appear to be on the rise. When school teachers and childrenmovie goers, and mall shoppers are gunned down at seeming random, we are reminded of what we believe about gun violence, that it is random and unpredictable. Any one of us could be an innocent bystander. The reality is that most gun violence is not all that random and innocent bystanders are newsworthy because they are typically rare.

Gun violence can take the form of homicide. Our perception is that they are increasing and we are all potential victims. Pew Research Center (as reported by NPR) found that:

  • 6 percent of people believe the number of gun crimes is higher than it was two decades ago. Only 12 percent said they think the number of gun crimes is lower, while the rest said they think it remained the same or didn’t know.

The reality is that gun homicides are dropping. Yes, dropping. Gun homicides have fallen between 39 and 49 percent since 1993 and non-fatal crimes with guns have fallen 70 percent. Like our perception on teen pregnancy, our perception on how common gun homicides are is skewed. In this case, newsworthy gun violence (think mass shootings involving white, middle class children), becomes a recurring segment on the news. Our perception becomes skewed. We begin believing that it is happening more often and we are all risk.

Our common sense belief about gun violence is reaffirmed that it is increasing and we are all potential victims. Our mythology of gun violence is that it is random. The reality is that gun violence victimization is socially structured. We all do not have the same risk of being a victim of gun violence. Some of us have a much greater risk of gun violence victimization compared to others.

In fact, our race, age, and gender are correlated with different types of gun violence. Pew Research finds that

  • America’s pattern of gun deaths is split across black and white, with the vast majority of whites dying from suicide and a similar proportion of blacks dying from homicide.

Blacks are more likely to die due to gun homicide and whites are more likely to die due to gun suicide. In other words, our race is correlated with the type of gun violence we are likely to experience, if we experience gun violence at all.

Though most Americans will never be impacted by gun violence and gun violence is decreasing, this does not meant that all is well. The United States, afterall, continues tohave higher rates of gun violence compared to other western nations (e.g., France, Germany, Australia).

Dig Deeper:

  1. In your own words, what is common sense? Why do sociologists study common sense?
  2. If gun violence is decreasing, why is our perception that gun violence is increasing? Read about our perception of teen pregnancy. Why is our perception different from reality? What are the potential implications (i.e., consequences) of our perception being different from reality?
  3. Take a look at this diagram on gun violence victims in Chicago during 2012. What is the relationship between income, race, education, and age with risk of living near a murder?
  4. With a classmate, choose one of the following “common sense” notions to research: (1) Bicycle helmets make us safer or (2) Walking while drunk is safer than driving while drunk. Before you begin, write a paragraph on what you think the research will show. Now, find at least two sources that either support your common sense explanation or contradict your explanation.

Suggested Reading, Listening, and Viewing:

A Macaroni Necklace to Make-Up for Workplace Discrimination: Happy Mother’s Day!

This post originally appeared at Sociology In Focus on May 20, 2013.

Despite our gushy Hallmark cards, floral arrangements, macaroni necklaces, and brunch celebrating mothers, U.S. social policies regarding mothers continue to be dismal. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explores some of the ways in which mothers in particular are penalized for “choosing” motherhood & the role social structure plays in the “choice” of parenthood.

Career or Family Signs
In the United States, motherhood (and parenthood) is viewed as a choice. Parenthood as a choice is a good thing in that it has decreased the stigma placed on the childless and childfree. The downside of choice-based parenthood is that it leaves society off the hook for supporting people who choose parenthood. While we have expanded support for families through the addition of workplace protections for breastfeeding mothers, our social policies remain lacking.

Let’s look at some of the social policies directed at families. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) turns 20-years-old this year. This means that for many of today’s traditional-aged college student, their parents were the first to have job protected leave to care for a newborn.

Many? Why not all? FMLA only covers employees who have been employed with their company for at least a year and work in companies with 50 or more employees. This means if your parent(s) worked in a company with 49 employees or worked there less than a year, then they would not have qualified.

Even if your parent(s) qualified, FMLA provides only 12 weeks of unpaid job-protected leave for the care of newborns (FMLA also covers adopted children and ill family members). What this means is that you will have a job after your leave, but not necessarily the exact same job you left. It is also unpaid, though some companies offer paid or partial paid leave. For example, some companies may allow a person to use their sick leave as part of their parental leave. This means they get paid their sick days, but once they run out of sick time, they are no longer paid. In other words, many employees simply can not afford to take any leave. If you are one of the four in 10 Americans living paycheck to paycheck, you can not afford to take any leave time.

FMLA is something, but how does the United States compare to the rest of the world regarding parental leave? Put simply, not good. We offer zero weeks of paid leave for parents. In contrast, Pakistan and Mexico offer 12 weeks of paid leave and Canada offers 50 weeks of paid leave. Leave time around the world may be split between parents depending on the nation. This map shows how leave time is paid. What this means is that dad could take leave time, too.

Not only do our parental leave policies leave much to be desired, moms experience a“mommy penalty” in terms of wages. We all know that women earn less than men for comparable work, but moms earn less than men with or without children and women without children. Motherhood in the United States is framed as a choice, and as a choice, results in more (pay) discrimination in the workplace.

But is motherhood (and parenthood) a choice? In sociology, we talk about structure and agency. Agency implies choice, while structure refers to how our choices are limited by social institutions & public policy. A woman who finds herself pregnant could keep her child, place her child up for adoption, or abort the fetus. These are all choices, right? A woman could delay having a child until she is established in her career. Yet, health risks for the fetus increase as the age of the mother and the father increase. Moreover, though the stigma placed on those without children has decreased, a stigma is attached to people who are childless or childfree. In other words, there is societal pressure to become a parent and to do so at the “right” age. We have agency to not choose parenthood, yet our social structure encourages us to choose parenthood.

Of course if we were purely rational creatures, the lack of societal support for parents should have us opting out of parenthood. And it has to some extent. There are increasing numbers of only-child households (my household adds to this trend). And there are women who are leaving the workforce altogether because they are not paid enough to cover childcare expenses, they are not given enough flexibility in the workplace to be both a parent and an employee, or both. The choices people make about parenthood are influenced by our social structure and are not simply individual choices.

Dig Deeper:

  1. What do sociologists mean by structure and agency? For instance, what aspects of social structure affected your decision to go to college or affected your education in any way?
  2. How is parenthood framed as a choice in the United States? How does the social structure shape this choice?
  3. Investigate the family leave policies at the company you work for or the college you attend (yes, some colleges have policies in place for students). What is the policy? Do you think this policy is sufficient? Why or why not? What are the potential limitations of the policy?
  4. Why does family leave remain unpaid? Should it be paid? If so, how should it be paid (investigate how it is paid for in other countries)? If it should remain unpaid, why?

Deviant Dining: Bringing in Outside Food & Drink to a Restaurant

This post originally appeared at Sociology In Focus on April 4, 2013.

Is it ok to bring outside food and drinks into a restaurant? In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains under what circumstances this behavior is considered deviant. 

To-Go Coffee Cup

Sociologists spend a lot of time studying deviant behavior. What might surprise you about deviant behavior is that it is not necessarily behavior that is harmful or criminal, but is simply any violation of norms. This means that deviant behavior can range in seriousness from less harmful to more harmful.

Deviance is also culturally specific. This means that what might be considered deviant in the United States, might not be deviant in another part of the world. Let’s consider deviant behavior in the context of restaurant dining.

During my last two restaurant dining experiences, I witnessed deviant dining: restaurant patrons bringing in outside food or drink to consume in the restaurant.

Both incidents involved a family of three: mom, dad, and child.

In the first incident, mom had brought in a plastic cup and poured her son some Sprite from a can she brought into the restaurant. I heard the can open, which brough my attention to what was going on at the booth across from us. She poured the soda below the table and then hid the can behind the promotional material on the table. They left the can at the table when they left the restaurant for the servers to dispose. The son was probably seven or eight-years-old. I mention this because age matters in terms of whether or not this might be considered deviant.

I am guilty of bringing in outside food for a child. I would bring in outside food when dining with my daughter who was transitioning from breastmilk to solid food. When she was one, the only restaurant food that struck her interest were the lemons in our glasses of water. Once she moved onto grilled cheese and pasta, she eats off the menu. Occasionally, we have to get creative with what menu item she will eat, but we always figure something out off the restaurant’s menu.

I think most restaurants are ok with this, but it never dawned on me to ask. Let’s be real, it is unreasonable to expect a restaurant to buy chicken nuggets for an infant transitioning to solids. I also am sure to tip to account for the work the server still has to do with when outside food is brought into a restaurant for a child. In other words, outside food brought in for a child might not be considered deviant depending on the age of the child and whether or not the customer accounts for this in her or his tip. 

In the second incident, the patron was a bit more brazen. This time dad brought in food he purchased at the restaurant next door for his consumption. Using my sociological imagination, I can understand a scenario involving bringing in outside food for an older child or an adult if there is a food allegery concern or even a behavioral concern that is controled by the presence of outside food. Based on the food this grown man brought in and the restaurant we were in, however, I doubt either of these were concerns.

Some may argue that bringing in outside food and drink is always deviant. Consider though that people with food allergies or very young children may want to be able to dine with their friends and family in a restaurant. They may be traveling and have few other dining options. Parents may wish to socialize their children into normative restaurant behavior from a young age.

Some may wonder why bringing in outside food is ever considered deviant, especially if other people at your table are paying customers. For a restaurant, deviant diners may be seen as better than no diners. Here are a couple of reasons why this behavior is typically considered deviant:

  • You are taking the seat of a paying customer. In both incidents, the restaurants were very busy. Neither had waiting customers, but they were very close to having waiting customers. Either way, the restaurant workers were very busy and did not need additional work during the rush.
  • Servers still have to clean up after you, without you providing any sale to them.Even if you throw away everything you brought in, the restaurant workers still have to wipe down your table and take the trash out of the restaurant. You are using services that you did not pay for.

In some situations, it is perfectly acceptable to bring in outside food and drink. For example, Major League Baseball stadiums typically allow you to bring in outside food and drink even though they also sell these items. Some concert venues allow outside food and drink. Restaurants may allow customers to bring in their own bottle of wine or birthday cake, but they typically will charge a corkage fee or a cake serving fee. In other words, there are norms around bringing in outside food or drink. The baseball stadium may allow outside beverages, but might not allow alcohol or glass bottles. The restaurant may charge an additional fee for bringing in a bottle of wine. With deviant behavior, social context matters. Though usually deviant, bringing in outside food and drink is not always deviant behavior.  

Dig Deeper:

  1. How do sociologists define deviant behavior? Give an example (not in this post) of deviant behavior. Explain why it is deviant.
  2. The author explains that under most circumstances, bringing in outside food or drink to a restaurant is deviant behavior. Think of other examples of deviant behavior associated with eating in restaurants (for example, how do you order food or tip in a restaurant?). Explain.
  3. The author considers bringing food or drink into a restaurant for a very young child as typically understood as not deviant. Do you agree? Why or why not? Think of other examples of behaviors that are considered deviant for adults and older children, but not for very young children.
  4. Visit the following post, “Bring Your Own? Please Don’t” at I’m Your Server, Not Your Servant. Read the post and some of the comments (at least ten). Under what circumstances do servers agree it is ok to bring your own food or drink to a restaurant? Read a few more comments. Is there agreement among the commenters?

Princess Scientist

This post originally appeared at Sociology In Focus on March 25, 2013.

In this post Stephanie Medley-Rath explores how The Big Bang Theory relied on individual choice as the explanation for the lack of women in science instead of focusing on institutionalized sexism among scientists. 

Boy looking into microscope
The Big Bang Theory (BBT) jumped on the princess scientist trend in this week’s episode,“The Contractual Obligation Implementation.” The episode tackled a hot topic: recruiting more girls and women into the STEM fields (i.e., science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields).

The white men of BBT where charged with figuring out how to increase the number of girls and women in STEM fields as part of their committee work at the university. Raj had his own dedicated storyline which involved a socially-awkward date fulfilling the “sexless Asian man” trope. Spoiler alert: Raj does not get a kiss good night.

The white men of BBT brainstormed to come up with brilliant ideas to recruit more women to STEM fields.

The first idea was to use blind peer review in the publication process. Blind peer review protects the identity of the author and the reviewers in peer-reviewed research. This means that the reviewers do not know who the author is and the author does not know who is reviewing his or her work. The idea is that then the work is judged on its own merits reducing bias among the reviewers towards the author. In sociology, most peer-reviewed research uses double-blind peer review where both the authors and the reviewers are unknown to one another. Blind peer review, though imperfect in the age of Google, is still important at reducing bias. For example, blind auditions for symphony orchestras increased the number of women invited to join symphony orchestras. I am unfamiliar with the peer review process in physics and engineering, so this very well could be a real issue that should be dealt with in these particular STEM fields.

The second idea the white men of BBT came up with was to peak girls interest in STEM while they are young. This way the girls are more likely to opt for a more math and science courses in high school setting them up for success in the STEM fields once they reach college. This actually is not a new idea. I attended an Expanding Your Horizons event when I was in junior high some twenty years ago. I took more science and math in high school than required not because was inspired to do so, but because my parents made me. Despite my parents’ efforts, I earned a C in my life science course for pre-veterinarian students. My high school science courses ranged from rigorous to worthless, which is how my high school science A-grades implied I was ready for the pre-vet science course. Today, the National Science Foundation has recommended high schools require more math and science in order to graduate. This is promising, as long as those courses are actually rigorous and will prepare students for the STEM courses for majors.

Now, back to the show…

The white men of BBT were awkward and certainly uninspiring to the junior high girls they talked to about STEM. The girls did gender-stereotypical things like look at their manicured nails and text message. The white men of BBT finally realized that it might be better if women scientists actually talked to the girls as they were failing miserably. So they called their PhD-holding girlfriends (including Amy Farrah Fowler, who is played byMayim Bialik who holds a doctorate in neuroscience in real life) who had just finished their–I kid you not–Disney princess makeovers at Disneyland. The women scientists were literally Princess Scientists because see girls, you can be both a princess and a scientist.

I thought, “what, you mean I don’t have to give up my lipstick and tiara in order to be a scientist?” I know I settled on sociology professor as a career choice because of the clothing options. (I am joking, of course, though the ability to dress just about anyway I want to in my job is appealing.)

While recruiting girls at a young age to enter STEM is important, it is also important to consider the structural issues at the other side of a STEM degree: the actual profession. For example, a recent study found gender bias among faculty hiring lab managers:

  • Faculty participants rated the male applicant as significantly more competent and hireable than the (identical) female applicant. These participants also selected a higher starting salary and offered more career mentoring to the male applicant. The gender of the faculty participants did not affect responses, such that female and male faculty were equally likely to exhibit bias against the female student.

…so exactly how Sheldon treated his assistant, Alex Jensen, in previous episodes this season. Alex ultimately filed a sexual harassment complaint with Human Resources against Sheldon. Sheldon is off the hook though for his sexual harassment because of his social awkwardness and inability to read people. Unfortunately, sexual harassment and sexual discrimination are real deterrents to women entering STEM fields (and other fields).

Perhaps if the white men of BBT took an inward look at themselves they might be able to increase the rate at which young girls opt to choose a STEM career and inspire women to continue that pursuit by actively reducing actual sexism within the STEM fields.

Dig Deeper: 

  1. Are you pursuing a career in STEM? Why or why not? How did you reach the decision to pursue or not pursue a STEM field?
  2. Inspiring young girls to pursue STEM fields is important, but is an individual level solution. It ignores the structural issues, such as institutionalized sexism among scientists. How can institutionalized sexism be addressed within STEM fields?
  3. The author does not explore the limited participation of racial minorities in STEM, but does comment on race in the above article. Read the following article about how racial minorities are underrepresented in STEM. What limits their participation? How does their experience compare to the experience of women in STEM?
  4. Does the “Princess Scientist” do more harm than good in recruiting girls into STEM fields? Explain.
  5. Watch “The Contractual Obligation Implementation.” Describe how the men scientists are portrayed compared to how the women scientists are portrayed. Pick another episode to watch. Is the portrayal consistent?

Read More:

New Study Exposes Gender Bias in Tech Job Listings

The Meaning of Helicopters: Unequal Access to Trauma Centers

This post originally appeared at Sociology In Focus on March 18, 2013.

In rural areas, helicopters come to symbolize unequal access to trauma centers. In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains how the meaning of helicopters varies depending on whether you are in an urban or a rural area. 

Life Flight Helicopter
When I lived in the city, helicopters meant one of two things: the media or the police. The news crews were either providing overhead footage of weather or traffic conditions. The police were looking for someone, most likely, an alleged criminal. These helicopters were things I learned to ignore.

When I moved back to a small town, helicopters took on a whole new meaning. Helicopters are rarely seen or heard in a small town and when they are, it means someone is on their way to a trauma center. Now when I see a helicopter, I know that they are typically transporting a patient to a trauma center. Helicopters remind me just how far rural people, including myself, are from trauma centers.

Around here you can buy a membership for about $60 a year to an air ambulance company that provides coverage for helicopter transport provided it is from their company. The first time I saw my parent’s sticker indicating this coverage (on the back of their cars in case of a car accident and on a window by the front door of their house in case the problem starts at home), I thought they had been scammed. “What a waste of money,” I thought. Then it dawned on me.They live really far from a trauma center. There is a hospital in their town, but the nearest trauma center is 50 miles away. 50 miles really is not that far considering that there are much more isolated regions in America.  “Helicopter flights cost from $5,000 to $10,000, while the expense of an ambulance trip is $500 to $1,500” (Ostrow 2012) making membership to an air ambulance company appealing.

Helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS) are associated with a 1.5% increase in survival. My parents live right about the point where ground transport could take longer, but they do not have to travel too far from home to be even further from a trauma center. Critics point out that there are risks involved with HEMS, including higher crash rates than other air transport and the fact that many of these helicopters operate for-profit. In other words, HEMS are risky, expensive, and profit may motivate their use rather than best health care practices, yet they do increase survival rates.

Rural Americans not live further from trauma centers, but they have fewer trauma centers available to them. Check out this list of trauma centers in Illinois here. Region 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11 are all in the Chicago metro. Regions 1 through 6 serve the rest of the state. In other words, the Chicago metro is split up into five regions and has 44 trauma I and II centers. The rest of the state is split into six regions and has 19 trauma I and II centers, four of which are out of state. Granted, the out-of-state hospitals are on or near the border of Illinois, but consider that health insurance typically pays different rates depending on whether you are seeing providers inside or outside of your state.

The Chicago metro population is significantly larger than the rest of the state, so it makes sense that the city has more than twice as many trauma centers as the rest of the state. The problem is that for much of the state, residents live many miles away from a trauma center.

Branas et al. (2005) report

  • An estimated 69.2% and 84.1% of all US residents had access to a level I or II trauma center within 45 and 60 minutes, respectively. The 46.7 million Americans who had no access within an hour lived mostly in rural areas, whereas the 42.8 million Americans who had access to 20 or more level I or II trauma centers within an hour lived mostly in urban areas. Within 45 and 60 minutes, respectively, 26.7% and 27.7% of US residents had access to level I or II trauma centers by helicopter only and 1.9% and 3.1% of US residents had access to level I or II centers only from trauma centers or base helipads outside their home states.

More recent research reports similar findings: “Two thirds (67%) of the population in urban areas had easy access to trauma centers, and 12% had difficult access, whereas in rural areas, these percentages were 24% and 31%, respectively” (Hsia and Shen 2011:46). Hsia and Shen (2011) further point out that rural areas with higher concentration of vulnerable groups (African Americans and the near-poor) were at greater risk of difficult access to trauma centers. In other words, race and class intersect with geography creating even greater disparities.

Next time you see a helicopter, you might just be witnessing unequal access to trauma centers.

Dig Deeper:

  1. The author explains that helicopters have a different meaning to her living in a rural community compared to when she lived in an urban community. Can you think of other examples of how the meaning of some social phenomenon changes based on urbanicity?
  2. Research finds that not only rural residents, but rural communities with higher populations of African Americans and the near-poor also influence access to trauma centers. Using what you have learned in class this semester, how might racial or class inequality intersect with geography in terms of trauma center access?
  3. Having unequal access to trauma centers is not the same thing as having worse health outcomes. Using your library’s databases, search for peer-reviewed research that compares health outcomes of rural and urban residents. Do the authors explain why these groups have different or similar health outcomes? What is the explanation?
  4. How likely is it that a person needs use an ambulance or a helicopter ambulance? In other words, how often does a person require emergency transport to a trauma center over the course of their lifetime? Determine whether it would be more cost effective to open more geographically-dispersed trauma centers or provide greater subsidizes for helicopter ambulance transport.


Advertisers Needed A Hero “So God Made a Farmer”

This post originally appeared at Sociology In Focus on February 11, 2013.

In this post, Stephanie Medley-Rath explains a few of the ways in which the American farmer is socially constructed using the recent Dodge Ram commercial that ran during the Super Bowl. She explores the ways in which the commercial lives up to the realities of farming. 

Dodge Ram paid tribute to the American farmer in their ad that played during the Super Bowl last week.

Dodge resurrected Paul Harvey’s 1978 ‘So God Made a Farmer’ Speech for the commercial. It certainly got my attention. I was otherwise distracted and paid attention to the TV when I heard what sounded like an old man’s voice talking about God and farmers.

Mythical Image of the Family Farm

Harvey begins with

“And on the 8th day, God looked down on his planned paradise and said, ‘I need a caretaker.’ So God made a farmer.”

The farmers portrayed in the Dodge Ram commercial fit within a particular narrative about farming, that is, who farmers actually are. The commercial shows how farmers and farming are socially constructed. By social construction, sociologists mean how society defines a particular phenomenon. In this case, how does society define and understand farmers and farming?

Dodge Ram pairs Paul Harvey’s words with powerful visuals to illustrate how American farmers are caretakers, deeply religious, hardworking, family-oriented, rugged individuals, community leaders, and mostly white men.

The image of farmers and farming portrayed by Dodge Ram fits neatly into our narrative of the American family farm. Farmers as caretakers, however, stands in stark contrast to industrialized farming. The farmers as caretakers trope is nothing new. In Food, Inc., Michael Pollan points out how marketers regularly rely on our nostalgia for the family farm in selling food products and now it appears this same nostalgia is being used to sell trucks. Dodge Ram presents the image of farming as a noble calling and it may be, though this nostalgic view of farming hides the realities of modern day farming.

The farmers portrayed in the commercial were almost all white men working as individuals. The 2002 Census of Agriculture reports that 62.3% of farmers have one operator, but the rest have multiple operators. Even individual operators have employees. In other words, farmers work not as rugged individuals but part of teams.

Approximately five women or girls were portrayed in the commercial. Women were portrayed in gender typical ways as assistants to or family to the farmer and only rarely as the farmer. In multiple operator farms, 65.4% have a male principle operator and female second operator (many will be husband and wife). In other words, there are large number of women heavily involved in farming operations though viewers would not know this based on the commercial.

In terms of race, all the people in the commercial were white, except one farmer was a black man. Others note the absence of Hispanics in the advertisement despite making up a large portion of farm workers. By far, the majority of farm operators are white, so the commercial does accurately portray the typical race of farm operators. Black farmers, however, have historically been denied loans by the United States Department of Agriculture(though a settlement was reached). This discrimination on the part of the USDA has greatly shaped how Americans perceive farmers by limiting the type of people who can become and stay farmers, which shapes how farmers are portrayed in a commercial.

Finally, farmers were portrayed as family-oriented and farming is at least somewhat a family affair. The family farm is a cultural icon despite few Americans having any connection whatsoever to a farm. Very few Americans are farmers or even live on farms. About 1% of Americans consider themselves farmers and about 2% of Americans live on farms according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Association. The family farm is also used as a political tool. It is almost always mentioned in the same breath as “estate taxes” or “death taxes” as a reason for not taxing estates. The reality is that “less than 50 farms and family-run businesses were required to pay the estate tax in 2011, and only 40 will owe any estate tax in 2012” as reported by CBS. In other words, the family farm is held up as the reason to eliminate estate taxes.

Overall, this commercial produces a narrative that meshes well with the American narrative of farming. A narrative is a story and in this case, this commercial reflects the story we tell about the American farmer.

  1. How would you describe the narrative of the American farmer? Now watch the commercial and compare your notes with what you see. How is the American farmer socially constructed?
  2. Contrast how farmers are portrayed in the Dodge Ram commercial with “Farmer Style” (Gangnam Style Parody). How does the narrative in “Farmer Style” differ from the narrative in the Dodge Ram commercial?
  3. The average age of farm operators is 55.3 years old. List 2-3 reasons why you think this is. Now, read this article. What are some of the structural reasons that make it more difficult for younger Americans to become farm operators?
  4. The Dodge Ram commercial and Paul Harvey’s speech rely on Christianity in their message. Watch the video here and identify 2-3 examples (both words and visuals) of how Christianity is used. Religious messages in advertising are rarely this overt. Using your sociological imagination, why do you think the religious messages were overt in this commercial? Why do you think they emphasized Christianity over other possible religions?