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by Crosby Hipes

Approximately one quarter of Americans suffer from a mental illness at any given time, with half of the country experiencing mental illness over the course of their lifetimes. People with mental illness can face devaluation and discrimination simply for having an illness with a negative label, which is known as the stigma of mental illness. Although some might assume that a person’s education, skills, and training are the primary factors determining their employment success, our study suggests otherwise.

In a recently published study, we found that even for job applicants with competitive resumes, having a mental illness label lowered employment chances relative to job applicants with a past physical injury.

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by Jaclyn Wong

Is it possible to capitalize on your good looks?  The answer might depend on your gender, and whether you are “naturally” beautiful, or invest resources on your self-presentation.

Beauty is a valued trait in American society, and previous research suggests that physically attractive individuals are advantaged across many areas of social life.  For example, attractive students are considered more intelligent by their teachers, and are more popular among their classmates. Attractive women are more likely to marry husbands with higher socioeconomic status.  Even justice is not blind, as attractive criminal defendants receive less severe punishments than their unattractive counterparts.

Given these patterns, it is no surprise that attractive people also do better in the workplace.  Attractive job candidates are favored over unattractive applicants.  They are also more likely to receive better performance evaluations. As a result, attractive workers have higher earnings than average and unattractive workers.

But, is beauty an asset in the workplace for both men and women?  Beauty is a uniquely important part of the feminine gender role, but attractiveness may be less important for the traditional male role.  Thus, we might expect that attractive women are especially advantaged at work.

However, some researchers have found that beauty is beastly: being very attractive could hurt women, especially if they work in positions of power.  If attractive women are seen as more feminine, and femininity conflicts with the masculinized ideal worker norm, attractive women may be disadvantaged in the workplace.

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by Kristen Barber

When I explain my research to people, they often ask: “What is a men’s salon, exactly?”In a fleeting interaction I might simply describe it as a salon dedicated to the primping and preening of men. The high-service men’s salons in my study tout stylish haircuts, fine manicures, exfoliating facials, and meticulous waxing services. But to more accurately explain what a men’s salon is involves understanding that gender is actively produced, not a static characteristic of a person or place.

In my article, “Men Wanted”: Heterosexual Aesthetic Labor in the Masculinization of the Hair Salon, I tackle the organizational efforts that make the salon an “appropriate” place for well-to-do, straight, and often white men. This is significant since the salon is historically associated with women and seems an unlikely place in which men can approximate culturally valorized forms masculinity.

One way both salons in my study masculinize the space is by demanding what I call heterosexual aesthetic labor from the mostly women workers. Aesthetic labor highlights the importance of workers’ appearances and use of their body in frontline service work, where employees interact face-to-face with customers. Workers are hired because they embody the aesthetic values of a retail brand, with white, middle-class workers, for example, reflecting the identities of white, middle-class consumers. This assures consumers they are in the “right place” for people like them and is a key mechanism in reproducing social differences and inequalities.

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by Pamela Neumann

Why do so many people put up with highly contaminated living conditions? Conventional academic wisdom suggests that many communities do not protest environmental degradation because they are afraid of losing their jobs. They trade their health for the promise of employment.

My recent research in the Peruvian town of La Oroya, which is plagued by dangerously high lead levels, questions this dominant framework for understanding community responses to environmental hazards.

Instead, I argue that many residents’ reluctance to protest against pervasive lead contamination is tied to deeply held perceptions and beliefs about their town’s identity, and particularly a desire to protect their community from perceived outsiders. While material incentives do drive social action (or inaction) at times, it is also imperative to analyze how localized cultural processes—such as how people make sense of their own surroundings—contribute to the dynamics of social mobilization, as well as the reproduction of economic and environmental inequalities.

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It is difficult to speak to a discipline like sociology, which has a diverse set of interests and various approaches to study society. However, Kevin Leicht’s recent post on this blog did just that and very successfully. The last time I checked, the post had been shared more than 200 times on Facebook. Many sociologists find his diagnosis of our intellectual illness accurate as well as brave and refreshing.

Leicht argues that, in an era of hyper-inequality, the study of inequality should shift away from between-group inequality to within-group inequality; from education to jobs and labor market institutions; from a narrow focus on diversity and sensitivity to an emphasis on the divide between haves and have-nots.

I think Leicht’s prescriptions are right on the money, especially at a time when Donald Trump gains increasing support from working-class Americans and Hilary Clinton called half of his supporters “a basket of deplorables.”  Indeed, one can argue that the current hyper-inequality began in the 1970s when the Democratic Party started to embrace college-educated professionals over their traditional blue-collar workers as their main constituency. Working-class Americans, lured by the Republicans with nationalism and the “Cultural War,” began to vote against their class interests.

But Leicht’s diagnosis does not cut deep enough.

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by Heather A. Haveman

How did a magazine industry emerge in the United States in the eighteenth century, where there were once only amateur authors, clumsy technologies for production and distribution, and sparse reader demand?  Why would anyone launch a magazine-publishing venture under such circumstances?  What legitimated magazines as they competed with other media, such as newspapers, books, and letters?  And what role did magazines play in the integration or division of American society?

My new book, Magazines and the Making of America, investigates how, over a 120-year period, magazines and groups they connected ushered America into the modern age.  It reveals how magazines fundamentally transformed the nature of community in America.  The signature modernizing talent of magazines, like other media, is to connect people – to literally mediate between them, to facilitate frequent interactions between them even when they are geographically dispersed and would otherwise never meet face to face.

Magazines in this era supported many distinct, cohesive, translocal communities – collections of people with common interests, values, principles, ideas, and identities who were often situated far away from each other.  As America became socially differentiated, magazines engaged and empowered diverse communities of faith (in a burgeoning number of religious groups), communities of purpose (in a wide array of social-reform movements), and communities of practice (in commerce, agriculture, and specialized occupations such as medicine and law).

Religious groups could distinguish themselves from others and demarcate their identities.  Social-reform movements could energize activists across the country to push for change.  People in specialized occupations could meet and learn from one another to improve their practices.  But countering their modernizing effects, magazines also supported many communities of place, which embodied traditional localistic reactions to the rise of modern translocal communities.

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by Brett C. Burkhardt

The US Department of Justice has announced a plan to end its use of private prisons. Last week, the Department issued orders to the Bureau of Prisons to allow extant contracts to lapse without renewal and to cease future requests for new contracts. The plan will reduce the number of federal inmates in private prisons to roughly 14,000 by 2017, down from nearly 30,000 in 2013, and eventually bring the population to near zero.

That said, the plan will actually leave the majority of private prison contracts untouched, and is also likely to mean that private prison providers will push even harder for contracts for the detention of immigrants.

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