Dozens of Indiana University researchers are participating in the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association. Below are examples of some of the studies.
OUT IN THE COUNTRY
Gay depictions in the media have "exploded" in the last 10 years but rural gay, lesbian, bisexual and transsexual youth still find it difficult to find people like them on TV or in the movies. Instead, many turn to the Internet to help them come to terms with their sexual identity and rural lifestyle.
Rather than using the Internet to mentally escape their surroundings, where peers are scarce, youth in an ethnographic study by Indiana University researcher Mary Gray used it to find people like them, either nearby or simply dealing with similar issues.
"They were looking for representations that talked about living out in the country, not escapism," Gray said. "It validated the possibility of living in a rural community. There are quite literally youth who would show these coming out stories to their family and friends, saying 'there are kids like me living in places like this.'"
Gray, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication and Culture in IU Bloomington's College of Arts and Sciences, spent 19 months talking and interacting with rural youth in Kentucky and along its Appalachian borders. She also writes about her findings in the book Out in the Country: Youth, Media, and Queer Visibility in Rural America (NYU Press 2009), published on Aug. 1.
Gray conducted her research between 2001 and 2004, before the rapid growth of social media. While the Internet was useful to youth, it was often a challenge for the youth to have access to computers in ways in which they felt safe to explore, either because they did not have exclusive use of home computers or because of other factors, such as monitoring software at their schools.
Gray's presentation is scheduled for 8:30 a.m., Saturday, Aug. 8, in the Parc 55 Hotel, during the session Communication Information Technologies, Community and Sexuality. She can be reached at email@example.com.
A DOG'S LIFE
Some dogs are revered or pampered, with fancy clothes and loads of affection; others work for a living. David Blouin, a cultural sociologist at Indiana University South Bend, said relationships between dogs and their owners generally fall into three distinct categories, with some bestowing more canine benefits than others.
And while some dogs may live the high life, serving as surrogate children to their humans, their circumstances can change depending on their owner's life course and experiences.
"I found it interesting that there are different ways to relate to and think about animals and that people are able to switch and latch onto a different way of thinking about and treating animals when other things happen in their lives, like having children," said Blouin, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology.
Blouin conducted 28 in-depth interviews with dog owners from a Midwestern county. Dog ownership attitudes fell into three categories: Humanist, where dogs were highly valued and considered close companions, like pseudo people; protectionists might be vegetarians and they greatly valued animals in general, not just as pets; dominionists saw animals as separate and less important than people, often using the dogs for hunting and pest control and requiring them to live outdoors.
Blouin said the distinct orientations toward animals were informed by multiple, competing cultural logics as well as personal experiences, demographic characteristics and family structure. Rural dog owners were more likely to leave their pets outside, for example. Empty-nesters seemed to be the most attached to their pets.
"People don't make this stuff up themselves," Blouin said. "They learn how animals should be treated. There are different ideas out there and these ideas exist in little packages, which are promoted by different groups, like the Humane Society or kennel clubs."
Blouin's presentation is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 8, from 10:30 a.m. to 12:10 p.m. during the Cultural Sociology session at the Parc 55 Hotel. He can be reached at dblouin@iusb@edu.
NO BULLIES HERE
While a number of researchers have examined bullying, particularly in the wake of high-profile school shootings, these researchers largely ignore the ways that bullying is actually defined by students.
Typically both students and researchers include physical and emotional abuse in their definitions of bullying, yet students differ from researchers in how they label others "bullies." Brent Harger, a recent graduate of Indiana University Bloomington's Department of Sociology and now assistant professor of sociology at Albright College in Reading, Penn., found that many students view bullying as a false dichotomy in which others are either "bullies" or "non-bullies." In this false dichotomy, students argue that if somebody is to be labeled a bully, he or she must fit that label at all times. This applies to how students label themselves, too.
As a result, students may participate in behavior that researchers would label bullying but define themselves as non-bullies because of other factors such as getting good grades or participating in extracurricular activities.
Because they do not identify themselves as bullies, students are able to dismiss anti-bullying messages in schools as "not for them." As a result, anti-bullying policies in schools may prevent the labeling of students as bullies but not the behaviors that outsiders would define as bullying.
"While my conference presentation focuses on student definitions, a number of adults in the schools also used this type of false dichotomy, such as a principal who said, 'I have one bully in my school,'" Harger said. "Just as with the students, defining bullies in this way prevented adults from seeing that a number of individual actions could be labeled bullying and led them to conclude that bullying was not a problem in their schools."
Harger will discuss his research on Saturday, Aug. 8, from 10:30 a.m. to 12:10 p.m. in the Crime and Delinquency session in the Parc 55 Hotel. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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