Our life chances are shaped by the positions we occupy, the resources we control, the ability we have, the effort we exert, luck, and any number of other possible factors. Games can help us to better see how such factors can shape outcomes, especially when, as in the case of some games, the deck seems stacked in favor of some and at the expense of others.

SOCiable – A Game of Life Chances is a card game inspired by the traditional Chinese card game Zheng Shangyou (争上游), meaning “struggling upstream.” Many variations of this game exist, including Dai Hin Min (大貧民) in Japan, Tiên Lên in Vietnam, and President in the United States. Unlike many games popular in the United States, starting positions in these games are hierarchical. Players do not begin with equal resources, power, or opportunities to win. SOCiable is a streamlined version of those games designed to speed up game play in order to fit more hands and games into a shorter period of time (such as a class period).

I’ve been experimenting with using SOCiable in class and thought I’d pass it along. I’ve found it to be helpful when talking about the relationships between structure, individual ability/effort, and luck. I’m hoping that others will give it a try and find it useful, too. I’d love to hear what worked and what didn’t, how students responded, what lessons might have been learned, etc. I would also welcome suggestions for changes or descriptions of how you adapted it to suit your purposes.

I am including both a PDF with full instructions (SOCiable – A Game of Life Chances – version 1.0) and the somewhat briefer PowerPoint file I used to introduce the game in class (SOCiable – A Game of Life Chances (PowerPoint) – version 1.0) . I hope you find them useful.

I talk about these kinds of games in the opening vignette for SOC Chapter 5 as a means of introducing the significance of structures, so it could be used in conjunction with that chapter, but I’ve also used it in my Social Problems course and plan to give it a try in my stratification course this coming semester.

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The website 4thestate.net, which is dedicated to providing visual representations of media influence, has a post up about gender and media coverage for the upcoming election titled “Silenced: Gender Gap in the 2012 Election Coverage.” They claim:

Women are significantly under-represented in 2012 election coverage in major media outlets. In our analysis of news stories and transcripts from the past 6 months, men are much more likely to be quoted on their subjective insight in newspapers and on television. This pattern holds true across all major news outlets, as well as on issues specifically concerning women.

They provide a useful graphic showing a summary of their results. Click on the image below for a link to the story and image.

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Sociologist Amy Schalet has a new book out contrasting American and Dutch attitudes and practices regarding teenage sexuality. The book is titled Not Under My Roof: Parents, Teens, and the   Culture of Sex (University of Chicago Press). Schalet finds significant differences between the two countries. In a Macleans prcview of the book titled “The Sleepover Dilemma,” Anne Kingston provides a contrast demonstrating the two approaches:

Schalet interviewed 130 parents and teenagers in both countries to explore the cultural gulf. Dutch parents “normalize” teenage sexuality, Schalet concludes, as a way of maintaining a connection with and continuing to exert an influence over their teenagers. It’s an extension of a Dutch matter-of-fact attitude toward sex ushered in since the ’70s: sex education begins at age four and contraception is readily available. Yet it’s far from an “anything goes” attitude, Schalet writes: Dutch parents have to feel comfortable that their child, generally 16 or 17, is old enough to be sexually active, is using reliable contraception, and is in a stable relationship with someone who will fit into the family unit. Dutch parents also expect teenagers to abstain from sex until they’re ready.

American parents, on the other hand, “dramatize” teen sex by focusing on the risks and dangers….Unlike Dutch parents, American parents uphold sexual freedom as a rite of adulthood, defined by economic and emotional autonomy, hence the “you can have sex when you’re paying your own rent” edict. That makes sex an inevitable point of conflict—and disconnect—between teenagers and parents, Schalet writes, which in turn leads to inevitable sneaking around and dire health consequences: compared with the Netherlands, the unwanted pregnancy rate in the U.S. is four times higher, the abortion rate is more than two times higher, as are rates of sexually transmitted diseases.

An interview with Schalet also appears in Salon, titled “Solving America’s Teen Sex Problem.” In his preview to the interview, Thomas Rogers notes:

As Schalet’s extensively researched, fascinating work shows, the Netherlands’ radically different approach to sex and child-rearing has managed to radically decrease levels of teen pregnancy, abortion and sexual infections. It has fostered closer relationships between teenagers and their parents, and helped make teenagers’ first times far more pleasurable.

Such cr0ss-cultural analysis provides a helpful lens through which we can better understand why we think and act in the ways we do.

The website Healthy Is the New Skinny has a post up titled Beautiful Imperfection: Katie Halchishick’s Iconic Photo Hits the Stands. The post highlights a photo which accompanies a feature in O (Oprah’s magazine) about beauty and body image. The post describes the image this way:

And our own Katie Halchishick – co-founder of Healthy is the New Skinny and the Perfectly Unperfected Project – anchors an 8-page section on beauty and body image with a photo destined to be an iconic image.  Shot by famed photographer Matthew Rolston, Katie stands naked (the first nude in O history), holding an equally bare Barbie doll.   Dotted lines, of the sort that might be made by a cosmetic surgeon (or a photo editor preparing a retouch), cover Katie, indicating what would have to be cut away in order for her to have Barbie’s body.

Commenting on the image the author of the post goes on to write, “What sets the O photo apart is the powerful reminder of how far even such a gorgeous model as Katie falls short of an unattainable ideal.” The post also discusses some of the issues raised in the O feature, including some data on body image from women of different ages.

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We place a lot of faith in education to meet our needs both as individuals and as a society. Given all the time and money we invest, especially as students, we hope that the payoff will be worth it. One way to begin addressing that question for individuals is to check to see if there is a correlation between educational attainment and income level. The good news is that recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau demonstrates a strong positive correlation: as educational level goes up, median income also rises.

My past posts (here and here) on the relationship between education and income routinely receive among the most visits of any posts I have. The new numbers in this post are for 2010 and were released in 2011. They come from the Current Population Survey’s Annual Social and Economic Supplement (PINC-03, Table 28). Graphically, the new numbers look like this:

In addition, the Census Bureau released a report, Education and Synthetic Work-Life Earnings Estimates (pdf), in September, 2011 providing projected lifetime earnings for males and females by both educational attainment and race/ethnicity. This represents an effort to show the long-term consequences of such education differences. As the graph below demonstrates, the overall trend for all groups is that income goes up as educational attainment increases, though the nature of the benefit varies by both gender and race/ethnicity.

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Sociologist Ashley Mears of Boston University conducted participant observation research as a fashion model and her story is covered in a Slate article, “America’s Next Top Sociologist,” written by Libby Copeland. As indicated in the article, this kind of on-site research  continues a long tradition in sociology whether as a boxer, a cotton picker, or a prisoner.

For her research, Mears interviewed models, talent-agents, magazine editors, and others involved in the fashion industry to get their perspectives, but she also worked as a model herself and recorded her experiences after walking runways and attending casting calls. She found that there is a glut of young women from around the world all seeking to make it in the industry, and, as a result, the pay and working conditions are poor for most.As noted in the article:

A day-long shoot for Vogue pays a paltry $150, for instance, while a shoot for Britain’s influential i-D magazine, which Mears calls “one of the most sought-after editorial clients for a model,” pays absolutely nothing, not even the cost of transportation or a copy of the magazine for the model’s portfolio.

The industry works like a winner-take-all market, with a few very successful winners and an abundance of others who never experience much success.

Age also plays a role, and the window of opportunity in the high-fashion industry is narrow. By the time a model is in her mid-twenties, she has likely aged-out and is seen as “ancient by industry standards.” Mears reports that, given the number of women competing, the likelihood for success ends up being more like a lottery than being based on appearance or ability alone. And yet, she states, “You realize the probability is slight but the possibilty is enticing.”

Mears has written a book reporting on her research, titled Pricing Beauty: The Making of a Fashion Model (University of California Press).

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Slate has a story up about how doing network analysis of our online personas can reveal a lot about us that we never intended to reveal. In a story titled, “The Leaky Nature of Online Privacy,” author Kevin Gold reports:

[P]attern recognition software has made it possible to learn about someone not based on what he has shared about himself but by examining what his friends have made public. For example, researchers have trained a program to identify the sexual orientation of gay males with roughly 80 percent accuracy using the self-reported orientation of their Facebook friends. Alan Mislove of Northeastern University has shown that it takes only a 20 percent participation rate among college students in filling out profile information to deduce facts—such as major, year, and dorm—about the nonresponders who simply friended others. The software uses statistics gleaned from large data sets about how often friends tend to have characteristics in common when they are a part of a community and how often they might simply share characteristics by chance; then it combines several such probabilities into a statistically motivated guess as to whether a person belongs to a particular community. So it’s not actually possible to participate in social networks without revealing anything about yourself; you reveal your interests by association.

In other words, even if we think we are keeping elements of our lives private, it is possible to leverage our network connections to learn information about us that we never intended to reveal. In fact, according to the story, “ZIP code, sex, and birth date are enough to determine your exact identity 87 percent of the time.” This raises questions about not only privacy but of power. Who has the capacity to do this kind of analysis? What might they do with it? Should using such information require some kind of informed consent?

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