Sociologists at Washington State University found both liberal and conservatives in the United States disapprove of individuals putting the health of their community at risk, but conservatives cared more about why those individuals were taking the risks in the first place.
Sociology professors Christine Horne and Monica Kirkpatrick Johnson asked Americans across the country whether they approved of actions like wearing a mask or stockpiling necessities.
“The more harm there was, the more disapproval there was,” Johnson says. “People were more disapproving of social gatherings than they were about doing a job.”
Johnson and Horne randomly assigned half of their respondents to read a scenario where an individual was putting their own health at risk, and the other half read about someone who was putting the health of the community at risk. They then asked the respondents whether people would disapprove of the behavior in the story and how much they thought liberals and conservatives would disagree.
The Washington State University Annual Interdisciplinary Conference on Social Justice (WSU SJCON) is an annual event sponsored by the College of Education, the Program in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, and the departments of English and Sociology.
Social justice is perhaps most often associated with fostering fairness and equity in society. The term, however, is wide-reaching and applicable to a significant number of fields. Doing social justice work within the academic context can help instructors, students, and community members develop a proclivity for social change and an awareness of the ways injustices manifest in our daily lives. However, we acknowledge the importance of moving beyond noticing or theorizing social problems; social justice requires action.
In the early 2000s, Jennifer Sherman, a professor of sociology at Washington State University, went to study a poverty-stricken mountain town in Northern California for her thesis. The town had been stripped of its main source of jobs by an environmental ruling that shut down its logging industry, and she planned to look at that ruling’s effects on marriage and family.
Instead, what she found upon meeting folks on the ground was that “every interview, people just talked about their own work ethic, somebody else lacking work ethic, or the value of hard work,” she tells Grow. Even in the absence of jobs, work remained key in measuring human value. With whatever external proof they could find, “people really, really did make the big show of letting me know that, ‘I’m a worker,’” she says.
That attitude toward employment — that belief that work and being a worker is at the core of someone’s identity — is prevalent throughout the U.S.
Researchers from Washington State University, Pennsylvania State University, and Miami University examined the characteristics of more than 250 U.S. public corporations that were involved in financial securities fraud identified in Securities and Exchange Commission filings from 2005-2013. They were then compared to a control sample of firms that were not named in SEC fraud filings.
“Prestigious companies, those that are household names, were actually more prone to engage in financial fraud, which was very surprising,” said Jennifer Schwartz, WSU sociologist and lead author on the study. “We thought it would be companies that were struggling financially, that were nearing bankruptcy, but it was quite the opposite. It was the companies that thought they should be doing better than they were, the ones with strong growth imperatives—those were the firms that were most likely to cheat.”
“What these companies were doing was essentially fudging the numbers, lying to investors, other companies and the SEC,” said Schwartz. “Eventually, you have to make up for the money that was lost, that really never existed, so shareholders lose money, people lose retirement plans, people lose jobs. It’s very, very damaging.”
The Social and Economic Sciences Research Center (SESRC) is celebrating 50 years of conducting social science research for Washington State University and others in need of information on people’s opinions and behaviors.
“Many local residents and people throughout the state were reported as being upset at what students and faculty were doing,” said Don Dillman, deputy director for research and development at the SESRC.
In the midst of this unrest, James F. Short, Jr., founding director of SESRC, and Melvin Defleur, chair of sociology, proposed to President Terrell that they could create a telephone survey laboratory to learn what students and others in the community were thinking. The president agreed. Dillman was asked to form the Public Opinion Laboratory, install phones, hire interviewers, and provide results.