Total Drek

Or, the thoughts of several frustrated intellectuals on Sociology, Gaming, Science, Politics, Science Fiction, Religion, and whatever the hell else strikes their fancy. There is absolutely no reason why you should read this blog. None. Seriously. Go hit your back button. It's up in the upper left-hand corner of your browser... it says "Back." Don't say we didn't warn you.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

This may be taking symbolic exclusion a bit far...

A while back sociologist Bethany Bryson wrote a rather fascinating paper that started with the phrase "Anything but heavy metal." The basic point- and I'm condensing to perhaps an absurd degree here- is that some communities denote the boundaries of membership not with the ideas and practices that they like but rather with the ideas and practices that they do not like. This may sound a little odd but, really, it shouldn't so long as you've been to high school. When I was in high school nobody cared too much if I hung around with the jocks, or the preppies, or the nerds, so long as I did not hang out with the stoners. In other words, it didn't matter so much what practices I did enjoy, so long as I avoided certain undesirable behaviors.* In any case Bryson finds that there are some interesting patterns in music appreciation or, as the case may be, rejection as a function of education and social class such that more educated persons generally like more and more types of music, but almost always continue to reject heavy metal.** She referred to this as "symbolic exclusion" because it isn't the literal rejection of certain people but, rather, the symbolic rejection of certain people through the rejection of cultural elements they like.

Anyway, I started thinking about this article the other day when I was doing some prep work for my class in the fall. When I teach I often like to bring in examples from real data and, particularly, large scale research efforts like the General Social Survey. The GSS, which has an excellent website, is helpful because it is a representative sample of non-institutionalized American adults, it has been done many, many times, and because it includes some fairly random (and interesting) questions. Often when preparing for class I use the subject index which lists the GSS questions alphabetically by topic. It's pretty helpful because the actual variable names can be a little confusing and students are generally more interested in things like drug use than they are in income inequality. While trawling for interesting variables I ended up in the section on science and, particularly, on the amount of knowledge the respondent has about science.*** You can see the questions listed in the picture below. As the little red oval suggests, I became interested in one question in particular- the question asking about how the universe began:

Selecting that option took me to a new page where you can choose from among several questions relating to that topic if, indeed, several questions relating to that topic were asked in the first place. And it was at this point that I received my first surprise:

The only question pertaining to the beginning of the universe would seem to be asking whether or not the respondent likes big band music. In surprise, I clicked the link and, indeed, the question is what you'd expect:

Now, some of you might think that perhaps this variable "bigband" just got mixed up in the database with the very similarly named variable "bigbang":

It's possible, I suppose, but that's probably what they want you to think. Maybe this isn't a mistake. Maybe this is intentional. Maybe there's someone at NORC who is trying to send us a message- big band music isn't just mellow, or entertaining to some folks, but literally the beginning of all things. Maybe they're trying to tell us that you aren't a real sociologist until you understand that the universe started with Lawrence Welk. And all I can think about that is there's symbolic exclusion and then there's this.

I mean damn!

* Okay, this is a partial lie. Of course it matters- I was and am a huge geek- but the stoners took a huge prestige hit relative to every other group. And while the non-stoners may have had their differences, they were united in their dislike of the aforementioned ganja-lovers.

** I find this particularly amusing since I will (hopefully) one day have a Ph.D. and count Within Temptation, Schoolyard Heroes, Metallica and Rob Zombie among the musicians I particularly like. For even more amusement, my wife is a fan of folk music. How she puts up with me I will never know but, then again, given my disdain for so-called folk rock... well, we are very tolerant of our musical differences.

*** I'd provide links, but the website doesn't provide stable URLs for the pages I'm referring to. Damned frames!

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ah, yes- the ubiquitous big band theory we Welkologists have all come to know and love.

Join us.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008 11:16:00 AM  
Blogger Mister Troll said...

I like heavy metal *and* folk!

Do I get a cookie?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008 1:28:00 PM  

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