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IU research at the American Sociological Association annual meeting

Editors: Dozens of Indiana University researchers participated in the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, Aug. 8-11 in San Francisco. Below are samples of some of the IU studies.

Aug. 11, 2009

The studies examine the following topics:

Rural gay youth use the Internet to fit in, not escape
Survey: Most Americans say wife should change her name
Polarization and American politics
Attitudes about dog ownership
Stigma and the medicalization of mental illness
Ineffective definitions of bullies

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 discussed her study on Saturday. She can be reached at Top

Majority of Americans say wife should change her name. Today's couples continue to struggle over whether the woman should change her name upon marriage, despite the gains women have made in the workplace and other aspects of American society since the 1970s. In a national survey, 71 percent of respondents agreed it is better for women to change their name upon marriage, with only 29 percent disagreeing. Surprisingly, respondents even split fairly evenly in their support of government regulation requiring name change. Researchers from Indiana University and University of Utah say these findings come despite a clear shift to more gender-neutral language. "The figures were a bit sobering for us because there seems to be change in so many areas. If names are a core aspect of our identity, this is important," said Brian Powell, professor of sociology at IU Bloomington. "There are all these reports and indicators that families are changing, that men are contributing more, that we're moving toward a more equal family, yet there's no indication that we're seeing a similar move to equality when it comes to names." Co-author Laura Hamilton, a doctoral student in the Department of Sociology at IU Bloomington, presented findings from the study, "Mapping Gender Ideology with Views toward Marital Name Change," on Tuesday at the American Sociological Association's annual meeting. The survey, a nationally representative sample, tapped 815 people and asked both multiple choice and open-ended questions. It was part of a larger survey probing public opinion of a range of gender- and family-related topics. Somewhat contradictory, almost half the people surveyed said it would be "OK" for a man to change his name to that of his wife. But for respondents, male name change was so implausible that they off-handedly or hesitantly agreed it would be OK. For example, Powell said, one man laughed as he responded: "Sure, why not. Hey in America, anything goes!" Others said that it was OK because: "Sure, a man should be able to do it because he's a man." Advocates of women changing their names emphasize a family and marital identity for women, indicating one family name makes more sense from a family and societal point of view. They rely on religion and tradition as the authority in this area. Name change critics focus on the importance of women's independent identities and to the ways they benefit individually, such as professionally, by keeping their own name. They also think the decision should be left up to the women.

Hamilton can be reached at Powell can be reached at Co-authors include Claudia Geist, professor at the University of Utah. Top

Polarization and American politics. A common refrain: "There's not a dime's worth of difference between the two political parties." A recent study by Kyle Dodson, a graduate student in Indiana University Bloomington's Department of Sociology, indicates that Americans have put this complaint to rest. According to his research, Americans' perceptions of major differences between the parties have increased steadily since the 1980s, leading to a dramatic increase in different forms of political participation."The increasing awareness of party differences isn't coming from thin air," Dodson said. "Americans are tracking real changes that are going on with the parties. Over the past 30 years, they've become polarized in their policy agendas and people are noticing." This change could not have occurred at a better time. "A lot of research suggests that Americans are more socially isolated today than at any point in the past two to three decades," Dodson said. "Normally, this would depress political participation. But the rise of partisan politics has given Americans an important reason to get involved." Dodson discussed his research on Tuesday. He can be reached at Top

Dog Kiss

Photo by Mike Baird,

What exactly is "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 discussed his research on Saturday. He can be reached at dblouin@iusb@edu. Top

Stigma surrounding mental illness remains despite abundant pharaceutical ads. The medicalization of such mental illnesses as depression and bipolar disorder, which have seen prescription drug advertisements on TV skyrocket since such advertising became permissible in 1997, has done nothing to remove the harmful stigma attached to the illnesses, according to sociologists from Indiana University and the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. "The findings fly in the face of current thinking about ways that stigma can be reduced," said Peggy Thoits, Virginia L. Roberts Professor of Sociology in IU's College of Arts and Sciences. Stigma has posed a steadfast obstacle to the treatment of many mental health illnesses. Negative perceptions of mental illness color the support and advice people get from their friends, family and even their physicians and can create a reluctance to seek help. The study by Thoits and lead author Andrew R. Payton, graduate student at University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, sought to see if attitudes toward mental illness have changed since the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued new guidelines allowing pharmaceutical companies to air TV ads. Theoretically, when a condition such as depression comes to be viewed as a treatable medical condition instead of a moral failing or spiritual condition, this should reduce the blame and stigma attached to depression. The researchers examined the Mental Health Modules in the General Social Survey during these intervening years and saw no change in attitudes toward people with mental illness, specifically when they compared depression, which was a focus of many TV commercials, to schizophrenia, for which no drugs have been advertised. "We're making a big assumption, that marketing drugs to treat some these conditions is actually penetrating the consciousness of viewers, giving them the ability to recognize symptoms and conceptualize them as disorders and to see that these disorders can be relieved essentially with drugs," Thoits said. The study was presented on Monday. Thoits can be reached at Top

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 discussed his research on Saturday. He can be reached at Top

For additional assistance with these items, contact Tracy James, University Communications, at 812-855-0084 and