Posted by: soanstolaf | October 30, 2014

Halloween in a Sociological/Anthropological Lens

Halloween is always an interesting time for anthropologists and sociologists. The things people choose to dress up as and what that suggests about the culture, the cultural histories of Halloween and it’s variations around the world (Dia de los Muertos, for example) are all areas of critical thinking and exploration.

For example, the holiday that we know as a family-friendly kids holiday didn’t exist as we know it until around the 1950s. Learn more here:

And did you know the theories put forth about why witches ride brooms? This one is a surprising one – tied to the theories about the causes of the Salem Witch Trials.

And how about the ability of the horror genre to address our most unspoken fears?

And  what about the many examples of racial and cultural insensitivity, appropriation, and sexualization of female costumes? What do those say about the issues we face in our society?

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A poster from an Ohio University Campaign to fight stereotyping cultures in Halloween costumes.


The Huffington Post writer points out the differences between “boy” and “girl” costumes, even for young children. – This op-ed from the Harvard Crimson makes great points about the problems of college costumes and cultural appropriation on campuses.

A quote from the above article: “When you dress as “ghetto fab,” as a “redneck,” or as an “illegal alien,” you’re mocking the racial and socioeconomic inequalities in our society and appropriating what you think is minority culture for your one night of fun.” – Mark Anthony Neal, a professor at Duke and Harvard Universities addresses this history of blackface and it’s place in U.S. culture.

As people celebrate, dress up, and eat candy this weekend, don’t be afraid to think critically!

Got questions? Comments? Other great articles to share? Let us know on the blog or on facebook!

Happy Halloween!

Posted by: soanstolaf | October 30, 2014

Looking for More Blogs to Read?

We know you love this blog, but if you want to check out others with similar themes, try some of these:

Everyday Sociology Blog (

This blog covers a realm of topics by many different contributors, both professors and students of sociology, and is run by W.W. Norton & Company Inc. Publishers.

Some posts to check out: “Is Islamaphobia a Form of Racism (And Does it Even Matter)?” by Saadia Faruqi; “Sociology, Sidewalks, and Walking” by Teresa Irene Gonzales, and “A Sociological Guide for Succeeding in College” by Peter Kaufman.

Media/Anthropology – John Postill’s blog (

Postill is a research fellow at RMIT University in Melbourne. He writes about a variety of topics surrounding technology and media in the modern world. Most recently, he’s done a blog series on “Freedom technologists and the new protest movements.”

The Society Pages: Sociological Images (

Lisa Wade, a professor at Occidental College is the founder and principal writer of this blog dedicated to encouraging people to “exercise and develop their sociological imagination.”

Posts to check out: “A Brief History of Halloween” by Lisa Wade, “Fashion as a Inescapable Institution” by Lisa Wade (featuring Meryl Streep from the Devil Wears Prada) and “Apple’s Health App: Where’s the Power” by Sarah Wanenchak.

Have any blogs you really love? Let us know!

Posted by: soanstolaf | October 23, 2014

Six Months in Jordan


Petra, Jordan

Josiah Mosqueda had long harbored an interest in studying in an Arab country. A middle eastern studies concentrator with an interest in learning Arabic who had never studied abroad before, he took the leap his junior year, doing not one but two programs in Jordan. He spent Fall Semester on the ACM-Amideast Middle East and Arabic Studies program, came home for a week, the returned to Amman for Religion and Politics in Jordan, a St. Olaf trip led by Professors Ibtesam Al-Atiyat and Jamie Schillinger. It was a revolutionary experience for him. “The Arab World is in the middle of redefining what it means to be an Arab. What a time to study and live in an Arab country!” he says.

While being abroad for the first time was hard, he said, particularly because of the time difference, that week at home helped and “my Jordanian friends really helped me and genuinely cared for me.” Now, he misses Jordan and his host family “every day”. He particularly bonded with his host sister, 2 year old Nuf, who in his words, is “adorable, but has the mouth of a sailor” and “said some very bad words to me in Arabic the first time I met her.”

Josiah and Nuf

Josiah and Nuf

As for culture shock, he dealt with it by making sure to spend time talking to the other Americans on the program, going out together and talking about their experiences. He was initially very worried, as a homosexual Pagan, that he would experience hardships, but his friends and host family were welcoming and supportive. His experience as a So/An major served him in this area as well. “Looking at culture and social constructions of gender, race, and class really helped me understand how Jordanians live, and how differences in culture are not a bad thing – rather, it is a great point of mutual growth, understanding, and sharing of passion.” Before going, he took various classes on the Arab World and Islam and read plenty of literature from the region. The ACM program also helped the students prepare for what they could experience while abroad.

Now, back in Minnesota, he misses his host family, and the smaller things like hearing the Adhan (call to prayer) every day. But he knows he can go back, and recognizes how much he has grown from a program. He says that he left a chaotic life behind when he went to Jordan, and getting away from it all, taking time to focus on himself and his interests “changed me for the better.” Plus, he really appreciates having continual internet access and the ability to contact his family at any time.

Josiah Camel King

Josiah riding a camel in Jordan

He just has one piece of advice for people planning on traveling on similar programs – pack Western medicine if you plan on using it.  “Never underestimate the need for packing medicine-make sure there’s room!”

If you’re interested in Jordan, either of these programs, or Josiah’s experiences, you can contact him at

Posted by: soanstolaf | October 16, 2014

Finding A Family In Peru

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When Maddie Haakenson was in high school, she visited a small non-profit organization in Peru called Generación. Years later, as a junior in college, she returned to work there for a month. Generación is an organization dedicated to getting kids off the street and out of situations of poverty, violence, and abuse, and put them into school and jobs.

When she first visited as a high school student, she didn’t speak Spanish, but managed to stay in contact with many of the people she met, developing  friendships and learning just how important an organization like Generación can be. Going back, she said, wasn’t “just going to some foreign, third-world location as a random volunteer looking to make a distance. These were my people. My family.”

photo 4 (12)

She designed her own academic internship at Generación with the goal of learning the reality of the childrens’ lives “through full emersion and volunteer work.” Generación, like many similar organization, lacks funds and staff, so she went hoping to do whatever was needed and to understand what she could do to help in the future. She spent three weeks in Peru, living with other volunteers and working at one of their shelters doing lots of childcare. She found it a very fullfilling experience, and was both teacher and love counselor. Not only did she remind small children to share multiple times a day, and then let them fall asleep in her lap, but she listened to the teenage boys when they asked “me to sit down with them so they can tell me about a girl they love.”

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Haakenson is an experienced traveler, having done a gap year in Colombia, a semester in Ecuador, and having spent time in Guatemala, Taiwan, Thailand, Indonesia, Spain, France and a few other countries. This doesn’t mean that it’s an easy experience though. She acknowledges that it’s difficult to learn how to fit into different cultural customs, “especially when dealing with class differences.” For this internship, she also made sure she was mentally prepared to deal with everything, but discovered that “learning to have an empathetic lens from So/An and then working with kids in ROG (Reaching Our Goals)” had prepared her well, without her even knowing it.  Her So/An major skills helped her to deal with culture and class differences and to adapt and immerse herself as she connected with people “so vastly different from me”.

Once there, she made sure to deal with culture shock as best she could. This mean taking the time to process, but not isolating herself when things got tough. A natural extrovert, she spent plenty of time with other people, which in her opinion is the best way to get over culture shock  – “to be around those differences so much that it becomes familiar and normal”.

It wasn’t all having small children nap in her lap on the beach and getting presents of flowers from four year olds (although there was plenty of that!) There were some downsides. She caught lice from a few of the kids, for example. But even that has a happy ending. She went to the Minnesota Lice Lady to get treated as soon as she got back, but “now I work there, at Minnesota Lice Lady as an official ‘Lice Technician’”.

As for her study-abroad internship experience, she wouldn’t change it for the world, and wants to go back for at least three months.  “I would totally make it a study abroad program if I could, especially for SOAN majors.” If anyone is interested, she said, she would “love to do everything to make it possible for future Oles to have the same experience.”

If you’re interested in Haakenson’s work or Generación, you can email her at

You can check out for mor information on Generación.

If you’re interested in ROG, visit this link:

MarcelLaFlamme-headshotMarcel LaFlamme is a visiting professor this year in the Sociology/Anthropology department. He comes to us from North Dakota, where he researched unmanned aircrafts and pilots. He is currently a PhD candidate at Rice University and got his M.S. from Simmons College. Professor LaFlamme was kind enough to answer some of my questions about his history, interests, and advice for students.

How did you get interested in anthropology?

Professor LaFlamme: My undergraduate major was folklore and mythology, a small, quirky program that attracted both students who wanted to work with cultural materials that others had collected and students who wanted to collect or create themselves. I guess I was in the latter camp: I fell in lovewith fieldwork over the course of my thesis research at an all-male boarding school in Connecticut. There was something thrilling about seeing my theoretical framework completely upended by what I was learning from my informants. One of the recurring pleasures of anthropology is the moment of realizing you’re dead wrong.

 What are your areas of specialty?

Professor LaFlamme: I think of myself as an anthropologist of work, although my research also overlaps with the fields of cultural geography and science and technology studies. I also have a teaching interest in gender and sexuality, and lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the future of scholarly communication: an interest that grows out of my training in library and information science.

 Where and on what have you done your research?

Professor LaFlamme: I just finished a year of fieldwork in North Dakota, where I was conducting research on unmanned aircraft testing and training. I sat in a ground control station behind Customs and Border Protection agents as they learned to fly the Predator, and I built a small unmanned aircraft of my own alongside students at the University of North Dakota. I also surveyed licensed pilots across northeast North Dakota to understand their perceptions of unmanned aircraft and the strategies they use to communicate with each other both before and during a flight. Thus far, my research has been primarily in the United States, but I’m starting to think about a second project that would include comparative research in Canada.

 What brought you to St. Olaf?

Professor LaFlamme: Most of the colleges to which I applied as a senior in high school were liberal arts colleges like St. Olaf. Although I ended up at a research university, I stayed curious about the small college setting and the distinctive experience it fosters. Read More…

Posted by: soanstolaf | October 2, 2014

Bridging the Gap

Evan Davis and Madison Goering, both class of 2015, spent their summer exploring the (new for them) area of Public Health and HIV/AIDS. Davis, from Iowa City, IA and Goering, from Broomfield, CO, did a Collaborative Undergraduate Research and Inquiry (CURI) project in conjunction with Social Entrepreneurship Scholars doing client-based research at the Minnesota AIDS Project in Minneapolis, MN. They worked with Matt Toburen, the Public Policy Director and an Ole Alum. They had a variety of tasks, doing prep work for his meetings with government officials, and doing research via individual interviews among other things.

Neither of them had backgrounds in HIV/AIDS or public health. Tom Williamson, a professor in the department who sometimes works in the area of Medical Anthropology has connections and they soon discovered that a number of Oles work at the Minnesota AIDS project, and after a few interviews at various places, they found themselves in an internship that was completely new territory. Read More…

Posted by: soanstolaf | September 25, 2014

Exploring Her Passion for Social Justice


One of the 2014 summer recipients of the Ken Olsen grant was Sierra Napoli, class of 2015. From Proctor, MN, (a small town near Duluth) she spent the summer as the Women’s Advocate intern at Safe Haven Shelter for Battered Women. Being an Ole, however, she also tutored people trying to get their GED at Community Action Duluth and worked as a server at Pizza Luce to offset transportation costs.

Sierra first heard about Safe Haven through her mother, who volunteers at their Resource Center. It interested her, because as a Women’s and Gender Studies concentrator, she was interested in issues surround gender, including the effects of domestic violence. She also wants to work with oppressed populations and be an advocate for social justice. So when she got the chance via the Ken Olsen Grant to take an internship related to her field of study that interested her, she took it.

Her job at Community Action Duluth was found through the Ole Network. While searching the Ole Alumni network, she ran across an Ole who connected her to the right people. This method of finding internships is something Sierra recommends to other students searching for an internship.

There can be no doubt of the values of these experiences for Sierra. She says “both of these opportunities furthered my knowledge and interest in the realm of social justice and working with oppressed populations.” These internships tie directly into what she wants to do following her graduation at the end of this school year.

As for finding great internships like these, her advice to other students is simple: “internships don’t really fall out of the sky, you have to seek them out yourself.”

If you’re interested in Sierra’s work, feel free to contact her at

Posted by: soanstolaf | September 23, 2014

Dance and Anthropology in Bangalore

Lindsey Mornson, class of 2015, didn’t spend her summer at the poolside. A double major in sociology/anthropology and dance, she interned for eight weeks in Bangalore, India working with the Attakalari Centre for Movement Arts. The goal was to promote “traditional performing arts through community outreach projects, coordination of artist support, and marketing and promotion efforts”. Attakalari is a dance school and company, and also organizes dance workshops and lectures in schools around Bangalore, helps with career development, and has a bi-yearly international dance festival.

Lindsey found the internship the old-fashioned way: Google. An internship company based in Bangalore called LeaveUrMark helped her plan her internship, provided an apartment and pre-departure support. St. Olaf helped fund it, with grants from the Ken Olsen fund in the So/An department, the dance department, and the Kloeck-Jenson International Development Scholars fund from the Piper Center.

The work was the perfect way for Lindsey to explore the connections between her two majors and enjoy two things that she loves. Although her day to day work was in an office, drafting funding applications, compiling information for brochures, attending meetings, and helping plan the dance festival for February, she was able to use her anthropological skills daily to see how dance communities function in another country.  “I found it interesting that the way dance was talked about, how the dancers existed together, and how the community functioned (were) as a whole very similar to … back home.”

The internship helped her define what she’s interested in doing in the future as well. While arts management doesn’t appeal to her as much, she learned that she has a passion for learning about the history, culture, and traditions of Indian dance styles. This semester, she’s working on a DUR with Professor Von Bibra in the dance department “looking into how globalization, modernity, and capitalism have influenced Classical Indian Dance forms today.”


The most important thing she learned, however, wasn’t about the specifics of dance, but about how to adapt to a new work environment in a new culture. The biggest challenge for Lindsey was being more flexible about deadlines and getting work done. Her anthropology classes helped her let go of her ideas about deadlines and work schedules and to just go with the flow. “In the end, we accomplished so much in the time I was there. Their work methods were very effective after all.”

As for other So/An majors looking for internships, she offers this advice: “Find something that will really push you out of your comfort zone. I had my biggest learning moments when things went completely wrong or I felt so uncomfortable and out of place.”


If you have questions for Lindsey feel free to email her at

Posted by: soanstolaf | September 18, 2014

Human Trafficking in Minnesota

Human trafficking is a major problem in the United States. Minnesota and the Great Lakes region face the particular issue of the trafficking of Native women, in which we see the intersection of many forms of oppression. Several of our majors are involved with an on-campus group dedicated to raising awareness and ending human trafficking.
You can see a video about this topic here:

Posted by: soanstolaf | September 16, 2014

New Anthropologist: Marcel LaFlamme

The department is lucky to have Marcel LaFlamme with us this year. Professor LaFlamme comes to St. Olaf from Rice University, where he is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Anthropology. He recently completed a year of fieldwork with unmanned pilot trainees in North Dakota, which was supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation. Check out an article about that work here:

Marcel received his B.A. in folklore and mythology from Harvard University, where he wrote a thesis on narratives of masculinity at an all-male boarding school, and his M.S. in library and information science from Simmons College. From 2008 to 2010, he served as the library director for a rural community college in southeast Kansas, where he curated the manuscripts of Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright William Inge.

Stop by and say hello! And keep on the look out for another post about Professor LaFlamme in the coming weeks.

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