79 posts categorized "Peter Kaufman"

February 10, 2016

Love is Sociological

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman    

When I was a kid, my parents had a book that I used to flip through called Love Is Walking Hand in Hand. The book was written by Peanuts illustrator Charles Schulz, and each page had a picture of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Lucy, and the gang explaining what love is: Love is hating to say good-bye; Love is walking in the rain together; Love is letting him win even though you know you could slaughter him; Love is the whole world (this was written in the 60s, after all!). Although it's been quite a few years since I've looked at this little book, I'm pretty sure there is no page that said: Love is sociological.

To say that love is sociological may sound strange and even somewhat sacrilegious. Most of us think of love as something that we feel naturally. It's a spiritual, even cosmic, connection that brings forth an array of reactions such as butterflies in our stomachs, sweaty palms, weak knees, or just warmth and happiness. What could possibly be sociological about these physiological responses and heartfelt emotions?

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January 29, 2016

Why Some Students Refuse to Learn

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

As a college professor, I often try to figure out the best way to help students learn. I solicit feedback from students and colleagues, I read journals and books on the scholarship of teaching and learning, I try out new exercises and assignments, and I reflect regularly on what strategies seem to be succeeding and failing in the classroom. I do this to try to find that elusive and magical formula that will automatically result in good teaching and learning. Although I know that this formula does not exist, I still stubbornly search for it and this ongoing pursuit is what helps me grow as an educator.

Recently, as I was thinking about ways to improve student learning I was reminded of one of my favorite essays on teaching and learning that is actually about not-learning. I am referring to Herbert Kohl's classic essay, "I Won't Learn from You." In this piece, written over 20 years ago, Kohl considers what it means for students to purposely not learn. He points out that some students actively engage in not-learning as a way to maintain control in a seemingly hostile world.

Continue reading "Why Some Students Refuse to Learn" »

January 15, 2016

Gay Marriage, Gun Control and Social Change

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

Back in 2004, I was teaching an Introduction to Sociology class when I heard that the mayor of New Paltz was planning to perform same-sex marriages. At the time, the momentum in support of gay marriage had been building nationally and although New Paltz is a relatively small village (population 7,000), I knew the actions of the mayor would reverberate well beyond the town line.

Sensing the potential significance, I took a short walk to village hall to witness this event. I also encouraged the students in the Introduction to Sociology class to join me. I remember trying to convey to the class the historical meaning of the mayor's actions by saying, "30-40 years from now, when gay marriage is legal in the United States, you can tell your grandkids that you witnessed some of the first same-sex wedding ceremonies in the nation. " Little did I know that I would be offering such a pessimistic prediction. It didn't take 30-40 years for gay marriage to become legal; instead, it took only about 10 years. Most of the students in that class probably don't even have kids yet, much less grand kids.

Continue reading "Gay Marriage, Gun Control and Social Change" »

December 15, 2015

Slacktivists, Hacktivists, and the New Faceless Agents of Social Change

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

When you think of social change activists what comes to mind? Do you think of a person with a megaphone shouting slogans to a group of supporters who are holding signs of protest, or do you think of a person lounging in bed with their tablet or smartphone? Most of us probably think of the first scenario, and we probably imagine this scene taking place in a public location such as a park, outside a government building, or on a city street. Some of the classic images we have of activists include the 1963 March on Washington, the Occupy Movements, and the Arab Spring.

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November 26, 2015

The Sociology of Everything

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you know that in the eight years  Everyday Sociology has analyzed a wide range of topics using a sociological perspective. From bumper stickers to babies, marriage to McDonald's, vacations to vaccines, drugs to diapers, and traveling to Twitter, it may seem as if everything relates to sociology.

You don’t even have to read this blog to get a sense of the scope of the discipline. Just look at the course offerings in the sociology department at your local college and you’ll see what I mean. You can take classes on a wide array of themes such as Sociology of Religion, Medical Sociology, Sociology of Violence, Environmental Sociology, Political Sociology, Sociology of Aging, Sociology of Sport, Sociology of Film, Sociology of Death and Dying, Sociology of Sex and Sexualities, and the Sociology of Organized Crime. These are just some of the classes available in my medium-sized department. If we surveyed sociology departments around the world then the list of would be infinitely longer.

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November 09, 2015

University of Missouri and the Power of Student Protests

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

 Alone, you can fight,

you can refuse,

 you can take what revenge you can

but they roll over you.

These words come from Marge Piercy’s poem, "The Low Road." It is one of my favorite sociological poems about the potential power that is unleashed when people join together and fight for social change. I probably mention this poem at least once a semester in one or more of my classes and I will certainly be invoking it again as I discuss the recent events at the University of Missouri.

Black students at the University of Missouri have been protesting for months about ongoing racist incidents on campus. They are particularly frustrated by what they perceive to be the failure of the university’s administration, and particularly President Tim Wolfe, to adequately address these events. Using the hashtag #ConcernedStudent1950, in reference to the year that black students where finally admitted into the University of Missouri, the protesters were calling for the resignation or removal of President Wolfe.

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October 05, 2015

The Country with the Most Gender Equality in the World

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

I recently visited the most gender equal country in the world. Can you guess what it is? It is known as the land of fire and ice, its economy relies heavily on fish and tourism, and its name is a bit deceiving. The answer is Iceland.

Like most visitors to this country that sits between the North Atlantic and Arctic Oceans, I was not visiting Iceland to get a sociological lesson in gender equality. Instead, I was there to experience the awe-inspiring natural beauty that seems to be right in front of you no matter where you turn. With an abundance of volcanoes, lava fields, glaciers, fjords, waterfalls, beaches, and valleys, Iceland is a nature-lover’s dream.  

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September 22, 2015

Because I’m a Sociologist....

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

What happens to you when you study sociology? Do you see the world differently? Do you find yourself  analyzing and interpreting things that you previously took for granted? Do you say things that might have surprised your pre-sociological self? Do people respond to you, or even question you, in ways that they never used to before?  Do you wonder how you could have made it to this point without sociology in your life?

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August 28, 2015

The Horror of Race in the United States

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

I’m not a big fan of horror stories. I’ve never read Dracula, Frankenstein or even a Stephen King novel, and I don’t regularly watch movies full of chainsaws, ghostly figures, or creepy twins. But recently, I read a sociological horror story that I couldn’t put down. I was engrossed with it. It was beautifully written, painstakingly told, and depressingly disturbing.  Although it did offer details of death and destruction, these were not the scariest passages. What made this story so frightening and unsettling was the plain, unadulterated sociological truth it told.

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August 13, 2015

The Ethics of Ethnography

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

When I was an undergrad, I was a political science major. I did not discover sociology until my junior year when I took a course titled Institutions and Inequalities. It was after taking this course that I knew that I was more interested in studying people than politics. What interested me most in this class were the books we were assigned. I still remember the intellectual excitement I felt when I read three classic accounts of how schools function to reproduce social-class inequality: Learning to Labor by Paul Willis, Ain’t No Makin’ It by Jay McLeod, and Learning Capitalist Culture by Douglas Foley.

Besides the similar topic, what these three books have in common is that they are all ethnographies.  An ethnography is a form of research that entails studying people and their culture by directly observing and often interacting with them (participant observation) while they go about their everyday lives. Ethnographies provide rich descriptions of the lives people live because the researcher is witnessing and usually participating in exactly what is happening. Ethnography is one of the main forms of social research employed by qualitative sociologists.

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