71 posts categorized "Peter Kaufman"

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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August 03, 2015

The School-to-Prison Pipeline

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

When I first heard of the school-to-prison pipeline I thought that it was some sort of exaggeration. How could it be possible, I wondered, for schools to be a direct path to prison? It doesn’t make any sense that primary and secondary schools are serving as the conduits that fill the cells of penal institutions. Unfortunately, this pipeline not only exists and it is not just a mere trickle; it is a strong flowing and steady stream. Every year, thousands of young people experience a direct path from school to juvenile detention centers and then ultimately to prison.

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June 26, 2015

Religion, Climate Change, and Poverty

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

There is a new sociologist on the block: he does not have a Ph.D., does not teach at a university, and as far as I know, may have never even taken a sociology course. In fact, he attended a technical secondary school where he graduated with a chemical technician’s diploma and worked for a time in a chemistry lab (as well as working temporarily as a bouncer). Who is this new sociologist?  He’s an Argentinian named Jorge Mario Bergogli or, as he is commonly referred to, Pope Francis.

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June 16, 2015

Police Killings by the Numbers

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

If there has been one dominant, sociologically-relevant story in the news lately, it has arguably been the treatment of African Americans by the police. From Michael Brown in Missouri to Eric Garner in Staten Island to the McKinney, Texas, swimming pool incident, there is a heightened awareness, an ongoing conversation, and a growing sentiment of anger about how race influences policing.

As increasing attention has been devoted to this social problem, and more questions have been raised about it, there have been calls for greater accountability from law enforcement. In particular, many people want to know how many citizens are killed each year by police officers. Unfortunately, because the United States government does not keep a systematic record of these deaths, this data has been either unavailable or unreliable. That is, until now.

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May 27, 2015

You’ve Graduated! Now What?

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

In the beginning of the spring semester, I asked students in my senior seminar class to write down one word that describes how they are feeling about graduating and then to share those words with the class. Although some students displayed words that I was expecting such as “excited,” “ready,” “pride,” and “relief,” many students were not so giddy about graduating. These students held up signs that read “conflicted,” “nervous,” “confused,” “indecisive,” and one of my favorites, “screaming internally.”

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April 28, 2015

Extreme Inequality: Workers vs.CEOs

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman  

Imagine you work full-time as a customer service representative at a call center for one of the giant telecommunication companies. Your job is to help customers deal with a whole array of problems they may have with their wireless devices from poor reception to billing miscalculations to hardware malfunctions. At times, you must talk with irate and agitated callers but you must deal with these customers quickly and expediently or else your job performance will suffer and you may miss out on the potential for year-end bonuses.  You have been working for this company for nearly two years and you make just under $25,000 per year.

 Given the work you do for the company and the salary you earn, how do you think your income should compare to the CEO of this company? Would it be fair that the CEO makes 10 times more than you? 50 times more? 100 times more? 500 times more?  How about 1000 times more than what you earn? This would actually be the reality for you if you worked for T-Mobile. In 2013, the CEO of T-Mobile, John J. Legere, made over 29 million dollars in total compensation—an amount that is greater than 1,100 times what you earned.

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April 13, 2015

Seeing Others as Us

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

In 2012, there were over 1,000 documented hate groups in the United States. A hate group is pretty much what it sounds like: a collection of individuals who come together based on their shared animosity toward others. Whether they focus on race, religion, sexual orientation, or nationality, these organizations mobilize around a clearly defined difference that they perceive to have with other people. Groups such as the Ku Klux Klan, Aryan Brotherhood, Westboro Baptist Church, and the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement, use these differences not only as a basis of their hatred, but also to justify acts of hostility, aggression, and violence against those they deem to be “outsiders.”

Although most of us would acknowledge that the attitudes and actions of these hate groups are extreme, few of us are immune to engaging in similar but less severe forms of selective separation.  An example that many young people can relate to is the scene in the movie Mean Girls when Cady (Lindsay Lohan) is introduced to the seating arrangement of the various “tribes” in the high school lunch room.  Cady quickly learns that everyone sits with people who are deemed to be just like them: preps, nerds, Asians, Blacks, wannabees, burnouts, band geeks, etc.

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March 19, 2015

Why is the World so Screwed Up?

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

The title of this post may seem like a rhetorical question but I am actually quite earnest in asking it. Each day, we hear about countless instances of greed, hatred, violence, and destruction, and all of the pain, suffering, and sorrow that ensues. Although the ubiquity of these problems makes them seem so normal and ordinary that we may not even question them, I don’t think it’s possible to be a sociologist without wondering why these horrible social ills exist.  

The list of “screwed up” things is a bit overwhelming to comprehend because there are so many problems affecting so many different people, places, and things. As sociologists, we often look to patterns and trends as a way to analyze and understand what exactly is going on in the world. But with this seemingly never-ending list of atrocities, it may seem fruitless to try to identify a single contributing factor to all of society’s collective dilemmas. 

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February 18, 2015

Globalization: Is the World Getting Smaller or Larger?

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

When I first started teaching, there was one phrase I told myself I would never use in class: “When I was your age . . .” As I am now undeniably in the category of “middle age,” and having been teaching in college classrooms for nearly 20 years, I must come clean and admit that I find myself using that phrase more often than I’d like. My only defense, and I realize it’s somewhat lame, is that things are changing so quickly. Life really was very different when I was in college and sometimes I just can’t help but marvel at these changes aloud.

The transformations that I find most fascinating and sometimes mind-boggling revolve around globalization and technology—two things that seem to go hand-in-hand. Although there is no singularly agreed upon definition, globalization is often understood as the process through which products, people, ideas, culture, and capital, are transferred around the world creating a system of global integration. Whereas in the past some nations or societies could stand alone and be self-sufficient, today all nations and almost all people are part of an interdependent global order.    

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