53 posts categorized "Peter Kaufman"

August 25, 2014

Michael Brown, Ferguson, Missouri, and the Invisibility of Race

Peter_kaufmanBy Peter Kaufman

Fans of the Colbert Report are familiar with Stephen Colbert’s long-running routine about not seeing race (here is one of many examples during his interview with Michelle Alexander).  Pretending to be a conservative talk-show host, Colbert often pretends that he does not see race and that we live in a society where skin color is no longer important. He is especially fond of emphasizing this last point given that we have a Black president in the White House.

Although Colbert is playing this role to get laughs from his audience, the sad irony is that the majority of conservatives and a fair number of whites actually subscribe to this point of view.  The idea that race is no longer important in the United States becomes particularly evident when there are confrontations between Black citizens and white police officers. The fatal shooting of Michael Brown, the unarmed Black man who was killed in Ferguson, Missouri, on August 9, offers a prime example.

Continue reading "Michael Brown, Ferguson, Missouri, and the Invisibility of Race" »

July 23, 2014

Obedience, Authority, and Domination

Peter_kaufmanBy Peter Kaufman

“Because I said so!”

I’m sure that many of us have either uttered these words or have heard them spoken to us. We hear this phrase expressed in a host of relationships: parent-child, teacher-student, supervisor-employee, and police officer-citizen. Saying this to someone is generally used to get them to obey your authority and do what you are telling them to do with as little resistance as possible.

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July 03, 2014

Red Card! The Exclusion of Sports in Sociology

Peter_kaufman Richard Bente photoBy Peter Kaufman and Richard Bente          

Do you have World Cup fever? We do! With one thrilling game after another, and with enough drama and agony for a Shakespearean play, this quadrennial sporting event has once again reached a fevered pitch (pun intended). As the single biggest sporting event in the world, with people from all corners of the globe following it, the World Cup is unparalleled in its scope, influence, and reach. Unfortunately, there is one location where the World Cup has yet to be discovered: introductory sociology textbooks.

Continue reading "Red Card! The Exclusion of Sports in Sociology" »

June 24, 2014

Who is Reading This?

Peter_kaufmanBy Peter Kaufman

This is my fiftieth post for the Everyday Sociology Blog. When I first started writing for this site, one of my first blogs raised the question “Who’s Got Time for This?” In that post, I was wondering if I’d have time to be a regular contributor to the site. I guess after three years of writing for Everyday Sociology I answered my own question. However, another question I raised in that earlier post was: “who has time to read blogs?” That question still perplexes me.

I did some research to find out how many blogs exist on the Internet and it’s seemingly impossible to find an exact number.  Estimates vary from 152 million to 181 million to well over 225 million. Suffice it to say there are a lot of blogs out there with new ones popping up every second of the day. The recommended length of blogs varies too, from 500 words to 1000 words (the typical length of my posts) to well over 2000 words.

Let’s assume the typical blog post is 1,000 words, and that there are roughly 180 million blogs out there. If each of these sites contained just one 1,000 word blog each month, that amounts to two trillion one hundred sixty billion words a year! Given that the world’s population is 7 billion, that works out to over 300,000 words per person per year. 

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June 06, 2014

Sociological Advice for Graduates

Peter_kaufmanBy Peter Kaufman

"Social theory is a basic survival skill.”

This quote comes from the first sentence of Charles Lemert’s book, Social Theory: The Multicultural, Global, and Classic Readings. My guess is that in the thousands of commencement speeches that are given at this time of year, few, if any, invoke sociological theory as a guiding light for recent grads. Nevertheless, Lemert is correct: sociological theory does provide sound advice for those about to embark on the next chapter of their lives. Here, then, are four sociologically-inspired guiding principles to pass along to your favorite graduates:

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May 30, 2014

Clap along Sociologists, Get Happy!

Peter_kaufmanBy Peter Kaufman

I feel like I’ve been hearing a lot about happiness lately. I’m not just talking about listening to the worldwide hit “Happy” by Pharrell Williams—which I hear playing somewhere at least once a week. What I’m alluding to are the books, articles, and commentaries on how we can be happier in our daily lives. It seems as if every year another book comes out and every week an article circulates around social media advising us on what we can do to achieve a higher state of contentment.

What I find particularly intriguing about much of the work that is being done on happiness is that most of it is not carried out by sociologists. Instead, happiness studies are dominated by journalists, psychologists, and economists. Consider, for example, some of the best-selling books of the past few years.  Stumbling on Happiness was written by Daniel Gilbert, a professor of psychology, whereas The Geography of Bliss and The Happiness Project were both written by journalists (Eric Weiner and Gretchen Rubin, respectively).  

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April 28, 2014

Are College Athletes the New Proletariat?

Peter_kaufmanBy Peter Kaufman

 A spectre is haunting [college sports]—the spectre of Unionization. All the powers of [college sports] have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: [Chancellors and College Presidents, NCAA and Corporate Sponsors, Governors and State Legislatures].

On March 26, 2014, Peter Ohr, a regional director of the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruled that scholarship football players at Northwestern University should  be considered employees of the college. Ohr’s ruling was based on the fact that players devote up to 50 hours a week on team-related activities (which, he noted, is “more hours than many undisputed full-time employees work at their jobs [and] it is also many more hours than the players spend on their studies”), that coaches have tremendous control over these athletes, and that the university makes a huge profit ($235 million between 2003—2009) from the hard work of the players. As a result of this ruling, football players at Northwestern University voted on April 25, 2014 to decide whether to unionize. Although the results of the vote will not be known for months, the effects have already been felt in the world of college sports. 

In The Communist Manifesto (the first sentence of which I paraphrased at the beginning of this post), Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels made the famous distinction between the bourgeois and the proletariats. In very simple terms, the bourgeois are the owners, the ones who run the business. The proletariats are the workers, the ones who make the products that bring profits to the bourgeois.

Ohr’s ruling makes a strong case that college football players at Division I schools such as Northwestern are part of the proletariat. Through the work that these athletes produce, the top Division I universities make an enormous profit from ticket revenues, television contracts, merchandise sales, and other licensing agreements. Even the major governing body of college sports, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), profits handsomely from these players with its yearly revenues approaching $1 billion.

Despite erroneous media reports to the contrary, the players are not even asking to be paid like salaried employees. According to Ramogi Huma, a former UCLA football player who is the head of the College Athletes Players Association (CAPA),the organization that submitted the petition to the NLRB on behalf of the Northwestern players, the college athletes are asking for the opportunity to engage in collective bargaining so that they can advocate for the following reforms and safeguards:

  • Guaranteed coverage for sports-related medical expenses for current and former players.
  • Minimizing the risk of sports-related traumatic brain injury.  Reduce contact in practices like the NFL and Pop Warner have done, place independent concussion experts on the sidelines, and establish uniform return-to-play protocols.
  • Improving graduation rates.  Establish an educational trust fund to help former players complete their degree and reward those who graduate on time.
  • Consistent with evolving NCAA regulations or future legal mandates, increasing athletic scholarships and allowing players to receive compensation for commercial sponsorships.
  • Securing due process rights.  Players should not be punished simply because they are accused of a rule violation, and any punishments levied should be consistent across campuses.

Peter Ohr’s ruling has garnered a whole array of responses. It’s been called well-reasoned and significant, unexpected and momentous, stunning and revolutionary, and landmark and historic. Not surprisingly, it has also resulted in both cheers and jeers. Some haill it as “major victory for the college athlete labor movement” and others claim it to be “a disaster for universities, for college sports fans and, most important, for student athletes themselves.”

Those who are most vehemently opposed to this ruling are the NCAA and Northwestern University. Mark Emmert, president of the NCAAA, has been on a campaign portending doom and gloom should this ruling stand and the players decide to unionize. Similarly, the Northwestern University football coach, Pat Fitzgerald, has urged his players to vote no. These sentiments are to be expected from the gatekeepers of the NCAA. Despite having a surplus for each of the past three years in excess of $60 million, as well as net assets of more than $627 million (nearly double that amount from 2007), this ruling as well as a number of other legal threats, has the NCAA worried about its free-flowing profits.

If Marx and Engels were alive today, they would not be surprised that Emmert and company defend the profit-making machine of the NCAA. After all, in The Communist Manifesto they critique the bourgeois for defending the status quo and working to protect the interests of the capitalist class. The bourgeois would never willingly give up its power or profits; however, as Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward demonstrated in Regulating the Poor, those in power may offer the impoverished some relief as way to avert unrest and dissent. I doubt that Mark Emmert has read this classic sociological book, but it makes me wonder given the NCAA’s recent proposal to allow schools to give their athletes unlimited food and snacks.

The case of college athletes unionizing is not only an issue of worker’s rights. This case has the potential to expose many other underlying and inexcusable problems with college sports such as the graduation gap between black and white athletes, the ongoing gender inequality in college sports, the skyrocketing salaries of coaches (many of whom are the highest paid public employees in their state), as well as a host of other “shameful” issues.

This dismal state of affairs calls out for action by college athletes so let me again turn to The Communist Manifesto (this time the very last paragraph of the text) for inspiration:

The [College Athletes] disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forceful eradication of these deplorable conditions. Let the [NCAA and Universities] tremble at a [College Athletes] Revolution. The [College Athletes] have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.

[COLLEGE ATHLETES OF ALL COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES], UNITE!

 

April 01, 2014

Jewish? Buddhist? Atheist? All of the Above!

Peter_kaufmanBy Peter Kaufman

I was asked recently by a colleague what religion I follow, and I was not quite sure how to answer. I was raised in a secular Jewish household, and I never considered myself religious in the traditional sense of the word. Unlike my Jewish peers, my family did not belong to a temple or synagogue, I did not attend Hebrew school, and I did not have a bar mitzvah or learn to read from the Torah. Instead, I attended a small humanistic Sunday school that was run as a cooperative, I learned Yiddish and sang folk songs, and I had a modest graduation ceremony where I had to read an essay I wrote on a notable Jewish figure.  

In my late twenties, I became interested in the teachings of Buddhism. I took classes at Buddhist meditation centers, I read books and magazines about Buddhist texts and philosophies, and I started practicing meditation. Although I never took a formal Bodhisattva vow like some of my Buddhist friends, I still try to live my life around many of the central tenets of Buddhism, particularly Mahayana Buddhism.

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March 10, 2014

Peace and Friendship in Crimea

Peter_kaufmanBy Peter Kaufman

If you have been following the news you have probably heard a lot about Crimea. I’m guessing that many Americans had (or maybe still have) no idea where Crimea is or why we should care about it.

This has not been the case for me. Whenever I think of Crimea I always think of peace and friendship. Such a sentiment may seem rather odd given the current geo-political strife that is confronting that region of the world. With Vladimir Putin flexing his military muscles and President Obama spewing threatening cease and desist warnings, peace and friendship are not the keywords that one currently associates with Crimea.

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February 17, 2014

Sociology and Mindfulness Meditation

Peter_kaufmanBy Peter Kaufman

Clear your desk of your books and water bottles. Sit in a comfortable, but upright position. Bring your attention to your breathing. Notice your stomach expanding on your in-breath and contracting on your out-breath. At the sound of the chime, try to stay focused on your breathing for 10 breaths, with each inhalation and exhalation counting as one breath. If your mind starts to wander, try to note when this happens and then gently bring your attention back to your breathing until you hear the chime. 

These instructions describe a short exercise I do in some of my classes when I introduce students to mindfulness meditation.  Mindfulness meditation is the practice of being fully present in the moment. By sitting still and just following our breath, mindfulness meditation helps cultivate awareness, attentiveness, and calmness. The roots of mindfulness meditation are generally associated with Buddhism but it is often presented in a secular fashion in the West.

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