63 posts categorized "Peter Kaufman"

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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January 23, 2015

Punk Rock Professors

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

It’s been said that “music soothes the savage beast.” Although that may be true, I think music can also have the opposite effect: it can turn the calm individual into a maelstrom of frenetic energy (think Animal from the Muppets). That’s certainly been my recent experience with music.

Questionable authorities

For over 10 years, I’ve been part of a punk rock cover band called Questionable Authorities. There are five of us in the band: a biologist, a psychologist, and three sociologists. We are all tenured, well-respected professors at SUNY New Paltz who do typical professor things such as teach and mentor students, write academic books and articles, and chair departments and campus committees. But we also play punk rock music together. We even have an official band video of our punk version of the SUNY New Paltz alma matter (set to the music of The Dead Kennedy’s Holiday in Cambodia). We are still waiting for this video to go viral (or at least get more than 200 views—hint, hint).

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January 13, 2015

The Birth Lottery and Global Inequality

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

When you think of inequality what comes to mind? As sociologists, many of us are trained to immediately point to the “holy trinity” of sociological analysis: race, gender, and class. We may think of the achievement gap in education, the gender pay gap, the extreme disparity between CEO pay and average worker pay, or toxic or environmental injustice as some of the typical manifestations of inequality. There is no denying the importance of race, class, and gender to any discussion of social stratification. However, there is another dimension of inequality that is arguably more pernicious than the holy trinity but is not spoken about nearly as much: the country in which you were born.

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December 30, 2014

Kung Fu Sociology

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

With a title like Kung Fu Sociology you are probably wondering what this post is about. Here are some possibilities to consider:

  1. The contributions of sociologists from Asia and the Far East
  2. An analysis of the sociological dimensions of martial arts training
  3. A sociological review of the Kung Fu Panda movies
  4. A reflection of a quote from a recently deceased French sociologist

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December 03, 2014

The Social Nature of Personal Choices

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

Did you know that you could do more to reverse climate change by becoming a vegetarian than by driving a hybrid car such as a Prius? Apparently, it’s true. According to researchers at the University of Chicago, the amount of fossil fuels it takes to produce a meat-based diet is so great that if you want to reduce your carbon footprint you are better off cutting livestock out of your diet than by driving a fuel-efficient automobile. Other researchers have come to similar conclusions, finding that “plant-based diets in comparison to diets rich in animal products are more sustainable because they use many fewer natural resources and are less taxing on the environment.”

I imagine that this news may be hard for many of us to swallow—especially during this stretch of meaty holiday meals full of turkey, ham, pork, sausage, and steak. Let’s face it: eating meat (and driving gas guzzling cars, for that matter) is a favorite pastime in the United States. And as much as we love consuming meat, we hate having people tell us that we shouldn’t be eating it.

But what does eating tofu instead of turkey have to do with sociology? Many of us think that our lifestyle behaviors such as being a vegetarian or a carnivore are personal choices. In reality, all of our behaviors and habits are socially conditioned. Whether it’s the car you drive (a Hummer or a Prius), the type of exercise you do (walking to the mailbox or running a marathon), the foods you eat (meat based or plant based) or the habits you engage in (smoking, drinking, doing drugs, etc.), the things we “choose to do” are largely products of the social environments in which we find ourselves.

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November 07, 2014

A Socioanalysis of President Barack Obama

Peter_kaufmanBy Peter Kaufman

I am writing this post on the eve of the 2014 midterm elections, so I don’t know who the winners and losers will be. However, I do know one thing for sure: President Obama is not held in high regard these days. Obama’s approval rating is hovering around 42%, lower than the average approval ratings of the ten presidents that preceded him. For what it’s worth, Obama’s rating is actually significantly higher than the approval rating of Congress—the group of politicians whose partisan obstructionism and dogmatism are arguably responsible for much of Obama’s legislative troubles.  Embarrassingly, the approval rating of Congress is barely above 10%.

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October 14, 2014

Understanding Violence Sociologically

Peter_kaufmanBy Peter Kaufman

Violence is ubiquitous. We see it in television shows, movies, video games, and advertisements; we read about it in news articles, magazines, and books; we speak about it—both literally when we recount what’s happening in the world, but more often figuratively with an array of violent phrases that pervade our everyday speech;  we fear it with our security systems, gun purchases, and police forces; and we experience it, directly or indirectly, in our homes, schools, communities, workplaces, playing fields, and battlefields.

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September 25, 2014

Living with Strangers

Peter_kaufmanBy Peter Kaufman

 “You cannot know that you have a particular view of the world until you come in contact with differing views” (Inge Bell and Bernard McGrane, This Book is Not Required)

 For two weeks in July I was living with a family of complete strangers. They spoke a language I barely understood, lived in a town I had never heard of that was nearly 2,500 miles away from my home, and they had cultural norms and practices that were quite different from my own.  I was in Costa Rica for one month studying Spanish and as a way to augment my learning—both in terms of the language and the culture—I opted to do a homestay for part of my time there.

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September 18, 2014

A Sociological Guide for Succeeding in College

Peter_kaufmanBy Peter Kaufman

This fall, over twenty million students are enrolled in colleges and universities across the United States. Although many of these students will not major in sociology or even take a sociology course, they can still use some sociological insights to help them have an enriching college experience. Much like a post I wrote a few months ago about how sociological theory can help students after they graduate, this current post offers four sociologically-inspired maxims for successfully navigating the college terrain.

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