105 posts categorized "Peter Kaufman"

September 14, 2018

A Sociology of My Death

Unknown-2By Peter Kaufman

I’m dying. I don’t mean this figuratively—like I’m dying of thirst or dying to visit Hawaii. I mean it quite literally. I have incurable, stage IV lung cancer.

I was diagnosed in June 2017, a few months after my fiftieth birthday. My only symptom was a nagging, dry cough, but by the time the disease was detected the cancer had metastasized throughout my body. Since then I have had numerous treatments and interventions. Some of these worked quite well, allowing me to resume most of my normal activities; others were not as effective, resulting in adverse side effects, extreme discomfort, and, in one instance, a week-long stay in the hospital. My current treatment plan showed great initial promise but now, after just a few weeks, the tumors started growing again.      

For me to have lung cancer—indeed any form of cancer—is the epitome of a tragic irony. I have never smoked or tried illegal drugs, and I’ve never even been drunk. I’ve pursued clean living, good nutrition, and regular exercise in part to avoid the sort of medical misfortune that I am now experiencing. As a kid I played sports all day long. At sixteen I swore off junk food. At eighteen I became a vegetarian. In my twenties I ran marathons and did triathlons, and, in my thirties and forties when my aching knees no longer let me run, I swam or biked most days. About six months before my diagnosis I completed a one-day workout that simulated two-thirds of an Ironman triathlon, swimming 2.4 miles, then biking 120 miles (with 5,000 feet of climbing). A few weeks later I recorded my fastest one-mile swim time ever. I was incredibly healthy . . . until I wasn’t.

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August 08, 2018

Murals and Street Art of Philadelphia

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

From August 11-14, over 5,000 sociologists will convene in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for the 113th annual meeting of the American Sociological Association. Many of the nearly 3,000 research papers, posters, and talks that will be presented at the conference will revolve around the theme of this year’s meeting: “Feeling Race: An Invitation to Explore Racialized Emotions.” But most other presentations will cover an incredibly wide range of topics that fit under the huge umbrella of the “scientific study of society.”

For those attending the conference one thing they are sure to see as they walk from their hotels to the Philadelphia Convention Center is the abundance of street art and murals that pepper the city’s landscape. Philadelphia is known for many things—the Liberty Bell and the Declaration of Independence, the Rocky statue at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philly cheese steak—but certainly among the most famous aspects of the City of Brotherly Love are the 3,600 murals that decorate the exteriors of thousands of buildings.

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May 21, 2018

Small Worlds, Degrees of Separation, and Social Network Analysis

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

A few weeks ago, I noticed a student in one of my classes was wearing a shirt from a business in the town where I went to high school. I told him that I went to school there and he said that his father did too. I asked him how old his father is and when I found out we are the same age I suddenly remembered his father. It turns out we were classmates.

On the one hand, it’s not too surprising that I have this connection with my former classmate. After all, I teach at a State University of New York (SUNY) college where many of the students who attend happen to come from the area (Long Island) where I grew up. But on the other hand, SUNY is the largest system of higher education in the United States, New York is one of the most populous states, and Long Island has over 7 million people. In addition, my high school was relatively small. Given all of this, the odds of me having the child of a former classmate seem pretty remote.

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May 07, 2018

The Most Important Sociological Lessons

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

As a reader of this blog you must have some idea about the major themes that sociologists study. You also know that sociologists write about a lot of topics. If you were asked to identify the most important lessons that one can learn from sociology what would they be? What themes, concepts, theories, perspectives, ways of thinking, or even skills do you think are the most significant?

I recently posed this question to a group of undergraduate sociology students in their final semester of college. I was curious to find out what these students deemed to be the most important lessons they learned from their many years of studying sociology. I engaged the students in a collective brainstorming and writing exercise to see if they could identify and then explain the five most essential principles of their sociology education.

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March 23, 2018

It’s About Power, Not Privilege

Peter kaufman 2014 Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman and Todd Schoepflin

If you can’t tell by our profile pictures, we are both white male sociologists. We are also upper middle class, able-bodied, and heterosexual. With the exception of one of us being Jewish and the other being short (5’ 4”), we have enjoyed many privileges and advantages throughout our lives.

For the past few months, we have been closely following the #MeToo movement. It is clear that what started as a simple social media hashtag has blossomed into a potential bellwether of the changing gender landscape. We both feel strongly that sociologists should be lending their analytical insights to help understand and advance the efforts for gender equality. But what is the role for sociologists like us who approach the world though multiple positions of power and privilege? Should we weigh in and risk sounding clueless or stay quiet so that we can listen and learn from others?

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February 19, 2018

What Would You Do?

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

Consider the following scenario: You are in a clothing store shopping for a new outfit. As you are browsing through the selections you notice that a black female customer is being targeted unfairly by a sales clerk. Instead of allowing this customer to shop freely as you are, the sales clerk is following her around, constantly asking her what she wants, making obnoxious comments to her, and eventually telling her that she should leave the store.

What would you do? Would you say something to the sales clerk or seek out a manager to complain? Would you say something to support the customer and voice your concern over the way she is being treated? Or would you continue on with your business and pretend to ignore the interaction you just witnessed?

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December 25, 2017

How Sociology Can Save the World

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

The title of this post comes from the name of a Lifelong Learning Institute class I taught recently. Lifelong Learning Institutes exit throughout the United States offering non-credit courses for adults 55 years and older. The class I volunteered to teach met once a week for four weeks. Here was the description of the course:

How Sociology Can Save the World: Let's face it: The world is pretty screwed up! The gap between the haves and the have-nots is skyrocketing, the earth is imperiled by human-caused climate change, and various acts of intolerance seem to be on the rise in many countries. Although there is no quick and easy remedy to all of the world's ills, we can take steps individually and collectively to get us back on track. In this class we will consider four sociological concepts that, if they were more widely understood and applied, could address many of the problems that threaten our collective existence. Each week, short readings that center around one of the four sociological concepts will be assigned.

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July 03, 2017

Sociological Superheroes

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman (illustrations by Terence Moronta)

The world needs some sociological superheroes. Don’t get me wrong. I have great appreciation and admiration for Batman, Wonder Woman, Superman, Spiderman, The Flash, The Hulk, and the rest of our favorite crime-fighting idols. With their awesome strength and special powers these comic book creations help keep our world safe from evil villains and wrongdoers.

But the problem with these traditional superheroes is that that they are only equipped to deal with problems after they occur. They always enter a scene to stop some wicked scoundrel from carrying out a nefarious plan. When they become aware of danger or sense that someone is up to no good, they quickly appear to thwart the dastardly plot and save the day.

What we really need are superheroes that have the power to stop evildoers from concocting these plans in the first place. Instead of tirelessly running around the globe trying to extinguish or contain so many fires, wouldn’t it be great if we had superheroes who had the power to prevent these villains from setting fires in the first place?

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June 12, 2017

This is Your Brain on Sociology

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

“My head hurts!”

I’m sure many students have uttered these words after sitting through a particularly dense or complex sociological lesson. I know I’ve felt this way during my own education and I have certainly heard students say it at the end of class. But do our heads literally hurt when we are studying difficult material? Or is this phrase just a figure of speech to convey how confusing the topic is we are trying to learn?

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May 15, 2017

You Can’t Be Neutral on a Moving Train

Peter kaufman 2014By Peter Kaufman

The social world is always changing. Norms, values, ideas, attitudes, beliefs, opinions—all of these things shift over time. Even what we know to be “true” is often re-evaluated and amended. For example, people used to think that women and people of color should not be allowed to vote in the United States because they didn’t have the cognitive capacity and were not seen as fully human. Fortunately, those notions are no longer deemed to be true.                  

Even though the impermanence of the social world seems like an obvious and easily understandable point, we don’t always embrace the idea that things are in a constant state of flux. Many of us resist change, especially when it might shake up our taken for granted reality. We would much rather cling to familiar ways of doing things and seek out stability, predictability, and permanence. But like it or not, the only thing that is really permanent is impermanence.

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