76 posts categorized "Immigration, Population, Aging, and Demography"

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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September 10, 2018

Being a Temporary Foreigner

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

As C. Wright Mills noted in The Sociological Imagination, one of our tasks as sociologists is to “make the familiar strange.” Traveling to a foreign country—especially one where you barely speak the language—is a great way to undertake Mills’s advice.

Travel highlights how many little things we take for granted while interacting with others. The most obvious barrier is speaking the same language. While we English speakers of the world are uniquely privileged because so many people speak our language, or at least some of our language, not everyone does.

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July 30, 2018

Aging and Identity

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

One of my elderly neighbors, who I will call John, has a degenerative neurological disorder. It has dramatically affected his speech and his ability to walk. His wife confided in me that he really doesn’t like to see people who knew him “before”—and as residents in their home for 45 years, that means many people in our community haven’t been able to see much of John.

Not only has John been struggling with the effects of this disease, but he has been struggling with his sense of self. It is clear from his wife’s observations that he does not want his current condition to change the way people think of him. John’s wife regularly recounts that he was an avid hiker and loved to ride his bike and go camping before this illness, helping to shape others’ perceptions of John. This, unfortunately, has contributed to his sense of isolation.

As George Herbert Mead teaches us, the way we view our identity and ourselves is rooted in the social context. This means that our sense of self is something we negotiate with how we think others perceive us. It doesn’t mean we simply adopt the sense of identity that others may project onto us. Instead, we might take these perceptions into account, even if that means constructing an identity in opposition to how we think others might see us.

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July 02, 2018

Micro Meets Macro: Gender Selection and Population Problems

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

When we think about our family decisions, such as whether to have children, this may seem to be based solely on individual preferences. After all, child rearing and family planning are very personal.

But our decisions take place within both structural and cultural conditions that are not just individual. For instance, if you live in an agrarian-based society, where many hands are needed in fields and farms, you might have more children than in a highly industrialized society that rewards high levels of education.

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May 10, 2018

Social Change and Your Next Step

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Graduation is always an exciting time for students and their families. It can also be a stressful time, as graduates sometimes struggle to figure out what's next. Commencement speeches provide soaring rhetoric about “following your dreams” and how you are the leaders of the future.

As a young graduate, I found these kinds of speeches to be pretty pointless (and sometimes boring). For someone trying to figure out “what they want to be when they grow up,” these motivational speeches—and often graduation gifts in the form of motivational books for the graduate—offer little useful advice.

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April 12, 2018

The Return of Multigenerational Households

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

It may seem like the natural order of things for parents and children to live in the same home until the children are off to college or can afford their own apartment. But the so-called “nuclear” family living separately from other family members is mostly a mid-twentieth century development, and one that is declining.

As a Pew Research Center report recently detailed, multigenerational households are becoming more common. In 2016, more than 60 million people, or nearly one in five Americans lived in a household with two or more generations of adults.

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August 07, 2017

Birth Rates: Who Will Replace Us?

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

According to provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the birth rate in the United States fell to an all-time low in 2016.

Births to teens also fell to an all-time low, down from 41.5 births per thousand in 2007 to 20.3 in 2016, a 51% decline. Birth rates also fell, albeit more modestly, for women in their 20s. By contrast, births to women in their 30s and 40s grew modestly. However, the birthrate for women 40-44 was 11.3 per thousand, and for women 45-49 it was .9, lower than any age group except 10-14-year-olds. Women 25-34 had the highest birthrates, at about 100 births per thousand.

What does this mean for our population overall?

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June 26, 2017

Children and Global Gentrification

TigonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

I recently gave a talk to the newly formed chapter of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Campus Initiative at Knox College. Founded by the United Nations in 1946 to provide aid to Children affected by World War II, UNICEF works in countries across the globe to improve the lives of children through research, health care, access to clean water and sanitation, and emergency relief, to name a few.

Their campus initiatives encourage college students to promote the mission of UNICEF, engage in fundraising, and organize educational panels. Like many clubs and organizations on college campuses, and especially at Knox, there is a component of philanthropy, volunteerism, and community engagement that underlines the work students do with UNICEF. At the same time there is a training component, where students learn how to become civically engaged in projects that they are passionate about.

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June 01, 2017

The Social Geography of Health

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Where we live matters, but not just for the reasons we might think. While we might associate the weather or terrain with a particular region or location, it's also important to consider the social forces that help explain how where we live shapes our health and even our life expectancy.

A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association details how life expectancies vary dramatically by county in the United States. For instance, if you are fortunate enough to live in Marin County, California, or Summit County, Colorado, your average life expectancy is about 87. But if you live in Oglala Lakota County, South Dakota, or in some parts of West Virginia and Kentucky, your life expectancy could be a full two decades shorter.

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April 24, 2017

Latin History for Morons: Ethnic Studies, Student Achievement, and Eurocentrism

TigonzalesBy Teresa Irene Gonzales

During spring break, my husband and I went to see John Leguizamo’s latest one-man show “Latin History for Morons” at the Public Theater in New York City. Performing as a slightly disheveled, professorial version of himself, Leguizamo tells the story of his efforts to educate his young son on the importance, contributions, and legacies of Latin@s/x, only to find that his own knowledge is lacking. He attributes his limited knowledge to a Eurocentric education and cultural industry that consistently glorifies whiteness and Euro-American history. This perception that Europe and Anglo histories and cultures are superior to others is a form of ethnocentrism. If we only view the world and others around us through our own cultural lens, then we miss the complexities, contributions, beauty, and struggles of groups that are all around us.

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