188 posts categorized "Social Institutions: Work, Education, and Medicine"

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 14, 2018

Careers and Side Hustles in Creative Work

Jonathan Wynn (1)By Jonathan Wynn

In an article titled “Institutional Office and the Person” one of the great mid-century sociologists, Everett C. Hughes, wrote that a career is “the moving perspective in which the person sees his life as a whole and interprets the meaning of his various attributes, actions, and things which happen to him” and that any self-appraisal was dependent on how that person moves through an organization, as a kind of sequence of roles. What if we don’t really work in institutions anymore?

Careers, particularly in the creative world, don’t match Hughes’ model. People are not moving through any one organization, or even any one career, but several and, at times, concurrently. When you graduate you might not have one career, but two or three. (It is likely, in fact, that the average graduate will have three or four career changes, and four job changes by age 32.) Millennial workers will likely have to work more than one job to make ends meet. You will, quite possibly, have to make ends meet with what are called “boundaryless” jobs and careers.

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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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April 30, 2018

Hobbies, Ghost Work, and Identity


Jonathan Wynn (1)By Jonathan Wynn

Work and occupations occupy a dominant position in our lives and, perhaps correspondingly, in our sociological scholarship. For good reason, of course. Work is a central component of our lives. Work fills our days (or nights) and pays the bills.

Work is also a resource for who we are, as what we do is often a central part of our identities. Although you may still be a college student, and if so, you’re probably only working a part time job. (70% of students work while in school and 25% of students work full time.) Eventually, however, you will graduate and have a job doing something. And at some point not too far down the road, you’ll be at a party and someone will ask you: “So, what do you do for a living?” Is it a lazy question, or should our work provide a key insight into who we are?

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April 26, 2018

Learning to Perform Emotional Labor

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Think about all of the things you learn as students that have nothing to do with the actual content of your classes: you learn to meet deadlines, proper classroom decorum, how to navigate a large bureaucracy, and create social ties with peers, among other things. Sociologists call this education’s hidden curriculum, or unintended lessons, many of which are quite valuable to your future career—and to your life overall.

Learning to perform emotional labor is part of the hidden curriculum. What exactly is emotional labor? It happens when we work to control our emotions in order to fit the requirements of a job. Emotional labor is part of any job that involves interacting with others, and is important to consider when pondering your own current or future career choices.

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February 05, 2018

The Big Rig and the Sociology of Work

Colby (1)By Colby King

I teach a Sociology of Work course at Bridgewater State University that meets in the evening each fall. At BSU, about half of our students come from working class backgrounds and/or are among the first generation in their family to go to college. One of the reasons I have really enjoyed teaching evening sections of this class is that many of the students typically work off campus and the class is often infused with their work experiences. These students also express a practical interest in the dynamics of labor markets, the shape of organizations, and the quality of jobs in addition to their interest in sociological concepts related to work.

This fall, I added Steve Viscelli’s book The Big Rig to the material we used in this class. I was motivated in part because it is a large and dynamic industry that illustrates many of the concepts and concerns we cover in this class. About 3 million people work as truck drivers, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. NPR’s Planet Money has created this interactive map showing how truck driver has been the most common job in many states since at least the 1970s. The American Trucking Associations found that in 2014 more than 7 million people were employed in jobs related to the trucking industry, even after excluding those who were self-employed. They also report that registered trucks drove 279.1 billion miles in 2014.

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January 29, 2018

Food: From Micro to Macro

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

What we eat is deeply personal. It is also connected to our cultural and socio-economic backgrounds. We may seldom think about it, but what we eat has global ramifications.

Sociology teaches us that very few choices we make are only personal. Food literally shapes your personal biology, but the choices we have access to make are shaped by where we live, the groups we are part of, and the policies our lawmakers have made. And all of this cumulatively impacts our environment, locally and globally.

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January 08, 2018

The Sociology of Knowledge and Textbooks

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Sociologists are interested in all things social, even how we come to know what we know. The sociology of knowledge is a fundamental question in sociological thought: how is knowledge produced? We also think critically about the social contexts in which we create what humans define as “knowledge.”

So how do you know what you know? Beyond your personal experience, what you learn as a student informs your depth and breadth of knowledge. As you prepare for exams, there are typically two sources of knowledge that you need to master to earn a good grade: things that your professor said in lectures in conjunction with ideas you read about in your assigned texts.

We often take for granted that these are main sources of knowledge without thinking about how ideas become part of your course work, and your textbooks specifically. The production of textbooks is a good example of how knowledge is produced in a social context.

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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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December 18, 2017

“So, What are you doing after you Graduate?”

Jonathan Wynn (1)By Jonathan Wynn

Perhaps you know what you are going to do after you graduate. As the fall semester starts to wrap up, there might be a nagging voice in the back of your mind that asks, “What are you doing to do after you graduate?” (Or maybe it’s part of family conversations as you get closer to your graduation date!)

Why do people pick the careers they do? Certainly, some people graduate with a good sense of a career. Some people knew what they were going to do from their first year of college. (That was definitely not me.)

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