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

September 21, 2018

Meaning Making and Health

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

Peter Kaufman’s recent post about his experience with stage IV lung cancer is an important reminder that our bodies—particularly as they appear and function at this moment—and our overall health, are temporary.

And yet we often perceive them to be permanent. Why?

We make sense of our health collectively; even the way in which we define illness is rooted in social interactions. As sociologists Peter Conrad and Kristen K. Barker explain in their article "The Social Construction of Illness," culture plays a role in how we view and respond to a condition, and people experience their condition in a social context.

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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 27, 2018

Shopping Malls and Social Change

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

When I was a teen in the 1980s, the shopping mall was the center of social life. It was a regular gathering place for people my age; it was one of the few places to go that was free (unless you decided to buy something), parents generally felt like it was safe, and we might see other kids our age there. Remember, there was no email, no Internet, and no social media, so aside from the telephone, hanging out was the only way to socialize.

Malls were also a site of aspirational consumption. While I could occasionally buy clothes, records (on vinyl or cassette), food, or other goods, mostly the mall was the place of imagination of what I would buy if I could. My friends and I could try on clothes to see what styles were flattering for occasions we might someday need an outfit for. This was not just a way to pass the time, but to bond with friends. Memorialized in movies like Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), Valley Girl (1983), and Mall Rats (1995) to name a few, malls were center stage for middle-class American teens living in the suburbs.

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August 20, 2018

Social Networks and Diversity in College

Colby (1)By Colby King

With the beginning of another fall semester, I have been thinking about the opportunities college presents to students. If you are a student who is working to make the most of your opportunities on campus, you may very reasonably be focused on earning good grades, or on avoiding accumulating much loan debt. But, I want to underscore a particular opportunity that college presents to students that I hope you do not overlook: the opportunity build a diverse social network.

I have been thinking about these issues because last spring, I was chosen as the recipient of Bridgewater State University’s Honors Outstanding Faculty Award. This was a really nice honor, and as part of the award I was interviewed for the Honors Program student blog, The Paw. In that interview I was asked about what advice I might have for students. I drew on my responses in that interview, and the speech I gave for that award in writing this essay. You can see the whole interview on the blog here.

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August 13, 2018

Inequality and the Cashless Economy

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

What if you had money, maybe not a lot of money, but you couldn’t use the money you did have to buy some things you need or pay your bills? And what if you had to pay in order to access your money?

For some people, this is a day-to-day reality if they are unbanked or underbanked; people who either don’t have a bank account or a credit or debit card. Think about all of the things that you buy without cash, whether online or in person, and would not be able to because you don’t have a card. This lack of access is an important measure of inequality in an increasingly cashless economy.

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July 09, 2018

Labor

Todd SchoepflinBy Todd Schoepflin

What do you see when you look at the picture below? Perhaps nothing is remarkable about this part of my home. I experienced a lot of pain in my back and knees after constructing the tiny patio on which two chairs and a table sit. The chairs are mainly for my wife and me. A small tree used to be in this space. I don’t like to kill trees, but it occurred to me that if we removed the tree we could have a nice area to relax. To be honest, it also a comfortable place to sit with a good vantage point for people watching. Not sinister people watching, just observations of people that I am compelled to make in my lifelong quest to understand what makes people tick. It's also a pleasant space for coffee drinking and book reading. Ts patio

My wife designed our small retreat. After consulting her father for accurate measurement, she determined we needed 25 paver stones, and that’s what we purchased from Home Depot. We aren’t very bright at times, so we showed up with her Kia Sportage to haul the stones and six 50-pound bags of sand. We failed to think ahead, or, you know, do the math to realize that each stone is 40 pounds and that equals 1,000 pounds plus 300 pounds of sand. My brother-in-law bailed us out with his pickup truck. He helped me unload the materials.

The following day, my father-in-law served a dual role as supervisor and co-worker. He instructed me to dig out the area and to make it as level as possible so that we could lay the stones. He returned a few hours later, and, after correcting for a few of my errors (notably, I dug out too much dirt) we finished preparing the ground for the stones. He directed me to set down stones one at a time, usually telling me to pick a stone up if it wasn’t yet level and then signaling to put it in place again after he adjusted the surface.

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June 18, 2018

Higher Education and Goal Displacement

Headshot 3.13 cropcompressBy Karen Sternheimer

My educational institution has recently been in the news after a series of scandals led to calls for the university’s president to resign. Concern had been growing among students, faculty, staff, and alumni, that the president’s leadership style focused more on hiding bad news in order to protect the university’s image in the quest of fundraising.

These scandals included a medical school dean who used drugs with young addicts, apparently on university property in some cases, and being present when one young woman overdosed. The person initially appointed to replace this dean had been found guilty of sexual harassment during a previous university investigation. Most recently, a student health center gynecologist has been accused of inappropriate photographing, touching and making sexual comments to hundreds of students during pelvic exams over the span of nearly three decades.

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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 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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