RU111513The Care and Feeding of Co-Authors:

As Chris Uggen pointed out on the Twitters, it’s easy to disappoint your coworkers. Whether it’s producing actual Swedish Fish when a candy-mergency arises in a late-night writing session or dropping the ball when it’s your turn to write the lit review, there are just so many opportunities to co-write badly. Here’s my very quick editorial advice should you decide to undertake a co-authored project: more...

Comic © Jorge Cham via PhDComics. Click for original.
Comic © Jorge Cham via PhDComics. Click for original.

The life and work of a sociology professor was a topic of conversation in my senior capstone course this week. It started when I asked students to estimate what percent of my time was allocated to teaching, research, service, and public outreach/engagement—and then told them about how formal tenure requirements and departmental expectations compared with my actual hours worked on any given week. I was trying to illustrate competing pressures and demands, and I couldn’t help but laugh when one student sent along this cartoon (with no comment or analysis).

Perhaps I’d gone overboard  stressing the disconnections? I really do love my job.

But back to class: one of the biggest topics of inquiry and conversation involved the question of where outreach and engagement fit in the world of higher education? My students this semester have been fascinated with and actually kind of inspired by what we call“public sociology,” while also puzzled by its lack of recognition and reward in the big scheme of academia, especially in the context of a public land grant institution like we have here at the University of Minnesota.

RU080213Still Wise Words

Hopefully, we all have a teacher or two who stirs fond memories. For me, one of the first to spring to mind is Loren J. Samons II, a professor of classical studies at my alma mater, Boston University. Prof. Samons is notable for many reasons (one of his brilliant strokes was to refer to the class, collectively, as “scholars”—a convention that set the tone for each lecture in just one word), but this week, I found an old syllabus. I wondered why I’d kept it—I took several classes from Prof. Samons in my time at BU, but it still seemed an odd document to cling to, some 12 years after graduation. And then I read. Nestled within many wise words for young students learning to learn, write, engage with literature, and find their way through sources both ancient and modern, was this gem: more...

Circus Tent by Thomas Totz via
Circus Tent by Thomas Totz via

This past weekend I came across a piece by Pulitzer Prize winner Gareth Cook in the Boston Globe about new research showing that spending time helping others can actually make it seem like we’ve got more time for ourselves. It sounded like a great, eminently sociological project in so many ways: its emphasis on the social meaning and variable experience of time, the importance of selflessness and interacting with others, the use of interviews and experiments, and, of course, the classic, counter-intuitive conclusion that the best solution for not feeling like you have enough time is to make time for others.

My first thought was to throw it over to our Citings & Sightings team as another cool case of how sociological research finds its way to public attention in and through the mass media. But a closer look made me pause. It turns out the research was produced by a team headed up by a professor in a business school (Harvard, no less).  Scholars who teach future MBAs to make millions taking on questions of selflessness and the social experience of time? Suddenly I found myself getting cynical about the researcher’s claim that such activities give us confidence we can get things done and allows us to feel more in control of our own lives.

Lately, whether it is management professors, researchers in public health, or cultural studies critics, scholars all over the academy seem to be taking on topics and using methods and theories pioneered by sociologists. It is easy to be a bit skeptical or defensive, but rather than getting caught up in turf wars, I think it better to celebrate such insights and accomplishments as part of the structure and functioning of social life, claiming them as part of the big, broad sociological tent. It’s not important who is researching sociological questions, but that scholars of all stripes are calling attention to the importance and complexity of social life and interactions—a broad context that’s so often missing from the individualist, economistic, and biological visions of human beings and social life that are otherwise dominant in our academic culture.