Creative Sociology: Peter Kaufman

Creative Sociology: Peter Kaufman
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Peter Kaufman passed away yesterday. There’s a nice article about Peter on the New Paltz website. I love the picture of him playing the drums.

Peter was kind to me from the day I met him. He was ahead of me in grad school at Stony Brook University in the mid 90s. You know grad school. Some people pay attention to you, others don’t. Peter paid attention and was happy to lend advice and guidance. I remember when Peter was working on an article about C. Wright Mills and the sociological imagination. I was like, “Who’s this dude writing about Big Macs and Air Jordans? You can do that in Sociology???” It was one of many times I was inspired by his creativity.

He loved Mills. Years later, Peter came to me with an idea he had to write about the appendix to the The Sociological Imagination. Following his lead, we dug into the appendix to write an article in Teaching Sociology. I have a memory of talking to Peter by phone while I was in my basement, trying not to wake up my first born from a nap. I remember taking notes, using the washing machine as a desk. I look at the article and see Peter’s ideas and clever writing jump off the page.

I loved working with him. We corresponded mostly by email, with him being in New Paltz and me in Buffalo. We scheduled phone calls. I cherish those phone calls. We’d talk for an hour plus about life and sociology. Mostly sociology. Damn, we were on the same wavelength. Just this year we put our heads together to write “It’s About Power, Not Privilege” for Everyday Sociology Blog, and a 100 word short story (known as a drabble) that was just published in So Fi Zine. It’s called “A Manmade’s Tale,” which you can find here on page 14. Peter came up with the title. It was so fun working out ideas with Peter by phone, by text, by email.

Then there was the time Peter bailed me out. I was over my head. I had been working on fictional stories and felt strongly that they had sociological value. I lined up a book chapter to showcase the stories. And then I was stuck. All I had were the stories. I asked Peter to help me. Peter had a way of calming me down. For him, the task was clear. “We need to make an argument,” he said. And boom, Peter structured an argument about writing fictional stories as a method of doing sociology. The way his brain worked…..oh, man, I’m so lucky to have seen him operate.

So kind, so genuine. Peter was the real deal. A kind person, through and through, someone who truly cared about people. And he loved teaching. I implore folks to read Teaching with Compassion, the book he co-authored with Janine Schipper. It’s awesome, and gives readers a good sense of how much he respected students, and how much he cared about their learning.

I’ll have more to say about Peter soon. I plan to pay tribute to the body of work he compiled as a blogger at Everyday Sociology. One exceptional post after another, dating back to July 2011. One of his first posts was “You Might be a Marxist” (yes, he channeled Jeff Foxworthy) and it’s one of my all-time favorites. I love using it to help teach SOC 101 students about why Marx is indeed relevant. I could go on and on about Peter. And I will again soon. For now, let’s watch him play drums in his band Questionable Authorities. Here they are with a Violent Femmes cover, “Blister in the Sun”.

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