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Pete Wernick: A Sociologist of Note(s)!

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This article appeared in the Fall 2006 issue of Michigan Sociological Review.

by Joe Verschaeve

You may have seen this guy in one of the many performance halls that he has played across the globe. Maybe you caught the episode of the David Letterman Show last year where he was together in the auspicious company of Earl Scruggs and Steve Martin. I’m betting, however, that most of you haven’t yet had the pleasure of experiencing this amazing musical sociologist. If you have, then you know that he’s on fire!

Pete Wernick, driven by the struggle for human rights in the 1960’s, earned his doctorate in sociology from Columbia in 1973. He left his position at Cornell in 1978 in order to play full time in the award winning band, Hot Rize (named after the special ingredient in Martha White Flour). Several years thereafter he happened to play a concert in my town upon which he graciously hung around to jam with a local gang of juvenile bluegrass musicians after the show. As one of those miscreants I stood in disbelief at his amazing mastery of the five-string banjo. What I didn’t expect that evening, however, was to learn what a sociologist can do and how important it is to develop the sociological imagination

Well, that’s that. Twenty-three years later and I still have no rhythm, but I do have the recollection of being encouraged to explore the enterprise of sociology. Despite his criticisms of the field (thank goodness) he remains a great ambassador to our discipline. It’s hard to know just how many sociologists he has inspired, but I’m confident that there are many.

I e-mailed the good doctor last January and he invited me to telephone for an interview. We covered a tremendous amount of ground during those 2½ hours and I must say that, despite his unwarranted apologies for choosing music over sociology, his identity as a sociologist remains very much a part of this renaissance man. As a traveler Pete is deeply passionate about social justice and the specter of both human misery and the indifference to the problems that plague human arrangements. He left me with his prescription in the form of a challenge to share with all of you: We must find a way to teach sociology, not just in high school, but in early middle school. He’s right.

In that spirit, the MSR Review Board is interested in manuscripts that report on programs and curicula that explore the teaching of sociology to both middle and high school students

Thanks Pete!

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