Eminent sociologist Kai Erikson to speakKai Erikson, one of the nation's leading sociologists, will be at Kenyon next week to speak about a topic that is perennially, tragically in the news: disasters. An authority on the social consequences of catastrophic events, Erikson will present a talk, "Tracking Disasters: From Nuclear Fallout in the Pacific to an Oil Spill in Alaska," at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, February 7 in Higley Auditorium. A reception will follow in the Higley lobby.
On Tuesday, February 8, during Common Hour in Peirce Lounge, Erikson will discuss his classic book, Wayward Puritans: A Study in the Sociology of Deviance. Following the discussion, all are invited to join Erikson and Professor of Sociology John Macionis for lunch in Upper Dempsey Hall.
"Kai Erikson stands as one of the best known and most influential sociologists of the last fifty years," says Macionis. "The fact that his name is known to educated people outside of sociology is testimony to his broad contribution to learning. Wayward Puritans, his first book, has been widely used for forty years. His second book, Everything in Its Path: Destruction of Community in the Buffalo Creek Flood, is also regarded as a classic."
Erikson won major awards from the American Sociological Association for both books. He is also the author of A New Species of Trouble: Explorations in Disaster, Trauma, and Community. "According to Erikson, what happens after a disaster . . . is often at least as traumatic as the primary event itself," Kirkus Reviews wrote, discussing the latter book. A natural disaster "can sometimes build a sense of community," the review continued, while man-made disasters "usually destroy it along with any collective feeling of trust and security."
The disasters studied by Erikson include nuclear fallout in the Marshall Islands in 1954, the Buffalo Creek flood in West Virginia in 1972, the Three Mile Island nuclear accident in 1979, the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, and the genocide in Yugoslavia that took place from 1992 to 1995. In addition to examining the long-term consequences of these events, Erikson has been active in efforts to secure compensation for the victims.
A graduate of Reed College, Erikson earned his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. Since 1966 he has taught at Yale University, where he holds the title William R. Kenan Jr. Professor Emeritus of Sociology and American Studies. From 1979 to 1989, he edited The Yale Review, publishing such authors as Hortense Calisher, Seamus Heaney, Joyce Carol Oates, and Adrienne Rich.