Sunday, November 19, 2006

In praise of Chris Uggen

Preface: I started writing this last week, but before I could post it, Chris beat me to the punch by posting about me. No surprise, for as I write below, he is ahead of the curve in many things and to that we can add friendship.

Blog postings take various tones--clever, snarky (isn’t that a great word), trivial, self-absorbed, informative, etc…. Here I like to do something that I don’t see enough of, and that is being laudatory, and so I’m starting a series of posts, “In praise of…,” in which I highlight people who are doing something very right. I start with the sociologist Chris Uggen. Chris and I were officemates and buddies in graduate school, and so this post could be thought of as a fan letter to a friend.

Here’s a story to set the stage. In my first year of graduate school, a group of faculty and graduate students were drinking beer on the University of Wisconsin terrace. (Why go to grad school anywhere else?). I was a little late, and when I got there one of the senior graduate students told me that they had agreed that Chris and I were two of the brightest students in the sociology program—Chris for his intelligence and me for the clothes that I wore.

Chris has lived up to expectations by becoming one of the best young sociologists in the country. Chris has:
- Published scores of articles in the best journals, articles that have redefined our understanding of crime and its consequences.
- Contributed to public policy debates in a humane, thoughtful, and effective manner. He’s is becoming a true public intellectual.
- Trained a host of outstanding graduate students (he also trained Michael Massoglia) who have or will go on to successful careers themselves.
- Become a popular undergraduate teacher. (To read students’ comments about faculty members, see here or here).

In addition, he serves as department head, he daily writes on his blog--one of the most informative and entertaining ones on the web, he runs marathons, and he’s a loyal, active family man.

Various theories have been floated as to how he gets so much done. Perhaps he never sleeps (his claim), or maybe a pair of twins or triplets masquerade as one person. Personally, I think that a group of criminal masterminds long ago chose him, an otherwise unemployable, slightly-innocent looking kid from the Midwest, as a front for spreading their dangerous ideas (e.g., felons having the right to vote).

I’ve learned tons from him about the process and content of sociology, and he continues to influence me. I am switching to the study of religion in part because having seen his amazing work with criminology, I have realized that I will never excel until I too follow my passions. Even blogging, I borrowed the look and, to some extent the sound, of Chris’ blog (though for some reason my “hit counter” is 100,000 less than his).

So, here’s to you Chris… well done!


chris said...

aww, man, that's too kind. and the little dig at the penn state punk was a thoughtful addition -- well worth the blows that he'll rain down upon us ...

brewright said...

Thank you for picking it up. I didn't write the post just for the dig, but it certainly made it more fun!

I see any thing he does as just collateral damage.