William Cockerham (1967)

Professor of Sociology,Medicine and Public Health, University of Alabama at Birmingham

Like many of us, my time at Berkeley was a watershed experience. My life course at this time took a direction into academia which has proven very satisfying, although I was uncertain in the beginning if this was what I really wanted. I arrived in Berkeley after four years as an Army officer and started off doing course work at Stanford as an exchange student. Given my military background and the political posture of the campus in the late 1960s and early 70s, I kept a relatively low profile as a student. I essentially just did my work mostly in sociology, but also jointly in a program with education and psychology with a specialization in social psychology. This was a time when structural-functionalism was slipping into decline and I became a strong symbolic interactionist believing this perspective contained the "truth" about social behavior. I took everything Herbert Blumer and Norman Denzin taught and Denzin chaired my dissertation committee. Anselm Strauss at UC San Francisco also helped considerably with my dissertation. I enjoyed courses with Phil Selznick and Neil Smelser has been an important influence as well. My time at Berkeley was well spent.

While in school, the sociology department at the University of Wyoming offered me a job and I took it because I wanted to live in the Mountain West. I volunteered to teach a course in medical sociology and having put a course together, found I had the basis for a book. I went on to publish a medical sociology textbook with Prentice-Hall in 1978. Fortunately, this book became the most widely-adopted text in the world on the subject, has been translated into Chinese and Spanish, and the ninth edition will be published in the summer of 2003. In the meantime, I joined the sociology department and medical school at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 1975. In 1991, the University of Alabama at Birmingham offered me a great salary and the resources to pursue my research interests in return for helping build a Ph.D. program in medical sociology. We have over a dozen graduates and they all have good jobs.

My intellectual orientation has changed dramatically to embrace more of a macro view and apply it to structural influences on health lifestyles. Most of my research has been in Europe and more recently in the former socialist states of the old Soviet bloc. I have found the downturn in life expectancy under state socialism to be an important question and due more to social causes (unhealthy lifestyles of middle-age, working-class men) than medical factors. I have a book (Health and Social Change in Russia and Eastern Europe, Routledge, 1999) and several articles on the topic, and am now working with new data from several former Soviet republics from the Living Conditions, Lifestyles, and Health project funded by the European Union.

Dissertation Title: 
Status Passage and Cultism in the Military