// 06photo

Airport Sociology

I returned to the United States from Thailand having just completed my seventh term leading Hands on Thailand (HoT), a study-abroad/service-learning sociology program I created back in 2014. Transiting through Munich in the liminal space of the airport, I enjoyed a delicious roasted vegetable sandwich.

For some reason, there was a security check station in the airport to get to my gate. Strange, I thought, because I was already in the airport and had already gone through security — emptying my pockets, taking out my iPad, and whatever other little hassles they insisted on. Instead of a physical check, though, this was a social check. And as it turned out, a sociological one.

Standing behind her podium, the German agent started with some standard questions — where I came from, what I was doing in Thailand, whether I knew people there — and then asked me what I did for work. After telling her I taught sociology, she immediately asked who my favorite sociological writer was. A wave of shock washed over me. Surprised by the question and nervous because of the situation, I took the safe route — I thought Marx too risky; Bourdieu too complex, and French; DuBois not well known enough; Arlie Hochschild too difficult to pronounce and spell; so many possibilities! — and simply said, “C. Wright Mills.” Without missing a beat, she scoffed “Mills?” somewhat dismissively, then posed a challenge: “What about Durkheim?”

I couldn’t believe she played the Durkheim card! I told her that while Durkheim said some interesting things — my mind silently raced to his insights on suicide and concepts as social things — he wasn’t as exciting as Mills. “That’s true,” she acknowledged matter-of-factly, adding “have a good flight.”

Dan Brook is mostly retired from the Department of Sociology and Interdisciplinary Social Sciences at San Jose State University. His most recent book is Harboring Happiness: 101 Ways To Be Happy.

Comments 2


October 14, 2023

Air travel can be an exhilarating adventure, but spending extended hours at the airport waiting for your flight can be a real test of patience. However, with a little creativity and some useful tips, you can turn that seemingly endless wait into a fun and productive experience.


October 14, 2023

Airports are bustling hubs filled with people from all walks of life. Take some time to observe your fellow travelers, and you might be surprised by the diversity of stories unfolding right in front of you. Create imaginary backstories for the people you see, or simply enjoy the ebb and flow of the crowd.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *