David Nathan Sudnow

17 entries
  • "I just learned of David's passing after sending a "thank..."
    - James Nickelson
  • "Goodbye David, My teacher-my friend-and fellow Bronxite...."
    - Larry Kelleher
  • "I am thankful for having met David and taken his piano..."
    - Rochelle
  • "I still remember the lunch we had at the U.N. while I was..."
    - Manuel Mendez
  • "David was 'milemarker 5/07' in my life. A debt of..."
    - Giselle Stahl
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SUDNOW--David Nathan. With the passing of David Sudnow on July 20, 2007 at Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley, California, came the loss of one of the last, great, original ethnomethodologists; that small group of revolutionary sociologists who believed that sociological studies of group processes were not simply exercises in theoretical analyses or rationalizations after the fact about people in groups, but rather were about social phenomena as concrete observable facts (though often unacknowledged in situations). In part derivative of the original observational methods of Emile Durkheim's classical "Suicide" and the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl, these ethnomethodologists would go into a psychiatric clinic and ask for the embarrassingly difficult factual, observational differences between patients and care givers. One of them walked into my biochemistry suite at the medical school and said, "Oh, this is what those about you would call a laboratory." They flushed the unwritten rule dividing the patient's and doctor's coffee machines in a psychiatric ward by violating it. They demonstrated the strange set of unwritten rules among chess players by upsetting an opponent irrationally by simply exchanging pawns without any alteration in position. In 1964, four years before Harold Garfinkel's, another of the pioneers, book was published, "Studies in Ethnomethodology", Sudnow published the field defining book, "Passing On: The Social Organization of Dying," now in its twenty-eighth edition, from the data collected during two years of on-site observations. It was a painful explication of the "facts" about how social class affected the choice and execution of real procedures relevant to health care and dying in a charity hospital. He was early into studies of conversation about what was really going on between people conversing. Along with Harvey Sachs, another of this elite group of social analysts, Sudnow's classical work was about "glancing." In 1972, he edited and published "Studies in Social Interaction." He applied his phenomenological point of view to the interaction of gamer and game, the video game-user interphase, and published "Pilgrim in the Microworld" in 1984. He was best known for his 1978 book, "Ways of the Hand, The Organization of Improvised Conduct", for which he was awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship. It detailed his personal account of learning improvisational jazz on the piano. It was written from the same what-is-really-going-on point of view. His method was radical and completely atheoretical, no scales and chords, no required Bach-like exercises, no figures in all keys, and no harmonic structure. He followed this with a similarly oriented study of musical conversation, "Talk's Body, a Meditation Between Two Key Boards" in 1989. The Sudnow Piano Method became a kind of artistic self realization movement mediated by imaginative web site interactions and material. It was so popular, at one time or other it involved interactions with 25,000 piano students. His piano pedagogy pulled him from a distinguished academic career in which for 15 years, he held professorial status at the University of California at Santa Barbara, University of California at Irvine, University of California at Berkeley, and various visiting professorships in Europe. He will certainly be missed by thousands of his piano students. Less well known is that we also have lost one of the four or five revolutionary sociologists of the 1960's and 1970's whose ethnomethodologically oriented work augured the present, highly controversial "deconstructionist" era across the sciences. David Sudnow was 68. He is survived by his wife, Wendy Lu, a sister, Naomi Rubine, children Paul and Jessica, and two grandchildren. Arnold J. Mandell, M.D., MacArthur Prize Fellow Laureate in Theoretical Neurosciences.
Published in The New York Times from Sept. 13 to Sept. 16, 2007