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Alejandro Portes Award Statement

The W.E.B. DuBois Career of Distinguished Scholarship Award honors scholars who have shown outstanding commitment to the profession of sociology and whose cumulative work has contributed in important ways to the advancement of the discipline.Alejandro Portes’ innovative, agenda-setting, systematic, and wide-ranging body of work and his commitment to advancing the discipline of sociology precisely captures this goal.Alejandro Portes is a world-renowned scholar of international migration, who, in the process of advancing the sociology of immigration, has forged numerous conceptual and methodological innovations.His work is theoretically rich, empirically grounded, and has significant policy implications. Further, Portes’ scholarship has ranged across several major domains of sociology, from economic and political sociology, to national development, urbanization, the informal economy, Latin American politics and class structures, and U.S. – Cuba relations.

In a myriad of studies, Portes has analyzed the causes and consequences of immigration, the structures of informal economies and the lived experiences of those within them, immigrant transnational communities (and their impacts on both sending and receiving countries), and ethnic enclaves.He has brought systematic and abundant data to bear on the complex trajectories of immigrant assimilation. Portes has drawn from an array of sociological methodologies for his studies: survey research that incorporates both longitudinal and comparative data, participant observation within communities, and incisive syntheses of the available literature. Recognizing the collective nature of such work, Portes has, throughout his career, sought to work collaboratively with other scholars, including those senior and junior researchers trained in local settings to help carry out studies in, for example, Latin America.

Portes’ contributions to political sociology began early, as he researched his doctoral dissertation on political radicalism among low-income urban dwellers in squatter settlements in Chile. At the same time, he developed a project studying the adaptation of Cuban families resettled in the Milwaukee area, anticipating his emerging focus on immigration.

The study of immigration in all of its aspects became a major focus in the work of Portes. An early longitudinal and comparative analysis of Cuban and Mexican immigrants to the United States led Portes to coin the term “ethnic enclave.” Finding that the Cuban arrivals created highly entrepreneurial enclaves for themselves and subsequent co-national immigrants, while Mexican arrivals were not as successful, Portes thus importantly identified structural variability in immigrant mobility.Another significant sociological advance of this study was its systematic differentiation among Latin immigrants to the United States. Several important articles and the book, Latin Journey: Cuban and Mexican immigrants in the United States (co-authored with Robert L. Bach) presented the findings of this work. Another project compared the life trajectories of Cuban refugees arriving during the 1980 Mariel boat-lift with those refugees arriving from Haiti at the same time. Out of this work came the prize winning book (co-authored with Alex Stepick) City on the Edge: The Transformation of Miami.

Portes work on immigration significantly expanded to include the children of immigrants growing up in the United States.Along with Ruben G. Rumbaut, Portes launched the Children of Immigrants Longitudinal Study (CILS). With the assistance of local field teams, they interviewed more than 5,000 children of immigrants in several U.S. cities multiple times, to learn about the trajectories of the lives of these young people.Emerging out of this study was the innovative sociological concept of “segmented assimilation,” and the concomitant identification of the problematic mode of assimilation termed “downward assimilation,” that children of immigrants from poor working families often experienced.These contrasting experiences of different groups of immigrants have led Portes to offer a complex critique of extant theories of immigrant assimilation, one of his many major paradigm-setting contributions to the field. The results of the DILS study were published in the book, Legacies: the Story of the Immigrant Second Generation (co-authored with Ruben Rumbaut).

Alejandro Portes is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, and was President of the American Sociological Association in 1998-99. Cited as one of the “most prolific” sociologists already in the mid-nineties, Portes’ books have won numerous awards from both major sociological and anthropological associations.He has received honorary degrees from the University of Genoa, the New School for Social Research, and the University of Wisconsin, and has chaired the sociology departments of both Johns Hopkins and Princeton University.With this award, we acknowledge the full reach of Alejandro Portes’ lifetime contributions to our discipline.