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Barbara Risman Award Statement

This year, we honor Barbara Risman (Professor and Head, Department of Sociology at the University of Illinois, Chicago, former President Sociologists for Women and Society and Executive Officer and Board Member Council of Contemporary Families) as the recipient of the 2011 American Sociological Association Award For The Public Understanding of Sociology.

For the past twenty years, Professor Risman has been contributing in a thoughtful, provocative and insightful way to the public understanding of sociology not only generally i.e., “as a consistent advocate” for expanding Sociology’s role and influence, but also specifically as a contributor in her own right to the public understanding of sociology in the areas of gender, marriage and family.

Through research, meticulously designed and thoughtfully carried out with considerable attention paid to methods that enhance her credibility as a researcher who can be counted on for providing accurate general information and that reveal her dogged determination (as a social scientist) to approach the substantive issues confronting American families in a non-partisan manner, Risman has come to be recognized as sociologist with an “impressive” research record. 

Risman’s sociological approach to research on the subject of gender inequities has been both from the standpoint of treating gender as a “visible” structure to be observed and thus as an artifact of the process of interaction that organizes in a myriad number of general ways what we do and how we live together and from the standpoint of conceptualizing gender as learned in the sense that “we choose to reproduce gender.” It thereby expresses a certain continuity with the past and a present centered awareness of where we are in sociology at present.

Perhaps then it may be said that in a not-so- subtle and real way i.e., through research,  report writing and essays grounded upon facts and reasoning, Risman has been working hard to steer sociological thought away from marriage and family in the traditional sense towards thinking of marriages and families as they are in the many different ways they reveal themselves.  Risman also reminds us of the reality of “family diversity” and of the fact that the historical institution of the American family has been and still going through a process of change the causes and consequences of which, in the absence of skepticism, we may never be able to fully grasp. 

In that sense, her scholarly focus upon such feminist issues of justice and of freedom and the leadership that she has shown as Executive Officer of the Council on Contemporary families in developing pragmatic strategies (workshops, conferences and media programs) to deal with these changes is clear.

Risman’s “tireless effort” to bring our work in the social sciences generally and of sociology (in particular) to the attention of the press, the general public and, more recently, policy makers) is to commended.

Professor Risman’s committment to the development of a sociology of gender, sexuality, marriage and family that is inclusive (rather than exclusive) and, thereby, responsive to the “fears” and concerns that such changes have evoked is understandable. 

Admittedly, she herself attributes much of her concerns to her family’s immigrant experience and religious upbringing. She was born into a traditional Jewish family of Russian immigrants to the United States.

Yet, in so far as she is perhaps the first to acknowledge that gender inequities belong to the category of the things that “we can get beyond” as distinct from the things that we can’t, her work makes mine so much easier to understand in so far as it shows  what we can accomplish together by means of a concerted effort and within the limits of a scientific perspective.

In this context, Barbara Risman is to be recognized for her individual achievements, her service and the leadership that she has shown on many different fronts.

    In the words of Maxine Atkinson,
    As a board member of the Council on contemporary
    Families, I have seen her most intensive work on
    Public understanding through that organization. Barbara

Has been a significant spokesperson for the organization (as well as for her research that’s been. Presented to the organization). Meanwhile, she has helped to build our media program to be perhaps the

    The most cost-effective media program a non-profit
    Think-tank could hope to have. This perhaps helps to
    Capture the scope and value of her contribution….She
    Has built an organization that will far outlast her own

Time, to  help the public better understand sociology and other social sciences. (letter to ASA committee on Public Understanding of Sociology dated January 28, 2010).