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Stanley Cohen, London School of Economics, who coined the term “moral panic,” died January 7, 2013, at the age of 71.
Michal McCall-Meshejian, a professor at Macalester College who incorporated artistic performance into the social sciences, died at the age of 69 due to complications from metastatic breast cancer on February 10, 2012, in Philadelphia. After receiving her PhD from the University of Illinois-Urbana in 1975, McCall-Meshejian spent most of her career on the faculty of Macalester in St. Paul, MN, serving as chair of the sociology department for several years and helping to found the women’s studies department. Following her retirement from Macalester in 2006, she continued to teach courses at several schools in Pennsylvania.
McCall-Meshejian devoted sustained attention to the sociology of creative work and the creative presentation of sociological findings. Her dissertation examined how female artists achieved social status in a regional art world. Her later work integrated interests in art, food, and social justice, exploring the use of performance and storytelling as intellectual and pedagogical tools. Her interest in art worlds led her to collaborate with Howard S. Becker, and together they edited the anthology Symbolic Interaction and Cultural Studies (1990).
McCall-Meshejian believed that storytelling was an essential component of sociological inquiry. As part of the ferment around postmodernism in the 1980s, she began using performance to present social science research. At the 1988 Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association, she presented (with Becker and Lori Morris) “Theatres and Communities: Three Scenes,” an innovative performance later published as a script in the journal Social Problems. Her practice of “performance science” sought to de-emphasize the role of the researcher as the arbiter of reality by placing greater weight on the expressive views of the people who serve as research informants. In a 1990 Social Problems piece, titled “Performance Science” (crediting stage direction to her husband, the theater artist Paul Meshejian), she wrote, “We wanted to give the people who talked to us more ‘voice,’ let them be heard more fully, with less intervention by us.” She later contributed a chapter on “Performance Ethnography” to the Handbook of Qualitative Research (SAGE, 2000).
In her later years, McCall-Meshejian combined her passions for sociology, gardening, and the theater with the politics of food sustainability. She continued working with performance and visual artists to explore the lives of rural farm women and their relationship to food. She served on the University of Minnesota Sustainable Agriculture Research Task Force, and she helped organize forums exploring the impact of bioengineered foods on social inequality. She also convened an interdisciplinary writing group at Macalester that supported both young and established scholars, served as an associate editor for the Sociological Quarterly, and chaired the publications committee of the Midwest Sociological Society.
After she retired from Macalester, Michal and her husband worked to reclaim a Pennsylvania farm, restoring its stone farmhouse and its dilapidated gardens into a beautiful pastoral retreat. Throughout her life, she strived to make meaningful connections with our histories to better inform our current realities. On an academic panel, she once said, “The essential part of storytelling is imagination, not memory of the past. We tell stories to extend our lives.” She is survived by her husband, Paul, her daughter, Sarah, her sister, Melinda, and the many colleagues, former students, and friends who will remember, miss, and tell her stories about her for years to come.
Craig Upright, Winona State, and Mitchell Stevens, Stanford University
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