May/June 2011 Issue • Volume 39 • Issue 5

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Obituaries

Deaths

Harold Garfinkel, University of California-Los Angeles, died on April 21, 2011. He is known for establishing and developing ethnomethodology as a field of inquiry in sociology.

Warren Kubitschek, Center for Research and Educational Opportunity at the University of Notre Dame, passed away on Sunday, April 3, 2011, due to an inoperable brain tumor.

John Francis Michael, a long-time member of the ASA and Professor Emeritus of Business at John Carroll University, died on December 30, 2010.

Obituaries

Igor Semenovich Kon
1928-2011

Igor Semenovich Kon, a Soviet/Russian sociologist whose long and varied career spanned different sociological and social psychological subject matters and whose excellent language skills, intellectual curiosity, and courage allowed him to be an important window on the social sciences in the West during the Cold War, died in Moscow, on April 27, 2010.

Kon was born on May 25, 1928, and grew up in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), until he was evacuated during the German siege of the city during the Second World War. Returning to Leningrad, he received his BA in history in 1947 and became kandidate nauk in both History and Philosophy in 1950 at the Leningrad Herzen Pedagogical Institute. He received the doctor nauk degree (equivalent to a PhD) in 1959. He began his career in history and philosophy departments, but by 1967 he was head of the sociology department at the Institute of Sociological Research at the Academy of Sciences. In 1972 he became Professor at the Institute of Social Sciences in Moscow and after 1974 he became the chief researcher at the Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology at the Russian Academy of Sciences.

Kon’s early work in sociology and psychology was more philosophical and theoretical and often brought information about American and European social science to Russian audiences. He also wrote about the self in the tradition of Mead and the Chicago school of symbolic interactionism. He also became better known to Western sociologists and psychologists, some of whom, e.g., Uri Bronfenbrenner, had intellectual interests in social conditions in the Soviet Union and supplied him with the hard to get important works in sociology and psychology, which he read and analyzed with great care. During the 1970s Kon became interested in and write about the intertwined issues of adolescent friendship formation, "the problems of youth" and the emergence of the self. He published a series of books on adolescence centering on these issues, with a strongly sociological perspective.

Like all Soviet scholars, Kon’s life was heavily influenced by the political and material conditions of an academic life and publication in the Soviet Union (e.g., the numbers of books to be published was determined in advance and plates were often broken up for books even though there was demand for future editions and there was need to balance citations between work done in the West and in the Soviet bloc.) There were always constraints on overseas travel and contacts with foreigners based on Soviet fears of the twin dangers of defection and infection by foreign ideology. Kon’s own overseas travel was heavily restricted after his visit to Sweden for the International Sociological Association meetings of 1978. His own interests in emigrating were limited by being sole caretaker for an aged mother as well as his deep attachments to St. Petersburg and his colleagues and students.

Kon’s interests in the study of sexuality were motivated by his concerns with the conditions of sexual ignorance among Soviet youth. In 1979 he became a member of the International Academy of Sex Research and published his first work on sexuality in Hungarian in 1981. Kon continued his scholarly role of making the works on sexuality by social scientists in the West available to an audience in the East. As a consequence of this interest and the multiple levels of censorship in the Soviet Union during this period, many of his works later published in the Soviet Union were first published in East Bloc countries or in West Germany. By the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall he had published some 30 books not including papers or edited volumes. During the period of perestroika when censorship was weakening he published important works on sexuality including an introduction to sexology.

During the thaw and after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kon was able to travel to the West with visiting appointments at the University of Surrey, the Harvard Russian Research Institute, at Cornell University as the A.D. White Professor, at Wellesley College, and at University of Southern California. What was remarkable about these sojourns was his continuing intellectual productivity. It was during this period that he and his work became better known to members of the ASA Section on Sexuality as well as to scholars in history and area studies though the publication in English of The Sexual Revolution in Russia (1995) and the edited volume with James Riordan, Sex and Russian Society (1993). As part of this concern with the rights of sexual minorities in Russia, he both published academic work and spoke out about the repression of gay men and lesbians in Russian life. In the last decade of his life Kon was one of the most important spokespersons for the rights of sexual minorities and as a result was the target of xenophobic and nationalist elements in Russian society.

Kon, in addition to being a prodigious and scrupulous scholar (his last vitae lists some 60 books), was a master ironist and often used proverbs and jokes to express a dark humor about the human condition. At the collapse of the Soviet Union he once commented to a colleague from the United States, "Just because we have lost does not mean that you have won." His own memoir, which has been published but not translated, is titled Eighty Years of Solitude.

John H. Gagnon, Stony Brook University

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