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Gary Alan Fine to Edit Social Psychology Quarterly

by Ruth Horowitz and Guillermina (Willie) Jasso, New York University

Gary Alan Fine, the John Evans Professor of Sociology at Northwestern University, is an inspired choice for the editorship of Social Psychology Quarterly. Though his appointment is not a surprise, some readers may be surprised by the varied interests and activities of this creative and prolific sociologist. As the writer of a restaurant blog, Veal Cheeks, he describes the birth of his interest in food, “Once long ago in College, I worked as a restaurant critic for an entertainment weekly in the years before the Philadelphia restaurant renaissance….” If you join him for a meal, you will discover all the ingredients in the food, have a discussion with the wait staff about the chef and other restaurants, sometimes meet the chef, and have a wide-ranging conversation about much of social life. Now we know the origin of several of his books including Kitchens: The Culture Gary Alan Fine to Edit Social Psychology Quarterly of Restaurant Work (California 2000) and Moral Tales: The Culture of Mushrooming(Harvard 1998).

Looking over his extraordinary 55-page vita, we were once again suffused with admiration and delight, as in all the years we have known him. One of us was Gary’s colleague for five years at the University of Minnesota where his office was next door to Willie’s on the 11th floor of the Social Science Tower. The other met him as a new PhD at the Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction meetings. Three images remain vivid and, indeed, encapsulate much of Gary Fine for both of us. The first is Gary as scholar and the lucidity and passion with which he describes his work. The second is Gary as an academic and his enormous integrity and collegiality and his strong commitment to the values of university life. The third, as we alluded to above, is Gary as connoisseur par excellence of food and wine, and especially his youthful annual vigil for Beaujolais Nouveau.

Gary took many graduate sociology classes as an undergraduate at the University of Pennsylvania, including classes with Erving Goffman. In the short time since receiving his PhD from Harvard in 1976, he has published too many articles to count and 23 books, including several edited volumes. Why mention edited volumes? Gary has served as an editor of many books and journals and on the editorial boards of other journals. He reviews for an extensive variety of journals and having received his comments on occasion, we found them exacting and to the point.

Born in New York City, Gary has traveled across the country in the unfolding of his scholarly life. After Cambridge he took his first job at the University of Minnesota, then became chair at Georgia before moving to Northwestern University. In between he has visited in Europe, South Africa, and different locations across this country. This past year he returned home to New York City as a Russell Sage Fellow, an appointment which provided him with ample opportunity to research and write his blog. We calculate that he visited about 100 restaurants, accompanied by Ruth on some and Willie on others. But the blog is only the topping. The enduring substance is his every deeper reflections on all aspects of human behavior, including evil and reputations, another of his continuing interests (Difficult Reputations: Collective Memories of the Evil, Inept and Controversial [University of Chicago Press 2001]).

In addition to his research and academic leadership (he also is a member of the interdisciplinary committee on theatre at Northwestern and chaired it), he is a member of numerous professional organizations. These include many sections of the ASA and folklore organizations and also the Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction, the focal perspective of the majority of his work. In each organization he has played a major role—engaged in chairing, committee work, and editorial assistance.

Gary is one of the most prolific and wide-ranging ethnographers in sociology. His books range from food and rumor to art and high school debates, from little league baseball to fantasy games. Each one involves an enormous amount of data collection before he starts writing. As any good ethnographer would do, he goes into the field (some travel) and gets to know the players. One of us tagged along on a day of fieldwork at the New York Outsider art show for his book Everyday Genius: Self-taught Art and the Culture of Authenticity (University of Chicago Press 2004). He knew all the players, the stories behind many of the paintings and other works of art and did not mind a naïve observer asking additional strange questions of the dealers. He noted their responses carefully. Underlying all his ethnographies with the wide range of topics is Gary’s keen understanding of symbolic interaction and American pragmatism, whether he is studying authenticity and the creation of art worlds, rumors, the construction of small groups, the role of negative reputations in culture and history, role-playing and fantasy games, and back stage and the creation and negotiated order of restaurant meals.

A central theme to all his ethnographies and theoretical writings is the relationship of expressive culture and social systems: how each is shaped by the other as we travel from group to group in our daily lives. This broad social psychological focus and his extensive range of substantive knowledge will provide Social Psychology Quarterly with a superb editor. The discipline is indeed fortunate. Gary Alan Fine brings three essential attributes to the editorship of SPQ: deep knowledge of the field, excellent judgment, and scrupulous fairness.