Dorothy E. Smith Award Statement
For over 25 years, sociologist Dorothy E. Smith has been producing compelling works that simultaneously challenge and deepen our understanding of sociological truths and sociological practice. As few before her, Dorothy Smith engages us in a debate with ourselves over the ideas to which we are most devoted: the relationship of the researcher to the researched; the nature of text and language as social form; the role of historical and political context in fundamentally linking individual agency and social structure and the power of staring from margin rather then center. Smith’s writings on the “institutional ethnography,” the argument for a focus on the everyday, concrete social relations that constitute lived experience, and the conceptual nature of power have directed sociology and shaped scholarship across the discipline.
At once fully original yet deeply resonant with sociology’s foundations, Dorothy Smith’s work is perhaps best known in its earlier forms: her challenge to sociology’s exclusion of women, and the nature of such exclusionary practices. As the first sociologist to theorize the epistemological implications of that exclusion, Smith’s critique simultaneously revealed the discipline’s social organization of knowledge and the erasure of its own subjects. Dorothy Smith located an epistemological site and rationale for the study of women, and gave an emergent feminist sociology a theoretical foundation for its inquiry into women’s lives.
In one of three important collections of essays, The Everyday World as Problematic: A Feminist Sociology (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1987), she writes of the “line of fault”—the gulf—the rupture between experience and the social forms of its expression. In that collection she poses a new agenda for sociology and for herself: to map and articulate how concrete experiences are connected to and shaped by larger, extra- local ideologies and ruling practices.
From that challenging and intellectually provocative place, Smith’s work extended to an exploration of a sociology of knowledge that revealed what she calls the “conceptual practices of power” that form the basis of society’s relations of ruling, and the grist for sociology’s knowledge of the social world. Significant essays on these topics are collected in her second volume, The Conceptual Practices of Power: A Feminist Sociology of Knowledge (Northeastern University Press, 1990).
Just as Marx once invited us to press past the “No Admittance” warning on capital’s locked gate, so too did Dorothy Smith invite us to go beyond critique in her third volume of essays, Texts, Facts, and Femininity (Routledge, 1990). There, she defends the existence of complicated relational forms within discourse, and the knowledge—and knowable—subject as more than text.
We value and honor scholars among us who offer new empirical angels on the social world, who give us another way of theorizing, who provide a lasting shift of a vision, and who generously share that vision with their students. But we save our highest award for those who do that in a sustained, original way. In so doing, they extend our own sociological reach, and bequeath us the possibility of new worlds of social inquire. Over the years, Dorothy Smith’s scholarship has given us just such gifts, and is thus deserving of the recognition represented by this award for a Career of Distinguished Scholarship.
Sarah Fenstermaker, Chair, Career of Distinguished Scholarship Award Selection Committe