American Sociological Association

ASA Footnotes

A publication of the American Sociological AssociationASA News & Events
March/April 2016

Footnotes : Obituaries


Alan Booth, distinguished professor emeritus of sociology, human development, and demography at Pennsylvania State University, died on December 23 at the age of 80.


  • Charles D. Bolton
  • John Henry Gagnon

Charles D. Bolton

Charles D. Bolton, a highly respected sociologist, died on January 1, 2016 in Portland, OR at the age of 94. He was born in Topeka, KS, but his family soon moved to Denver, where he spent the remainder of his childhood. After attending Oberlin College for two years, he served three years in the U.S. Army during World War II. Following his discharge, he received his BA from Denver University in 1947, and a year later his Master’s degree in sociology from Stanford University. In 1959 he was awarded his PhD in sociology from the University of Chicago. It was there that he met his wife, Mary Ellen Lund, who died in 2012. He is survived by his three daughters, Gael, Suzanne and Jeanni, along with nine grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

During his graduate school years, Chuck taught intermittently at Colorado College, Denver University, and the University of Illinois at Chicago. Additionally, while still in graduate school, he published two important articles in prestigious journals: “Sociological Relativism and the New Freedom” in Ethics, 1957, and “Behavior, Experience, and Relationships: A Symbolic Interactionist Point of View” in the American Journal of Sociology, 1958.

With a growing reputation, he was offered and accepted a faculty appointment in the Department of Sociology at the University of California-Davis in 1959, where he remained until accepting a faculty position in the Sociology Department at Portland State University (PSU) in 1964.

While at Davis, Chuck continued his record of excellence, publishing several articles and co-authoring with Kenneth Kammeyer, The University Student: A Study of Student Behavior and Values, 1963. Again affirming his reputation as a highly qualified sociologist, Chuck was asked to write an article for The Nation on the peace movement’s experiences as they might inform U.S. policies toward Cuba. In March 23 of last year, Peter Kornbluh referred to Chuck’s piece (52 years after it appeared!) in his own article in The Nation, saying:

On November 27, 1962, the magazine [The Nation] ran a comprehensive analysis by California sociologist Charles D. Bolton on the postcrisis agenda of the peace movement and the need for Kennedy to learn the lessons of near-nuclear Armageddon. Perhaps Bolton’s call for reforming U.S. policy toward Cuba was included in the president’s briefing papers, because in early 1963, Kennedy began to explore a ‘sweet approach’ toward Cuba.

Chuck also actively served the community in California. Lectures on social psychiatry that he had prepared for his classes at Davis were considered so useful that they were duplicated and distributed to California’s state psychiatric hospitals; he also served a term on the California State Prison System Appointment Board.

Arriving at PSU in 1964, Chuck quickly proved to be a capable leader and important innovator in the Department of Sociology and in the University. one year after he began his tenure at PSU, he became Chair of the Department (1965-1970), and then was re-elected Chair for another term (1977-1980). At the same time, Chuck embarked on a new professional challenge. In the late 1960s, as part of a consortium led by the University of Oregon, PSU received funds from a federal grant to develop the first PSU doctoral program, initially called Urban Studies. Chuck played a major role in the development of this program. As Leonard Cain (Professor Emeritus of Sociology and Urban Studies and a key player in the development of the Urban Studies-affiliated Institute on Aging) recalled, Chuck’s position as Chair, “together with his leadership skills allowed him to find success in developing this new, creative doctoral program that became a model for two additional interdisciplinary doctoral programs at Portland State.”

His importance to the program was recognized with a faculty appointment in Urban Studies (now the College of Urban and Public Affairs). During his second term as Chair, he also served as Acting Dean of the School of Urban Studies (1979-1980). He held the dual appointments until his retirement in 1987.

Chuck was no less sterling in the classroom. He was highly thought of by students, considered to be not only an excellent teacher, but also an admirable human being. Former graduate student Daniel Martin (Professor of Sociology, University of Minnesota-Duluth) offered his impression of Chuck: “As one of his advisees, I observed a sense of fairness that was at his very core. I personally regarded him as a wise old sage who was very honest and compassionate as well as highly intelligent in the classroom.” Daniel noted that during his doctoral studies, he came across one of Chuck’s earlier articles and remembered thinking that “it was absolutely brilliant.” I was also in Chuck’s classroom as a graduate student, and I consider him to have been the spark that ignited my sociological imagination; as his subsequent colleague for 24 years, I thought of him as a true intellectual and a cherished friend. Attesting to Chuck’s important theoretical contributions, another PSU colleague, Professor Emeritus Jan Hajda, notes that he “regards him as an innovative symbolic interactionist whose dissertation on why people fall in love and get married led to a restatement of the formation of the ‘I’ component of the self.”

Much of Chuck’s recreational time was spent in the outdoors, and he regularly hiked and fished throughout the northwest. In 1980, he designed and helped build a cabin overlooking the Columbia Gorge, where he and his family spent many pleasurable hours. He also had a passion for traveling, often with his wife Mary and occasionally with his children. He counted 62 countries among those he visited, including three treks in Nepal, the last one at the age of 70. Additionally, he and Mary were long-time activists in support of peace, environmental, and social justice causes. Finally, as a child he became a stalwart Chicago Cubs fan, an “addiction,” say his daughters, “from which he never escaped.”

Kathryn Farr, Portland State University

John Henry Gagnon

John Henry Gagnon, a towering figure in the sociological study of sexuality, died on February 11, 2016, from complications from pancreatic cancer. He was 84.

Gagnon spent his entire career—with several interruptions as a Visiting Professor at Princeton, Harvard, and the University of Essex—as a Distinguished Professor of Sociology at the State University of New York-Stony Brook. He was also a lifetime Fellow at Churchill College, Cambridge, UK, and received an honorary doctorate from Glasgow Caledonian University in 2006.

Born to working-class itinerant parents, Gagnon spent his early years in migrant worker tents in southern California, destined, he thought, for a career as an aircraft mechanic in Long Beach. A chance meeting led to his admission to the College at the University of Chicago, where, under the visionary Robert M. Hutchins, the university was receptive to smart non-traditional students. The College of the University of Chicago was like Shangri-La to Gagnon. He discovered the library, a perfect escape for a boy who was outside his milieu. He lost himself in literature, read voraciously, widely and pretty indiscriminately. One of his work-study campus jobs was returning books to their shelves, and he recalled reading one for every two he shelved.

After graduation, he stayed at Chicago for a PhD in sociology, working with Everett Hughes. Like fellow graduate students Howard Becker and Erving Goffman, Gagnon became interested in the extension of the term “career” to all arenas of social life, especially the non-occupational world. This was particularly the case with deviance. The career model offered a normative structure to the non-normative and seemingly unstructured conduct. There were governing rules, hierarchies that structured mobility, and standards of evaluation. “The careers of a banker and a gangster could be analyzed in exactly the same way,” Gagnon told an interviewer: “learning how to do a job, acquiring skills and insider knowledge, learning how to deal with all of the other social actors in a particular social milieu.”

One of the many jobs Gagnon held to support himself as a student was as Assistant Warden at the Cook County Jail for over three years, where he had “evolved into someone who was believed to know something about drugs, delinquency, crime and prisons.” All of which made him the perfect candidate when Wardell Pomeroy, one of Kinsey’s original collaborators, came through Chicago looking for a social scientist/criminologist to help with the fourth volume of the Kinsey study, Sex Offenders. Off to Bloomington, IN.

Gagnon arrived at the Kinsey Institute in 1959, three years after Kinsey himself had died, but a place where the research on sexuality was in full gear. He became a Senior Research Sociologist there and joined its Board of Trustees. (His portrait hangs in the entrance, with other collaborators.) Although the volume Sex Offenders (1965) was eventually published, it never received the acclaim of the two earlier volumes, in part because of its own intrinsic methodological and conceptual flaws, and in part because readers simply refused to believe that sex offenders represented end points on a continuum of sexual behaviors that would include their own sexual activities. It was far easier and more convenient to label sex offenders as a species apart, and leave our own tendencies out of it.

In 1964, Bill Simon passed through Bloomington, and though the two men had not been close as graduate students at Chicago years earlier, they hit it off marvelously, and Gagnon hired Simon and brought him to Bloomington. Like Marx and Engels or Astaire and Rogers it was the collaborative synthesis that produced their best work; while each was talented in their own individual ways, their collaboration brought forth a third entity that redefined a field.

While at the Kinsey Institute, from 1965 to 1968 (and in a long-distance collaboration until 1973), Gagnon and Simon applied many of their Chicago-bred insights to the study of sexuality. In a sense, their arguments are simple; their implications, vast. Sex—sexual behavior, that is—is profoundly social. And sex—sexual identity, the identity constructed through sex—is among the central building blocks of our identities.

Their 1973 book, Sexual Conduct, changed how we think about sex and introduced the social constructionist model. The sexual scripts model was the first effort to understand what we now think of as the “performative” aspect of sexual identity. It remains the single most important theoretical work in a field that the work itself heralded. Without Gagnon and Simon, there could not have been a Judith Butler.

The emerging HIV crisis in the late 1980s provided an impetus for a return to an empirical study of sexual behavior. With Ed Laumann and Robert Michael at Chicago (and with collaborators Stuart Michaels and Martina Morris), the group undertook a major federally funded study of sexual behavior. That is, until Sen. Jessie Helms heard about the funding line. He denounced Gagnon from the floor of the Senate thus:

That fellow does not have all four wheels on the ground. His elevator does not go to the top. He is nuts. And yet, he is regarded as a scientific expert. Do not tell John Q. Public that he is…Yet, this is the kind of guy that the American taxpayers are being required to fund…

making Gagnon one of perhaps a handful – if not the only – Sociologist to be denounced by name from the floor of the U.S. Senate, an honor he cherished.

The project, the National Health and Social Life Survey, produced a series of landmark books, beginning with the simultaneous publication of two volumes in 1994—a scientific work, The Social Organization of Sexuality (with Michael, Laumann and Gagnon), and a popular work, Sex in America (co-authored with Gina Kolata), for more mainstream audiences. These volumes represent the largest and most ambitious study of American sexual behavior ever undertaken in our history.

Several of his books have been translated into French, German, Russian, Chinese, Thai and other languages. In recognition of his importance, the ASA Sexualities section annually presents the Gagnon and Simon award to a scholar of sexualities.

Though known primarily for his writings and lectures on sexuality, Gagnon also wrote about sexuality, marriage and the family, tourism, and simulation and gaming with his second wife, sociologist and photographer Cathy Greenblat. Their nearly 38 years together took them all over the world to present at conferences and consultations. In retirement, they lived in Nice, France, for 11 years, and, for the last three years in Palm Springs, CA. Until his death, they were each other’s sounding boards for all serious writing and thinking as well as best friends.

At a colleague, John was known for his dazzling brilliance, his capacious knowledge of literature and culture, his mordant wit and his intellectual and personal generosity. He and Cathy had a tendency to “adopt” young scholars and artists; their home was always a hive of research and convivial conversation. To many, including this writer, he was a colleague, co-author, mentor, friend, and commuting partner.

He is survived by Cathy, four loving children, and several grandchildren -- and an entire subfield of sociology he helped to bring into existence.

Michael Kimmel, Stony Brook University