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Former American Sociological Association President J. Milton Yinger Dies

Originated the Concept Which Became Known as ‘Counterculture’

Photo of J. Milton YingerWASHINGTON, DC, July 29, 2011 — J. Milton Yinger, a former President of the American Sociological Association (ASA), died on July 28, at the age of 95. A prolific author and a distinguished professor of sociology at Oberlin College, Yinger was honored by his profession by being elected to serve as ASA President in 1977.

“Milton Yinger’s death is a great loss for the American Sociological Association and the discipline of sociology,” said Sally T. Hillsman, ASA Executive Officer. “Professor Yinger was one of the Association’s most loyal and active members, and his contributions to ASA and sociology will long be remembered.”

One of his most notable contributions to sociology, and certainly one known best to the general public, came in 1960 when he originated the concept of “contraculture” in an American Sociological Review article. Yinger defined “contraculture” as a group whose values contain “as a primary element, a theme of conflict with the values of the total society.” With the stylistic switch to “counterculture,” which uses an alternative form of the same Latin prefix, his concept and term became widely known during the next decade. His own work on this topic culminated with the 1982 publication of his book, Countercultures: The Promise and Peril of a World Turned Upside Down, a book, according to one reviewer, “of immense range, erudition, and sophistication.”

Born in Quincy, Michigan in 1916, Yinger attended DePauw University where he studied sociology. He continued his studies at Louisiana State University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he earned a master’s degree and a Ph.D., respectively. Yinger began his professional career in 1941 at Ohio Wesleyan University, where he taught sociology until 1947, when he moved to Oberlin College. At Oberlin, Yinger taught sociology and anthropology until his retirement in 1987.

During his career, Yinger authored 13 books and dozens of articles in professional journals. His textbook, Racial and Cultural Minorities, which he coauthored with George E. Simpson, went through five editions and won the 1959 Anisfield-Wolf award for the best scholarly work on race relations. Interestingly, Yinger and Simpson shared the award with another author, Martin Luther King, Jr. Other widely recognized books that Yinger authored include, The Scientific Study of Religion and Ethnicity: Source of Strength? Source of Conflict?.

In addition to serving as ASA President, Yinger received a number of other accolades during his notable career. He was the recipient of honorary degrees from DePauw and Syracuse University and was a Guggenheim Fellow, a Fellow of the National Endowment for the Humanities, and a Fellow of Clare Hall at Cambridge University in England.

Yinger is survived by three children, Susan Johnson of Oberlin, OH, John Yinger of Fayetteville, NY, and Nancy Yinger of Oakton, VA, and by five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. His wife of 61 years, the former Winnie McHenry, preceded him in death.

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The American Sociological Association (www.asanet.org), founded in 1905, is a non-profit membership association dedicated to serving sociologists in their work, advancing sociology as a science and profession, and promoting the contributions to and use of sociology by society.