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American Sociological Association: William Gamson Award Statement
Gamson was trained as a social psychologist and his early contributions were in this area. But he has also made exceptional contributions to work in at least three other subfields in sociology: social movements/collective behavior, political sociology, and the sociology of culture/media studies. Nor has his influence been confined to sociology. In 2000 the American Political Science Association awarded him the Doris Graber Outstanding Book Award for Talking Politics. And his recent work on political discourse and the media has made him an influential and visible figure in communication and media studies. In 1993-1994 he was president of the ASA.
Gamson commits himself on three fronts: as a profound analyst of social processes, as a talented expositor of sociological ideas and materials, as a passionate advocate of equality and justice.
Gamson’s scholarship has been influential in shaping how social scientists theorize and research political power and social movements. His most influential book, The Strategy of Social Protest, broke the then dominant collective behavior perspective on social movements. In rejecting that perspective he was as important as anyone in creating a new social movement subfield within sociology. The thriving nature of that field today is testament to the staying power of Gamson’s more political conception of social movements. Gamson’s work has been central to the creation of the resource mobilization and political process paradigms in the study of social movements and conflict. Indeed, prior to Gamson’s work collective action was viewed as exotic, spontaneous, structureless, irrational and fleeting. In contrast, Gamson’s empirical and theoretical work demonstrated that collective action was political, rational and embedded in social organizations. This insight is now accepted wisdom. Gamson’s work also emphasized the cultural aspects of social movements and collective action. He was far ahead in bringing culture back into the study of social movements and collective action. In short, Gamson’s work serves as a major foundational source of current work in social movements because of its pioneering role in linking structure and culture.
Gamson’s work has also proved valuable to social change agents. Its insights resonate with the real world of political and social forces with which activists must contend. But even more importantly, Gamson himself has been an agent of social change.
All this makes him a worthy recipient of the W.E.B. Du Bois Career Award