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Public Forum

More on ASR: Clarification of Editors' Support

We would like to clarify one issue discussed by Professor Portes in his column on the recent ASR decisions in the November issue of Footnotes. Professor Portes suggested that the sitting ASA editors had unanimously supported the Camic and Wilson candidacy for the ASR editorship. As sitting editors in that meeting, we want to remind the ASA membership that the recent by-law changes had already removed editors from the Publications Committee at this time, so no vote was taken of our opinions. Our recollection is that among the editors who were present there was indeed substantial support voiced for the Camic and Wilson team. Support was not, however, unanimous, and a full discussion of all candidates by the editors was neither requested nor encouraged by the Publications Committee.

Barbara J. Risman
Donald Tomaskovic-Devey,
Co-Editors, Contemporary Sociology

Politics and Sociology

Professor James Tucker's letter on "Politics and the ASA" (November 1999) makes reference to an article that I wrote for Footnotes the month before ("Willing to Take a Stand"). He is so alarmed at my discussion, and other news in that issue of the newsletter, that he concludes by threatening the creation of a dissident Society for Scientific Sociology (SSS). He seems disturbed that our new ASA president, among his other commitments to sociological teaching and research, proposes the teaching and practice of a first-rate sociology that serves those people struggling to improve their lives in an in a non- egalitarian society and world. How a commitment to improved human rights, health, and life chances involves the abandonment of scientific integrity, which Dr. Tucker claims, is not clear from his piece. Is Tucker proposing a sociology that should only be oriented to the interests of established governments, the wealthy, and the elites? Or is he contending that a commitment to human equality, democracy, social justice, the environment, and peace politicizes the practice of sociological teaching and research, while a commitment to the status quo, government-defined research interests and goals, and continuing social inequality-often papered over with disingenuous claims of doing disinterested, neutral research work-does not politicize them?

Professor Tucker also dislikes what he calls a compelled "public confession" of a "thought crime" by Doug Massey, the ASA's president-elect. This rather extreme terminology is provoked by a statement that Massey sent to the Association of Black Sociologists as gesture of reconciliation and invitation to dialogue. Would Dr. Tucker have preferred that our president- elect ignore the important constituency that felt offended by his role in the ASA Council's rejection of the now well-known ASA Publications Committee recommendation for the ASR editorship?

Clearly, Professor Tucker is emotionally touched by terms such as "justice," "the oppressed,""diversity and inclusiveness," and the like. His use of exaggerated intimidatory epithets-"political orthodoxy," "party line," "public confession,""thought crime," and the like­-leftovers from the anti-Communist rhetoric of the recent past, is a new defensive strategy used by those who feel threatened by the growing intellectual diversity in several disciplines and social arenas.

However, Dr. Tucker brings forth the important issue of the role of values in sociological research. He claims that "sociological research cannot tell us whether any political system or any particular social policy is desirable or undesirable."All sociological research is riddled with the values and interests of those doing, or funding, the research. Thus, when we study something named, for example, "deviance" or "social disorganization," the very names of these fields involve definitive value judgements on what is, and is not, socially desirable. These terms clearly suggest views of the social world from the point of view of those who are dominant in the status quo.

Despite his whimsical characterization and condescending lessons offered to sociologists with progressive human rights values­those called activists-Professor Tucker touches on important issues for the profession. Will sociology live up to the concerns of its founders (for example, August Comte, Jane Addams, Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, W.E.B. Du Bois, Albion Small) for improving society? Will it serve those who suffer from inequality and racial, class, gender, and homophobic oppression? Whose standpoint should we take as a guide for the practice of sociology?

In my article I spoke of "value-free" sociologists who, like Max Weber, have refused to accept the official and conventional definitions of the problems they study because this is an indispensable starting point for a truly scientific sociology. This is the approach Weber accented in his own research. This is no more the enactment of a "political agenda," as alleged by Dr. Tucker, than choosing to work within and support official and conventional definitions. The commitment to learning from those who are usually un-voiced, those who suffer, is no more political than the commitment to work for and learn from the oppressors-or the decision to deny the continuing value dilemmas we face as researchers funded by established institutions. Indeed, discussing which research is political and which is not, does not seem like a good starting point for discussing the values and interests embedded in all social science and physical science research.

Professor Tucker's political discontent with the current debates in ASA resurrects the beaten-to-death horse of value freedom in our profession. But, this debate should perhaps, be revisited by every new generation of sociologists so that we can adapt it to changing circumstances.

Professor Tucker, please do not join the SSS and please stay in the ASA. Let us join forces and avail ourselves of the ASA's democratic procedures to struggle for an association so committed to intellectual diversity that we can continue this debate in the pages of its official journal.

Hernan Vera, University of Florida

No ASA in 2000

I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiments expressed by James Tucker in the December, 1999 issue of Footnotes.

If the ASA membership and its leaders are unable or unwilling fulfill the association's mission statement, then a new organization truly dedicated to "sociology as a scientific discipline" will have to be formed.

Having observed-off and on for almost 50 years-the sort of nonsense promulgated by the current ASA president and his coterie of aging flower children and Stalinist thugs, I really hope that "this too shall pass" as just another temporary aberration. It is ironic that this retreat from rationality and science comes at a time when public policy and program evaluation tasks increasingly depend upon quantitative methods to collect reliable data that is cumulative, requires the possibility of falsifying expectations, and contributes to the continuity of explanatory theory. Sadly, besides holding sociology up to public ridicule with ignorant pronouncements and show-trial accusations triggering mea culpa spectacles, these politically-correct ideologues are sabotaging the very causes they claim to be espousing.

Meanwhile, I have forgone sending my annual contribution to the ASA. Moreover, I will not attend the 2000 annual meeting; I'd rather not listen to these barely literate malcontents preach to the choir about the tragedy of the human condition as though it was a recent discovery. Instead, the money ordinarily spent on ASA has been used to increase my contributions to several authentic activist and advocacy groups. I know that the sincerely committed people comprising the grassroots groups I support are without the vanity of tenured professors who do little more than whine about injustices while enhancing their cv's. And, best of all, they accept my contributions as a private citizen without also demanding that I wear a hair shirt.

John C. Pock, Professor Emeritus, Reed College

Reorienting the ASR

I am writing this letter in response to the Footnotes and ASR controversies regarding racism, hoping to point out my concern that we all appreciate the negative effects, intentional or not. Two years ago, I submitted a paper on symbolic racism to the ASR. While it was not at the outset considered appropriate for ASR, after some objections to this decision, I later received a letter inviting me to submit the paper. I have not resubmitted the article, hoping that with a more favorable editorial staff and additional changes, the review would be unbiased.

We are all familiar with the unfortunate and undemocratic rejection and replacement of editors, that coincided with the election of Professor Feagin to be ASA President. Since then, SREM leadership has called for criticism and potential boycott of ASR, placing me in the regrettable position of not being able to resubmit the paper without opposing a section that I fully endorse.

I bring up this situation to demonstrate to anyone reading this letter that there are very real repercussions on individuals and organizations from the actions and orientations that we support within the discipline of sociology and in scholarly circles. The ASA stood at a possibly unique point with the election of Professor Feagin and the suggested appointment of a scholar on race, and racism, to re-establish important directions of scholarship on the highest levels in these areas. Rejecting this opportunity, which after all would have re-oriented the ASR for only three years, has set back our discipline considerably, with negative fallout for individuals such as myself, and the editor nominee, and for organizations ranging from local to national, if not global levels.

Whatever course of action arises from these regrettable and utterly avoidable errors in judgment, my sincere hope is that, at a minimum, we can collectively view the deeply permeated effects from social institutions developed around ideological, symbolic, and scholarly issues of race and racism. Dealing with these most difficult issues will help to make the important theme for the ASA 2000, in our nation's capitol, a significant step forward, rather than falling back into a racist and divisive past.

James V. Fenelon, California State University, San Bernardino

Proposal for Additional Sessions at the Annual Meetings

We believe that sociology's potential for rapid cumulative development and increasing credibility remains unfulfilled largely because the discipline has not, on a continuing basis, focused sufficient attention on the issues involved in the idea of sociology as a science, whether pro or con. For example, many of us see the lack of communication among sociologists in different fields-in common with the other social sciences-as pointing toward a veritable Tower of Babel, going against our ideals for openness to knowledge. Yet the discipline persists in failing to build bridges connecting knowledge in different fields. Recent controversies between sociologists who question the very idea of a scientific sociology and others who see the scientific method as fundamental have helped to lay bare some of our basic assumptions, and we would like to see such discussion emphasized throughout the discipline. We view this as important both for those interested in more rapid development of our substantive knowledge or pure sociology as well as for those concerned with applied sociology with its focus on understanding the social problems which presently threaten societies worldwide.

Given this rationale, we recommend to the ASA Council that every Section which desires to organize a session at the annual meeting around the theme of "Sociology as a Science: Pro and Con"-where there would be openness to all points of view within the discipline-be permitted to expand its allowed number of sessions so as to include such a session. In this way, this topic could become over time a continuing minor theme at the annual meetings, taking its place alongside of the changing major themes addressed by the Program Committees. This proposal is not a push for the importance of methods, theory or the sociology of science over all other topics. And it is not an effort to detract from the ongoing achievements of specialized work within our forty Sections. Rather, it seeks to emphasize questions which have been with us since the origins of the discipline yet now appear to have become more urgent for sociology as well as society. How might we proceed to decrease the fragmentation within sociology and back up our specialized knowledge with what we have learned from the discipline as a whole? Is it possible for us to move much further in the development of sociology as a science, where we learn to achieve rapid cumulative development and attain increasing credibility, or is this a hopeless endeavor? Can such efforts give us a direction for building bridges among the social sciences?

We are part of an eighteen-member informal group of sociologists interested in carrying forward Mills' idea of the sociological imagination. We are working toward demonstrating this possibility in a research conference-open to all-during the evenings of the Washington ASA meetings (August 12, 13, 14 and 15) at one of the two ASA conference hotels. We will present papers based on an approach to the scientific method which we have been developing and aim to publish the result as a volume in the "Sociological Imagination and Structural Change" series with Aldine.

We see the above proposal as calling for much greater attention on a continuing basis to issues surrounding sociologists' use of the scientific method, including our ability to communicate across our specialized fields and to achieve rapid cumulative development. Our own orientation to these issues is only one of many possible ones, and it is to the end of stimulating discussion throughout the discipline that this proposal is addressed. We have submitted a request to the 2001 Program Committee for the Anaheim meetings that three open sessions, all on this same theme of "Sociology as a Science: Pro and Con," be chaired by David Maines, Bernard Phillips and Thomas Scheff, with any overflow chaired by James Kimberly, and we are hoping for a second volume from those sessions.

We feel strongly that addressing this topic as a continuing theme at annual meetings will help us all to fulfill the promise of our discipline and achieve the understanding of society and its problems which the times urgently require. We welcome comments in Public Forum, pro or con, as well as in any of the Section newsletters. We also ask readers to write to any one of us with their reactions to the above proposal. A large favorable response could not be easily ignored when presented to the ASA Council. We will also report unfavorable responses. Sociologists interested in inquiring about or joining our sociological imagination group or submitting papers for our research conference should contact Bernard Phillips ( or 2002 Harbourside Dr., #1602, Longboat Key, FL 34228).

David W. Britt, Wayne State University,
Richard E. Edgar,
James C. Kimberly, University of Nebraska-Lincoln,
Harold Kincaid, University of Alabama-Birmingham (Philosophy),
Bronwen Lichtenstein, University of Alabama-Birmingham,
Guenther Lueschen, University of Alabama-Birmingham, lueschen@SBS.SBS.UAB.EDU
John J. Malarkey, III, Wilmington College,
Bernard Phillips,
Martin Sawzin, Boston University,
Thomas J. Scheff, University of California-Santa Barbara,
Jay Weinstein, Eastern Michigan University,