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The Executive Officer’s Column

Sociology on a World Stage

At the February Council meeting, ASA leadership received briefings on the 2006 Annual Meeting in Montréal and on the upcoming quadrennial International Sociological Association (ISA) meeting in Durban, South Africa. Exciting discussion ensued, as it became readily apparent how international collaborations and venues enrich our intellectual work, collegial networks, and friendships.

We could not be happier with the 2006 Annual Meeting venue—Montréal—and not just because we were “venue-less” for a few nerve-wracking months while contract-related issues got ironed out. The 2006 Program Committee, chaired by ASA President Cynthia Fuchs Epstein, has made up for lost time. With the delightful serendipity of having Harvard University’s Michèle Lamont on that committee, a native Québécoise, we have all learned more and more about the fascinating Montréal context. Local sociologists have eagerly offered to arrange special sessions, involve Canadian sociologists, lead tours, and, as if it were needed, point to good restaurants.

Expecting High Attendance at ASA Meeting

Our best indicator that the Montréal meeting may set Association records stems from an all-time high in paper submissions, more than 3,000! The electronic submission process is well under way, with session organizers making their selections.

The summer season will be busy with the ISA meeting set for July 23-29 in Durban. ISA’s program historically has been organized primarily around research committees and national association sessions, but given that this is the first time the meeting has been held on the African continent, this venue holds promise for new experiences, insights, research connections, and opportunities for all who attend.

Join Colleagues in Africa

As the travel award announcement on page one of this Footnotes issue indicates, ASA applied for and expects funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to support U.S. sociologists’ travel to the Durban meeting. In addition, a second NSF grant for $20,000 will specifically target collaborations between U.S. and African sociologists. There are vibrant African Studies Centers in which sociologists are centrally involved, such as at Michigan State University and Northwestern University, and many individual sociologists have had Fulbright or other support to teach and research in Africa. Nevertheless, the involvement of African sociologists in ASA and collaborations between U.S. and African scholars are rarer than we would wish. The ISA meeting is a launch to a great future of intellectual interchange with our African colleagues.

At the ISA, the ASA will sponsor four sessions, and have an exhibit booth with information about our programs, journals, publications, and Annual Meeting. Each of the sessions highlights areas of sociology where U.S. sociologists are particularly strong. Two will examine issues around race and ethnicity and gender. Certainly these areas, which are central to our discipline, carry a different significance in the American sociocultural and political contexts. Hearing from race, class, and gender scholars from other countries should press our thinking, our models, and our approaches to research on inequality. Indeed, what could be more important from an American perspective than to be discussing race in South Africa?

The second two ASA-sponsored ISA sessions focus on the scholarship of teaching and learning. Both will engage scholars from other countries—particularly Great Britain and South Africa—and their ISA national associations. One session will illustrate research on teaching and learning in sociology. The other will address the “social movement” aspect of the development of this subfield of sociological research. Again, ASA’s longstanding commitment to teaching, to undergraduate education, its active section on teaching and learning in sociology, and its work in higher education generally are a firm foundation to stimulate these discussions.

Back at home and throughout the year, the Executive Office keeps an eye on the international scene as it relates to sociology. In our public affairs work, we have pushed to allow sociologists from all countries to visit the United States and participate in conferences and lecture on campuses despite visa restrictions. We have joined with sister associations to resist limits (based on nationality) to sociologists publishing in U.S. books and journals. And in the cases where sociologists have been imprisoned or persecuted for their work, we have joined with the American Association for the Advancement of Science and other associations to protest such treatment.

For several of our annual meetings, we sought and received special funding for international scholars to come to the United States and be a part of our program. Most recently, a Ford Foundation grant allowed ASA to bring a total of nearly 30 scholars to the San Francisco meeting in 2004 and the Centennial meeting in Philadelphia. An ISA-sponsored volume of work presented in Philadelphia by international scholars is being developed by Sujata Patel, ISA Vice President. We are mindful that some of these scholars may not have ready scholarly networks in our country, so part of our role as their host has been to link them with sociologists doing similar work, to sponsor social events, and to help them to navigate an ASA Annual Meeting. Our annual reception for international scholars is always abuzz, in several languages, so not much is needed to make new professional friends.

This year’s 2006 Annual Meeting and ISA Meeting will again present significant opportunities to expand sociological work on a world stage.

Sally T. Hillsman, Executive Officer