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Charles Camic/Franklin Wilson: A Profile of the New ASR Editors

by Erik Olin Wright
University of Wisconsin-Madison

In a departure from tradition, the American Sociological Review will be lead by two equal co-editors beginning in the fall of 1999, Charles Camic and Franklin D. Wilson, both professors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. One of the strengths of sociology as a discipline is its heterogeneity of theoretical persuasions, methodological approaches, intellectual styles and even epistemological foundations. This heterogeneity has always been a challenge for the flagship general sociology journals, which are often perceived as favoring a narrower visions of the discipline. The appointment of Camic and Wilson as joint editors of the ASR represents a new way of responding to this challenge. Putting two sociologists with such different intellectual profiles at the helm of ASR signals an editorial openness to methodologically diverse kinds of scholarship on a wide range of sociological topics much more directly and effectively than editorial statements alone.

Franklin D. Wilson has taught at the University of Wisconsin since 1973 and served as Chair of the Departments of Afro-American Studies (1984-87) and Sociology (1988-91), and Director of the Center for Demography and Ecology (1994-99). He spent the 1991-92 Academic year in residence at the Bureau of the Census as an ASA/NSF/Census Fellow. He received his undergraduate degree form Miles College, Birmingham, Alabama; and graduate degrees from Washington State University. Wilson's primary specialty in sociology is social demography emphasizing population distribution and redistribution, and inequality, especially that between racial and ethnic populations in urban settings. Most of his research has focused on such substantive topics as: (1) residential differentiation and intrametropolitan residential mobility; (2) the impact of school desegregation policies on the demography of school enrollment changes; (3) internal migration flows and stream composition, and their relation to socioeconomic attainment and opportunities; (4) the role of migration in promoting urbanization, metropolitanization and regional development; (5) racial/ethnic inequalities reflecting differential opportunities in schooling, housing, residential location, and employment opportunities. His current work focuses on the ethnic structure of metropolitan labor markets, involving an analysis of inter-ethnic variations in employment sector specialization and the role that migration (immigration) play in this process.

Wilson's monograph, Residential Consumption, Economic Opportunities and Race (New York: Academic Press, 1979), was one of the first attempts to assess the relative effects of individual and structural factors on the consumption of housing in metropolitan areas using a multivariate statistical model which incorporated multiple indicators and an error structure. He and his colleague, Karl Taeuber, were able to show that school desegregation programs that mandated substantial change in racial enrollment at the school level experienced the largest changes in white enrollment, whether or not court-mandated busing was involved. His work on migration and socioeconomic attainment suggest migration has functioned well both as a redistributive mechanism for labor allocation and as a means of facilitating mobility for individual workers. He was one of the first researchers to emphasize the importance of regional context and metropolitan evolution in understanding the historical reversal in migration flows between metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. Finally , his most recent work shows that current concerns about the displacement effects of immigration on the labor market position of native workers are largely misplaced, because of the changing character of labor demand and because immigrants tend to concentrate in jobs natives avoid or jobs linked to an ethnic economy.

Charles Camic has taught at Wisconsin since 1979. His has been a member of the council of the Theory section of the ASA and chair of the section, 1994-1995. His under graduate degree was from the University of Pittsburgh and his doctorate from the University of Chicago. His central area of scholarship is the sociology of knowledge with particular emphasis on the historical sociology of sociology itself. Most of Camic's research might be looked upon as a series of strategically selected case studies designed to illuminate the intellectual and social process by which new ideas develop. His earliest work, published in his first book, Experience and Enlightenment: Socialization for Cultural Change in Eighteenth Century Scotland (University of Chicago Press, 1983), focused on the social origins of two broad secular ideas, independence and universalism, in a particularly momentous period of intellectual innovation. Some of his subsequent work focuses on the development of specific concepts in social science: His study of the concept of "habit" traces the process by which early 20th century European and American social scientists gradually abandoned this concept in favor of a variety of other conceptualizations of routinized human conduct; his research on the concept of "character" describes how mid-20th century social scientists replaced one conception of the human personality with another. He has also explored the social process by which social science methodologies, not just concepts, change, particularly in his work on the introduction of statistical methods in American social scientific thought. Other of Camic's research centers more on the intellectual trajectory of particular scholars than specific concepts and methods. His extensive published work on Talcott Parsons, soon to appear as a book, The Cosmopolitan Local: Talcott Parsons and the Making of an American Social Theorist, explores the social process by which Parsons' ideas took shape _ his attack on utilitarianism, his conception of method of science, the components of his theory of action, his evolving program for sociology, his reconstruction of the heritage of sociology, and his political agenda. He is currently working on a broadly similar project on the work of Thorstein Veblen.

In each of these diverse studies, Camic combines a comprehensive, meticulous reading of all of the relevant texts with careful historical research on the social structural and institutional contexts within which the ideas in question were produced and diffused. At the center of these analyses is an account of how the biographies of specific theorists with particular motivations and dispositions are embedded in historically variable power relations and cultural practices which help explain the intellectual innovations and choices they make.

While Camic's research is up to the historical standards of the best intellectual historians, his central motivation in most of these historical studies is not that of a pure intellectual historian interested in tracing the development of ideas as such. Rather, his work is driven by the ongoing debates and dilemmas in contemporary sociological theory. A central preoccupation in most of his work is figuring out why certain promising ideas in sociology were abandoned, why important theoretical paths were closed off, not for intrinsic intellectual reasons, but as a result of forgotten historical contingencies.

Together Camic and Wilson span many of the intellectual divides within sociology: quantitative and qualitative methods; in-depth case studies attentive to the specificities of concrete historical contexts and large dataset analyses seeking broad generalizations; economic/demographic and biographical/cultural studies; empirical research and explorations of sociological theory. Their ambition as co-editors is not to neatly divide up responsibilities along these lines, but to forge a co-editorship in which they jointly discuss all decisions and solicit each other's input so that the advice to authors embodies suggestions from their different perspectives and strengths. The goal, then, is to edit the journal in ways which bridge the divides in the discipline so that the journal will more adequately reflect its vibrant heterogeneity.