Report on the Executive Meeting
of the International Sociological Association
Val Moghadam, Purdue University and member of the Executive Committee and the National Associations Liaison Committee, Representing ASA
Rovaniemi, Finland, April 1, 2008—Some might doubt that the Arctic Circle would be an appropriate venue for a meeting of the executive committee of the International Sociological Association (ISA), whose members hail from Nigeria, Israel, the Philippines, and Brazil, among other warm climes. On the other hand, who would not want to see the home of Santa Claus? And so the executive committee met in Rovaniemi, Finland, between March 25 and 29, at the invitation of the Finnish associations of sociology and political science, which were holding a joint conference there.
Interesting venues are typical of ISA meetings, including the World Congress, which is held every four years in July. Durban, South Africa, was the site of the most recent World Congress (see November 2006 Footnotes, p. 5), and the next will convene in Gothenburg, Sweden, in 2010. The first ISA Forum of Sociology, a meeting of several thousand social scientists, will be held this September, in Barcelona, Spain. The council of the ISA research divisions will meet in Barcelona and the ISA council of national associations will take place in March 2009 in Taiwan. Among other business at its recent meeting in northern Finland, the executive committee decided on Yokahama, Japan, as the venue for the 2014 World Congress.
At the Rovaniemi meeting, the ISA Program Committee reported on preparations for the 2010 World Congress (Gothenburg, Sweden). The theme is "Sociology on the Move" in connection to the following issues:
- Conflict and war
- Worlds of difference
- Action and imagination
- Religion and power
Five sessions are also planned on the specificities of Scandinavia and the Nordic welfare state model, as are five author-meets-critics sessions.
The ISA and the World-System
The ISA has a membership of nearly 4,000 from across the globe. It is a bicameral organization of National Associations (approximately 54 total) and Research Committees (55 total). Its administrative office is located at the University Complutense, in Madrid, Spain (see www.isa-sociology.org/). It publishes the International Sociology Review of Books, and its two main journals (Current Sociology and International Sociology) are the venue for serious research articles as well as debates about the possibilities and direction of sociology as an international/global field.
Geographic distribution of the ISA’s members reflects world-systemic dynamics. Nearly half of the membership comes from the core countries of “Category A.” (These categories, and the attendant individual and collective membership fees, are based on World Bank classifications of countries by national income.) For example, the United States has the largest number of ISA members (604 in 2008), according to a report from the ISA executive office, and the ASA is a longstanding member of the Council of National Associations. Other large groups of members are from the United Kingdom (232), Canada (200), Germany (159), Australia (141), Japan (137), Italy (116), and France (111).
In Category B (which includes middle-income-level countries), the total number of members is 797, with the largest concentrations from South Africa, Brazil, and Mexico. Other Category B countries are not well represented in the ISA; for example, Iran has 30 members and China 29. India, however, has 191 members. Iran and China are listed in Category C, along with countries such as Rwanda, Guinea Bissau, Mali, and Valuatu, even though the World Bank classifies them as lower-middle income. This and other issues, I believe, raise questions about whether it is time to revisit the categories.
Other world-systemic issues that I see replicated within the ISA include China’s apparent reluctance to take an active role because of the presence of Taiwan. Michael Burawoy, vice-president for National Associations and chair of the National Associations Liaison Committee (NALC), has taken on the task of trying to convince the Chinese to participate, though this will be difficult in the short term, given the fact that the 2009 meeting of national associations will convene in Taipei (theme: “Challenges for Sociology in an Unequal World”).
National Associations and the ASA
In other business, the NALC discussed a common website for National Associations, a draft of which was presented by NALC chair Michael Burawoy. The idea is to create a structure that permits easy and decentralized updating. The project was unanimously approved, but it was noted how difficult it is to collect information and then to maintain it. Around half of all National Associations do not have websites. Nonetheless, uploading of files will begin over the next year. For example, a series of 11 publications on regional sociologies commissioned during Immanuel Wallerstein’s ISA presidency will be posted online for use by members and others. In addition, the Executive Committee discussed the possibility of gathering data on the status of sociology in different countries, and also documenting different national traditions of sociology. Both would be appropriate for the new website.
As mentioned, the United States has the largest numbers of ISA members, and I personally know many U.S. sociologists who will be attending the upcoming Forum in Barcelona—not only for the beauty of the city but also for the exciting program. But the national association (i.e., the ASA), in spite of its long-term support, is not regarded by some as being active or highly invested in the ISA. At present, three Americans (Jan Marie Fritz of the University of Cincinnati, Vice President Michael Burawoy of the University of California-Berkeley, and myself) are on the ISA Executive Committee, but more needs to be done to increase U.S. participation and support.
To this effect, I propose a few ideas for consideration. ASA could include more international sociologists on thematic or presidential sessions at the annual ASA meetings. ASA might extend financial support for the ISA’s PhD candidate laboratories, which are in various locations around the world. Jan Fritz helped lead one (with the theme: "Globalization, Social Problems, and Social Policy") last November in Maiduguri, Nigeria. Yet another idea is to continue to invite international sociologists to write for this newsletter. These steps would be important not only symbolically, but also in terms of helping to strengthen sociology globally, which tends to be particularly fragile in the Global South. It is hoped that these proposals will continue to be considered by the ASA Council, as part of its ongoing internationalization efforts.