July/August 2015 Issue • Volume 43 • Issue 5

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A Dream Come True: Duane Alwin to Edit Sociological Methodology

Jennifer Barber, Population Studies Center

Duane Alwin

Duane Alwin is the inaugural holder of the distinguished Tracy Winfree and Ted. H. McCourtney Professorship in Sociology and Demography at the Pennsylvania State University. He is also an Emeritus Research Professor at the Survey Research Center, and an Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Michigan. He has abundant leadership experience— highlights include being the current director of the Center for Life Course and Longitudinal Studies, former chair of the department of sociology at the University of Michigan, 15-year editorial board member of Sociological Methods and Research, 10-year editorial board member of the Public Opinion Quarterly, and former chair of two ASA sections: Social Psychology and Aging and the Life Course.

Duane’s application for the editorship of Sociological Methodology began with this sentence: “It has been my career-long dream to be considered for the editorship of Sociological Methodology. ”When I spoke with Duane about it, the enthusiasm in his voice was audible. Few sociologists would compare methodology to “the Force” (yes, as in the Force in Star Wars), but Duane did just that in a short piece he wrote for the Bulletin of Sociological Methodology in 2013. Paraphrasing Obi-Wan Kenobi, he wrote that “methodology ‘surrounds and penetrates’ us and is one of the things that binds us together.” This guy is wild about methodology!

The Influence of Mentors

Duane told me that he is honored to be editing a journal that was started by his first sociology mentor at Wisconsin, Ed Borgatta, whom he clearly admires. When Duane began at Wisconsin in 1966, it was the heyday for the Wisconsin model of status attainment. It’s no surprise then—given the focus on social psychological aspects of status attainment at Wisconsin at the time—that Duane became a social psychologist. But, even more, the attention to measurement and modeling set him on a path to become one of our field’s most revered methodologists. When discussing his studies at Wisconsin, he warmly recalled the mentoring he received from the likes of George Bohrnstedt and David Heise (both former editors of Sociological Methodology), as well as Robert Hauser, Don Treiman, and others.

Duane’s qualifications to edit the journal are, of course, impeccable—considering only his publications on research methodology, there are two books and more than 50 articles and chapters, including five articles in Sociological Methodology. An early methodological article by Duane and Robert Hauser, published in the American Sociological Review (1974), has been cited more than 700 times! Duane was also the first director of the University of Michigan Survey Research Center’s Summer Institute in Survey Research Techniques, developing (with his colleagues) the Institute into the large-scale summer program that continues to draw students from all over the world.

Lest you worry that Duane’s exceptional credentials as a statistical methodologist render him less enthusiastic about other approaches to sociological analysis, rest easy. Duane actually began his career as a qualitative researcher.

Sure, his methodological credentials are stellar, but what about his substantive research? Duane believes passionately that methodologists must “give their work meaning by focusing on substantive problems.” Somewhat unusual for a methodologist, Duane has also been the Principal Investigator on 18 large federal grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and National Institutes of Health. He currently has funding from NSF for a project to develop a public data archive on the quality of survey questions. In addition to his methodological work, he has made seminal contributions to our knowledge of cognition, health, aging, family, children, social change, inequality, education, status attainment, and social psychology. Attesting to the importance of his substantive contributions, in 2012 he received the Matilda White Riley Distinguished Scholar Award, presented to him for exceptional achievement in research by the ASA Section on Aging and Life Course.

Seeking Diversity

Lest you worry that Duane’s exceptional credentials as a statistical methodologist render him less enthusiastic about other approaches to sociological analysis, rest easy. Duane actually began his career as a qualitative researcher. And, although his highest priority for the journal is clearly to maintain its overall scholarly excellence, this priority includes a specific focus on methodological diversity. In his application, he wrote, “I think most people would like to see more methodological diversity in the journal…” He plans to initiate “conversations” on important methodological trends by inviting symposia within the issues. (Unfortunately, given Sociological Methodology’s annual publication, it is nearly impossible to devote entire issues to specialized topics.)

A little-known fact about Duane is that he developed a course for Michigan’s sociology curriculum that is still required of, and highly appreciated by, our graduate students. Duane co-taught this course, The Logics of Research Design, with Karin Martin, a qualitative researcher at Michigan. It was designed to stress the plurality of research methods in sociology. I’m happy to report that Duane’s influence continues to stress such plurality today. Regarding methodological breadth at Sociological Methodology, Duane told me, “I will work to maintain the high visibility and impact of the journal, fulfilling the journal’s mission to reflect the research methods and epistemological choices made by all members of the discipline.”

My own interactions with Duane have spanned my entire career, from the time I arrived as a post-doc at Michigan. Unfortunately for me, we “swapped” – shortly after I came to Michigan following the completion of my PhD at Penn State, Duane completed his career at Michigan and went to Penn State. I later had the opportunity to be schooled by Duane at a symposium at Penn State in 2005, when I was a presenter and Duane was my discussant. I must admit that it felt scathing when he told the author (me) of a paper, titled “How Do Attitudes Shape Childbearing in the United States?,” what the term “attitudes” means, but it guided and clarified my subsequent research (and that of many papers I have reviewed). Conceptual clarity is a hallmark of Duane’s research.

Editing the journals of the American Sociological Association is no easy task, but these jobs are some of the most important in our field. The editors shape the field through the editorial directions they choose for their journalsa. They shape the field through their selection of the editorial boards and the articles in the journals. Many editors have a particularly strong influence on the young scholars in their fields, and thus the future of our discipline, as they guide them through the editorial process. We are fortunate to have attracted someone with Duane’s stature, talent, and devotion to edit Sociological Methodology.

 

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