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Goodwin and Jasper Are the New Contexts Magazine Editors

by Edwin Amenta, New York University

I met Jim Jasper in 1988 when I was interviewing at New York University for a position on the faculty. His presence there was one of the main reasons I decided to take the job. Jeff Goodwin I met a couple of years later when he applied to NYU, and I could not have been more excited when he decided to join us. Jeff joined a workshop Jim and I had organized called “Politics, Power, and Protest,” where I found it exciting to think along with them as each developed his stunning scholarly works. I have had the great pleasure ever since of discussing and arguing about sociology and world events with them, and (full disclosure) eating and drinking with them often, too. They have been excellent colleagues and even better friends. I think that the ASA and Contexts are fortunate to have them as co-editors.

But, enough about me. Who are they? Both are Harvard University men. Both graduated magna cum laude and were elected to Phi Beta Kappa, with Jim’s degree in Economics and Jeff’s in Social Studies. Even though their undergraduate days mostly overlapped in Cambridge, they never crossed paths there. Jim went on to earn his PhD at the University of California-Berkeley, stopping off at the École des Hautes Études to work with Alain Touraine. Jeff stayed on at Harvard for his post-graduate work and studied with Theda Skocpol, among others. Jim and Jeff are similar in that they are restless intellects, interested not only in the large sociological questions, but also in the wider world. Each is keenly concerned about the usefulness of sociological knowledge to public debates and public life. Both began their careers as institutionalists interested in the relations between states and social movements, but both have gone on to advance other perspectives and explore new issues along the way.

Jim’s first book, Nuclear Politics: Energy and the State in the United States, Sweden, and France (Princeton 1990), examined the differing institutional logics that brought varied nuclear energy policies in the three countries. Jim has gone on to write several more books, all also critically acclaimed: The Animal Rights Crusade: The Growth of a Moral Protest, with Dorothy Nelkin (The Free Press, 1992), The Art of Moral Protest: Culture, Biography, and Creativity in Social Movements (Chicago, 1997), and Restless Nation: Starting Over in America (Chicago, 2000). Currently a Visiting Professor of Sociology at Princeton University, Jim is completing a multi-volume analysis of strategic action, with volume one due out soon. Jim is working on several other book projects on topics ranging from depopulation to nostalgia. Disturbing to those of us also working on other book projects, each of Jim’s seems destined to result in an actual book. Somehow, in addition, he has found time to become a practicing stand-up comedian.

Jeff greatly advanced political institutionalist thought and the theory of revolutions in his award-winning No Other Way Out: States and Revolutionary Movements, 1945-1991 (Cambridge, 2001). The book offers a theory to explain the emergence, success, and failure of revolutionary movements in Southeast Asia, Central America, and Eastern Europe. Currently Professor of Sociology at New York University, Jeff hit a rare sociological trisect. He garnered the distinguished contribution to scholarship award from three ASA sections: Collective Behavior and Social Movements (for No Other Way Out); Comparative and Historical (for “The Libidinal Constitution of a High-Risk Social Movement,” American Sociological Review, 1997); and Sociology of Culture (for “Network Analysis, Culture, and the Problem of Agency,” with Mustafa Emirbayer, American Journal of Sociology, 1994). Jeff is currently working on a study of terrorism, which will doubtless do for that subject what he has already successfully done for the study of revolutions. He has also managed in the meantime to make a film on emotions and protest.

Lately, Jim and Jeff also have been collaborating on a series of projects, two of which have recast thinking in collective behavior and social movements. In one, they provide a thoroughgoing critique of the dominant political process model with “Caught in a Winding, Snarling Vine: the Structural Bias of Political Process Theory,” an article that spurred a wide-ranging debate. Not incidentally, in it Charles Tilly dubbed them “Jaswin.” The article and the responses ran as a special issue of Sociological Forum in 1999, and the Jaswin debate was recently expanded into Rethinking Social Movements (Rowman and Littlefield, 2003). In another collaboration, Passionate Politics (Chicago, 2001), with Francesca Polletta (really full disclosure: the mother of our children), they suggest where social movement research should turn analytically and empirically. They urge scholars to treat emotions and culture far more seriously and collect a volume’s worth of fine new work that does just that. Over the past few years, Jaswin has been honing its collective editorial skills serving as the book review editing team for Sociological Forum.

But enough about them. What are they going to do with Contexts? I have it on good authority (from Jeff) that they “enthusiastically embrace the central premise of Contexts, which is that sociologists have something to say about the important issues of our times and can express their ideas in ways that are accessible to general readers.” Another thing they would like to say is that “Claude Fischer, as well as his image editor Jon Wagner, have done a Herculean job of getting Contexts up and going. So we’re in the nice position of being able to come along and slop some more icing on the cake,” said Jim.

Well, what type of icing? Jim and Jeff have never shied away from debates, and they are eager to help turn Contexts also into “a forum in which sociologists can discuss and debate pressing issues, informed by the best-available social science research,” said Jeff. They are also hoping “to get a little more humor into the magazine, add some small features that might liven it up a bit, maybe introduce one or two opinion features,” Jim stated. Jim and Jeff would also like to invite all ASA members to consider submitting proposals for feature articles and debates that would interest general readers. As Jim put it, “we want not only a review of the latest big book in social science, but reviews and analysis of the Kensington Dog Show, the Boat Show, and the television season’s sleaziest new reality series.” They can be contacted at and I encourage you all to do so. I know that I am going to.