November-December 2009 Issue • Volume 37 • Issue 8

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Major ASA Award Recipients Honored in San Francisco

The American Sociological Association (ASA) presented the 2009 major awards at this year’s Annual Meeting on August 9 in San Francisco. The Awards Ceremony, followed by the Presidential Address, was well attended. These awards are given to sociologists for their outstanding publications, achievements in the scholarship, teaching, and practice of sociology, as well as for their overall advancement of the discipline. Following is the list of awardees.

Sheldon Stryker

W.E.B DuBois Career Award of Distinguished Scholarship


Sheldon Stryker

The 2009 W.E.B. DuBois Career Award of Distinguished Scholarship is presented to Sheldon Stryker, Distinguished Professor of Sociology at Indiana University. This annual award honors a scholar who has shown outstanding commitment to the profession of sociology and whose cumulative work has contributed in important ways to the advancement of the discipline. Looking back at a career that spans six decades, one would be hard-pressed to find a scholar who has accomplished as much as Sheldon Stryker has during the second half of the 20th century. The body of his lifetime work, which continues to thrive, has been exemplary to all sociologists.

His career at Indiana University began in 1950 when the then-chair of the Sociology Department put together two teaching assistantships to create a position for him. He soon joined the faculty as an instructor in 1951 and has dedicated nearly every year since then to the university, taking time for opportunities of fellowships with the Social Science Research Council in Minnesota in 1959-60, Fulbright in Italy in 1966-67, and the Center for the Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences in Palo Alto in 1986-87.

Stryker’s 1980 publication, Structural Symbolic Interaction, took Mead’s theory on Symbolic Interactionism and developed a version of it that emphasized structure and organization at the personal and societal levels, one that relies on scientific methods and quantitative analysis to test interactionist ideas about the self. In the spirit of W.E.B. DuBois, Stryker renovated Mead’s theory in ways that changed and advanced sociology for the better.

His chief focus has been in social psychology, especially in the development of Identity Theory, which seeks to formulate and extend insights of Mead in a theory that is tested using strenuous methods. Stryker has applied this restructured theory to the social movement phenomena, further examining sociological psychology in social structural contexts. In his groundbreaking book Self, Identity, and Social Movements (2000), co-edited with Timothy J. Owens and Robert W. White, he demonstrates this theory by highlighting the importance of one’s identity and self-esteem, providing a picture of how self and identity influences social movement recruitment, activism, and maintenance. As a result, Stryker presented a greater understanding of the social and psychological forces at work within political and social movements.

Garnering numerous awards over the years, including the Cooley-Mead Award for Lifetime Contributions to Social Psychology from ASA’s Section on Social Psychology and the George Herbert Mead Award for Lifetime Scholarship from the Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction, Stryker has deservedly earned a reputation of advancing sociology as a discipline that is virtually unmatched by any other scholar over his six decades of work. His published work includes books, monographs, edited volumes, journal articles, and encyclopedia articles. In the tradition of DuBois, this award is given to Sheldon Stryker because of the impression that will be interminably felt as a result of his substantial contributions to the discipline of sociology.

Steve Epstein

Distinguished Book Award


Steve Epstein

On its surface, the movement in the 1980s that resulted in institutional changes requiring medical researchers to include multiple racial/ethnic groups and women in their research suggests a victory for diversity. But what begins as a simple story grows in complexity in Steven Epstein’s book, Inclusion: The Politics of Difference in Medical Research. Epstein documents the wide range of advocacy groups that successfully led to reforms requiring medical researchers to diversify their potential subjects for clinical research. The arguments for inclusion were that racial/ethnic minorities, women, and, to a lesser extent, children and the elderly were insufficiently represented in past research. As a result, the health needs of these historically disadvantaged groups were being compromised.

Epstein considers how this policy change has mattered, acknowledging the benefits, but persuasively arguing that inclusion has been a double-edged sword. On one hand, racial/ethnic minorities and women have become routinely included in clinical trials. On the other hand, biologically-based arguments for differences have gained prominence at the same time. Indeed, Epstein contends that the new paradigm of "inclusion-and-difference" has tended to divert attention away from potentially important environmental sources for group differences in health. A largely unintended consequence of the "inclusion-and-difference" thinking is that the reason it is important to expand beyond studying white males is because there really is something essentially (biologically) different about these "other" groups. Requiring medical researchers to study traditionally underserved populations has, therefore, had complex consequences.

Of course, including racial/ethnic minorities and women in medical research could have resulted in greater sensitivity to environmental factors leading to group health differences, but Epstein notes that this is not the way it has generally played out. For example, black/white differences in life expectancy became more readily assumed as a given. The intent of including a broader array of social groups in medical research, therefore, while meant to improve underserved groups’ lives, has also inadvertently provided a framework for reifying health differences in biological terms. The problem is that when group differences are found in a particular outcome there is a tendency to view that difference as a result of essential features of individuals rather than search for potential contextual explanations. Epstein’s book struggles with the problem of how an emphasis on group differences between women and men and blacks and whites has, ironically, paved an easier path for the essentialist position.

As Epstein states in his book, the risk is that the current approach, emphasizing the inclusion of a wide range of groups under the assumption that they are different "fails to demand adequate attention to a crucial set of issues—specifically, the ways in which inequalities and power differentials in the broader society affect people’s exposure to health risks, their capacity to access quality medical care, and the likelihood that they will be subject to conscious or unconscious discriminatory treatment by health care professionals" (p. 299). In short, the emphasis on inclusion of different groups has resulted in an uphill battle for sociologically-grounded explanations for health disparities.

Epstein weaves literatures that span medical sociology, social movements, sociology of knowledge, political sociology, racial and ethnic studies, and gender and sexuality studies into a compelling description of the complex relationship among science, the state, and society. With each additional layer of information, Epstein’s argument becomes more compelling. The book has appeal outside of sociology. Indeed, anyone interested in health (and that is all of us) will appreciate Epstein’s contribution.

Carla B. Howery

Distinguished Contributions to Teaching Award


Carla B. Howery

Carla B. Howery, former ASA Deputy Executive Officer and Director of Academic and Professional Affairs Program, is the 2009 recipient of the American Sociological Association’s Distinguished Contributions to Teaching Award. Howery dedicated her career to the promotion of teaching and learning in sociology and to the professional development and training of new and experienced faculty. She made significant contributions to 1) the ASA Curricular Resources on Teaching, 2) the scholarship on teaching and learning, 3) the ASA Department Resources Group, 4) the quality of instruction around the country via workshops, lectures, and consultations, and 5) the advancement of sociology through public speaking and advocating policy changes and by serving on numerous committees, task forces, boards, and panels that support quality teaching.

One of Carla’s major contributions was building a vast library of resources on teaching sociology. She was a writer, planner, and reviewer of curriculum materials for teaching sociology across the discipline. Not only did Carla prepare a number of important teaching- and curriculum-related materials and publications, she was the driving force in the establishment and growth of the ASA Teaching Resources Center (TRC). The TRC collections of syllabi and publications on a variety of topics related to the teaching of sociology stands as a model for other fields in academia. Carla also was a key co-author of several documents, including perhaps the most important curriculum documents in sociology, the two editions of Liberal Learning and the Sociology Major.

As noted above, Carla not only participated in the scholarship of teaching and learning, she was a critical voice of leadership in establishing and expanding this scholarship within our discipline. Her abbreviated vita lists some 14 peer-reviewed publications over the past decade that address various parts of the scholarship on teaching and learning. She also was instrumental in the development and communication of innovative teaching techniques through her roles in establishing the TRC and the journal of Teaching Sociology.

In addition, Carla led more teaching-related workshops and symposia in sociology than any other individual at regional and national meetings. She also was central to the establishment of regular workshops for department chairs and for directors of graduate study at the ASA annual meetings. As a leader of the Teaching Resources Group, Carla also helped to train consultants from across the country on how to lead effective workshops on a variety of topics related to teaching. The Teaching Resources Group eventually became the Department Resources Group, and Carla led the way again in training consultants to do external reviews of sociology departments. Carla, herself, conducted over 45 departmental reviews during her career.

During her 26-plus years at the ASA, Carla was highly involved in innovative program development. Several important programs that Carla played a leadership role in are the ASA MOST (Minority Opportunities through School Transformation) program, the Preparing Future Faculty project, and the Integrating Data Analysis (IDA) program funded by the National Science Foundation. She also was the co-director of the Spivack Program on Applied Research and Social Policy. Carla worked at the state, regional, and national levels to transform awareness of and teaching about sociology. She planned and presented at Congressional and media briefings, and she supervised many ASA Congressional fellowships.

In conclusion, there is so much more to say about Carla and the work she did on behalf of teaching and sociology. Perhaps one colleague said it best when writing after Carla’s death in March. She said Carla was "passionate about teaching as scholarship, feminist sociology, and applied sociology. She was committed to social change in our profession, while, at the same time, Carla was the ultimate effective insider at the ASA. I’m absolutely convinced that the success of all of us who might otherwise be at the margins, and are now far more central, can be traced to Carla’s ceaseless passionate work as an organizational insider and outsider. She was instrumental in creating a profession where margin moved to center. She was a loved friend to many of us, and perhaps one of the most important sociologists of all time, in her own organizational way."

S.M. "Mike" Miller

Distinguished Career Award for the Practice of Sociology


S.M. "Mike" Miller

S.M. "Mike" Miller exemplifies the outstanding contributions to sociological practice recognized by this award. His distinguished career in sociological practice has spanned six decades, throughout which he has made important and lasting contributions in academics and beyond. Crossing the boundaries of social science and social practice has been the hallmark of Miller’s career as he has turned his sociological ideas into action and social action into ideas He is a respected academic, a public intellectual who has been involved in translating sociological ideas for diverse audiences, an activist in some of the most important social movements of the past half century, and a leader in shaping policy debates in the United States and internationally. He has also been a supportive mentor to hundreds of young scholars and activists.

Currently, Miller is research professor of sociology at Boston College, directs the Project on Inequality and Poverty at the Commonwealth Institute, and serves on the board of United for a Fair Economy, which he co-founded. He also serves on the board of the Poverty and Race Research Action Council in Washington, DC, and isthe first social scientist to serve in that capacity.

Such "firsts" run throughout Miller’s career. He founded Ideas for Action in the late 1940s, a magazine that brought social science ideas to union and community activists. He helped found Social Policy and has remained a contributing editor for three decades. During the civil rights movement of the 1960s, he organized and chaired a social science advisory committee to the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE), joined the Ford Foundation and initiated that Foundation’s support of Latino advocacy groups and grants to CORE, the National Urban League, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). He wrote speeches for Martin Luther King, Jr., and an economic policy chapter in Where Do We Go From Here? King’s 1967 Annual Report to the SCLC. He was also active in the areas of welfare rights and anti-poverty policies.

Poverty policies, both in the United States and internationally, have been a career-long area of focus for Miller. He has been involved with national policy creation, community organizations, or consulting in China, Ireland, Israel, France, Great Britain, Hungary, Malaysia, and the Soviet Union. The European Union’s poverty policy is based on his theoretical perspectives.

Miller’s perspectives have informed audiences ranging from grassroots activists to public officials, foundations, journalists, and the general public. He has held a range of editorial positions with leading publications including the American Sociological Review, Social Policy, and the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research. A prolific writer in his own right, Miller has published more than 300 monographs, books, articles, opinion pieces, and notes that demonstrate the range and breadth of his contributions to sociological practice. Identification of the problem of "over-rapport" in fieldwork, the first study of comparative social mobility, identification of the stratification process in credentialism, the importance of neoliberal political ideology, and early work on gender relations among dual-earner couples are but a few notable examples.

Miller’s scholarship has been recognized with numerous awards and honors, including several visiting scholar positions and fellowships throughout his career. He has been a Guggenheim Fellow, a German Marshall Fund Fellow, an International Fellow with the Institute for Family and Environmental Research, and a Fulbright Lecturer in India.

He has a notable history in service to the discipline that demonstrates the confidence his professional colleagues have placed in him and his able and well-respected leadership across the discipline. He has been the president of the Eastern Sociological Society and Society for the Scientific Study of Social Problems. He chaired the National Council of Science Committee on Under-Enumeration in the Census, co-chaired the American Academy of Arts and Science Committee on Poverty and Stratification, and was president and co-founder of the International Sociological Association’s Research Committee on Poverty, Social Welfare, and Social Policy.

For weaving together a life and career that includes a commitment to sociological practice and social action that has resulted in these outstanding contributions, we recognize S.M. "Mike" Miller with the 2009 ASA Distinguished Career Award for the Practice of Sociology.

Barbara Ehrenreich

Excellence in the Reporting of Social Issues Award


Barbara Ehrenreich

Barbara Ehrenreich, ASA’s 2009 recipient of the Excellence in the Reporting of Social Issues Award, is a renowned author and activist who has consistently pushed for social change throughout the second half of the 20th century. This award recognizes the contributions of an individual who has been especially effective in disseminating sociological perspectives and research, a description that perfectly suits the work of Barbara Ehrenreich. She has dedicated her life to informing the general public of social injustices and has consequently furthered sociology as a discipline tremendously.

After receiving her PhD in cell biology, Ehrenreich opted for a career path of exposing societal inequalities, ranging from sexism in health care to economic justice for all Americans. She published two books in 1969, a scientific monograph and a commentary on the student movement. Luckily for us, she followed political activism rather than a scientific career.

She has written 18 books over four decades, including Witches, Midwives and Nurses: A History of Women Healers (1972), a concise booklet detailing a history of women’s suppression and the underlying causes of poor health care. This book began Ehrenreich’s transformation into an investigative journalist and sociologist, sparking her crusade for better health care for women as well as greater access to information about health.

After tackling the issue of health care, Ehrenreich gained further momentum to highlight other social injustices. Her work has been remarkably influential in sociology, including The Hearts of Men (1987), which illustrates how gender roles have impacted men as well as women and have prevented America from realizing its full potential. Ehrenreich demonstrates that it’s not simply women who are negatively affected by gender roles, but that members of both sexes follow their specific roles, hindering the entire American population.

One of her most notable books, Nickel and Dimed (2001), a first-hand account of living on minimum wage, opened the eyes of the public to the American working-class struggles. It dramatically changed the misguided assumptions that average people had about white collar workers, and continues to be used as a teaching resource in classrooms across the country.

Ehrenreich has succeeded in various areas such as think pieces and investigative journalism, always bringing a new sociological approach to the table. Aside from her numerous published books, her accomplishments have reached a variety of media. She was a regular columnist for Time magazine and contributes frequently to The Progressive. She has written for the New York Times, The New Republic, Mother Jones, Ms, among other publications. Today, she continues to write opinion pieces and essays, which are routinely featured on her blog. Her dedication to social activism on issues such as health care, women’s rights, and class equality remains strong; she founded the group United Professionals in 2006, advocating health reform and equal benefits for white collar professionals.

Barbara Ehrenreich’s contributions to the sociological field have become immeasurable. Over time, she has brought sociology and injustice to the forefront of the minds of the public. Her name is synonymous with social change, and her body of work repeatedly challenges sociological theory and pushes us to delve deeper into the reporting of social issues.

Aldon Morris

Cox-Johnson-Frazier Award


Aldon Morris

Aldon D. Morris is the 2009 recipient of the ASA’s Cox-Johnson-Frazier Award, named for African American sociologists Oliver Cromwell Cox, Charles S. Johnson and E. Franklin Frazier. Through path-breaking scholarship that challenges and, when necessary, overturns conventional thinking; humane, inclusive, and transformative teaching and mentoring; constructive and peaceful direct confrontation in pursuit of social justice; and longstanding public engagement in service of building and transforming institutions to better include and serve all communities,  Morris truly embodies the living tradition of critical public engagement.

Within four years of earning his PhD from SUNY-Stonybrook, Morris published the timeless classic The Origins of the Civil Rights Movement: Black Communities Organizing for Change. The recipient of multiple best book awards and other scholarly recognition, Origins challenged reigning sociological orthodoxy on the Civil Rights Movement by documenting the multiple ways black communities—north and south—strategically employed their own resources, institutions, networks, and innovations to collectively disrupt state-sanctioned racism in the United States. Morris’ examination of cooperation and conflict within the Civil Rights Movement and between black movement leaders and anti-racist white-led institutions broke new ground. In countless public lectures in the years since, and in three additional co-edited books and numerous articles, chapters, and reports, Morris has explored the promise of contemporary justice movements in light of the Civil Rights Movement’s legacies. Equally committed to bringing greater understanding and recognition of W.E.B. DuBois, Morris’ most recent articles, presentations, and campaign to name the ASA’s Distinguished Career of Scholarship award after DuBois have resulted in far greater awareness of DuBois’s long and brave history of intense public engagement (national and international) and formidable, but remarkably under-appreciated, corpus of scholarship.

One of today’s great public sociologists, Morris not only honors, but also actively extends DuBois’s legacy. By organizing scholarly panels highlighting social movement contributions of women and trade unionists of color; raising funds to develop African American historical archives; participating in Global South conferences (to make public and improve pre- and post-apartheid South Africa conditions); consulting on the award-winning documentary series, Eyes on the Prize; and regularly serving as a radio and television broadcast guest (local and national programs), first-generation ASA Minority fellow, Aldon Morris, inspires future generations (as did DuBois) to pass on to others what was passed on to him.

Widely known as a warm, generous, accessible, direct, imaginative, humorous, and highly effective teacher, mentor, advocate, and collaborator, Morris’ nominators (and the awards committee concurs) offer special praise for his longstanding choice to use whatever influence comes with leadership roles he assumes (and there have been dozens) to expand awareness and inclusion of scholars of color and others too often relegated to the margins of the discipline, academy, and society. Morris’ advocacy is evident in the expanded presence and ASA leadership roles many younger scholars of color have recently assumed.

Years of tireless service have earned Morris the deep respect of his peers, as evidenced by the honors he has received and continuing calls for his leadership. A few highlights: Morris has twice been asked to run for ASA Vice President—and once for ASR editor. So far, he’s chosen instead to serve as a member of one or more demanding ASA committee (such as Nominations, Program, Committee on Committees, Council, etc.) for nearly each of the last 20 years. From 1986-88, he served as President of the Association of Black Sociologists (ABS), receiving its Outstanding Leadership Award in 1988 and Certificate of Leadership Award in 1995. Since 2003, Morris has served as Associate Dean for Faculty at Northwestern University, where he previously directed the Asian American Studies Program (2002-05), chaired the Sociology Department (1992-97), and served on the Center for Afro-American and African Studies’ Executive Committee (1984-88).

The Cox-Johnson-Frazier Award Committee enthusiastically and unanimously commends Morris for his longstanding service to multiple communities, within and beyond the academy; his influential and vital body of classic and continuing research on the origins and multi-generational influences of the Black Protest Movement; and his leadership challenging social injustice and the exclusion and under-recognition of scholars of color. May his example continue to remind us of the importance of lifting our individual and collective voices to speak truth to power.

Jack Levin

Public Understanding of Sociology Award


Jack Levin

Jack Levin is the Brudnick of Sociology and Criminology and co-director of the Center on Violence and Conflict at Northeastern University in Boston. Levin’s work on hate crimes, mass murder, serial killers, and prejudice has made him one of the most widely recognized and quoted sociologists in the public sector. For over 25 years, Levin has used the sociological perspective to contextualize sensational media stories, dispel myths, influence public policy, and change how people think about violence and hate crimes.

Levin’s work has been visible in the public sphere through op-eds, scholarly and trade books, and regular appearances on television programs. Levin has authored or co-authored more than 100 op-eds in major newspapers, such as The New York Times, Boston Globe, Dallas Morning News, Philadelphia Inquirer, Christian Science Monitor, Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, and USA Today, and 30 books, including his most recent, Serial Killers and Sadistic Murderers-Up Close and Personal (2008). In addition, he frequently appears on national television programs, including 48 Hours, 20/20, Dateline NBC, The Today Show, Good Morning America, Oprah, The O’Reilly Factor, Larry King Live, and all network newscasts.

Levin’s contributions to advance the sociological perspective have extended far beyond the media. He has testified in criminal and civil court cases, consulted with prosecution and defense attorneys in a variety of cases including murder, discrimination, and hate crimes. He has also consulted with state and local politicians, superintendents of schools, and other community groups. His work on why we hate and violence based on difference has made him a frequent speaker on college campuses and at conferences in the United States and internationally.

Levin is an award-winning teacher in the classroom at Northeastern University. He regularly teaches classes on the sociology of violence and hate, which students flock to year after year. He also teaches classes on statistics, has written two books on elementary statistics, and has worked to increase public understanding of the methods of sociology and their usefulness for students, policy makers, and the public. In recognition for his outstanding teaching, Levin won Northeastern University’s prestigious Excellence in Teaching Award, the Professor of the Year Award from the Massachusetts Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), and the CASE Professor of the Year award.

In today’s post-9/11 world, Levin’s research helps the public understand hate and violence in a global context, the role of the media in shaping our views of people and events, and the effect hatred can have on society and culture. Americans must ask not only why we hate but why others hate us. Levin’s work reminds us that in the United States, most terrorist acts come from within, not from afar. While the media is quick to look for individual psychopathology in those who commit acts of terrorism or violent crimes, Levin’s work draws our attention to the impact of social injustice, isolation, social environment, and domestic policies in the lives of individuals. Levin educates and enlightens but also offers ideas for how we can combat hate and violent crimes in the future. In order to create change, the sociological perspective must be brought to the attention of policy makers, law enforcement, and the public. We must see the acts of individuals embedded in their social context.

Cecilia Ridgeway

Jessie Bernard Award


Cecilia Ridgeway

The 2009 Jessie Bernard Award winner is Stanford University’s Lucie Stern Professor of Social Sciences Cecilia Ridgeway.

Ridgeway is a path-breaking social psychologist whose scholarship enhances "our understanding of gender inequality as much as, or more than, anyone else during the last half of the 20th century" Linda Molm notes in her nomination letter.

Ridgeway’s scholarship has been published in all the top sociology journals and in every significant handbook and important edited collection in the fields of social psychology and gender. The significance of her scholarship was recognized by ASA’s Social Psychology Section, which awarded her the 2004 Cooley-Mead Award, the section’s highest honor.

Ridgeway’s theoretical and empirical research has been front and center in sociology and psychology. She was asked to contribute the lead theoretical article in two special issues of the psychology journal The Journal of Social Issues, which demonstrates the broad reach of her scholarship. Her research on status construction theory powerfully explains how a nominal characteristic like gender acquires status value and thus reproduces inequality. Her effort to link micro-processes and macro-structures has transformed scholarly thinking by illuminating how interactional processes preserve gender hierarchies.

Her 1992 book Gender, Interaction, and Inequality, a now classic study in the status characteristic tradition, offers a comprehensive explication of this innovative research. Ridgeway’s subsequent research further demonstrates that status processes in collective groups are fundamentally collaborative, rather than a contest of dominance, for both women and men. In another line of research, she examines the relation between status processes in collective groups and socio-emotional behavior. A related dimension of her extensive research portfolio expands expectation states theory to incorporate emotions and nonverbal behavior and their role in perpetuating gender inequality.

Commenting on the applied nature of her important work, Molm praised Ridgeway’s ability to explain, in accessible terms, "the changing status of women in America, the persistence of gender inequality in work settings, and the implications of gender for leadership. Indeed, one of the hallmarks of her work is that she never loses sight of the larger impact of her scholarly work and its ultimate importance for helping us to understand gender inequality in society: what creates it, what maintains it, why it persists despite major changes in the socioeconomic organization of society, and what must be done to undermine the interactional forces that feed gender inequality."

Ridgeway effectively demonstrates what feminist scholars consistently argue for, namely, the "incorporation of gender into a general understanding of social process in a multi-level formulation that incorporates interactional, group, and societal level phenomena" Lynn Smith-Lovin writes. Judith Howard emphasizes that Ridgeway "is one of the very few sociologists working today who has effectively operationalized the frequent call for use of multiple levels of analysis and multiple methods of research. Through both experimental and field-based research, she has pushed the horizons of understanding about small group processes, processes through which status is created and enacted, and brings these to bear on questions of stratification."

Ridgeway has produced important eloquent theoretical and experimental research while also mentoring students and junior faculty and performing exemplary professional service. She has served on editorial boards of three sociological journals, as editor of several special issues, and as editor of Social Psychology Quarterly. She has also served as Chair of ASA’s Sections on Social Psychology, Sex and Gender, and Sociology of Emotions. In addition, she was elected president of the Pacific Sociological Association.

Furthermore, Ridgeway has been a tireless advocate for institutional policies to promote gender equality, always linking this effort with her scholarship. For example, one aspect of her research on gender and group processes emphasizes the significance of legitimation for women leaders. One of her many contributions is the development of a theory that maps the conditions through which women can acquire the necessary legitimation to be effective leaders.

In sum, as nominator Joey Sprague concludes, "In her longstanding commitment to ending gender inequality, in the substantive contribution her work makes to actually helping to do that, and in the way she interpersonally supports women who are more junior than she, Cecilia Ridgeway exemplifies the legacy of Jessie Bernard."

Claire Laurier Decoteau

ASA Dissertation Award


Claire Decoteau

The 2009 ASA Dissertation Award recipient is Claire Decoteau for The Bio-Politics of HIV/AIDS in Post-Apartheid South Africa. Decoteau conducted this research while working toward a PhD in Sociology from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor. She is now continuing this line of work as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

Based on two years of intensive ethnographic field research in South Africa, this masterful dissertation elegantly links the pandemic of HIV/AIDS in poor, Black South African communities with the political economy of the post-Apartheid health system to elucidate the ways in which individuals negotiate the twin, and sometimes paradoxical, worlds of traditional healers and contemporary medicine. As Decoteau concludes, the result of the tensions between these two worlds is a culturally hybrid identity among many post-Apartheid South African Blacks, in which ideologies, norms, and values cutting across the international, national, and local level intersect and interact in complex ways. This dissertation illustrates the potential power of theoretically grounded, mixed-methods sociological research to advance our conceptual understanding of political and public health issues while informing policy intervention and practice for a timely social problem.

More specifically, the focus of this dissertation is the widespread tendency for Black South African men and women living through the HIV/AIDS pandemic to switch back and forth between traditional, indigenous forms of healing and biomedical forms of healing even though the field of health care and services itself typically separates and divides these two approaches from each other. Indeed, given the effectiveness and availability of advanced biomedical treatments (e.g., anti-retrovirals), many view this mixed approach to healing as irrational. Drawing on a conceptual framework derived from Bourdieu and Foucault, Decoteau explored these issues with an ethnographic, qualitative analysis of health care practitioners, indigenous healers, and HIV-infected populations in formal townships and informal settlements. Her analytical approach was designed to understand how individuals, especially those from historically disenfranchised segments of the population, choose health care and, more generally, seek to improve or maintain their health. Regardless of social class, educational attainment, or other related factors, Black South Africans tend to access the full spectrum of healing approaches, from the most traditional practices rooted in pre-Apartheid conditions for Blacks to the more "modern" practices promulgated by western health care systems. This approach to healing reflects a kind of hybrid habitus that can develop among colonized populations to navigate between the "modern" and "traditional" worlds. It powerfully captures the ways in which health-seeking behavior occurs at the nexus of major social, political, and economic trends, including neoliberal economic restructuring, the spread of global health services, and the politics of race and gender. More to the point, because the HIV/AIDS pandemic began during a pivotal transitional period in South African history, it became a central site for struggles over this transition and related social upheaval—the indigenous practices that persisted among Black South Africans during Apartheid as a form of social resistance survived in the post-Apartheid era for similar reasons.

The groundbreaking nature of this dissertation, as well as the rigorous comprehensive approach that Decoteau took to the topic, garnered the enthusiastic support of the Dissertation Award Committee. Some of their comments go a long way towards explaining why it was selected as the winner this year.

"This dissertation tackles several issues most pertinent to sociology (and a public sociology that is engaged): social inequalities, access to health care, and the politics of services. In doing so, it brings AIDS to a global scale and sociology to an applied level." And from another, "This is a timely, well-written, and theoretically informed ethnography. Above all, Decoteau’s astute and compassionate dissertation tackles the broader problem many people around the world face as they draw on traditional and biomedical forms of healing simultaneously, yet without a sense of incongruity. In doing so, her research is poised to have a noteworthy impact on health policy in South Africa and around the world." logo

Call for Nominations

ASA members are encouraged to submit nominations for the above ASA awards. Awards are presented at the ASA Annual Meeting each August. The deadline for submission of nominations is January 31 unless noted otherwise in the individual award criteria. For more information, see the awards section of the ASA homepage at or the call for awards on page 13 of this issue.


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