November 2013 Issue • Volume 41 • Issue 7

download pdfDownload full issue pdf

Major ASA Award Recipients Honored in New York City

The American Sociological Association (ASA) presented the 2013 major awards at this year’s Annual Meeting on August 12 in New York City. 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. Below are the profiles of the awardees. The profiles of the Dissertation co-winners will appear in the December issue.

Joe Feagin

Joe Feagin

W.E.B. DuBois Career of Distinguished Scholarship Award

Joe R. Feagin, Texas A&M University

W.E.B. DuBois is one of Joe Feagin’s sociological heroes. Feagin’s sociological research is focused on what Du Bois himself regarded as the preeminent problem of the 20th century: “the problem of the color line.” His continuing research shows that due to systemic racism, the problem has still not been solved in the 21st century. Like DuBois, he is committed to dissecting the sociological dynamics of white racism with an emphasis on the institutional and social structural context in which racism emerges.

Feagin has made significant contributions to the fields of racial-ethnic relations; the new urban sociology, sex and gender inequality; race, gender and class analysis; and sociology of education. He was the 1999–2000 ASA President. His concepts of systemic racism and sexism influence the work of social scientists worldwide. Most of his extensive scholarship uses a lens of race, class, or gender. While he stresses social structure, he also addresses the social psychological dynamics that allows whites/men to deny racism and sexism while actively reinforcing both forms of oppression. While he analyzes structures of oppression, he also points to the amazing resistance and achievements of oppressed groups that have positively impacted social, educational and political structures. He often looks carefully at the myths used to exclude racial groups, and he finds the personal and organizational resistance to racism of those oppressed.

As former SSSP president Claire Renzetti notes, “In all his work, Joe, like Du Bois, shows himself to be a risk taker; he unapologetically, though uncondescendingly, challenges everyone to examine their taken-for-granted assumptions, attitudes, and behaviors around race…. Joe has brought to light the ‘backstage’ racism of many who loudly proclaim that they are not racist.” His research continues to demonstrate the significance of race in our supposedly “post-racial” society. He continues to engage other scholars and students through his sociological publications, as well as the concerned public through the social science blog he initiated with former student Jessie Daniels,

Joe was a scholar-in-residence at the U. S. Commission on Civil Rights in 1974-75. His experience working with leading black, Latino, and white feminist scholars and activists educated him on the importance of civil rights laws and of protest strategies. It informed and renewed his commitment to the study of racism and sexism as fundamental social forces in the United States. He continues to work with a variety of governments, universities, and community organizations, addressing issues of discrimination and antiracism in their jurisdictions.

Currently the Ella C. McFadden Professor in Sociology at Texas A&M University, Feagin loves teaching and mentoring students. He stated firmly, “Teaching is so much fun!” Student engagement and mentoring are an integral part of his scholarship, including working with graduate and undergraduate students as co-authors. His many publications over nearly five decades demonstrate the diversity of his collaborations and collaborators, from colleagues to undergraduates. He is the founding editor of two book series that provide publication venues for scholars concerned about race, class, gender, and social justice.

Hernan Vera, in a recommendation letter, wrote: Feagin “seeks to define an identity for the discipline of sociology.” His research and lecturing reinforce sociologists’ professional commitment to the values of social justice, egalitarianism, and human freedom.

Elijah Anderson said, “Professor Feagin is quite simply a giant among scholars of his generation, a major figure in our field who has added mightily to this discipline, but particularly to the critical area of race relations…He has pressed up all to stand a little higher, and to be a bit bolder and braver in our work.”

Feagin’s extremely prolific collection includes important theories and findings, which are shared with colleagues, students, and activists. He has completed 60 books, with four in progress. Among these are Systemic Racism (2006); Racist America (2nd ed., 2010); and White Party, White Government (2012). In his current work, How Blacks Saved America: Making Liberty, Justice, and Democracy Real, he demonstrates the important positive contributions of Black Americans to the educational, cultural, scientific, political, and social patterns and institutions of the United States. He has 203 research articles and book chapters, many in collaboration with colleagues and students who share his concern for contributing to a better society. His impact on the field of sociology is enormous, not because of the quantity of his work, but because of its intellectual and socio-political importance.

Back to Top of Page

Elijiah Anderson

Elijiah Anderson

Cox-Johnson-Frazier Award

Elijah Anderson, Yale University

A master ethnographer of race, Elijah Anderson, the Lanman Professor of Sociology at Yale University, is the recipient of the 2013 Cox-Johnson-Frazier Award. He previously held faculty appointments at Swarthmore College and as the Charles and William L. Day Distinguished Professor at the University of Pennsylvania, where he received the Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching. Beginning his graduate studies at the University of Chicago, he earned his doctorate at Northwestern University.

For three and a half decades, Anderson’s prominence and production undoubtedly place him in elite company. How many other contemporary ethnographers’ research endeavors have produced four solo-authored ethnographies? His include A Place on the Corner: Study of Black Street Corner Men (1978), Streetwise: Race, Class, and Change in an Urban Community (1990), Code of the Street: Decency, Violence, and the Moral Life of the Inner City (1999), and most recently, The Cosmopolitan Canopy: Race and Civility in Everyday Life (2011). Two of the four titles are award winners. Streetwise received the 1991 ASA Robert E. Park Award for the best published book in urban sociology, while Code of the Streets received the 2000 Komarovsky Award from the Eastern Sociological Society. In addition, Anderson has published 5 edited volumes and more than 50 articles.

The responsibility of the ethnographer, as Anderson instructs us, is to observe, apprehend, comprehend, and understand the shared conventions of the people being studied. From the extensive explorations of a midwestern bar and liquor store in A Place on the Corner to the streets, homes, and gentrifying neighborhoods of a northeastern city in his next two books, Anderson has cultivated critical interpretations of the sociological significance of urban spaces. His commitment to the analytical prowess and narrative artistry of ethnography has produced illuminating and thought-provoking accounts of how people—especially African Americans and the urban poor—understand and conduct their lives under the shattering impacts of deindustrialization, drug wars, gentrification, a growing wealth gap, and enduring, if morphed, manifestations of racial discrimination. His most recent work, Cosmopolitan Canopy, is situated in public parks and markets as well as workplaces. There he identifies the emergent norms of seemingly desegregated spaces, while revealing the negotiated occupation and bounded interactions by race and class within these civic spaces.

Anderson’s writings are noted for weaving theory, method, thick descriptions and in situ interviewing, coupled with a rigorous, reiterative process of interpretation. As one recommender rightly observes, “Few can boast of studying race in urban America as carefully, thoroughly, and sensitively as Elijah Anderson,” or as another attests, “of honoring the humanity or what DuBois called the ‘soul beauty’ of Black Americans.”

Anderson has received numerous professional recognitions. He was the Robin M. Williams, Jr., Distinguished Lecturer of the Eastern Sociological Society; on the Board of Directors of the American Academy of Political and Social Science; and the ASA Vice President in 2002. He also served on the editorial boards of many key journals, among them the American Sociological Review, City & Community, Qualitative Sociology, Ethnography, American Journal of Sociology, Annals of the Society of Political and Social Science, and the International Journal of Urban and Regional Research.

Elijah Anderson has also been instrumental in the professional development and success of generations of ethnographers, educators, and scholars. His former graduate students, young scholars of all races and ethnic backgrounds, and other colleagues wrote highly of him as a generous and dedicated mentor as well as a conscientious and constructive critic. In hosting a series of conferences, Anderson and his colleagues have helped sustain the significance of ethnography within sociology. Moreover, the conferences have featured compelling accounts of what is at stake in the most important social justice battles of our time. His analyses resound well beyond the walls of the academy, as community members, media, and public officials have relied on his insights in informing urban politics and policy. Anderson has served as a consultant to a variety of national entities, including the White House, the U.S. Congress, and the National Academy of Science; and as a member of the National Research Council’s Panel on the Understanding and Control of Violent Behavior.

These are but a few of myriad reasons for which we honor Elijah Anderson as the 2013 recipient of the Cox-Johnson-Frazier Award. 

Back to Top of Page

Ruth Milkman

Ruth Milkman

Award for Public Understanding of Sociology Award

Ruth Milkman, CUNY-Graduate Center

This award is given annually to a person or persons who have made exemplary contributions to advance the public understanding of sociology, sociological research, and scholarship among the general public. This year, we honor Ruth Milkman, Professor of Sociology at the City University of New York Graduate Center and Academic Director of the Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies.

Through a combination of traditional scholarship and presentations to community organizations, Milkman provides a model of the engaged public sociologist, focusing on issues of inequality, labor, gender, and immigration. In addition, she has presented her research findings to both the U.S. Congress and the California legislature. Notably, she also has headed up research centers—in California and New York—that focus on issues of employment, labor, and industrial relations.

Professor Milkman received her PhD in Sociology from the University of California-Berkeley in 1981 after having earned her MA four years earlier from the same institution. She began her academic career at Brown University, where her independent major, “Women in Society,” presaged her later contributions to scholarship on gender.

Her academic career then brought her to CUNY, UCLA, and then, a few years ago, back to CUNY. She has authored or co-authored nine books, including her 2010 co-authored book (with Joshua Bloom and Victor Narro) Working for Justice: The L.A. Model of Organizing and Advocacy (which followed up her earlier award-winning book L.A. Story: Immigrant Workers and the Future of the U.S. Labor Movement). In addition, she has produced more than 65 chapters and articles, almost as many reviews and review essays, and numerous policy reports. Her research has covered a wide span of issues related to inequality, including work on labor violations, union membership, women and work, immigrant activism, and paid family leave. The Centers she has directed—the UCLA Institute of Industrial Relations, the statewide University of California Institute for Labor and Employment, and, most recently, the Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies—have helped academics bring their research to the policy forefront.

Across all of her work, Milkman challenges taken-for-granted assumptions that influence academia, policy, and activism. For example, immigrants have long been thought to be resistant to unionization efforts. However, through research and work with unions in Los Angeles, she and her collaborators have challenged this view, documenting how immigrants have embraced unionization. And in work about California’s Paid Family Leave policy, Milkman and collaborator Eileen Appelbaum found that contrary to business lobby fears, the policy did not have a deleterious effect on the economy. This is important in an era when many employers are arguing that it is not possible to provide increased benefits during troubled economic times. In addition, they found that the policy benefited both low- and high-waged employees, and that the percent of men taking advantage of the program increased over time. Lastly, they found that there was a lack of awareness about the policy among many workers. Their research and the publicity it garnered have enriched debates about improving employment conditions and workers’ work-life balance.

In his 2004 Presidential address to the American Sociological Association, Michael Burawoy noted that many of us were drawn to sociology because of a “passion for social justice, economic equality, human rights, sustainable environment, political freedom or simply a better world.” He then bemoaned the fact that often those passions get subsumed by the requirements of academia. However, Milkman’s career demonstrates that praxis is possible. Sophisticated theories and rigorous research can be put to the service of the public, to further social justice, to work toward economic equality and human rights, and perhaps, to help move us towards a better world.

Issues of labor, inequality, gender, and immigration are splashed across the daily newspapers and in the cacophony of opinions raised on all sides of policies and politics about inequality; it is good to have informed voices inserted into these debates. Thankfully, sociologists such as Ruth Milkman opt not to stay in their ivory towers, but instead jump into the fray and get their hands dirty, so that the public will better understand the underlying social issues governing their lives and politics. It is because of this tireless work and her impact on alleviating inequality in our society, that we honor Milkman.

Back to Top of Page

Kathleen Gerson

Kathleen Gerson

Jessie Bernard Award

Kathleen Gerson, New York University

The Jessie Bernard Award recognizes scholarly work that significantly expands the scholarship on women in society. This year, the award goes to Professor Kathleen Gerson, New York University, for her lifelong scholarship on the gendered nature of constrained choices that arise from the interaction of structural opportunities and constraints, gendered cultural norms, and individual negotiations in relationships.

The Committee on Awards agreed with the nominators that Professor Gerson has steadfastly led the feminist cause over the last 30 years by writing path-breaking books and articles that enable us to understand gender as the outcome of a combination of possibilities and constraints of structural conditions and cultural moorings, both within and across individual lifetimes.

Gerson’s first two books, Hard Choices: How Women Decide About Work, Career, and Motherhood (1985) and No Man’s Land: Men’s Changing Commitments to Family and Work (1993), based on life history analyses, provide early frameworks for understanding women’s and men’s paths and strategies amid revolutionary shifts in work, marriage, and parenthood. As one of the nominators said, Hard Choices helped bring “a sociological frame to the study of women’s lives in an era when role theory was the only game in town.” She convincingly demonstrated that childhood socialization did not create feminine women who desired domestic lives, but that experiences in the labor force and in marriage could explain how women chose, within constraints, to balance work and family. This book was a finalist for the C. Wright Mills Award and the William J. Goode Distinguished Book Award. Similarly, No Man’s Land, which was selected as a “new and noteworthy” paperback by the New York Times Book Review, documented men’s responses to contemporary work-family issues that have given them both expanded freedom to avoid family responsibilities and rising incentives to become more involved in family life.

Gerson’s co-authored study with Jerry Jacobs, The Time Divide: Work, Family and Gender Inequality (2004), moved us beyond studies that focus only on individuals. Instead, by focusing on the individual lodged within a family, they showed that the context and content of work matter in the shaping the ways in which individuals experience the hours of work time. The Time Divide was named a “best business book” by Strategy Business magazine, received honorable mention for the Mirra Komarovsky Book Award, and was featured at “Author Meets a Critic” sessions at the ASA, the ESS, and the Southern Sociological Society annual meetings. Work from this project also received the Rosabeth Moss Kanter Award for Excellence in Work-Family Research.

Gerson’s recent book, The Unfinished Revolution: Coming of Age in a New Era of Gender, Work, and the Family (2011), which was awarded the William Goode Distinguished Book award by the ASA section on Family in 2012, furthers addresses the significant changes in gender, work, and family life that have impacted the choices and possibilities for future generations of families. She leads us to examine generational gender trajectories, culturally embedded strategies, workplace constraints, and the moral responsibilities of social institutions.

The committee was not only impressed by Professor Gerson’s scholarly record, they noted that she has developed an outstanding record of guiding a new generation of scholars who credit her with “being a great intellectual mentor, a tremendous social mentor, and role model. She exemplifies both professional and personal success, and how to balance the two, in ways that are critical for graduate students to observe in action.”

Gerson has also been an effective advocate in bringing her scholarly insights to the public realm. She has developed an excellent record of persuading reporters to look beyond their culture-war frameworks and into more expansive and complex views of women and gender. She has actively participated in a wide range of efforts to apply sociological insights about women and gender to public debates and social policy.

Kathleen Gerson’s scholarship has made—and continues to make—significant contribution to the literature and policy on gender, furthering our understanding of the complex interplay of culture, economy, and public policy in shaping the possibilities for gender justice.

The Committee extends its warmest congratulations to Kathleen Gerson and looks forward to reading her current work investigating “new moral dilemmas of work and care.”

Back to Top of Page

Greta Krippner

Greta Krippner

Distinguished Scholarly Book Award

Greta R. Krippner, University of Michigan, for Capitalizing on Crisis

The Distinguished Scholarly Publication Award Committee read and evaluated more than 60 nominated books, a great many excellent works of scholarship, with quite a few worthy of significant distinction. This year, the Distinguished Scholarly Publication Award goes to Greta Krippner for Capitalizing on Crisis: The Political Origins of the Rise of Finance.

In Capitalizing on Crisis, a very significant and particularly timely book, Krippner illuminates the historical and structural origins of the recent financial crisis. In particular, she shows how and why leaders embraced financialization as a solution to the problems of inequality, and how doing so depoliticized a significant source of conflict in American society. It tells a remarkably insightful story about an extraordinarily complex and consequential process, and as such it represents the best of contemporary American sociology.

Krippner begins and ends her book with Daniel Bell. Agreeing with Bell that the rise of a service economy would come to characterize a “postindustrial society,” Krippner nonetheless argues that this new economic and social structure was realized “with a slight twist: rather than the rise of services in a generic sense, the rise of a particular kind of service—finance—proved to be the dominant trend…” Her argument rests, however, on her agreement with Bell that “there is no escape from economics.”

Capitalizing on Crisis has a large number of sociological virtues. Its theoretical framing, conceptual development, and empirical documentation are meticulous. The book has been widely praised, for instance, for its chapter on “financialization,” which she defines as “the growing importance of financial activities as a source of profits in the economy.” This first chapter not only explicates the concept, but presents a nuanced quantitative analysis, which leaves no doubt that the process she sets out to explain clearly happened and had the contours she attributes to it. The main body of the book then turns to explaining why financialization occurred, and what theoretical and practical lessons can be drawn.

Krippner’s book is both a synthesis of, and advance on, a number of approaches. First, she examines those sociological approaches that criticize the economic theory that financial markets are, by definition, efficient by pointing out the dynamics inherent in markets that lead to manias and bubbles; the problem with these established critiques, she argues, is that they treat politics and the state as exogenous. Second, she addresses “shareholder value” approaches developed by organization theorists, which pay more attention to the state, but more as a context for firms than as something requiring explanation in its own right. Finally, Krippner examines Marxist and world-systems perspectives, which account for financialization in terms of the goals of the state, but take such a broad historical sweep that the specific boundedness of these goals is lost.

With this profound understanding of complex literatures, Krippner then delves into the details of the history, identifying the combination of three distinct processes: deregulation of financial markets, encouragement of global capital flows, and altered monetary policy. Each of these was a response to immediate problems as well as more general social and political crises. Beyond the important history, is the more general lesson that particular solutions pursued for particular purposes in response to particular crises produced consequences that could not be predicted in advance. It leaves one with profound concerns not only about the course of public policy, but about its very possibility. As such, it is a powerful warning to any self-confident policymaker.

Although Krippner’s work on these issues began before the financial crisis of 2008, Capitalizing on Crisis illuminates the historical and structural origins of the recent crisis, proving once again the importance of sociological work to pressing contemporary events. It does so, moreover, in an extremely economical and elegant format. It tells a remarkably insightful story about a complex and consequential process, and as such represents the best of contemporary American sociology.

Back to Top of Page

Rose Brewer

Rose Brewer

Distinguished Contributions to Teaching Award

Rose Brewer, University of Minnesota (co-recipient)

Rose M. Brewer, Professor of Afro American and African Studies at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, is recognized for her outstanding contributions to reforming the sociological curriculum to better incorporate the intersections of race, class, and gender.

Brewer previously received the University of Minnesota’s Morse Alumni Teaching Award for outstanding contributions to undergraduate education, the Outstanding Achievements in Education Award from the African American Student Association at Northeastern State University, the African American Learning Resources Center Award for teaching excellence, and the Faculty Member of the Year award from the University of Minnesota Black Student Union. Moreover, she was named a MacArthur Program Faculty Fellow in 2002 and inducted into the Academy of Distinguished Teachers in 1999.

Brewer has been a leader in the movement to create a multicultural curriculum in sociology and beyond. Her scholarship in this regard was showcased in the 2007 publication of The Critical Classroom: Education for Liberation and Movement Building (with Walda Katz-Fishman and Lisa Albrecht). Her current book projects, including an introductory text on race theory and one on the sociology of African Americans, will continue her efforts toward a more inclusive social science. Brewer has also published dozens of articles and book chapters on intersectional analysis and its applications to teaching and learning. In addition, she has generously shared her insights in over 30 workshops on curriculum transformation and multicultural education. Her impact was first observed at the University of Minnesota, but over the past 25 years, Brewer’s influence on the teaching and learning of sociology has reached far beyond the local level.

Brewer has been instrumental in enhancing the professional training of graduate students and faculty by serving as co-director of the University of Minnesota’s Multicultural Teaching and Learning Fellowship Program for the past four years and as the current Faculty Director of the University Center for Teaching and Learning. Several of Brewer’s former graduate students and colleagues attest to the transformative effect of her instruction and mentoring on their own teaching careers.

Throughout her career Brewer has worked tirelessly to link the academy and the community. Her current efforts in this regard exemplify the best of community engaged teaching and learning. Brewer arranges service learning placements for her students to discover firsthand the history of civil rights activism of the Twin Cities area as well as the critical issues confronting the current African American community. Moreover, Brewer asks her students to apply their sociological imaginations in identifying new avenues for creating change in their communities.

Brewer is given the 2013 Distinguished Contributions Award in recognition of her comprehensive impact on teaching in the social sciences. As indicated by her nominator Bernice McNair Barnett:

“Professor Brewer’s contributions go beyond her department and her university. For example, over the years I have had the pleasure of attending her regional and national ASA workshops on teaching race, class, and gender and found her workshops, lectures, teaching materials, handouts, and innovative strategies to be enormously helpful in my own teaching here at Illinois. In my observation, Professor Brewer has made a commitment to teaching not only at the department, university, regional, and national levels, but also at the international level as reflected in her teaching, lecturing, and workshops in Latin America, Africa, and other countries.”

Back to Top of Page

Jay Howard

Jay Howard

Distinguished Contributions to Teaching Award

Jay Howard, Butler University (co-recipient)

Jay R. Howard, Professor of Sociology and Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Butler University, is recognized for a career of outstanding contributions to the scholarship of teaching and learning in sociology and in undergraduate education more broadly.

Howard is also past winner of the Indiana University President’s Award for Teaching Excellence, the P.A. Mack Award for Distinguished Service to Teaching from Indiana University, the North Central Sociological Association’s Distinguished Contributions to Teaching Award, and the Hans O. Mauksch Award for Distinguished Contributions to Undergraduate Education. He serves as a member of the Board of Advisors for the P.A. Mack Center for Inquiry on Teaching and Learning.

Howard has been a leader in the scholarship of teaching and learning movement within sociology. He has contributed more than 35 publications on teaching and learning. His work covers many of the important nuts and bolts aspects of teaching such as how to write a syllabus, engage students in class discussions, develop effective writing assignments, motivate students to read the textbook, teach mass classes, and develop critical thinking skills in students. Howard’s contributions extend beyond the foundational basics to encompass scholarly work on the significance of the introductory sociology course for a liberal arts education and research on how and what students learn in our classrooms. His recent book (with Nancy A. Greenwood), First Contact: Teaching and Learning in Introductory Sociology, is destined to become a necessity for both new and more experienced teachers of this all-important course.

Howard is not only a distinguished teaching scholar, he has also played a pivotal role in developing other teaching scholars. At the regional level, Howard has organized and presented in numerous teaching and learning sessions at the North Central Sociological Association (NCSA) annual meetings, made teaching and learning the focus of his address as president of that organization in 2007, and played a key role in developing the NCSA Future Faculty Certificate Program.

Howard’s many contributions to the scholarship of teaching and learning at the national level provide a blueprint for aspiring winners of this award. In the ASA section on teaching and learning, Howard held the position of treasurer and was elected for a three-year term on the section council. He currently co-edits (with Nancy Greenwood) the “Introductory Sociology” section for the ASA online database TRAILS. Howard has given invited presentations at the Section on Teaching and Learning preconference workshops, at the ASA Department Chairs Conference, and in numerous workshops at annual meetings. Since 2001, Howard has served on the ASA Departmental Resources Group, which assists sociology departments throughout the country with external reviews, curriculum revision, assessment tool development, and mentoring for departmental officers. Howard serves as a regular reviewer for ASA’s Teaching Sociology and previously held the positions of Associate Editor (1997–99) and Deputy Editor (2003–09) of that journal.

In sum, Howard’s career epitomizes the criteria and the spirit of this award. As his nominator (Keith Roberts) wrote:

“He has contributed to (1) the scholarship of teaching and learning; (2) to the eminence of our discipline’s flagship teaching publication; (3) to the quality of instruction around the country via publications, workshops, and consulting under the banner of the Departmental Resources Group; (4) to the training of graduate students on the professorial role, especially the teaching dimensions of that position; and (5) to the advancement of sociology through serving on awards committees and section leadership positions. Jay Howard’s work on behalf of teaching is varied, substantial, and always done with attention to quality.”

Back to Top of Page

Donald Light

Donald Light

Distinguished Career Award for the Practice of Sociology

Donald Light, University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey

Over the past 35 years, Don Light has applied his training in medical and organizational sociology toward the goal of reducing barriers to health care among disadvantaged populations. After leaving the sociology department at Princeton in 1975, he became a senior social scientist with the Sophie Davis School for Biomedical Education in Harlem that was dedicated to teaching students to assess the health needs of the community and address those not being met. The program provided integrated college and medical school training at a low cost to many talented minority and lower-income high school students and continues to be successful in graduating most of its students with BS and MD degrees.

This work led to an appointment in 1980 as professor and director of community medicine at the School of Osteopathic Medicine, University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey, where Light taught community medicine to medical students. During this time, he discovered that Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Jersey was violating its charter to provide community-rate, level premiums to individuals and small groups through rates that discriminated by race, gender, and age. He organized a statewide campaign to stop the increases; NOW, NAACP, and AARP joined in this coalition. The NAACP Legal Defense Fund took the case to the Public Advocate and eventually won, rolling back premiums for 600,000 people. Blue Cross tried other tactics and successful campaigns were organized against each. For these efforts, Light won the President’s Award from the New Jersey Public Health Association, a University Excellence Award for Community Service, and a Certificate of Merit from the American Public Health Association.

Because of this advocacy work, Light began to write about the ethics of health insurance, and in 1990 he was accepted as a visiting fellow at Oxford where he studied social ethics. At the time, Margaret Thatcher launched a radical restructuring of England’s National Health Service (NHS) from a public service to a series of contracts between purchasers and providers ostensibly in order to create managed competition, reduce costs, and increase efficiency. Light wrote a series of critical articles on how these changes would increase management costs as well as inequalities, which he termed as  “pernicious competition.” He applied his expertise to various parts of the NHS and was invited to be the overseas member of the planning committee for the NHS 50th anniversary. He also co-authored an anniversary monograph with Tony Blair. Over the years, he campaigned against managed competition reforms in Europe. This work led to a special issue of Social Science & Medicine in 2001.

As a founding fellow of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania in 1995, Light also became concerned about price barriers for access to drugs and vaccines among lower income patients. Since 2000, he has undertaken critical research on claims by the pharmaceutical industry that huge R&D costs force companies to charge high prices, and further that U.S. prices are so high because European prices are too low to recover costs. A campaign with the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) set out to document that global companies had lower research costs than they claimed for important new vaccines against rotavirus, and they ultimately recovered these costs within two years. PAHO successfully used this research to reduce prices for infant vaccination by 75 percent in Pan American countries.

Most recently, Professor Light’s work has focused on the harmful side effects of prescription drugs. His latest book, The Risks of Prescription Drugs, which was commissioned by the Social Science Research Council, assembles evidence showing that such side effects are a leading cause of accidents, hospitalization, and the fourth-leading cause of death in the United States. The September 2011 issue of AARP Bulletin, with a circulation of 42 million seniors,made the risks of drugs its cover story. He demonstrated that the medical barriers to access need to be higher, by approving drugs that are clinically superior and safer. This work led to a fellowship for Light this year at Harvard University’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics.

Back to Top of Page

Ira Glass

Ira Glass

Excellence in Reporting on Social Issues Award

Ira Glass and the Staff of This American Life

The ASA Award for Excellence in the Reporting of Social Issues honors individuals for their effective translation, promotion, and dissemination of a wide range of information, including reporting that conveys a sociological perspective on social issues to the general public. This year’s award honors Ira Glass and the producers of the radio program This American Life. Each week, This American Life combines Glass’s long-standing interest in social issues with the story format in a revelatory sociological way, using immersive reporting and intimate interviews to show the backstage of social life.

Ira Glass began his career with NPR as an intern at age 19. Over his public radio career of some 30 years, he was a reporter and host on several NPR programs, including Morning Edition, All Things Considered, and Talk of the Nation. During this period, he laid the foundation for a career of reporting social issues, such as extensive coverage of the Chicago Public School System. He credits his early work with radio pioneer Joe Frank as the source of his inspiration that radio could be used to tell a certain kind of story.

Since 1995, he has hosted and produced This American Life, which reaches over 1.7 million listeners a week on more than 500 stations. The programs routinely involve sociologically informed storytelling. The in-depth coverage in the weekly show is made possible by the collective efforts of the show’s accomplished team of reporters, producers, and editors, who invest great time and energy engaging in what Kristen Luker calls the “logic of discovery”—conducting fieldwork, analyzing findings, and crafting narratives imbued with sociological meaning. For nearly two decades, this strategy has consistently produced programs that offer new and surprising insights into social issues from a diverse set of contributors. Several sociologists have participated in the program, and the sociological imagination animates every show.

There have been shows about quantifying things that are hard to quantify, like love; about summer camp and the mystery of its importance in many people’s lives; about people who find themselves in situations with no normative map; about America as seen through the eyes of new immigrants; and about the role of television in everyday lives. An early show considered class mobility through the stories of people trying to make something for nothing; another traced the 1973 American Psychiatric Association decision to end listing homosexuality as a mental illness; and another compiled stories of people who gave up firmly held beliefs. Recently, “Act V” followed prison inmates, all murderers, through the casting, rehearsals and performance of Hamlet, a play about murder and its consequences. In response to a letter from a 14-year-old requesting a show about middle school, This American Life aired “Life in the Middle Ages,” a full-hour probe into the physical, emotional, and social experiences of middle school students. After a program highlighting the one-man theater performances of by Michael Daisy about the exploitation of foreign factory workers for Apple, Glass issued an on-air retraction, exposing the factual distortions in Daisey’s performance. This action generated new discussions about the boundaries between the creativity of theater and fact gathering in reporting.

The impact of This America Life is both broad and deep. In 2007, Ira Glass and his production team began airing a television version of the show on the Showtime network. In 2009, Glass was named the recipient of the Edward R. Murrow Award for Outstanding Contributions to Public Radio. In 2011, he was awarded the George Polk Award in Radio Reporting for “Very Tough Love,” a program showing severe punishments handed down by a judge in a Georgia drug court, whose charge was to rehabilitate. As a result of the This American Life investigation, ethical misconduct charges were brought against the judge, who stepped down. Glass is not the only member of the This American Life team to win high honors for reporting. The show’s producers include a Pulitzer Prize winner for human interest reporting and an Emmy winner for documentary television.

Back to Top of Page

Back to Top of Page

Print this article Connect on Facebook twitter

Special Announcement

2013 Section Awards Now Available!

Back to Front Page of Footnotes | Table of Contents