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2002 Annual Meeting in Chicago Draws Near- Record Attendance

Chicago holds a special attraction for sociological gatherings, and this year’s ASA Annual Meeting was no exception. Not only is this the city of Jane Addams and Hull House, George Herbert Mead, and others in the Chicago School of Sociology who contributed so much to the discipline, it is a great metropolitan center—rich in diversity, institutions, culture, and architecture. But the nearly 4,800 attendees at the 97th Annual Meeting, making this one of the best-attended meetings ever (second only to the 1998 San Francisco convention), came also to enjoy an irresistible scholarly program stimulated by an overall meeting theme of Allocation Processes and Ascription.

President Barbara Reskin said she selected this theme for the meeting in order “to highlight scholarship on how and why ascribed characteristics (sex, race, ethnicity, nativity, age, religion, and class, for example) affect people’s exposure to society’s opportunities.” Throughout the August 16-19 meeting, special thematic sessions focused on how social interaction and social institutions—families, schools, employment relations, political systems, government, and other institutions—function as distribution systems that link ascribed characteristics to life events. Sessions such as “Disparities in Access to Health Care,” “Not by Jobs Alone: Families, Neighborhoods, and Welfare Reform,” “Census 2000 and Democratic Allocation,” and “Reconceptualizing Race and Ethnicity,” are just a sampling of the panels highlighting how allocation and ascription operate across various social institutions.

Worldly Sessions

In addition, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, generated considerable interest and discussion. The opening Plenary Session, “The Challenge of September 11: The Social Dimensions of Terrorism,” which featured Craig Calhoun (Social Science Research Council), Neil Smelser (University of California-Berkeley), Nilufer Gole (École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris), and Timur Kuran (University of Southern California) covered the societal effects of the terrorist attacks from religious and cultural perspectives. Other sessions focusing on the effects of the terrorist attacks included “Disasters,” “World System Perspectives on September 11th,” and “Terrorism: Social Responses.”

At the opening plenary, Reskin also alerted attendees to the plight of the Egyptian-American sociologist Saad Eddin Ibrahim, who was re-sentenced, along with colleagues, on July 29 to seven years in prison. Reskin informed attendees that background material was available on this case, including information on ASA actions and information to allow individuals to undertake their own action (see ASA’s website at, if they chose to do so.

Other plenary sessions included one on “Meritocracy,” with Robert M. Hauser (University of Wisconsin-Madison), Mary R. Jackman (University of California-Davis), and Ronnie Steinberg (Vanderbilt University) and one on “Profiling Across Social Institutions,” featuring Mahzarin Banaji (Yale University), Lawrence D. Bobo (Harvard University), and Troy Duster (New York University and University California-Berkeley). The Plenary on profiling was followed by five plenary track thematic sessions on profiling and education, health, employment, consumption markets, and the criminal justice system. A special daylong mini-course was also offered to attendees who are interested in teaching courses on profiling.

Awarding Experience

The 2002 recipients of seven of the major ASA awards were honored at the August 17 Awards Ceremony, with Nancy Denton, Chair of the ASA Committee on Awards, presiding. At the conclusion of the ASA awards ceremony, on behalf of the Association, Denton presented Felice Levine with a special lifetime membership in ASA in recognition of Levine’s exemplary contribution and service to ASA during her 11-year tenure as Executive Officer.

Following the awards ceremony, Reskin gave an engaging presidential address, “How Did The Poison Get in Mr. Bartlett’s Stomach? Motives and Mechanisms in Explaining Inequality,” in which she reflected on her own and other’s scholarly research on inequality in the workplace. She noted that, while some of the best sociologists have been studying ascriptive inequality in employment for the last 30 years, surprisingly little progress has been made in explaining employment disparities among different racial/ethnic/gender groups. Reskin said that until more scholars turn to the mechanisms that cause the social and economic fates of different groups to vary so widely, there will be neither genuine explanations for inequalities among groups, nor a productive contribution to social policy on related issues by social scientists.

Once again, the Honorary Reception following the Presidential Address was the major social event at the Annual Meeting. This annual event is co-hosted by the ASA and by primarily regional sociology departments and those who have ties to the President and awardees. This year 27 departments joined ASA in co-sponsoring this event.

President-Elect Brings Thin Vitae

Other opportunities to meet and mingle with friends and colleagues in social settings included the Welcoming Party, the Student Reception, the Departmental Alumni Night (DAN), and fundraisers for the Minority Fellowship Program Benefit Reception, and a Teaching Enhancement Fundraiser: Just Desserts! Making a special appearance at DAN was President-elect William Bielby’s band Thin Vitae, which played popular 1960s rock-n-roll songs.

There were also opportunities to explore Chicago, with tours provided in cooperation with the Urban Life Center. Tours reflecting the heritage of Chicago, including visits to blues and jazz clubs, the Hull House Museum, Chicago’s South Side, and Discovering the Chicago School, were sold out before the meeting began.

The 97th Annual Meeting was the second year that the program, pre-registration, and the paper and abstract center operated entirely through the online system. While technical problems still occurred, efforts are being directed to improve the system so that it functions as seamlessly as possible next year.

Book exhibitors and representatives of major funding institutions and of publicly available large-scale data sets are typically well represented at the Annual Meeting. This year was no exception. Poster sessions and exhibit booths provided opportunities for all meeting participants to find something of interest.

Hold the Presses

Members of the media also came to the meetings to cover events. Journalists attending included those from the New York Times, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and the Chicago Tribune. National Public Radio and WGN AM Radio conducted taped and live interviews with prominent sociologists, and associated news articles and events appeared in theChicago Sun Times the Toronto Star, the Washington Post, and the Boston Globe, among other papers. Other opportunities for media to learn about interesting sociological work included a press conference to announce the release of ASA’s 100-page report Promoting Diversity and Excellence in Higher Education Through Department Change (see related article), and a press conference to coincide with release of the ASA Statement on Race (see VANTAGE POINT on page 2 and related article on page one of this issue).

As is ASA tradition, the leadership reigns of the organization were transferred from President to President-elect by means of a ceremonial passing of the official gavel from one to the other. Thus, at the August 19 Business Meeting, outgoing President Reskin transferred presidential responsibilities to President-elect William Bielby. The last meeting of the Reskin Council was held on Monday August 19, and the first meeting of the Bielby Council, took place on August 20.

Sociologists in Action

The Annual Meeting also demonstrated that the social mindedness that embodied the original Chicago School is still alive and active among today’s sociologists. Coincident with the Annual Meeting, the hotel workers at the Hilton (where the meetings were being held) were engaged in contract negotiations and were threatening to strike if hotel owners did not agree to improve wages and benefits when their contract expired on August 31. Many of the meeting attendees signed petitions and called attention to the rights of the hotel workers. Sociologists joined community, religious, and political leaders, and other supporters in this effort. Just after the ASA meeting concluded, the workers demands were met, and, in a special letter of appreciation, the employees’ union expressed its gratitude to ASA for support on its behalf.

Thank you, 2002 Program Committee, for a successful and well-planned meeting!

If you were unable to attend the meeting or would like to receive a paper from a session, you can download papers from the meeting page of the ASA website. Also, be sure to take advantage of pre-registration for next year’s meeting in Atlanta, GA, August 16-19, 2003.