September-October 2008 Issue • Volume 36 • Issue 7

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08_meeting_imgSociologists at Work
in Boston

by Jackie Cooper,
ASA Public Information Office

Boston upheld its reputation as the "Athens of America" as sociologists from around the United States and abroad converged on the city to share research and discuss "Worlds of Work," the theme of the ASA’s 103rd Annual Meeting last month.

The conference theme—speaking to both the increasing diversity by which work is organized and experienced and to the cross-national and historical diversity in work activities, institutions, and experiences—drew the third-highest attendance in ASA history with 5,458 attendees.

Douglas Massey, Jorge Castaneda, and
Julia Preston at the "Barriers and Bridges" plenary.

The meeting’s program, developed by President Arne Kalleberg and the 2008 Program Committee, included 470 breakout sessions, five plenary sessions, and six presidential panels focusing on topics tied to the conference theme.

The state of work was the subject of Kalleberg’s presidential address, in which he discussed the increasing risk, insecurity, and unpredictability of employment today. In the address, which was preceded by the ASA major awards ceremony (see article on award recipients in the November 2008 Footnotes), Kalleberg explored the causes and consequences of the increasing instability of jobs and its implications for policy.

"The growth of precarious work creates new challenges and opportunities for sociologists seeking to explain this phenomenon and to help frame effective policies to address its consequences," said Kalleberg in his address. "To meet these challenges, we need to revisit, reorient, and reconsider the core theoretical and analytic tools we use to get at contemporary realities of work, workers, and the workplace."

Dovetailing on the topic of insecurity, a plenary featuring Christopher Jencks (Harvard University), American Prospect co-founder Robert Kuttner, and former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala featured a discussion of "Reinventing the American Dream." Another plenary on United States-Mexico immigration cited insecurity as a reason for the growing anti-immigration sentiment in this country. At this informative plenary moderated by New York Times reporter Julia Preston, Douglas Massey (Princeton University), and former Mexican foreign minister Jorge Castaneda discussed the barriers and bridges of immigration.

Beyond immigration, the challenges and responsibilities of globalization and work were the focus of a plenary featuring Harvard’s Rosabeth Moss Kanter, MIT economist Michael Piore, and Erik Olin Wright of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Sociologists in Action

The opening plenary session, "The Future of the American Labor Movement," foretold the decline of U.S. labor unions. Amid discussions of work and labor issues, a real-world scenario was playing out during the Annual Meeting in a labor dispute involving the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center and the Hynes Convention Center.

Prior to arriving in Boston, the ASA Council voted to support fair labor practices in a dispute between Aramark and UNITE HERE Local 26, the Boston Hotel and Foodservice Workers Union. As a result, ASA declined to contract with Aramark for food services inside the Hynes Convention Center, the site of the Annual Meeting’s exhibits, poster sessions, bookstore, employment service, and registration areas. Water stations were set up at the entrance, but in order to support the workers, ASA made no refreshments available through Aramark inside this area of the meeting. Several attendees participated in a march from the Sheraton Boston to the Hynes Convention Center in solidarity with the union. In a special letter of appreciation to members of the ASA, UNITE HERE Local 26 expressed its gratitude for ASA’s support. As of mid-August, no resolution had been reached.

International Relations

More than 540 international registrants representing 51 countries attended the ASA Annual Meeting, with the highest representation from Canada, the United Kingdom, South Korea, Germany, and the Netherlands. Among the international attendees was International Sociological Association (ISA) President Michel Wieviorka, who addressed the attendees of the International Scholars Reception. In his informal address, Wieviorka advocated for stronger relationships between the ASA and ISA, and spoke of encouraging the participation of young sociologists and sociologists from non-Western nations. Wieviorka said that he does not see sociology as being in a crisis status, but rather is a central component of the public debate.

Going Public with the Press

Speaking of the public debate, 25 journalists registered for the ASA Annual Meeting—the second highest media registration after last year’s meeting in New York. This year’s attendees included reporters from The Boston Globe, ABC News, Kiplinger, Science magazine, Inside Higher Ed, and The Chronicle of Higher Education.

A variety of research presented at the meeting garnered national media coverage. The New York Times’ "Well" blog reported on research concerning male college students and property crime. A study of the emotional toll of breast cancer was covered in U.S. News & World Report, The Los Angeles Times’ "Booster Shots" blog, and by the syndicated HealthDay News. Findings on gender and the consequences of overwork were featured in The Washington Post, on, WebMD, and United Press International (UPI). WebMD and HealthDay News covered research on family type and parental involvement and a study of homeownership and political involvement also was covered by UPI.

Seven articles were published in the higher education trade press during the meeting, and additional stories and follow-up are anticipated. For example, Inside Higher Ed covered discussions from the Annual Meeting surrounding the relationship between criminology and sociology, research regarding the recruitment of women for science faculty jobs, ASA research findings on the job satisfaction of academic scientists, research on the culture gap between administrators and faculty members, and a study of the wealth advantages and lack of diversity among legacy admits at Duke University. And The Chronicle of Higher Education covered a discussion of the peer review process and research on overwork and gender.

Looking Ahead

With the success of the 2008 Annual Meeting behind us, we look ahead to the 2009 meeting in San Francisco, August 8-11. Under the guidance of ASA’s new president, Patricia Hill Collins, and the 2009 Program Committee, the 104th Annual Meeting will explore "The New Politics of Community." The Call for Papers, will be posted on the ASA website October 30, and the online paper submission site will open on December 1. See you in San Francisco!


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