September/October 2015 Issue • Volume 43 • Issue 6

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Sociological Theory Welcomes New Editor Mustafa Emirbayer

Mustafa Emirbayer

Chad Alan Goldberg, University of Wisconsin-Madison

The ASA journal Sociological Theory, which has prospered since 2009 under its superb outgoing editor Neil Gross, will remain in good hands with incoming editor Mustafa Emirbayer.

Emirbayer is one of the most prominent theorists working in the discipline today. He received his PhD from Harvard University in 1989, taught at the New School for Social Research from 1991 to 1999, and since then has been at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he is currently Professor of Sociology. As a former chair of the ASA Theory Section (2010-2011), a recipient of the Lewis Coser Award for Theoretical Agenda-Setting (2010), and a contributor, consulting editor (2004-2008), and frequent reviewer for Sociological Theory, Emirbayer is eminently qualified to take the journal’s helm.

When he was a graduate student, Emirbayer recalled, “sociological theory occupied a highly ambivalent position in the discipline.” But now, he notes, there is greater appreciation for theoretical inquiry and debate. Emirbayer’s own scholarly contributions have contributed in no small part to that development. In the course of his career he has shaped the sociological agenda through a series of brilliant and innovative articles in some of the discipline’s most prominent and widely read journals, including the American Journal of Sociology, Theory and Society, and Sociological Theory. In addition, he has edited a volume on the sociological contributions of Émile Durkheim and co-authored (with Matthew Desmond) an important new textbook and a forthcoming monograph on the sociology of race. The impact of these publications is evident in Emirbayer’s high citation counts: around 7,000 on Google Scholar and 2,000 to 3,000 on Web of Science in terms of career totals so far.

One of the reasons Emirbayer’s work has been so influential is that it moves across conventional intellectual boundaries to engage with a wide range of questions and topics. Many of his publications address core theoretical problems at the heart of all social research. For instance, three of his most widely cited articles—“Network Analysis, Culture, and the Problem of Agency” (1994, co-authored with Jeff Goodwin), “Manifesto for a Relational Sociology” (1997), and “What Is Agency?” (1998, co-authored with Ann Mische)—aimed to clarify the nature of agency and its relationship to structure while re-conceptualizing agency and structure in relational terms. Other publications of his have reinterpreted and reconstructed the work of classical social theorists such as Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, and John Dewey. By linking classical theory to contemporary concerns and by showing that its potential for intellectual stimulation is not yet exhausted, these contributions have revitalized sociology’s theoretical heritage. At the same time, Emirbayer has engaged with the ideas of recent or contemporary theorists such as Jeffrey Alexander, Erik Olin Wright, Norbert Elias, Harold Garfinkel, Charles Tilly, and especially Pierre Bourdieu. He has brought Bourdieu’s ideas into fruitful dialogue with democratic theory, organizational analysis, and social movement research. Lastly, Emirbayer has given new theoretical direction to a variety of sociological subfields, including comparative-historical sociology, political sociology, and, most recently, the sociology of race and ethnicity. The extensive range of his intellectual engagements will undoubtedly help Emirbayer attract diverse scholarship to Sociological Theory and provide him with a sound basis for choosing reviewers and evaluating submissions.

Beyond his Research

Emirbayer’s personal qualities also suit him for the editorship of Sociological Theory.  As one of his former students, coauthors, and colleagues, I have come to know those qualities firsthand. He encourages in others the same broad engagement found in his own work rather than a narrow confinement to one’s preferred corner of the sociological universe. (I remember, for instance, his admonition to critically-minded New School students not to ignore what we then disparagingly called “mainstream American sociology.” You don’t have to like the mainstream, he told us, but you should endeavor to be conversant and in conversation with it. That’s good advice about any sociological perspective.)

While insisting on careful thinking and intellectual rigor, Emirbayer also encourages students and colleagues to think big, pursue intellectually ambitious agendas, and make explicit the broader implications and contributions of their research. He combines these high expectations with extraordinary dedication, to students and colleagues he has devoted much of his time and energy throughout his career to nurturing, cultivating, and preparing graduate students and junior colleagues. These same qualities will undoubtedly serve him well as he works in his editorial role with authors and reviewers to assess manuscripts and identify revisions that would improve them.

Emirbayer vows to build on Gross’s legacy, to maintain Sociological Theory’s increasingly prestigious reputation for high-quality work, and to capitalize on the enthusiasm for theorizing that he sees among many of his colleagues. At the same time, he plans to put his own distinctive stamp upon the journal with several innovations, including the publication of shorter papers in symposia devoted to important theoretical issues. These symposia would complement, not replace, full-length articles. He hopes to make the journal an “intellectual home” for scholars who want to move beyond old divisions between quantitative or qualitative research, professionally oriented or public sociology, and empirically rich or theoretically sophisticated inquiry.

“I would like to see the journal take in the full range of exciting theoretical inquiry currently going on around the discipline,” Emirbayer says adding, “not only in the U.S. but also abroad; not exclusively around core sociological problems but also concerned with heretofore neglected or marginalized themes; located not only in the field of sociological theory proper but also in many substantive fields of which sociology is composed.” We look forward to the unfolding of this expansive vision in future issues.

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