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Sociologists Take Windy City by Storm
Daniel Fowler and Catherine Turvey, ASA Public Information Office
Sociologists took the Windy City by storm in August as they gathered for the 110th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association (ASA). With 5,712 registrants, the meeting had the highest attendance of any meeting outside of New York or San Francisco and the fourth largest crowd ever.
The 2015 meeting was ASA’s first meeting in Chicago since 2002. “We had an outstanding turnout,” said ASA Executive Officer Sally T. Hillsman. “2015 ASA President Paula England’s dynamic program, centered around the theme ‘Sexualities in the Social World,’ contributed greatly to the widespread interest in the meeting. Additionally, Chicago is a wonderful city to visit anytime, but particularly during the summer— and our attendance reflects that fact.”
Paula England’s Presidential Address, titled “Sometimes the Social Becomes Personal: Gender, Class, and Sexualities,” highlighted the importance of research by sociologists in illuminating how social norms and social inequalities affect what sexual behavior is acceptable and who partners with whom.
Paula England presenting her Presidential Address following the Awards Ceremony.
“Sex and all the things it is intertwined with are important to people, and yet there has been some stigma associated with studying sex,” England said. “So I wanted to use the spotlight the Annual Meeting shines on its theme to explore sexualities and make clear that sex is a legitimate topic for sociological research. The topic also seemed timely given late-breaking legal developments on same-sex marriage and continued conflicts about abortion, contraception, sex education, LGBT rights, and policies to combat HIV.”
The conference featured 608 sessions and 3,221 studies covering such subjects as children, health, family, immigration, consumerism, food, gender, education, technology, sex, politics, disability, development, substance abuse, environment, religion, culture, same-sex marriage, bullying, work, race, relationships, and criminal justice.
“I was heartened by the feedback I got on the meeting,” England said. “Thematic sessions on sexualities ranged from queer theory to qualitative research on diverse sexualities to demographic studies of cohabitation and non-marital births. And of course, as it should be, section and regular sessions on topics having nothing to do with this year’s theme went on to provide something of interest for many.”
One of the most anticipated session of the meeting was the Saturday plenary, titled “Modern Romance: Dating, Mating, and Marriage,” featuring comedian and actor Aziz Ansari and NYU sociologist Eric Klinenberg who co-authored the new book Modern Romance. The book explores the transformation of modern romance over the past century, paying particular attention to recent changes related to the Internet, globalization, the rising status of women, the acceptance of non-conventional sexual relationships, and the search for a soulmate. Other session participants included Rutgers University anthropologist Helen Fisher, Northwestern University psychologist Eli Finkel, and OkCupid co-founder Christian Rudder.
“Going into the meeting, there was a lot of buzz about this session,” Hillsman said. “Based on the response we received from attendees, the session lived up to the hype.”
Sociologists were not the only ones who took an interest in the Annual Meeting. Ten reporters —including journalists from The Huffington Post, Inside Higher Ed, and The Chronicle of Higher Education — attended the meeting. More impressive was the amount of media coverage that research presented at the meeting received in the United States and abroad. The ASA and the research presented at the meeting were mentioned in hundreds of articles, as well as on radio and television.
“Modern Romance: Dating, Mating, and Marriage” plenary with Eli Finkel, Hellen Fisher, Christian Ruder, Aziz Ansari, and Eric Klinenberg.
A study by Daniel Carlson, Sarah Hanson, Andrea Fitzroy, all of Georgia State University, was covered in more than 230 articles, according to a Google news search. Some of the media outlets that reported on the study, which found that couples that split childcare duties have higher quality relationships and sex lives, included the New York Times, BBC News, The Washington Post, CNN.com, Newsweek, CBSNews.com, The Huffington Post, the Chicago Tribune, U.S. News and World Report, and The Telegraph in England.
“The media coverage has been a very pleasant surprise and I am overjoyed that our work has been so well received,” said Carlson, who humorously noted that “perhaps the ultimate reward in all this was that our study was satirized by The Onion.”
Adam Lankford, University of Alabama, authored another study that was popular with the media. Titled, “Mass Shooters, Firearms, and Social Strains: A Global Analysis of an Exceptionally American Problem,” Lankford’s study was covered in at least 130 articles, according to Google. Media outlets that reported on Lankford’s research included: the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, Yahoo!News, TIME.com, CNN.com, Mother Jones, The Dallas Morning News, and The Globe and Mail in Canada. He was also interviewed twice on MSNBC about his study.
“Like most scholars, I find it gratifying when others are interested in my research,” Lankford said. “But what I found particularly encouraging was that people seem so interested in the nuances and complexities of sociological studies. I think we’re entering an increasingly thoughtful period in which many people want to know ‘what’ you found, but also ‘how’ you conducted the study, methodologically, and ‘why’ you think it matters, in terms of broader theories and social trends. The details aren’t dismissed as boring anymore; they’re actually considered important and exciting.”
A study by Stanford University’s Michael Rosenfeld also received a significant amount of interest from the media. “I was pleased by the breadth of the coverage of my paper about who initiates breakups in heterosexual unions,” said Rosenfeld, whose study was covered in at least 50 articles, according to Google. “In my research, I found that marital breakups were mostly initiated by women, but breakups of non-marital unions were gender neutral. My research speaks to some longstanding interests about gender roles and marriage.”
Some of the media outlets that reported on Rosenfeld’s study included: The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, TIME.com, Pacific Standard, CBSNews.com, the Daily Mail in England, the Hindustan Times in India, and the television program, “CBS This Morning.”
Including press releases on the research by Carlson and his co-authors, Lankford, and Rosenfeld, the ASA Public Information Office distributed 27 press releases on studies presented at the Annual Meeting and responded to scores of media inquiries about them. Additional U.S. media outlets that reported on research from the Annual Meeting included: the Associated Press, Inside Higher Ed, Today.com, WebMD, New York (magazine), the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the Houston Chronicle, WYNC.org, the New York Post, Smithsonian.com, the New York Daily News, the Chronicle of Higher Education, NBC New York, and many others.
International media outlets—such as the Toronto Star, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the Times of India, the Business Standard, The Indian Express, the New Zealand Herald, Der Tagesspiegel (Germany), MDZ Online (Argentina), the Independent (England), and The Australian—also covered research presented at the meeting.
As in years past, people who were unable to attend the meeting could watch live webcasts of the plenary sessions as well as the Awards Ceremony and the Presidential Address on the ASA website. Live transcripts accompanied the webcasts. You can view video archives of plenary sessions online at videoarchive.asanet.org/. In addition to live streaming plenaries, attendees were encouraged to live tweet while at the meeting using the hashtag #asa15; during the month of August there were 10,700 tweets using that hashtag.
Planning for the 2016 (and 2017!) meeting has already begun. The 111th Annual Meeting will take place in Seattle, WA, August 20-23. Ruth Milkman, who succeeded Paula England as ASA President at the end of the 2015 meeting, and the 2016 Program Committee are hard at work developing an exciting program centered around the theme, “Rethinking Social Movements: Can Changing the Conversation Change the World?” ASA will post the call for papers and launch the online paper submission tool on its website (www.asanet.org) in in early November. See you in Seattle!
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