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The Executive Officer’s Column

Sociologists as Scientists Engaged in Civic Discourse

Over the years, members of ASA and sociologists as individual professionals and citizens have sought to make the knowledge we generate relevant to issues faced by our communities, countries, and the world community. Many sociologists within the academy and in other sectors practice the translation of expert knowledge to many critical issues through consultation, advisement, testimony, commentary, writing, and participation in a wide variety of activities and venues.

The Association on behalf of its members helps with this translation of research to practice and has, on occasion, also taken official positions on important matters of public policy concern, especially when the issues involved are of great societal significance and where there is, in the words of the current ASA policy reviewed by Council in 2001, “a solid foundation of sociological knowledge as well as widespread agreement on its policy implications.” In recent months, for example, ASA developed its Statement on the Importance of Collecting Data and Doing Social Scientific Research on Race and submitted an amicus curiae brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in Grutter v. Bollinger regarding the role of affirmative action in higher education.

In the upcoming 2003 ASA election, ASA voting members will have an opportunity both to express their individual views about the current involvement of the United States in war in Iraq and to decide if the ASA as an Association should take an official stand on this matter. It is certainly one of great concern to the society at large and to many sociologists as professionals and as members of civil society.

On page 3 of this issue of Footnotes you will find the text of a resolution initiated by more than the requisite 3% of the voting membership of the Association calling for the immediate end to the war against Iraq. Council has provided a series of points for you to consider while deciding upon your personal course of action on this resolution when your ballot arrives in April.

It is certain that this resolution will generate thoughtful, vigorous discussion and debate within the membership about the resolution itself and whether an Association such as ours should take a public stand on this type of policy issue. It could also, however, stimulate discussion about what sociologists know as scientists about the many questions and concerns raised by the actions of the United States and others in Iraq over the short, middle, and long run and what we as professionals and citizens might do to provide constructive approaches and solutions.

To facilitate this dialogue, the Executive Office is activating this topic in the Member Forum discussion area on the ASA website. (Access the Member Forum from the ASA homepage ( or directly, at This “threaded discussion” will provide all an opportunity to express views and offer observations about the resolution and related issues. It will also enable us to consider the roles sociologists can play in effecting public policy as teachers, researchers, citizens, and “public sociologists” of all types and at all levels of activity, from the neighborhood and classroom to the nation and broader international forums. This might mean sharing with one another ideas about, for example, writing letters to the editors of your local, regional, or national newspapers; submitting op-ed pieces; consulting with the public information offices of your university/college/employer to see how your relevant sociological research might be brought to public awareness through various public channels and news outlets—on all issues related to the war; Iraq’s political, social, and economic recovery; and the Middle East in general. It might mean sharing concerns about what is happening on campuses with respect to intellectual freedom and freedom of speech both here in the United States and elsewhere in the world, and what sociologists might do about it.

No matter what the outcome of the ASA membership’s vote on the war resolution during the coming election, the war situation here at home and Iraq’s situation—relative to humanitarian aid, politics, security, and recovery—will not be static over the coming months. An on-going broader dialogue on how sociologists and their expertise can engage these issues most effectively can be constructive as well as instructive, interesting, and creative.

Finally, the Member Forum need not be focused only on this particular matter of immediate concern to our members. As other new topics are introduced onto the Forum by the membership, they will be organized to encourage a running dialogue on each specific area.

Sally T. Hillsman, Executive Officer