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The Executive Officer’s Column

The Annual Meeting: A Learned Place and a Place to Learn

The Annual Meeting is a lively marketplace of ideas, a “social” location of scholarly dissemination and exchange, and an opportunity for networking and making and sustaining professional relationships. When we think of the Annual Meeting and why it is on our calendar year after year, we think of the riveting plenary where new questions were framed, the section session that sharpened our sociological lens, or the lively roundtable where our work-in-progress was fundamentally reshaped.

Annual Meetings are occasions to refresh our minds, soak in new knowledge, and reaffirm the value of the sociological in our lives. While the ASA membership was about the same size in 1980 as it was in 2000 (just under 13,000), the Annual Meeting has grown. In 1980, there were 3,331 paid registrants and 206 program sessions; in 1990, there 3,818 paid registrants and 312 program sessions; and in 2000, there were 4,793 paid registrants and 577 program sessions.

While the ASA Annual Meeting is very much driven by member interest and proposals, ASA is also reflective and deliberate in what it provides. Over the years, the Association has recognized the need to think creatively about the Annual Meeting both as a “learned place” and as a “place to learn.” In particular, the Association has developed a program of workshops that has much to offer attendees.

During the last 20 years, the number of workshops has grown and their definition and character have been honed. In 1980, there were some eight professional workshops to complement a roster of 10 didactic seminars. But, by 1990, there were 9 professional workshops and 11 teaching workshops, and, by 2000, there were 16 workshops related to the academic workplace, 21 professional workshops, and 29 teaching workshops (in addition to the didactics). Each educational element has a different point of emphasis.

  • Didactic Seminars tend to be half or full day events, often on a new methodological approach or technique. Attending a didactic seminar provides a chance to engage with new material and be able to expand one’s sociological repertoire.

  • Professional Workshops focus on topics and issues important to the professional development of sociologists—from writing books, articles, or grant proposals to better understanding ethical considerations in the conduct of research, sharing research with policymakers, or working effectively with the media. Some of these workshops target different career stages.

  • Teaching Workshops center on ideas and strategies for teaching specific courses (e.g., “Teaching Introductory Sociology for the First Time” or “Teaching a Course on the Family”) or expose attendees to new techniques (e.g., “Teaching Using the Internet”).

  • Academic Workshops are addressed to leading, managing, and thriving in the academic workplace. These workshops delve into issues like “Assessing your Sociology Library Collection,” “Preparing for a Program Review,” or “Chairing a Joint Department.”

Workshops have been well planned by session leaders and well received by attendees. Yet, even though ASA offers across-the-board more than 50 workshops and didactic seminars each year, we have not seized upon the opportunity to promote and feature what we do. For us, the 2002 Annual Meeting represents a new turn in that road.

The 2002 Program has several innovations to test the waters of a professional development program within the Annual Meeting. Most importantly, with the encouragement of President Barbara Reskin and ASA Council, the Association is more intentionally seeking to promote workshops and the training and learning component of the Annual Meeting. Much more emphasis is being placed on publicizing what is being offered to both usual attendees and wider audiences. We hope that the “training component” of the meeting is compelling enough so that sociologists will seek to attend regardless of other participation in the meeting. We hope too that employers across sectors will see the value of this training and offer financial support.

In addition, the Association is offering two extended “short-course” workshops for 2002 and introducing a credit-granting mechanism. The first is on Teaching Racial Profiling and will provide a more in-depth training component to the plenary and thematic sessions on Profiling Across Social Institutions. Those registering for this workshop will take an extended seminar in the morning, and then, after the plenary and thematic sessions, they will conclude with an extended session to strengthen the links between research on profiling and disparities and teaching about these issues. The second is on Human Research Protections in Sociology and the Social Sciences. This pre-day workshop will cover core issues in the ethics of research with human subjects and then will focus specifically on issues and procedures for addressing specific situations more commonplace in the social sciences.

ASA will offer certificates to attest to the successful completion of these courses. Attendees will register in advance and be expected to do some preparation to reap the benefit of this training. The course on profiling is intended to attract many new teachers of sociology who have not yet specialized in this area. It also aims to reach high school and community college teachers who seek training and certification of their knowledge. The course on ethics and human subjects research should attract attendees who want more in-depth training and knowledge than more general courses or web-based seminars can provide.

ASA Council has greeted the 2002 plan with considerable support and a commitment to continue a more “intentional” educational component in the years to come. The Association has been thinking creatively about how to have a large meeting under “one tent” where colleagues from all sectors of our profession can gather and gain. These new efforts at continuing education can draw in new audiences (e.g., high school teachers, practitioners, colleagues from aligned fields) and remind us that the Annual Meeting is not only a place to present but also an occasion to teach and to learn.—Felice J. Levine