March 2014 Issue • Volume 42 • Issue 3

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F. Ivan Nye, distinguished family sociologist who spent most of his academic career at Washington State University, died on March 1, 2014, at the age of 95.


William J. Chambliss

Bill Chambliss, a transformative force in conflict theory, the sociology of law, and criminology, died on February 21, 2014. Told he had little time to live when first diagnosed with cancer nearly eight years ago, Bill characteristically broke all the rules. He lived with cancer as he had lived his life: on his own terms. Bill continued his research, published, traveled extensively, and taught until the very end. when his doctors informed him he likely had only months to live, he said “I’ve never been afraid of living, and I’m not afraid of dying.”

Bill Chambliss was indeed unafraid. Despite spending long hours in the library and the archives doing research, he preferred to be where the action was. As he explained in his paradigm-changing book On the Take: “Going to the streets of the city, rather than the records, may bring the role of corruption and complicity between political, economic, and criminal interests into sharp relief.” During a productive 50-year career, Bill repeatedly went to the streets. He hung out with notorious organized crime chiefs as well as low-level drug dealers and petty criminals; poppy growers, heroin traffickers, and CIA chiefs; and pirates of many stripes.

Even when not officially conducting research, Bill had a yearning for the street; he simply loved to be among those who were on the receiving end of an exploitive social system shaped by race and class. One personal example: After we arrived in Juneau after three sleepless rain-soaked nights camping on the deck of the Alaska State Ferry, Bill managed to find an all-night poker game at a local Inuit hangout. He had an unerring gift for seeking out those who lived in the ragged quarters, and a unique talent for framing their challenges in larger sociological terms. Bill’s research exemplifies the very best of C. Wright Mills’ sociological imagination.

After earning his sociology BA in 1955 at UCLA, Bill spent a year hitchhiking between labor camps as a migratory farm worker. There he learned first-hand about the everyday lives of the men, women, and children who lived in the most ragged of quarters. These experiences shaped his work. After earning his sociology PhD in 1962 at the University of Indiana, where he studied deviance, Bill accepted an Assistant Professor Position at the University of Washington in Seattle. Bill soon began to develop his own approach, helping to shape the newly emerging theoretical framework termed conflict theory. This approach, radical in the early 1960s, traced its origins to Marx’s emphasis on the universality of social conflict in class-based societies. Conflict theory argued that societies are best understood in terms of structurally embedded conflicts between social groups.

Bill’s first major published article, “A Sociological Analysis of the Laws of Vagrancy” (Social Problems 1964), catapulted him to the forefront of the nascent conflict theory approach. In this seminal and widely cited article, he analyzed the 14th through 16th century English vagrancy laws, which had classified peasants made landless under the enclosure movement as vagrants.

In 1967 Bill moved to University of California-Santa Barbara (UCSB) as a tenured Associate Professor. This proved to be a highly productive period, including seven books that significantly impacted criminology and the sociology of law. Despite this intense publishing, Bill remained close to UCSB’s version of the street, serving as faculty advisor to the Black Student Union (BSU) when tensions between the BSU and local police were at a flash point. The BSU had demanded the creation of a black studies program and occupied the computer center to achieve that goal (they eventually received it). The police, falsely believing the occupiers to be armed, were poised to move in. Bill played a key role in diffusing a tense situation.

In1969 Bill published Crime and the Legal Process, the first major monograph to set forth his evolving ideas. This important work sought to show how lower-class black crime was rendered more visible than middle-class white crime, resulting in much higher rates of criminalization among blacks. A similar argument was made in his ethnography of small town street gangs, “The Saints and the Roughnecks” (1973). This widely cited classic (even today it results in nearly 90,000 Google hits) was reproduced in virtually every sociology textbook for a generation.

During this period Bill and law professor Robert Seidman collaborated on a seminal textbook, Law, Order, & Power (1971), showing how class interests not only become law, but also shape the entire criminal justice system. Bill also published three edited books reflecting his developing understanding of law and social conflict: Sociological Readings in the Conflict Perspective (1973), Problems of Industrial Society (1974), and Criminal Law in Action (1975). In collaboration with Thomas Ryther, he published his first introductory sociology textbook, Sociology: The Discipline and its Direction (1975). Two more were to come: one which he and I co-authored in 1997—the first to mainstream globalization —and one with sociologist Daina Eglitis in 2012.

The University of Delaware hired Bill in 1976, where he published the book that was to establish him in the forefront of his field. On the Take: From Petty Criminals to Presidents (1978), which exposed white-collar crime and corruption in Seattle. In a rich, detailed, and inevitably controversial account, Bill argued that organized crime is central to politics, from the precinct to the presidency. Bill developed these ideas more fully under the concept of “state organized crime” in an important series of writings: Organizing Crime (with Alan Block, 1981); Whose Law? What Order? (with Milton Mankoff, 1981); Exploring Criminology (1988); and Making Law: The State, The Law, and Structural Contradictions (Marjorie Zatz in 1993).

In 1986 Bill relocated to the Sociology Department at George Washington University, where he remained until his death. There he turned his attention to residents of the District of Columbia’s poorest black neighborhoods. To show the relationship between race, class, and criminalization, Bill amassed extensive statistical data about neighborhood characteristics, crime, and incarceration. He also participated in “ride-alongs” with the Washington Police Department’s Rapid Deployment Unit in order to better understand how policing played out on the street. This research eventually found its way into his book Power, Politics, & Crime (1999), where Bill argued that the “war against drugs” was both misplaced and a failure.

Bill continued making this argument even as he battled cancer. In a Huffington Post article, “Obama’s Drug Problem” (January 26, 2013), Bill again proved that he was a fighter for justice until the end.

Bill Chambliss was a towering figure in sociology. The author or co-author of nearly two dozen monographs and edited books, along with countless chapters, journal articles, and popular pieces, he received numerous prestigious awards throughout his career. Among these are the Presidencies of the American Criminological Society (ACS) and the Society for the Study of Social Problems (SSSP),; Lifetime Achievement Awards from the ASA’s sections on Criminology (1985) and the Sociology of Law (2009), as well as the SSSP’s section on Law and Society (2009); ACS’s Major Achievement Award (1995) and Edwin H. Sutherland Award (2001); and the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences Bruce Smith Sr. Distinguished Leadership in Criminal Justice Award (1986). In 2008 Bill gave the Beto Chair Lecture in Criminal Justice at Sam Houston State University, and the following year he received an honorary Doctorate of Law from the University of Guelph, Canada.

Reflecting his role as a teacher-scholar, mentor for many of today’s leading criminologists and sociologists of law as well as thousands of students throughout his career, Bill received a singular honor SSSP in 2012: the creation of the William J. Chambliss Lifetime Achievement Award “to recognize career-spanning excellence and achievement in the area of law and society.” 

Bill will be greatly missed by his wife Pernille, his sons Jeff and James and daughter Lauren, his grandchildren, his students, his many friends. His legacy will live on in their memories, his writings, and the imprint he has left as a scholar who was never afraid to speak truth to power. To celebrate Bill’s life and legacy,  make a gift to support graduate students in sociology at the George Washington University. Go online at or call (800) 789-2611.

Richard P. Appelbaum, University of California at Santa Barbara

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F. Ivan Nye

Ivan Nye was born in Prospect, OR, in 1918. At that time, Prospect was a village of about 100 people. It is in the heart of the Cascade Mountains, surrounded by pristine wilderness with its beautiful lakes, mountain streams, and forests. Growing up in this beautiful place shaped Ivan’s character—his rugged individualism, sense of adventure, and love of nature. It is a wonder he ever became a sociology professor. In his youth he was a lumberjack and a damn good one according to his family. Then came World War II and Ivan served as a pilot in the U.S. Air Force. Perhaps it was this experience that broadened his horizons beyond Prospect, although his heart never left nature’s wild places.

After the War, Ivan’s goals shifted toward higher education. He received his BA from Willamette University (1946) and went on to Michigan State University for his PhD (1952). His first academic job was at Ohio State University as an Assistant Professor of Rural Sociology. After a few years, he left for a similar job at the University of Missouri and then on to Bucknell University as an Associate Professor of Sociology. Again, after a few years, he left to take a position at Washington State University, where he would spend most of his academic career (even while taking positions at Florida State University several times). Ivan had wanderlust in his academic career as well as in other aspects of his life.

Ivan’s specialty was family sociology. During the 1960s and 70s he was one of the most prominent and influential family sociologists. He was elected President of the National Council on Family Relation (NCFR) (1965-66). He was the recipient of the Burgess Award from the NCFR (1976), given for a career of “distinguished contributions to family research and theory.” He served on the Governor’s Commission on the Status of Women (1965-1969). He was Editor of the Journal of Marriage and the Family (1960-64), and served on the editorial boards of many other scholarly journals. During these decades, Ivan also built a first-rate graduate program in family sociology at Washington State University.

Early in his research and writings Ivan focused on family relations and juvenile delinquency. In a series of articles and a book (Family Relations and Delinquent Behavior, 1958), he analyzed how family structural and interactional variables combined with social class and other macro variables affect juvenile delinquency. While this was an important and fruitful line of research, Nye’s major contribution to family sociology was the study of family roles and the impact of women’s employment and other social trends. Ivan was one of the pioneers in the study of the consequences of wives/mothers’ employment for spousal and parental roles in American families (Nye, et al, The Employed Mother in America, 1963; Lois Hoffman and Ivan Nye, Working Mothers, 1974; Nye, Role Structure and Analysis of the Family, 1976). Now, this is one of the most studied topics in family sociology.

Ivan Nye made substantial contributions to family theory development as well. His book with Felix Berardo, Emerging Conceptual Frameworks in Family Analysis (1966), sparked considerable interest in the identification, expansion, and utilization of theoretical perspectives in family studies. This culminated a dozen years later in a major effort at family theory building, sponsored by the Theory Workshop of NCFR, in two edited volumes: Burr, Hill, Nye, and Reiss (Eds.), Contemporary Theories About the Family (1979). These books became essential reading in family sociology graduate programs for decades. Ivan’s own theoretical preference was social exchange theory, which he considered particularly useful for understanding and explaining family relations. He was a strong advocate of this theory.

Ivan Nye had strong applied interests as well. He believed that sociological knowledge should be used to improve society and the quality of people’s lives. The last two years of his professional life he spent as a Visiting Scholar at the Boys Town Center for the Study of Youth Development (1979-81), developing programs for helping troubled youth.

Ivan Nye lived a long, productive, and adventurous life. He was fiercely independent, loved the wilderness, and was an avid fisherman. He would drive to Alaska (in his van, pulling a small boat) to fish for salmon and crisscross the United States to fish and hike in various wilderness places. Even after suffering a debilitating stroke 12 years ago that left him partially paralyzed, he struggled to maintain his independence and adventurous lifestyle, until eventually, he no longer could. He spent the last few years living with his son Lloyd and daughter-in-law Cynthia in Julietta, ID, where he died peacefully on March 1, 2014. His ashes will be buried in Prospect, OR, as he wished. I will miss him.

Viktor Gecas, Professor Emeritus, Purdue

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