September-October 2009 Issue • Volume 37 • Issue 7

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Neil Gross to Edit
Sociological Theory

by Chas Camic, Northwestern University, and Michèle Lamont, Harvard University


Neil Gross

After its successful run at Yale University under the joint editorship of Julia Adams, Jeff Alexander, Ron Eyerman, and Phil Gorski, Sociological Theory has re-located, as of August 2009, to the University of British Columbia, where Neil Gross will serve as editor. The move marks the first time that a Canadian university will house the editorial offices of an ASA-sponsored publication, as well as the first time that a sociologist with a 21st- century doctorate edits one of ASA’s premier journals. These changes signal important developments for Sociological Theory.

Neil brings a range of experiences to the position of editor. Raised in a bookish household outside of Berkeley, CA, he attended the University of California-Berkeley, graduating in 1992 with a major in Legal Studies. After college, he worked as a patrolman for the Berkeley Police Department and to this day visibly wears the reputation of a "bad cop" (delinquent manuscript reviewers beware!). In 1995, he entered the graduate program in sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison receiving his PhD in 2002. Subsequently, he has been a member of the sociology departments of the University of Southern California (2002-04), Harvard University (2004-08), and the University of British Columbia (2008-present).

Appropriately, the first professional article that Neil published—on Emile Durkheim’s teachings on pragmatism—appeared in Sociological Theory in 1997, as did Neil’s later work on the nature of contemporary intimacy. An inexhaustible font of intellectual energy, Neil has written as well on the dynamics of intellectual movements, the religious and political views of the American professoriate, the sociology of ideas, the history of phenomenology and pragmatism in American sociology, and, most recently, the nature of social mechanisms. His articles on these subjects have appeared in the American Sociological Review (3 times), the Annual Review of Sociology, Theory & Society, Social Forces, and Sociology of Religion, among other prominent journals. While researching his master’s thesis in the mid-1990s, Neil discovered Durkheim’s lost 1883-84 Sens lectures, a text that he (along with Robert Alun Jones) subsequently translated into English and published as Durkheim’s Philosophy Lectures (2004). Neil is also the author of Richard Rorty: The Making of an American Philosopher (2008), which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in biography. This intellectual portfolio reveals that Neil is as interested in the content of ideas and sociological theories as he is their conditions of production and diffusion. His interest in the editorship of Sociological Theory is no suprise. Perhaps his new theory of intellectual social movements (published in ASR in 2006) will be put to good use as he considers how to broaden the influence of the journal.

In enLIGHTened: How I Lost 40 Pounds with a Yoga Mat, Fresh Pineapples, and a Beagle Pointer (2009), author Jessica Berger Gross (Neil’s spouse) presents a comical picture of Neil behind the scenes, when he’s not e-mailing the most recent revision of his latest paper to legions of colleagues for still more comments, or charging his way through another subfield of sociology that he has decided to master, or launching his nth new research project or collaboration. At the base of all of this activity, though, lies the driving force that makes Neil so ideal a choice for the editorship of Sociological Theory: His deep concern about the present uncertain state of sociological theory and his fierce pluralist determination to encourage the development of all species of theoretical work.

These have been Neil’s commitments throughout his career, and he eloquently relates them as follows: "As I see it, the job of the next editor of Sociological Theory is to continue to provide a home for high-quality papers reflective of established theoretical approaches and schools. At the same time, the editor must find a way to pull more innovative, substantive-theoretical work (from subfields such as historical sociology, sociology of culture, sociology of science, sociology of gender, sociology of race, political sociology, and economic sociology) into the pages of the journal and build bridges between theory proper and other subfields. The goal should be to create a conversation among all sociologists with creative theoretical interests and ambitions around the journal so that the intellectual energies that have recently migrated elsewhere can be refocused on the project of theory. ST will bring theorists with diverse concerns into fruitful dialogue with one another. In this way, Sociological Theory could help to revivify the field." For Neil, these are not words but a mission, and a mission that he is certain to pursue with relentless energy. To the journal, Neil brings his high standards, broad expertise, interdisciplinary interests, catholic tastes, and a vast generation-spanning network. We trust that he will do much to sustain the investment of younger and more senior sociologists in the enterprise of sociological theory. ASA’s Committee on Publication and the ASA Council were wise to choose a mid-career sociologist to lead one of the associations’ flagship journals. We have much to look forward to!

Sociological Theory publishes work in all areas of social thought, including new substantive theories, history of theory, metatheory, formal theory construction, and syntheses of existing bodies of theory. logo


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