Single-Issue Voting Tactic? (Letter)

Mathieu Deflem
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Published as a Public Forum letter in Footnotes, The ASA Newsletter, May/June 2006.
Includes comment and additional response as well as online-only note.

Please cite as: Deflem, Mathieu. 2006. “Single-Issue Voting Tactic?” Letter. Footnotes, The ASA Newsletter, 34(5):12. 

After becoming a candidate seeking election to the ASA Council (added to the ballot after a petition drive), I received from Sociologists for Women in Society (SWS) a questionnaire about certain of my activities. Apparently, every candidate for ASA office since 1982 has received a similar questionnaire. The items asked: (1) Whether I am a member of SWS, (2) Whether I have engaged in certain activities (e.g., review Gender & Society and attend SWS meetings), if I answered “yes” to the first item, and (3) To describe any contributions I have made to the promotion of social equality for women.

I am distraught by this query. Specifically, Question 3 is problematic because it is not relevant to my candidacy for ASA office. I have therefore asked the ASA Council to look into this case whereby an organization that is not part of the ASA contacts the current ASA candidates and apparently prepares a voting strategy for its members according to a survey that appears to suggest single-issue voting.

I am particularly concerned about the appropriateness of this survey inasmuch as our candidacy for an ASA office is already regulated by the Association (including the requirement for a personal statement and other relevant information). I find it troubling to even be asked about my opinions and activities when they are not part of the qualifications needed to hold an ASA office. The single-issue in which SWS is interested also implies a disregard of any and all other relevant issues. I would find it far more relevant, specifically, if candidates were asked instead about our vision for the discipline and profession of sociology, commitment and experience in serving sociology and sociologists of all kinds, and ideas and plans to move sociology forward as an academic discipline that is responsible toward the whole of the society we ought to serve.

As I informed SWS in response, “I think that my professional abilities for the position for which I run are more important than my contributions to the promotion and social equality for women. I must therefore decline to fill out your questionnaire. Besides, I would not have sought and accepted nomination for an office in the ASA had I not had the intention of working for the betterment of the discipline and all of its members. I hope, therefore, that I can interpret my election or non-election as my colleagues' judgment of my abilities as a professional to work for that betterment.”

Mathieu Deflem

Comment and Response 

The above letter was commented on in print by Christine E. Bose and Catherine Zimmer, “ASA Candidates: Reply to Deflem,” available online from the ASA website. Below is my response to that comment.

Please cite as: Deflem, Mathieu. 2006. “Response to SWS” Public Forum Letter. Footnotes, The ASA Newsletter, 34(6):8.

Although the title of my May/June Footnotes letter to the editor (“Single-issue Voting Tactic?”) was provided by the Footnotes managing editor, it reflects my main concern about the Sociologists for Women in Society (SWS) survey well—a concern that has been expressed in the pages of this newsletter by other ASA members in at least the past 14 years (and in near identical terms). The very name, bylaws, and stated goals of SWS betray the organization’s activist motives and the desired effect its survey is intended to have. Inasmuch as this goal is narrowly perceived in terms of the number of females elected to ASA positions, the SWS survey is at best obsolete, at worst a litmus test.

I should be taken-aback by the implication that I would not be fit to run for an ASA office because I was unaware of a practice that is not part of ASA procedures but is instituted by an external organization. Candidates for ASA Council have a duty to reply to any query from ASA members, be it individually or collectively organized within the ASA, but they need feel no such responsibility when questions come from outside our Association. Even the overlap between the memberships of the organizations does not deny the fact that SWS is not a constituency within the ASA and, therefore, cannot claim to represent the ASA electorate or any part thereof. Not even the interlocking directorates that currently exist between SWS and the ASA Executive Office and Council can alter this fact.

Of the five candidates who did not respond to the SWS survey this year, two were female. Should SWS members really heed the call to have these nonresponses speak for themselves, these candidates should not be receiving SWS support. That is very unlikely, however, as the SWS platform is not defined as promoting gender diversity but as maximizing the professional opportunities for women in sociology. More broadly, I find it a tragic shame that SWS appears to have turned from the progressive Committee of the Status of Women in Sociology, which promoted equality, to a conservative force that opposes inclusiveness and resorts to sterile gender-based voting. Such a practice I find objectionable most of all in view of all candidates running for ASA offices deserving the right to be treated on the basis of their professional qualifications.

Additional 'Comment' 

The so-called blogosphere at the time of publication of my letter created more comments, the most revealing of which is still available online via this link. I leave any response to this aggression to the reader.

Confessional Online Note (2015)

As it is now some years since these communications were published, I reveal that my original letter in Footnotes was based on a letter by Andrew Abbott published in Footnotes in March 1992. As I hinted at in my response ("in near identical terms"), my letter contains entire sections verbatim from the then 14-year old letter by Dr. Abbott (with whom I conferred and who gave permission to go ahead with my letter) in order to make a statement too obvious to mention.

See related writings on public sociology.