That’s in a Name: Concerning the ASA Career Award

Mathieu Deflem
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Published as an ASA Forum letter in Footnotes, the ASA Newsletter, 36(3):8, March 2008.

Also available via the ASA website and as PDF file.

Please cite as: Deflem, Mathieu. 2008. “That’s in a Name: Concerning the ASA Career Award.” ASA Forum Letter. Footnotes, ASA Newsletter, 36(3):8.

Not Lester Ward, Albion Small, Franklin H. Giddings, Charles Horton Cooley, William Graham Sumner, Robert Park, Talcott Parsons, Pitirim Sorokin, William Thomas, Dorothy Thomas, Everett Hughes, Robert K. Merton, Erving Goffman, C. Wright Mills, Peter Blau, or Lewis Coser. There is a long list of names not chosen; instead the ASA career award now carries the name W.E.B. DuBois, the noted racial activist and Pan-Africanist. Another, albeit it less comfortable act of publicity on behalf of a professional association, the name change reveals more than it is purported to denote. How else could one account for the appropriation of the name of a person who, even by admission of the advocates of adding the name to the ASA career award, did not make a contribution to the development of the profession and discipline of American sociology that would be singularly more noteworthy than those of many others whose names remain unspoken.

Yet, despite a longstanding ASA policy that awards should be identified by the reason of the award alone, the name change of the career award was voted by a majority of the membership (see November 2006 Footnotes, p. 1). I therefore wholeheartedly support the idea that the addition of the name of DuBois to the ASA career award be observed with all due ceremonial grandeur at the ASA Annual Meeting (see January 2008 Footnotes, ASA Forum). Such a celebration would serve to mark and honor, plainly and clearly, the very essence of the standing of contemporary sociology and its practitioners. It is a tragic and sad irony, of course, that the many significant contributions DuBois made, intellectual and otherwise, could not be done greater injustice than by having his legacy reduced to the self-serving needs of the ASA’s voting majority.

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