>Apparently, the lists at csf have a policy not to overstep copyright, so I
>haven't been able to judge from the Walter Goodman text itself. (Can someone
>with a scanner post it?) Though I have my hunches.
Not scanned. It's still up at the Times's website. (What an asshole this guy is.)
Sociologists to the Barricades
Thinkers Who Would Be Doers See Social Injustice Wherever They Turn
By WALTER GOODMAN
It was a dire prospect that greeted the 5,000 or so sociologists who converged on two Washington hotels last week for the start of the 95th annual meeting of the American Sociological Association. Titled, with the flair for which their calling has become known, "Oppression, Domination and Liberation: Challenges for the 21st Century," the event promised insights not only into the "continuing problem" of racism but also into "other manifestations of social inequality such as class exploitation and oppression on the basis of gender, ethnicity, national origin, sexual preference, disability and age." It was a big tent.
Like the political conventions that have enlivened the summer weeks, this one laid claim to great historical accomplishments and pledged further achievements. Instead of the rousing phrases of political party platforms, however, the platform of these sociologists was framed in the lab-sounding lingo of social science as it drew attention to the leading role of sociologists in researching "societal conditions and studying strategies for bringing social and political change, including individual and group protest against oppression."
Workshops and seminars lured the conventioneers with an inclusive and diverse menu that signaled the assumptions of victimization to which this year's get-together was dedicated: "Beyond Triple Jeopardy: Women of Color, Public Policy and the Limits of Citizenship"; "Gender Oppression and Gender Democracy in Global Market Society"; "Postmodern Critiques of Science and the Rise of Reactionary Modernism in South Asia"; "Social Definitions of Virtue and Blame: Moral Fault in Child Care"; "Who Needs the Worker?: Restructuring in the 21st Century." The titles cried for a colonoscopy.
On my way to a Saturday morning panel on "Gender Discrimination Revisited: Subtle, Blatant and Covert," I was stopped short by the appearance of Ralph Nader, which also evidently diverted other panelists from their proposed rounds. By comparison with the Nader event, which filled a sizable room, the gender panel made do with a sprinkling of two dozen women; when I peeped in, a small woman in a large hat was calling fervently and very sociologically for "a feminist paradigm."
Mr. Nader was accompanied by two academics, Steven J. Rosenthal of Hampton University and Charles Derber of Boston College, and a Boeing machinist who kept reminding us that he brought a view from the shop floor. Mr. Rosenthal called for "an end to the system that we are all fighting against." He preached a nondiscriminatory policy of overthrow: "Every protest action that occurs deserves our support." Mr. Derber pretty much agreed, adding some plugs for the Nader candidacy. Mr. Nader's own talk, more or less on "After Seattle: The W.T.O. and the New World Order," was received with enthusiasm. Most of the audience rose to greet him and then gave him a warm send-off.
What was a presidential candidate doing making a campaign address under the auspices of a group purportedly given to scientific independence of a sort? Well, his call for action against the ills of American society was thoroughly in the spirit of the occasion.
I arrived early for "Confronting Racism, Sexism and Homophobia in Academia," drawn by a hard-sell come-on: "This thematic session problematizes institutional structures and culture in which women and minority academics function on a daily basis. . . . The second theme, 'Marginality,' will focus on the questioning of prevailing paradigms in sociology that despite unreal claims display provincialism that is neither reflective nor representative of the experiences of women and minorities." It is the rare sociologist who can forgo a paradigm or two, but problematize began to sound as though somebody was kidding the profession's pretensions.
The first panelist, Ann Tickamyer of Ohio University, was not as combative as the session's title. Her specialty of"spaciality," which I came to understand was the study of how the allotment of physical space is used by the powers that be to keep others in a subordinate condition, seemed a plausible undertaking, but Ms. Tickamyer's paper was so clogged with her craft's jargon ("access to gender space"; "maxi- and micro-analysis;" "complex multirational") that it left little breathing space.
She was followed by Lionel Cantu, an assistant professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz, who kept announcing himself as "a pro-feminist gay Chicano." The gist of his talk was that everyone ought to fight against his own demons of prejudice.
Why not? But a drawn-out account by the next speaker, in praise of the way the ancient Iroquois resolved disputes, drove me from the room and thus deprived me of the final contribution, a graduate student and an untenured professor "speaking out" against racism, sexism and homophobia. Most of the audience demonstrated its courtesy or solidarity or low expectations by staying on.
The very well-attended Saturday afternoon session, "Sexism and Feminism: Challenges for the 21st Century," was organized by Joe R. Feagin of theUniversity of Florida, the outgoing president of the American Sociological Association. Mr. Feagin, who is known for his championship of sociology's mission to redeem society, had reportedly encouraged the panelists to put in a few words along the way on how to achieve social justice, which may have accounted for a University of Cincinnati professor's resort to a praxis or two in calling for a fusion of theory and action and knowledge and power and so forth.
The freshest voice here, as well as the zippiest phrase ("gender vertigo"), was supplied by Barbara Risman of North Carolina State University, who drew attention to the responsibility of women (as well as men) for ending sexism. Her even-handedness made her something of a daring figure in the chorus of exhortation.
After a couple of quiet hours Sunday morning at the National Gallery of Art, I returned to my labors in time to catch "Marxism and Capitalism in the 21st Century." The analyses of the ups and downs of capitalism by Robert Brenner of the University of California in Los Angeles and the highs and lows of Marxism by Giovanni Arrighi of Johns Hopkins University were pretty straightforward, offering data and historical interpretation, with little of the rah-rah spirit that flavored other panels.
That was exactly what displeased some in the audience, who sought a call to action. One critic even hurled the charge of "implicit racism" at the panelists for not acknowledging the pernicious situation in South Africa and had to be reprimanded by the moderator. Another wanted more in the way of paradigm and praxis. Mr. Brenner was spurred into uttering a few kind words for the Seattle protesters, but Mr. Arrighi refused any crowd-pleasing. He expressed skepticism at the thinking behind the antiglobal eruptions and went so far as to dismiss Marxist theory as a muddle that was failing to catch up to the continuing transformation of capitalism.
It was a downer, but the audience found a restorative within the hour in Mr. Feagin's presidential address, a paean to "societal usefulness," chock-full of condemnations of racism, sexism, exploitation, domination, resource inequality, environmental degradation and other sins. He got a solid round of applause.