Letter From the Chair, Fall 2020

Photo: Terence E. McDonnell, University of Notre Dame

Research disrupted. That extra labor to hone that zoom pedagogy. An unthinkable job market. The stress of (surprise!) homeschooling your kids. The looming cloud of pestilence. Threats to our democracy. The ongoing crisis of racial injustice. And. And. And.

With all this going on, I expected to hear crickets when I asked for volunteers to serve on committees for the section. Instead I was overwhelmed by offers to help. When it would just be easier to hygge up, shut out the outside world, and watch Tiger King again, section members stepped up. When the section sought to start a mentorship program this summer, section members rose to the occasion. At a time when self-preservation is a reasonable response, you’ve responded with generosity of time and spirit. Thank you.

One of the pleasures as chair is seeing our members give their time to help our section thrive. I’m so appreciative of your selflessness because everyone could use a little help right now. As a section and scholarly community, we face numerous challenges. How do we engage in conversation about ongoing research when ASA is online only? How can we support section members who face research or career disruptions due to COVID? How can the section amplify the excellent work of scholars of color and make the section more equitable and inclusive? As a section we adapt, endure, and rise to the moment through your commitment and energy.

I’d like to update you with some of the good work going on in the section. 

This year we’re breaking the Culture section out of the “meetings-only” model of interaction. With all that is going on in the world, we need to make visible how our research and expertise help us make sense of current events. Our new “Culture and Contemporary Life” series brings to the section membership expert panel discussions of issues of the day over Zoom. The committee is hard at work planning these events. Our first will be a post-election panel with section members Mabel Berezin, Corey Fields, and Bart Bonikowski, moderated by Ruth Braunstein. Be on the lookout in my announcements for details about our January panel on anti-Blackness and culture of poverty, and more throughout 2021. If you have suggestions for timely topics the committee might consider, please reach out to the Culture and Contemporary Life committee chair Hannah Wohl.

Last year’s membership committee established a Culture Section Mentorship program. This program matched graduate students, post docs, and young faculty mentees with faculty mentors. I’ve had a wonderful experience working with my three mentees over the last few months. It offers an excellent opportunity to expand networks and conversations across the section, and allows for mentees to get frank career guidance beyond their own institutions. Speaking from my own experience mentoring, this program has been a wonderful way to connect with colleagues, especially as we all struggle with the disruptions COVID brings. We’ve had excellent conversations about how to position your work, building a reputation without being pigeon-holed. We’ve also talked about managing workloads and research pipelines. From my conversations with other participants in the program, it has been an invaluable way to help young scholars learn about how to make it as cultural sociologists. Former section chair Jenn Lena had a great idea to pool this collected knowledge in the newsletter. We’ll ask current participants to report on what they’ve learned in a “Cultivating a Culture of Mentorship” series. The editors welcome submissions for future issues. We plan to open the mentorship program up again this year–look for announcements about this in the future. Many thanks to our membership committees (past and current) for all their work. 

Over the past year under Allison Pugh and council’s leadership, the Culture Section has made a commitment to supporting and amplifying the contributions of our section’s scholars of color. Following through on this commitment, we’ve established a Diversity and Inclusion committee (co-chaired by Ali R Chaudhary and Anya Degenshein, with Nino Bariola as the council liaison). They are leading a council’s charge to help the section rethink the canon of culture. This committee is devising ways to maintain a bibliography to promote the work of Black and Brown scholars, and also creating a syllabus clearinghouse that can offer syllabi that model how to teach culture in more inclusive and representative ways. More on this initiative soon. In addition, I’ve tasked the publications committee with profiling the scholarship of graduate students of color in the section through the newsletter, website, and social media presence. If you’d like to have your work profiled, please send a note of interest to asaculturenews@gmail.com.   

Now that ASA is online for 2021, council, reception, and membership committees will be hard at work devising ways to make our section activities as lively, engaging, and accessible as possible. I’m open to hearing suggestions for how to make a virtual ASA as useful as possible for our members, so please send me your ideas. Ann Mische has organized a series of exciting panels for ASA 2021. As you start thinking about submitting papers for ASA (abstracts only, due Feb 3) here’s a list of the panels with their organizers: 

Culture and Morality in Times of Crisis (Aliza Luft)

Cultures of Computation in Theory and Practice (Anna Skarpelis and Marshall Taylor)

New Perspectives in Sociology of Art and Music: BIPOC Artists and Creative Agency (Patricia Banks and Fiona Greenland)

Between Collapse and Utopia: Foresight, Imagination and Social Change (Ann Mische)

Thanks to everyone who attended ASA 2020 “Zoom Edition.” Amidst the jokes about pants-free conference presentations and the anxieties of overzealous kids zoom bombing, the culture section hosted a number of excellent panels. For those of you who couldn’t make as many sessions as you would like, here are recordings of a few of these sessions: 

Culture and Technology after Inequality

Mind and Materiality  

Articulations of Globalizing Knowledge Cultures in Sociology (Co-Sponsored with Global and Transnational Sociology Section)

We also held our annual business meeting, where we discussed a number of section initiatives and the section bestowed the paper, book, and travel awards upon the winners. Here is a link if you want to watch the 2020 business meeting.

In this issue we have a conversation with Alvaro Santana-Acuña on his new book Ascent to Glory, which explores the consecration of Gabriel García Márquez’s novel One Hundred Years of Solitude. We also have a book review of Shai Dromi’s Above the Fray, an account of the origins of the Red Cross and the field of humanitarian NGOs. We highlight culture scholars on the job market with a series of profiles (HIRE THEM!) and also celebrate last year’s Geertz, Douglas, and Peterson Prize winners. Thanks to the newsletter editorial team Yu Ching Cheng, Johnnie Anne Lotesta, AJ Young, and our media guru Bambang Trihadmojo for all their work putting the issue together. Thanks also to AJ for his service as he steps down from his post as co-editor. 

Finally, I’d like to thank the tireless work and steady hands of outgoing chair Allison Pugh and COO Ruth Braunstein. The section has made great leaps forward under their leadership. They have done a tremendous job guiding the section and we all owe them a debt of gratitude. Thanks also to outgoing council members Patricia Banks and Ming-Cheng Lo, and all who served the section over the past year on various committees and initiatives. 

And with that, I raise a glass to the Culture Section, and hope for an auspicious 2021!