SOCIOLOGY OF CULTURE AWARD SUMMARIES 2020

Mary Douglas Prize for Best Book
Committee members: Gabriel Abend (Chair), Fabien Accominotti, Karida Brown, Meredith Hall, Gemma Mangione, Amy Singer, Michael Vaughn

Co-Winners:

The New Noir: Race, Identity, and Diaspora in Black Suburbia by Orly Clergé
The New Noir is an excellently researched and exquisitely rendered work. Coupling detailed socio-historical analysis and ethnographic study of black diasporic suburbs of New York City, Orly Clergé challenges the idea that black culture is an internally homogeneous entity. She does so by examining the largest black groups, Black Americans, Jamaicans, and Haitians, and introducing a “racial consciousness spectrum”—“a paradigm of how the Black diaspora comes to understand, negotiate, and challenge constructions of Blackness across time and space.”
The New Noir brings the sociology of culture into fruitful conversations with the sociology of race, class, and gender, as well as with research on migration and diaspora. It shows how suburban, middle-class residents make sense of their diasporic past, and how they engage socially and politically with a larger sense of black culture and identity.
Clergé has a strong, passionate writing voice, which captivates the reader and draws them into the narrative. The book is both a scholarly powerhouse and a joy to read.

Values at the End of Life: The Logic of Palliative Care by Roi Livne
Weaving together historical, interview, and ethnographic data, Values at the End of Life shows how a “new economy of dying” emerged as a result of diverse attempts to respond to the cultural and moral question of what constitutes a good death. Roi Livne offers an analytically robust, yet deeply humane, portrait of people’s articulations of their moral intuitions about dying. The institutionalization of palliative care introduced a new “subject of death,” who’s considered an author of their own lives, capable of exercising some control over their destiny.  
Livne’s skilled ethnographic voice reveals, at times in heart-wrenching detail, how the idea of a good death is far from universal. The view that “less is better” is more common among more privileged people. But it’s often not shared by socially marginalized people, whose experience with healthcare might be characterized by shortage and difficult access. Throughout, Livne’s accounts are insightful and his arguments are compelling. He makes good use of the idea of economization, which enables him to explore how actors have differently conceived the management of resources going to end-of-life care. That is, their different conceptions of the “economy” of end-of-life care, in the original sense of the word.

Clifford Geertz Prize for Best Article
Committee members: Mariana Craciun (Chair), Susan Dumais, Nicolette Manglos-Weber, Greggor Mattson, Cassidy Puckett, Hajar Yazdiha

Winner: 

“Public Ideas: Their Varieties and Careers” by Tim Hallett, Orla Stapleton, and Michael Sauder 
The article addresses important and timely questions with innovative methods and data, and a compelling theoretical and analytical scaffolding. The authors make a case for, as they put it, a “sociology of public social science” in which social science ideas are treated as cultural objects whose public impact is worthy of study. Sociologists have long been interested in entanglements between social scientific knowledge and nation-building, policy making, and the construction of modern selves, as we see, for example, in the work of Marion Fourcade, Nikolas Rose, and George Steinmetz. Yet we knew less about the particular mechanisms by which social scientific ideas enter and shape the public sphere. Hallett, Stapleton, and Sauder move us in this direction. They examine the public lives of seven social science ideas as they were lived in twelve high-circulation and geographically diverse U.S. newspapers. They look, for example, at how concepts such as Hochschild’s “second shift,” Schor’s “overworked American,” Glassner’s “culture of fear,” or Putnam’s “bowling alone,” entered the public arena either by, as the authors put it, being the news themselves or by helping make sense of the news. The authors propose the concept of “applicative flexibility” to signal the ways in which ideas can be used to understand new events or phenomena without losing their original meaning. The article’s nuanced analysis and clear writing will ensure its own broader and enduring appeal. The Geertz award committee as well as the article’s nominators believe strongly in its ability to shape ongoing conversations about the public relevance of sociological research.  

Richard A. Peterson Award for Best Student Paper
Committee members: Michaela DeSoucey, Jacqui Frost, Isabel Jijon, Ming-Cheng Lo (Chair),
Rachel Rinaldo

Winner:

“The Passion Paradigm: Professional Adherence to and Consequences of the Ideology of ‘Do What You Love” by Lindsay J. DePalma
With its lucid prose, rigorous conceptualization, and thoughtful research design, this paper skillfully argues that the “passion paradigm,” namely, the pursuit of enthusiasm for work, not only constitutes the dominant discourse of work ethic for professionals in the new economy but functions as a mechanism of social control. Drawing on a rich set of interviews that compare precarious and less precarious workers from the fields of engineering, nursing, and graphic design, DePalma demonstrates overwhelming adherence across groups to the passion paradigm, with its individualist ethos serving to obstruct systemic critiques and draw attention away from the increasingly precarious conditions of many professionals. This timely and well-executed paper showcases how cultural approaches help generate important insights for studies of professional work, the new economy, and the sociology of emotions.

Honorable Mention:

“Pathways of Global Cultural Diffusion: Media and Attitudes about Violence against Women”by Jeffrey Swindle
This intriguing paper studies first, how transnational NGOs and foreign media organizations produce different cultural scripts on violence against women, and second, how these scripts then reach and influence the beliefs of local audiences in Malawi. The article is well-written, well-argued, and methodologically impressive. Swindle leverages extensive surveys, interviews, newspaper data, and “shocks” to the system that work as natural experiments, making for a fascinating case study. This paper will undoubtedly contribute to cultural sociology, media sociology, and research on global cultural diffusion. It also points to an exciting “global turn” in cultural sociology more broadly.