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Bill ChamblissWilliam J. Chambliss, 1933-2014

Bill Chambliss, a transformative force in conflict theory, the sociology of law, and criminology, died on February 22, 2014.  Told he had little time to live when first diagnosed with cancer in nearly eight years ago, Bill characteristically broke all the rules.  He lived with cancer as he had lived his life: on his own terms. Bill continued his research, published, traveled extensively, and taught until the very end.  As he told me in July 2006, when his doctors informed him he likely had only months to live, “I’ve never been afraid of living, and I’m not afraid of dying.”

Bill Chambliss was indeed unafraid.  Despite spending long hours in the library and the archives doing research, he much preferred to be where the action was. As he explained in his paradigm-changing book On the Take: “Going to the streets of the city, rather than the records, may bring the role of corruption and complicity between political, economic, and criminal interests into sharp relief.” 1 During the course of a productive 50-year career, Bill repeatedly went to the streets.  He hung out with such notorious organized crime chiefs as Meyer Lansky as well as low-level drug dealers and petty criminals in Seattle; poppy growers, heroin traffickers, and CIA chiefs in Thailand’s Golden Triangle; pirates of many stripes, whenever he could find them.

Bill had a yearning for the street; he simply loved to be among those who were on the receiving end of an exploitive social system shaped by race and class. Even when not officially conducting research, he headed for the street.  One personal example:  After we arrived in Juneau after three sleepless rain-soaked nights camping on the deck of the Alaska State Ferry, Bill somehow managed to find an all-night poker game at a local Inuit hangout. (My wife and I headed straight to the nearest hotel; Bill claimed he won $100.) He had an unerring gift for seeking out those who lived in the ragged quarters, and a unique talent for framing their challenges in larger sociological terms. Bill’s research exemplifies the very best of C. Wright Mills’ sociological imagination.  Bill lived the sociological imagination.

After earning his sociology B.A. in 1955 under the tutelage of Don Cressey at UCLA, Bill spent a year hitchhiking between labor camps as a migratory farm worker.  There he learned first-hand about the everyday lives of the men, women, and children who lived in the most ragged of quarters. These were experiences that came to shape his work. He also enlisted in the military, serving with an intelligence unit in Korea.  When his unit became involved in gathering intelligence based on the torture of suspected north Korean spies, Bill risked being court martialed when he refused to participate (he was eventually transferred to another  unit, and eventually honorably discharged with the rank of Sergeant).

After getting his sociology Ph.D. in 1962 at the University of Indiana, where he studied deviance under Alfred R. Lindesmith, Bill accepted an Assistant Professor Position at the University of Washington in Seattle. He soon moved away from explaining crime and deviance in terms of such then-standard sociological framings as differential association (Cressey) or symbolic interactionism (Lindesmith). Bill instead began to develop his own approach, helping to shape the newly emerging theoretical framework termed conflict theory.  This approach, radical in the early 1960s, traced its origins to Marx’s emphasis on the universality of social conflict in class-based societies.  Conflict theory argued that societies are best understood in terms of structurally embedded conflicts between social groups, as opposed to the then-prevailing functionalist view of societies as systems whose components inevitably function to produce overall social system stability. 

Bill’s first major published article, “A Sociological Analysis of the Laws of Vagrancy,” appeared in 1964 in Social Problems, and catapulted him to the forefront of the nascent conflict theory approach. In this seminal and widely cited article, he analyzed the 14th through 16th century English vagrancy laws, which had classified peasants made landless under the enclosure movement as vagrants.  Bill argued that vagrancy laws had been enacted by different ruling elites throughout history, in order to provide those elites with low-cost quasi-slave labor.

In 1967 Bill moved to UC Santa Barbara as a tenured Associate Professor.  This proved to be a highly productive period, including seven books that significantly impacted criminology and the sociology of law. Despite this intense pace of publishing, Bill remained close to UCSB’s version of the street, serving as faculty advisor to the Black Students’ Union during a time when tensions between the BSU and local police were at a flash point. The BSU had demanded the creation of a black studies program, and occupied the computer center in hopes of achieving that goal.  (They eventually did.) The police, falsely believing the occupiers to be armed, were poised to move in. Bill played the key role in diffusing a tense situation, thereby avoiding a potentially bloody police crackdown on the occupiers.

In 1969 Bill published Crime and the Legal Process, the first major monograph to set forth his evolving ideas.  This important work sought to show how lower-class black crime was rendered more visible than middle-class white crime, resulting in much higher rates of criminalization among blacks. A similar argument was made in his ethnography of small town street gangs, “The Saints and the Roughnecks” (1973). This widely cited classic (even today it results in nearly 90,000 Google hits) was reproduced in virtually every sociology textbook for a generation.  In it Bill shows how the petty crimes committed by white middle-class gang members resulted in a slap on the wrist, while the same crimes, when committed by white lower-class gang members, led to criminal records with lifelong adverse consequences. Bill also published the first research to come out of his Seattle experience, Boxman: A Professional Thief’s Journal (1972).  Bill gave voice to the life story of safecracker Harry King, by letting King tell his story in his own words.

During this period Bill and law professor Robert Seidman collaborated on a seminal textbook, Law, Order, & Power (1971), showing how class interests not only become law, but also shape the entire criminal justice system. Bill also published three edited books reflecting his developing understanding of law and social conflict: Sociological Readings in the Conflict Perspective (1973), Problems of Industrial Society (1974), and Criminal Law in Action (1975). In collaboration with sociologist Thomas Ryther, he also published his first introductory sociology textbook, Sociology: The Discipline and its Direction (1975). Two more were to come: one which he and I co-authored in 1997 – the first to mainstream globalization into a US. introductory sociology textbook – and one with sociologist Daina Eglitis in 2012.

The University of Delaware hired Bill in 1976, where he founded and edited the journal Contemporary Crises, and published the book that was to establish him in the forefront of his field. On the Take: From Petty Criminals to Presidents (1978), which was based on his earlier Seattle research, exposed white-collar crime and corruption in that supposedly squeaky-clean city. In a rich, detailed, and inevitably controversial account, Bill argued that organized crime was not the result of the Mafia (or Cosa Nostra, as it had been relabeled during Congressional hearings in the late sixties), but was rather “a political phenomenon which takes its character from the economic institutions that exist at a particular point in time.” 2 Organized crime is central to politics, from the precinct to the presidency. Bill developed these ideas more fully under the concept of “state organized crime” in an important series of writings: Organizing Crime (with criminologist Alan Block, 1981); Whose Law? What Order? (with sociologist Milton Mankoff, 1981); Exploring Criminology (1988), where even piracy was found to be a form of state organized crime (Sir Francis Drake was knighted by Queen Elizabeth for plundering Spanish ships and towns), and Making Law: The State, The Law, and Structural Contradictions (co-edited with sociologist Marjorie Zatz in 1993). Nor did Bill mince words when he described state organized crime in his 1998 Presidential address to the American Society of Criminology, whose annual meeting he themed “Crimes By and Against the State:”

The most important type of criminality organized by the state consists of acts defined by law as criminal and committed by state officials in the pursuit of their jobs as representatives of the state. Examples include a state’s complicity in piracy, smuggling, assassinations, criminal conspiracies, acting as an accessory before or after the fact, and violating laws that limit their activities. In the latter category would be included the use of illegal methods of spying on citizens, diverting funds in ways prohibited by law (e.g., illegal campaign contributions, selling arms to countries prohibited by law, and supporting terrorist activities). 3

In 1986 Bill relocated to the Sociology Department at George Washington University, where he remained until his death. There he turned his attention to more local victims of state organized crime: residents of the District of Columbia’s poorest black neighborhoods.  To show the relationship between race, class, and criminalization, Bill amassed extensive statistical data about neighborhood characteristics, crime, and incarceration. But he also participated in “ride-alongs” with the self-styled “Dirty Harrys” of the Washington Police Department’s Rapid Deployment Unit, in order to better understand how policing played out on the street. This research found its way into his 1993 Presidential Address to the Society for the Study of Social Problems, and eventually his book Power, Politics, & Crime (1999), where Bill argued that the “war against drugs” was both misplaced and a failure.  He also showed that the media, police, and what has come to be known as the prison-industrial complex had manufactured the crime panic over supposedly predatory black males.  In many ways this recent work reprises Bill’s earliest insights from his original studies of vagrancy: criminalization, he shows, is part of a draconian system resulting in “the ghettoization of the African American community and the creation of an intractable class of abjectly poor.” 4

Bill continued making this argument even as he battled cancer. In a Huffington Post article entitled “Obama’s Drug Problem” that appeared on January 26, 2013, Bill again showed that he was a fighter for justice until the end.  Never one to pull his punches, he pointed out both the hypocrisy and systemic corruption of the war on drugs:

Barack Obama admits to having tried cocaine and marijuana but has overseen the largest increase in imprisonment for drug possession in the country’s history…. Law-enforcement agencies are themselves “addicted” to drugs. They have grown dependent on the crime-fighting statistics generated by drug arrests. The employment of prison staff depends on extraordinary rates of incarceration. The money that law-enforcement agencies generate from confiscating property seized in drug busts funds equipment, enhances salaries and pays for weapons. 5

At the time of his death Bill was writing an article on the sociology of criminal conspiracies, along with a four volume edited collection (with sociologist Chris Moloney) on State Crime; the first volume will be published next year.

Bill Chambliss was a towering figure in sociology. The author or co-author of nearly two-dozen monographs and edited books, along with countless chapters, journal articles, and popular pieces, he received numerous prestigious awards throughout his career. Among these are the Presidencies of the American Society of Criminology and the Society for the Study of Social Problems, previously mentioned; Lifetime Achievement Awards from the American Sociological Association’s sections on Criminology (1985) and the Sociology of Law (2009), as well as the Society for the Study of Social Problem’s section on Law and Society (2009); the American Society of Criminology’s Major Achievement Award (1995) and Edwin H. Sutherland Award (2001); and the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences Bruce Smith Sr. Distinguished Leadership in Criminal Justice Award (1986).  In 2008 Bill gave the Beto Chair Lecture in Criminal Justice at Sam Houston State University, and the following year he received an honorary Doctorate of Law from the University of Guelph, Canada.

Reflecting his role as a teacher-scholar, mentor for many of today’s leading criminologists and sociologists of law as well as thousands of students throughout his career, Bill received a singular honor from the Society for the Study of Social Problems in 2009: the creation of the William J. Chambliss Lifetime Achievement Award “to recognize career-spanning excellence and achievement in the area of law and society.” 

Bill will be greatly missed by his wife Pernille, his sons Jeff and James and daughter Lauren, his grandchildren, his students, his many friends. His legacy will live on in their memories, his writings, and the imprint he has left as a scholar who was never afraid to speak truth to power.

To make a gift in memory of Bill, support the William Chambliss Graduate Student Support Fund at The George Washington University by visiting go.gwu.edu/bill chambliss.

Dr. Chambliss's obituary was written by Dr. Richard P. Appelbaum, University of California at Santa Barbara.

(Posted 2/24/14)

1. William J. Chambliss (1978) On the Take: From Petty Criminals to Presidents. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, pp. 5-6.

2. Ibid., p. 8.

3. William J. Chambliss (1988), “State Organized Crime,” Criminology 27:183. His Presidential address also lists numerous examples of state-organized piracy, CIA involvement in narcotics smuggling during the Vietnam War as well as illegal arms smuggling during U.S. effort to destabilize the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua.

4. William J. Chambliss (1999) Power, Politics, & Crime. Boulder, CO: Westview, p. 76.

5. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/william-chambliss/obamas-drug-problem_b_2443645.html.


stephen sifaneckStephen Sifaneck

Dr. Stephen Sifaneck, professor of Sociology and Criminology at Berekley College, died in New York City on May 19, 2013 at the age of 46.

Below is a reflection on Steve's life by long-time friend and colleague Heidi Hoefinger:

Wafts of sweet-smelling pine and skunk drift under my nostrils as he approaches.  A broad shouldered, tanned and blond-haired presence in surf shorts and mirrored sunglasses saunters over to the bar and introduces himself.  It’s 2003, just after the infamous ‘Blackout’ in NYC and we’re in the dank and dark Bar 169, a Lower Eastside institution on the corner of East Broadway and Essex that was second home to the enigma known in those parts as ‘the Professor’.  Looking like an incongruous mix between a California surfer dude and a cop, I would quickly learn that Dr Steve Sifaneck (or simply Dr Steve to many) was a renowned sociologist, drug researcher, and stealthy ethnographer with a literal PhD in cannabis consumption and sales. A decade after that first encounter, Dr Steve graced his local dive bar one last time the night before he left this earth on Sunday, May 19, 2013.

A shock to the academic community, and those friends and family closest to him, his premature departure at 46 years old has left a sudden hole in the lives of many. Students devoted to his ‘fun’, ‘interesting’ and ‘cool’ teaching style, and the way he ‘keeps it real’, were left with confusion and sadness when he didn’t show up to teach his criminology lecture at Berkeley College on Monday. His glowing reviews on ratemyprofessor.com reveal that he influenced a generation of young scholars in the fields of sociology, anthropology, criminology and drug research. 

And the regulars at Bar 169 surely felt the physical absence of ‘the Professor’ that Monday night.  Tucked away in the backroom of the bar, I, myself, mourned the loss of someone, who, a decade earlier, would undoubtedly alter the course of my life and career.     

Friends first, we spent many an afternoon riding bikes, eating out in Chinatown, or going to see free concerts in the park, such as George Clinton and Patti Smith. But Dr Steve would also go on to be an influential mentor and colleague over the years. In 2005, he was the second reader on my Master’s thesis in Anthropology at Hunter College, CUNY. And in 2006, he introduced me to the Society for the Study of Social Problems (SSSP), an organization and annual conference that would see us present on similar panels in Montreal, NYC, Las Vegas and Denver.  He gave useful comments on my PhD dissertation, he graces the acknowledgements of my new book (Sex, Love and Money in Cambodia), and he invited me to guest lecture in his class at Berkeley College.  And it is also thanks to Steve that I was first introduced to the National Development and Research Institutes (NDRI) several years back—which is where I currently hold my own postdoctoral fellowship. 

Known for his PhD research at CUNY Graduate Center on cannabis use and sales in NYC and Rotterdam, Dr Steve also did extensive ethnographic research through NDRI on drug users, drug markets and subcultures, with a focus on global marijuana users and retailers, heroin-using lap dancers in NYC, and Mexican drug gangs and sex workers. At Berkeley, he was currently doing comparative work on global drug policy.

During his post at NDRI, he published several papers with Eloise Dunlap, Charles Kaplan, Sam Friedman, Andrew Golub, Ellen Benoit and the late Bruce Johnson, to name a few. And in 2009, Dr Steve and his co-authors (Johnson, Golub, and Dunlap) were winners of the Outstanding Paper Award from Jim Walther for the paper titled An Analysis of Alternatives to New York City’s Current Marijuana Arrest and Detention Policy, (Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management, 2008). The article was chosen by the editorial team as the journal’s most impressive piece of the year. In addition to his faculty post at Berkeley College, he lectured extensively within the CUNY system, at Hunter College, John Jay, and College of Staten Island. 

There will be a gap in the program at this year’s 63rd Annual SSSP Conference, taking place in August in New York City, where he was set to present at, and chair a panel titled ‘Global Innovations in Drug Policy’. It was during this same conference in NY in 2007 that Steve led informal tours of notorious historical drug spots in downtown NYC, which was yet another opportunity to flaunt his extensive subcultural drug knowledge.  This was the Steve those closest to him knew and loved, as he lived life like an ethnography--an ongoing project of life on the edge.

His passing far too soon and sudden, memories of Dr Steve and his important contributions will echo in the halls of sociology and criminology departments for decades to come. Scholar, teacher, mentor, friend…the Professor will be missed.

This reflection and photo were first featured on Dr. Hoefinger's blog on June 4, 2013.

(Posted 6/4/13)


herbertHerbert A. Aurbach

Herbert A. Aurbach, of Buffalo, New York, passed away on February 19, 2013.

Dr. Aurbach was professor emeritus of sociology at Buffalo State College, where he taught from 1970-1993.

Dr. Aurbach earned his bachelor’s degree from Western Reserve University and his Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Kentucky. After serving as associate professor of education and sociology, first at the University of Pittsburgh, and later at Pennsylvania State University, he joined Buffalo State in 1970 as professor and chair of the Sociology Department.  He served as chair until 1975. He retired in 1993.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1924,  Dr. Aurbach enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and served his country as a radio operator during World War II, flying missions over Italy, North Africa, and Asia.  He was awarded eight Bronze Stars.

A longstanding member of the Society for the Study of Social Problems, he served the organization in several roles,  including vice-president in 1987–1988, and executive officer from 1975–86.  He also served as president of the New York State Sociological Association.  He was also a member of Alpha Kappa Delta and Phi Delta Kappa.

He was active in United University Professions, which presented him with its Excellence Award in 1991.  In 2001, he established the Herbert Aurbach Social Action Award,  given annually to a sociology major who has made a difference
in the community and who has evidenced significant involvement in pursuit of solutions to challenging social problems.

His areas of expertise were the Sociology of Aging in America, the socio-politics of urban education, American Indian education, and fair housing.  His passion was social justice.

He was married for 47 years to Rebecca (Rifka) Blumenfeld Aurbach, who pre-deceased him in 1999.  He is survived by his son, Seth Aurbach of Buffalo; daughter, Jacquelyn Aurbach Scheidlinger of Los Angeles;  sister, Cheryl Rhoads of Los Angeles; brother, Phil Aurbach of Las Vegas, NV; and three grandchildren.

(Posted 3/4/13)


roxana ng

Roxana Ng

PROFESSOR ROXANA NG, PhD Adult Education and Community Development Program Head, Centre for Women's Studies in Education (CWSE) Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto May 28, 1951 - January 12, 2013 Roxana Ng passed away at Sunnybrook Hospital after a short and courageous fight with cancer. She leaves behind her father Evan and mother Katherine, and brothers David and Calvin and their partners Gio and Katherine. Roxana was generous of spirit, committed to activism and social justice, and dedicated to Emma, Bella and Bijela. She will be deeply missed by a wide circle of family, friends and colleagues. Roxana was born in Hong Kong in 1951. She immigrated with her parents and two brothers to Canada in 1970. She received a BA from University of British Columbia, and a PhD from University of Toronto. Since 1988, she has been a professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (University of Toronto).

Roxana's extensive scholarship on race, gender and class; immigrant women and garment workers; and embodied learning and decolonizing pedagogy is a legacy to be cherished and celebrated. Roxana co-founded the Vancouver Women's Research Centre in the early 1970s and helped to establish immigrant women's organizations in several other provinces. She was involved in Open the Borders, an association concerned with punitive changes to immigrant and refugee policies in Canada. She called on academics and social change activists to work together to promote national and international policies based on diversity, equality, and social and economic justice. Since 1999, she has been on the Board of Inter Pares, an organization dedicated to promoting international social justice in Canada and overseas. A gathering of family and friends will be held on Saturday, January 19, 2013 from 2-5 p.m. at the NEWEDIUK FUNERAL HOME, KIPLING CHAPEL, 2058 Kipling Avenue (north of Rexdale Blvd.), Toronto, ON M9W 4J9, 416-745-7555 or 416-745-7555. On Tuesday, May 28, 2013, a celebration of Roxana's life and work will be held in the Library at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), 252 Bloor Street West, from 5-8 p.m. For more information, visit http://www.oise.utoronto.ca/cwse/ To honour Roxana's wishes, in lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to Inter Pares (http://interpares.ca/content/tribute-donations-gifts-honour-or-memory). Online Condolences at www.newediukfuneralhome.com.

In addition, representatives from the journal Socialist Studies/Etudes Socialistes are trying to support efforts to write about Roxana's work and life. If you have an idea for a contribution, please contact editor Elaine Coburn at ecoburn@aup.fr.

Published on Legacy.com

(Posted 1/16/13)