If you are a SSSP member and would like to post an obituary/transition, please contact the Administrative Office at sssp@utk.edu.  Obituaries/Transitions will remain posted for 2 years.


The Passing of a Colleague and a Friend

Matthew Leclaire (right, next to his advisor, Andrew Spivak at his doctoral hooding), a rising star in the study of bullying and juvenile delinquency, passed away on September 21st of complications related to a persistent infection. He was elected to be the incoming chair of our division and was well-known at SSSP for his infectious enthusiasm, sharp intellect, and an approach to sociology that was not afraid to stand out from the crowd. What he was less known for (but equally deserving of recognition) was his activism in his local community, his tremendously influential and award-winning work in the classroom, and his mentorship of fellow graduate students— of whom I was but one.

Matthew was a one-of-a-kind scholar, the likes of which we never knew we needed. Coming up from humble beginnings, a diffi- cult childhood, and a rich, personal history of experience in sub-cultural groups, he brought a nuanced, critically-minded approach to the study of delinquency. His personal experience became a tool in the classroom, inspiring his students to look beyond the textbook. He encouraging students to get their hands dirty by exploring groups far removed from their personal experience and to take the lessons of sociology into the real world. In fact, the halls of his former gradu- ate school department, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, are still lined with the poster presentations from his classes, where no other undergraduate classs work is featured. It is no wonder UNLV saw fit to award him with a University-wide teaching award.

Matthew had just completed his Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas and begun a tenure-track position this Fall teaching in both sociology and criminology at Coppin State University in Baltimore. It was his dream to move beyond his beginnings and excel in the every day acts of teaching, knowledge creation, and activism. Matthew lives on in the work of his peers, students, and faculty who he inspired to push the boundaries of teaching, research, and community involvement.

Chris Wakefield
University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Posted: 10/17/18


In Memoriam: Remembering Lisa Watt

It is with great sadness that we share news of the death of one of our division members. Dr. Lai Han Lisa Watt was a well-liked and respected member of our IE network. Lisa was a passionate scholar and a dedicated mother to her daughter Lok- Yi who became the focus of Lisa’sdoctoral work: “Her Life Rests on Your Shoulders”: Doing Worry as Emotion Work in the Care of Children With Diabetes. 

A tribute to Lisa along with information about donating to a fund set up for Lok-Yi can be found here: https://socialwork.mcmaster.ca/news/remembering-lisa-watt

Posted: 12/18/18

Gideon A. Sjoberg

Gideon A. Sjoberg was born in Dinuba, CA on August 31, 1922. He died in Austin, Texas on December 4, 2018, at the age of 96. His parents were migrants from Finland. His father was a peach farmer in California; his mother had been a nurse in the Finnish Civil War (1917 – 1918). Sjoberg’s family were Swedish speaking Finns, an ethnic group within Finns. Sjoberg often made a point of his Swede-Finn background distinguishing as separate from both Swedes and Finns. 

After graduating from Kingsburg High School, Sjoberg attended junior college in Fresno where his intellectual journey began. He began reading extensively on various subjects. After finishing in Fresno, Sjoberg enrolled at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque (where he met his future wife Andree), and from there went to Washington State College (now Washington State University). His interest in comparative sociology was piqued in a reading course with the Anthropologist Allan H. Smith, who guided him in reading about the major cultural areas of the world. After completing his work at Washington State, Gideon and Andree spent the summer of 1949 at UC Berkeley. Sjoberg heard lectures by the China scholar Wolfram Eberhard and Walter Goldschmidt, focused then on preliterate Africa, and Daryll Forde, another anthropologist who worked on preliterate groups in Africa. 

Following this summer at Berkeley, the Sjoberg’s moved to Austin – thus beginning his 60-year run at the University of Texas at Austin. Over the course of Sjoberg’s long academic career, he focused his considerable intellect on three substantive areas: the preindustrial city, methodology, and bureaucracy. Shortly after arriving in Austin, Sjoberg, with Andree’s assistance, began to formulate a plan for The Preindustrial City (1960). Two articles on Robert Redfield’s work on folk societies prepared Sjoberg to examine an intermediate stage of development between folk societies and industrial ones. He argued that the preindustrial city organized a distinctive spatial configuration of the city around functional requirements of social order that cut across cultural differences. 

The Preindustrial City was the first major work by a mid-twentieth century sociologist to take on issues addressed mainly by classicists and anthropologists. Sjoberg took sharp criticism from those quarters, but his work endured and stimulated further work for more than half a century. Second, his work cut against the grain of much American urban sociology which was pre-occupied with the transition from rural, agricultural societies into modern industrial ones. Sjoberg did not criticize nor reject the work of such Chicago sociologists like Louis Wirth’s “Urbanism as a Way of Life,” but The Preindustrial City was a sharp reminder that sociological theories of cities would have to take account of a distinctive type of city that was being ignored by his contemporaries. 

In 2018, Sjoberg had the opportunity to revisit the Preindustrial City in an essay appearing in the Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Urban and Regional Studies (2019). Here, he used the works of economic historian Joel Mokyr (2002, 2005, 2011) to reinforce his argument that pre-industrial social orders were distinctive from scientific, knowledge-based industrial ones. 

Sjoberg’s methodological contributions were also innovative and include his methodology book (with Roger Nett), his countersystem analysis, and his encouragement of comparative sociology, case studies, and autobiographies in sociological analyses. His methodology book used a sociology of knowledge framework and emphasized that researchers must critically consider the ethical and political pressures they confront when collecting and analyzing data. The salience of this perspective was driven home in the most recent financial crisis when it came to light that the bond rating firms -- Standard and Poor’s and Moody’s -- were assigning less-than objective ratings to what were in fact junk bonds which ultimately contributed to the financial crisis. 

Sjoberg (and Cain’s) theorizing on a counter system to reset the status quo is another idea that has caught on. Eminent sociologist, Joe Feagin, made a counter system the defining feature of what he calls “liberation sociology”; so too did Steve Lyng in his analysis of the American health care system. Sjoberg also (2018) made a counter-system argument for dismantling the prison-industrial complex. 

At a time when many academics begin winding down, Sjoberg was just hitting his stride. His work stemming in the 1960s on “Bureaucracy and the Lower Class” primed him to see the major shifts in political economy underfoot in the United States. The growth he witnessed at the University of Texas at Austin provided him a birds-eye view of the macro and micro processes that were unfolding across the country, indeed the globe. Furthermore, key works undertaken by his graduate students during this time including Paula Miller, Dan Rigney, Sara McLanahan, Sherri Grasmuck and Norma Williams aided his knowledge of and expanded his theorizing on the future, the role of large-scale bureaucracies, secrecy and human rights. The edited volume A Critique of Contemporary American Sociology (1992) (with Vaughn and Reynolds) crystallized his views on bureaucracy, ethics and human rights making explicit problem areas that many sociologists avoid. Together with Ted Vaughn, Sjoberg came to the realization that in order to understand markets, one also had to understand the role of large-scale organizations in the economy. 

Sjoberg was highly influenced by the works of Ulrich Beck and Anthony Giddens. He shared their concern regarding the future and risks but was critical of their failure to satisfactorily grapple with the role that large-scale organizations play in this arena. The expansive role that multinational corporations play in the world, and the inadequacy of nation-state specific laws to address global human rights abuses, led Sjoberg to adopt a broad human rights perspective that extended beyond the typical citizenship/national sovereignty perspectives so as to confront the power being wielded by global organizations. Sjoberg’s perspective on human rights was one that recognized that all people have a right to dignity, respect and equality regardless of citizenship. 

The final leg of Sjoberg’s academic journey is revealed in his scholarship record after he turned 75 years of age in which he connected many of his strands of research. His preoccupation with large-scale organizations, the future and risk contributed to his articles and book chapters on the Sociology of Human Rights, Corporations and Human Rights, The Social Control Industry and Human Rights, Countersystem Analysis and the Construction of Alternative Futures which all addressed in one way or the other the need to reflect upon other social arrangements to assist humankind overcome the grave issues we face now and to come. His article justifying academic tenure is prescient in these times of increasing gig work and deserves highlighting in this recitation of his profound academic record. 

Sjoberg never stopped working although admittedly, much of his pleasure diminished when his life partner Andree died in the spring of 2018. While they had no children, they leave behind a host of former graduate students and colleagues who learned by his example the meaning of mentoring. He was generous with his time, spending hours, primarily on the phone, working out ideas, listening to ideas, and expanding upon ideas. The round-the-clock care that the Allejo family provided both Sjobergs in their twilight years must also be recognized. Without this care, Sjoberg would not have been able to devote his mental energies to the production of sociological knowledge that extended well into his 90s. 

Boyd Littrell and Karen Manges Douglas

Posted: 04/24/19