Hillary Angelo, University of California, Santa Cruz
Ellis Monk, University of Chicago
The ninth Junior Theorists’ Symposium (JTS) was held at the University of Chicago on Friday, August 21st. The one-day conference featured the work of nine junior scholars and three senior discussants: Patricia Hill Collins (University of Maryland), George Steinmetz (University of Michigan – Ann Arbor), and Gary Alan Fine (Northwestern University).
JTS began nine years ago as opportunity for sociologists at the earliest stages of their careers to engage prominent ‘senior’ theorists in conversation, and as a place to share creative, original, and half-baked ideas.
In 2015, we remained committed to preserving JTS as one of the few places where, as last year’s organizers put it, “not only junior scholars, but junior scholarship…receives a public platform.” We achieved this goal by selecting papers that were highly original and still in conceptual development. In addition, we wanted to use JTS’s growing status as an opportunity to profile work in sociological subfields not always considered close to the intellectual heart of traditional “theory,” and selected discussants and organized the panels accordingly. In so doing we hoped to help continue to make JTS a more inclusive space as the event matures.
The event was a great success. One thing we had not anticipated was the continued proliferation of pre-ASA mini-conferences, several of which were of particular interest to a large number of JTS regulars. As a result, attendance was quite a bit smaller than in 2014, with closer to 50 than 100 attendees in the audience. Still, the generous financial contributions and lively conversation that continued over food and beer during the “Theory in the Wild” reception attests to the continued importance of the event. Participants and audience members celebrated JTS as a warm, funny, and intellectually stimulating environment.
The papers and discussants were excellent. We especially thank Drs. Collins, Steinmetz, and Fine for taking the time to provide such thorough and provocative feedback. One interesting and useful effect of the smaller audience size was that there could be much more dialogue between presenters and discussants, and among presenters, both within and across panels. Though we organized the panels based on the empirical foci of the papers presented, we could have easily chosen any number of theoretical and methodological themes that ran across many of them, such as ideology, case selection, the use of quantitative data in theoretical arguments, and the relationship of political and normative arguments to theory.
The first panel examined “Race and Gender.” Clayton Childress (University of Toronto) presented a paper called “Cultures of Inequality: The ‘Double Match’ of Race and Meaning.” Childress’s study of trade fiction publishing showed how literary agents’ use of race as a category of cultural difference produced unequal outcomes in publication: white agents are hesitant to represent black authors. Jason Orne (University of Wisconsin-Madison) presented a “theory of sexual racism” in his paper of the same title. Orne showed how structural availability, cultural hierarchies of attractiveness, and interactional search methods influence racial partner selection even in interracial relationships, thus demonstrating the interplay between sexuality and race at the individual level. To close, Sarah Mayorga-Gallo (University of Cincinnati) presented a paper entitled “Diversity as Ideology in Multiethnic Spaces.” Mayorga-Gallo drew on ethnographic research in a multiethnic neighborhood in the United States to argue that “diversity” is an ideology that contributes to the maintenance of white dominance in multiethnic spaces. Dr. Collins’ comments prompted panelists to consider racism as an—even unintentional—social process; the possibility of interacting/multiple ideologies; and the challenges of carrying out fully intersectional analyses—in this case, one of race and sexual orientation.
The topic of the second panel was “The State and Globalization.” Anna Skarpelis (New York University) compared the role of race in welfare state building in Germany and Japan in her paper, “Brutality in Stone? Nazi Germany, the Japanese Colonial Empire, and Insidiously Racialized Welfare States.” Skarpelis argued that race operates “insidiously” in two senses in the German and Japanese welfare states: it produces patterned and unjust outcomes in the provision of state services, and also operates as an amorphous, underspecified concept, particularly post-1945. Ana Velitchkova (Centre for Social Conflict and Cohesion Studies) presented “Aiming at the Equal Community, Producing Inequality: The Community Logic Meets the Logic of Practice in the Making of the Global Esperanto Field.” Velitchkova used the case of Esperanto to argue that even in the most egalitarian-minded communities, and even in those with universal inclusion as their explicit goal, participation and inclusion is uneven. Lastly, in “Linguistic Modernity: The Limits of Ideology and State Power in the Creation of Modern Standard Languages,” Jeffrey Weng (University of California, Berkeley) named and described the concept “linguistic modernity.” Weng’s paper historicized the ideal of a universalized linguistic field and argued that this ideal is closely tied to nationalism, and thus linked to national identify and territoriality. Dr. Steinmetz’s remarks concerned the interpretation of historical material and what kinds of conclusions we can draw from marginal cases.
In the last panel, “Culture,” Ekédi Mpondo-Dika (Harvard University) began by presenting a paper titled “How Institutions Feel: Funeral Homes, Human Service Agencies, and the Institutional Patterning of Emotion.” Mpondo-Dika theorized the institutional structuration of emotional experience and proposed the concept of “institutional emotion-making” to emphasize institutions’ roles in selecting, relaying, and entrenching some cultural categories of feeling at the expense of others. Next, Brad Vermurlen (University of Notre Dame) studied the management of cultural marginality in cultural production, presenting a paper called “Structural Overlap and the Management of Cultural Marginality: The Case of Calvinist Hip-Hop.” Based on the public discourse and performances of Calvinist hip-hop artists, Vermurlen specified four mechanisms by which cultural marginality is self-managed or managed by others. Finally, Natalie B. Aviles (University of California, San Diego) presented “Moving Targets in the ‘War on Cancer:’ Toward a Pragmatic Event-Based Theory of Organizational Culture in the National Cancer Institute,” in which she offered a preliminary sketch of a theory of organizational culture for sociology of science, drawing on insights from American pragmatism. She offered a “pragmatic process theory of organization” as a theoretical lens, and used it to analyze the formation of translational research at the National Cancer Institute. Dr. Fine challenged the idea that institutions “feel” and raised questions about building theory from concrete cases.
In addition, this year’s JTS inaugurated a new annual feature: for the first time, the winner of the Theory Section’s Junior Theorist Award was invited to present at JTS. The Theory Section granted two awards in 2015, to Isaac Ariail Reed (University of Colorado – Boulder) and Claire Decoteau (University of Illinois – Chicago). Because Reed was unable to attend, Decoteau presented a paper on new research called “Only 10% Human: Gut Bugs, Autism, and Bodies without Organs.” The paper drew on interviews with Somali parents of children with autism in Toronto, who believe that gut bacteria is one of the primary causal factors for the development of autism and blame the diet and medical environment in North America for the high rates of autism in the Somali diaspora. Decoteau drew on Deleuze and Guattari to show how ‘gut bugs’ disrupt the biomedical ontology of the body, challenge sociologists to rethink materiality, and, for Somalis, serve as a postcolonial critique. (An abbreviated version of Decoteau’s talk is available in this issue of Perspectives.)
The mini-conference concluded with an invited after-panel on the theme of the challenges of “abstraction.” Kieran Healy (Duke), Virag Molnar (The New School), Andrew Perrin (UNC-Chapel Hill), and Kristen Schilt (University of Chicago) reflected on theory-building as a process of abstraction, and the particular challenge of reconciling abstract theory with the concrete complexities of human embodiment and the specificity of historical events.
JTS continues next year under the leadership of Anna Skarpelis and Clayton Childress. Skarpelis and Childress are eager to continue the tradition of JTS, and to bring together junior and senior theory scholars. JTS 2016 will be held on Friday, August 19 at Seattle University (see call here [add link]). While Skarpelis and Childress are still booking discussants, they are excited to announce the participants in the JTS 2016 after-panel, which will consist of Ashley Mears (Boston University), Fred Wherry (Yale University), Tey Meadow (Harvard University) and Chris Bail (Duke University), discussing the relationship between theory and method. For JTS 2016 they will also hold a brainstorming meeting among the new co-organizers for JTS 2017 and JTS alumni interested in contributing to the future direction of the event. This will take place immediately after the theory section business meeting.
We offer our thanks to the entire Junior Theorists community—including past panelists, discussants, and organizers, and especially the Theory Section—for its continued support. We hope to see you in Seattle!