The word went out last night that our ASA Culture Awards have been decided. Here are the winners in each of three categories:

The Mary Douglas Prize for Best Book in the Sociology of Culture is awarded to Lynette Spillman for Solidarity in Strategy: Making Business Meaningful in American Trade Associations (University of Chicago Press, 2012). Honorable Mentions go to Cheris Shun-ching Chan for Marketing Death: Culture and the Making of a Life Insurance Market in China (Oxford University Press, 2012), and to Andreas Wimmer for Ethnic Boundary Making: Institutions, Networks, Power (Oxford University Press, 2012).

The Clifford Geertz Prize for the Best Article in the Sociology of Culture is awarded to Lauren Rivera for “Hiring as Cultural Matching:  The Case of Elite Professional Service Firms,” American Sociological Review 77(6), 2012.

The Suzanne Langer Richard A. Peterson Prize for Best Student Paper in the Sociology of Culture is awarded to co-winners Charles Seguin, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, for “The Mathematics of Superstars: Two Theories of Cultural Consumption” and Phillipa K. Chong, University of Toronto, for “Legitimate Judgment in Art, The Scientific World Reversed?: Critical Distance in Evaluation.” An honorable mention goes to Xiaohong Xu,Yale University, for “Belonging Before Believing: Ethical Activism, Sectarian Ethos, and Bloc Recruitment in the Making of Chinese Communism.”

Having served as a committee member on the “best article” prize, I had the opportunity to read many really excellent pieces of research. Although we could only have one winner, I wanted to recommend to you the other articles/chapters I read and enjoyed (and please keep in mind that I did not read all the submissions to the prize committee–I exactly was not assigned 1/3 of them–so there are many meritorious articles I’ve missed):

Fred Turner, “The Family of Man and the Politics of Attention in Cold War America.” Public Culture, 24(1): 55-.  This extremely well-written piece documents the 1955 photography exhibition, The Family Of Man, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It was one of the most widely seen, and roundly criticized, exhibitions ever mounted. For the last 40 years, critics have decried the show as a model of the psychological and political repression of Cold War America. Turner disagrees, and shows how the immersive aesthetics of the exhibition actually emerged from the WW2 fight against fascism. Turner argues that the show aimed to liberate the senses, and enable viewers to embrace racial, sexual, and cultural diversity. I want to emphasize that this is extremely well-written, and I feel it’s an ideal reading assignment for undergrads learning about American politics, political culture, and the arts.

Jennifer M. Silva. “Constructing Adulthood in the Age of Uncertainty.” American Sociological Review. 77 (4): 505-522. Silva leverages 93 interviews with black and white working-class young people (in their 20s and 30s) to understand what cultural markers of adulthood they employ. The traditional cultural touch-stones–marriage, home ownership, stable employment–are increasingly unavailable to working-class youth. She demonstrates that these young people use therapeutic language drawn from popular culture and the “self help” industry to identify or mark their transition to adulthood–characterized by having overcome a painful family past. It’s a great piece on cultural capital, and culture in the post-industrial workforce.

Susan S. Silbey. “J. Locke, op. cit.: Invocations of Law on Snowy Streets.” Journal of Comparative Law. Vol. 5 (2): 66-91. The context of the study is amusing to anyone, like myself, who grew up in a New England or snow-belt city: the practice of shoveling out street-side parking spots, and “saving” them using a piece of furniture, a traffic cone, or other object. The case unfurls into a fascinating discussion of legal cultures, and how we “do” rights on the ground, quite literally.

Isaac Reed. “Charismatic Performance: A Study of Bacon’s Rebellion.” American Journal of Cultural Sociology. Forthcoming, 2013. Reed sees a rebellion in the English colony of Virginia, in 1676, as an opportunity to reconceptualize Max Weber’s concept of charismatic domination. He would have us think of this kind of domination as a function of temporality and interpretation, and begins to build a predictive theory of the phenomena, by suggesting some of the circumstances under which charismatic performances are more likely. Plus, the whole Bacon episode is like a madcap comedy–everyone running around trying to take advantage of being at the edges of empire.

John Mohr and Craig Rawlings. “Four Ways to Measure Culture: Social Science, Hermeneutics, and the Cultural Turn.” Pp. 70-113 in the Oxford Handbook of Cultural Sociology, Ed. Jeffrey Alexander, Ronald Jacobs and Philip Smith. 2013. Oxford UP. The authors wrote a handbook chapter–essentially like an encyclopedia entry–but do much more than that: they present an analytic model of four ways of measuring culture and then explore a case study that exemplifies each approach. These include Alfred Kroeber’s 1919 study of the length of women’s ball gowns, Claude Levi-Strauss’s (1963) study of the logic of the Oedipus myth, Paul DiMaggio’s (1982) study of the impact of cultural capital on educational success, and Mohr and Neely’s (2009) study of NYC’s “poor-house” era. What sociologists reading this post will most want to know is the following: the piece marks the authors’ intervention into the critiques made by Richard Biernacki in Reinventing Evidence in Social Inquiry, knowing that the Handbook would pair the Mohr and Rawlings piece with one by Biernacki titled “Rationalization Processes inside Cultural Sociology.” This is the Mohr and Rawlings defense of the utility of formal measurement in studies of culture. A must-read if you’re invested in that debate, and extremely useful to graduate students of culture preparing for exams.

Caroline W. Lee, Kelly McNulty, and Sarah Shaffer. 2013. “Hard Times, Hard Choices: Marketing Retrenchment as Civic Empowerment in an Era of Neoliberal Crisis.” Socio-Economic Review. Vol. 11: 81-106. I first want to note that the second and third authors are recent (’11) graduates of Lafayette, and I really want to congratulate young scholars on producing a work of such distinction. The article examines “deliberation practitioners”–people who sell their services to businesses and local governments as a salve for the problems of neoliberalism, and as an alternative to protest. Yet they also talk about the deliberation events they sell to clients as an antidote to the market ethos they believes has turned citizens into self-interested, passive consumer-citizens. I was unaware these professionals existed, before Francesca Polletta wrote about this article in a chair’s newsletter, and it still makes me shudder to think of how they are influencing our democratic process.

Olessia Kirtchik. 2012. “Limits and Strategies for the Internationalization of Russian Economic Science: Sociological Interpretation of Bibliometric Data.” Laboratorium: Russian Review of Social Research 4(1):19–44. In this article, Kirtchik examines the economics profession  in post-Soviet Russia employing data on English-language publications of Russian economists, often used as a proxy to measure “internationalization” and “excellence,” and a survey on foreign degrees holders in contemporary Russian academia. She performs a bibliometric analysis & demonstrates that economic papers from authors in Russia are essentially assigned to regional or “area studies” periodicals which do not belong to the core of the discipline. Publication in top economic journals requires a specific “international” competence generally obtained through doctoral training at Anglo-American programs, and it generally implies a delocalization of research objects and questions. This is a straight sociology of knowledge piece, but with heightened relevance given the current discussions of how “facts” are created by economists.

Congratulations to everyone for their hard work this year!


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