The PSA in Eugene: Focusing a Sociological Lens on Democracy and Division
Just two weeks ago, Lora Bristow (PSA’s amazing Executive Director) sent out the draft program for our 2020 meeting in Eugene. After more than a year of planning and preparation – and conversations with hundreds of sociologists about presentations and sessions – it is extremely exciting to see it all come together! The first thing most of us do is check to see where our own sessions are scheduled – that’s understandable, and important. But once you do that, please take some time to look through the breadth of the program. There are so many thoughtful presentations and intriguing sessions – I dare you to find even one time slot without something that piques your interest!
The conference theme is “Democracy in a Divided Society.” When I selected that theme two years ago, it was already abundantly clear that these issues would be at the forefront of our collective mind this spring. How could they not? I look forward to coming together with colleagues in March to think collectively about the vexing and consequential issues swirling around us, and learning from insightful presentations at sessions throughout the program that speak clearly to our challenging times. Here, I’d primarily like to highlight the thematic sessions organized specifically to address those issues:
“Blind Spots and Third Rails: Underreported News Stories in the US press and Call to Action for a Democracy in Crisis”: The media have a powerful influence in shaping the world in which we live. This session presents a timely look at its shortcomings and the impacts that has on our social and political dynamics. A call to action indeed! Panelists: Deana Rohlinger (Florida State), Izzy Snow (Barnard College), Steve Macek (North Central College), and Andy Roth (Project Censored). Organizer: Susan Rahman (Sonoma State).
“Protest in the Age of Trump”: Social movements on both the left and the right are highly mobilized in the United States right now. This session will help us to understand the factors driving contemporary mobilizations, who is mobilizing and why, and to better understand the powerful possibilities and limitations of movements to bring about the changes that many of us would like to see. Panelists: Megan Brooker (U Kansas); David Meyer (UC Irvine); Rory McVeigh (Notre Dame); Veronica Terriquez (UC Santa Cruz). Discussant: Doug McAdam (Stanford). Organizer: Nella Van Dyke (UC Merced).
“Making it Count: Implications and Sociological Relevance of the 2020 US Census”: While elections dominate headlines, the 2020 Census moves forward. It has been shaped by political battles, and its outcomes will have crucial implications for future battles. Our panel of experts will help us to make sense of it all. Panelists: Dudley Poston (Texas A&M); Raoul Liévanos (U of Oregon); Beth Jarosz (Population Reference Bureau); Victoria Velkoff (U.S. Census Bureau). Organizers: Georgiana Bostean (Chapman University) and Luis Sánchez (CSU Channel Islands).
“Microfoundations of Social and Political Divides”: Sociologists tend to think about socio-politics at the macro-level, but new and fascinating research on identities, status, emotions and values shows that micro-dynamics of social life are essential to understanding social divides – and how to more effectively communicate in that context. This panel is a primer for learning about that research and its implications. Panelists: Rengin Firat (UC Riverside); Jan Stets (UC Riverside); Richard Serpe (Kent State); Kelly Markowski (Kent State); Hye Won Kwon (University of Turku, Finland). Organizer: Rengin Firat (UC Riverside).
“Responses to Immigrant Exclusion”: There is arguably no issue more central to contemporary political divides than immigration – and exclusion is at the core of its dynamics. Here we’ll hear critical analyses from sociologists at the forefront of that field who can inspire and inform our own responses. Panelists: Tanya Golash-Boza (UC Merced); Stephanie Canizales (UC Merced); Laura Enriquez (UC Irvine); Veronica Terriquez (UC Santa Cruz). Organizer: Katie Dingeman (CSU Los Angeles).
“Rural Landscapes through a Different Lens: Sexualities in Rural America”: Rural areas do not have the critical mass that supports LGBTQ communities in urban areas, but neither are they characterized simply by absence. This panel will highlight some of the complexities of LGBTQ life and community in rural areas – and will help urban sociologists to see rural areas in a more compelling light. Panelists: Greggor Matson (Oberlin); Miriam Abelson (Portland State); Emily Kazyak (U of Nebraska). Discussant: Arlene Stein (Rutgers). Organizer: Jennifer Sherman (Washington State).
“Populism, Authoritarianism, and the Prospects of Democracy in a Divided Society: Interdisciplinary and Global Perspectives”: Populism is arguably the defining politics of our era – spanning the political spectrum from right to left, and spanning the globe from East to West. The panel includes experts from a wide range of regional perspectives to help us understand the dynamics and driving force of populism. Panelists: Marco Garrido (U of Chicago); Carlos de la Torre (U of Kentucky); Joseph Lowndes (U of Oregon); Dorit Geva (Central European University); Reha Kadakal (CSU Channel Islands). Organizer: Reha Kadakal (CSU Channel Islands).
“The Politics of Gentrification in Urban and Rural Contexts”: The economic and developmental challenges of urban and rural areas are often presented as having distinct logics, and leading to different outcomes. This panel will focus on the common challenges presented to urban and rural contexts by gentrification, hopefully helping us to see parallels (and build bridges) between them. Panelists: Jennifer Sherman (Washington State); J.J. Schlictmann (DePaul University). Discussant: Ryanne Pilgeram (U of Idaho). Organizer: Jennifer Sherman (Washington State).
“Public Sociology in a Divided Society”: Public sociology has been an aspiration and topic of debate for nearly two decades – but perhaps never as needed as it is now. In this panel, Arlene Stein (Going Public) will be joined by sociologists doing public sociology in a range of different contexts (film, digital, politics, etc.). The session will not only inspire us, but will offer tools to help us to shape our times. Panelists: Arlene Stein (Rutgers); Barb Risman (U Illinois, Chicago); Michael Dreiling (U of Oregon); Gwen Sharp (UNLV). Organizer: James Singer (Salt Lake Community College).
We also have two special thematic presentations on our conference theme from leading scholars in our discipline:
- Elijah Anderson will be presenting the Sorokin Lecture (sponsored by the ASA): “The American Color Line: A Major Challenge for Civil Society.” Anderson, an ethnographer with rich insights cultivated through decades of research, will be speaking about one of the most important divisions in contemporary society. This is certain to be a much-discussed presentation.
- Doug McAdam will be giving the Star Speaker presentation (sponsored by the Emeritus and Retired Sociologists Committee): “Putting Trump in Context: Race, Region, and the Erosion of American Democracy.” McAdam’s research has chronicled how contentious action has shaped our society over the past half century, bringing a rich perspective to interpret and better understand our current era.
One innovation that I’m very excited about is a series of thematic “dessert forums” each evening of the meeting to be held in the panoramic Vistas event space on the top floor of The Graduate Hotel. Members will be able to come back to the hotel after dinner with colleagues old and new, and enjoy a less formal forum focusing on some topic related to the program theme. Thursday evening’s dessert forum will be: “Inside the Malheur Occupation: Understanding Rural Rebellion in the West,” focusing on the critical 2016 protest in Eastern Oregon by Western ranchers and an assortment of fellow travelers aimed primarily at federal land policies. The forum will feature the journalist James Pogue who was able to gain access to the occupation and its leaders (chronicled in his book Chosen Country: A Rebellion in the West), and will help us to understand the motivations of protesters and their layered (and often contradictory) aims. Several sociologists will offer brief responses prior to a collective discussion with the audience: Susan Mannon (U of the Pacific), Pete Simi (Chapman U), and Michael Cope (Brigham Young). This is guaranteed to be a vibrant opening evening of our meeting.
Friday evening’s dessert forum will be an innovative event focused on poetry as a tool for social justice: “Poetry for a Just Society: Reading by Oregon Poet Laureate Elizabeth Woody followed by Open Mic Poetry.” We will be joined by Liz Woody, Oregon’s Poet Laureate in 2017, who will read some of her remarkable work exploring issues of indigenous identity, rural life, the natural world, social inequality, among many other themes. Woody was born in Arizona and is an enrolled member of the Confederate Tribes of Warm Springs in Oregon. A profile on the website Ecotrust described Woody as “both a bridge-builder and a master of the difficult art of elevated plain speech, an approach to language that draws people in rather than shutting them out.” That is an invaluable model for our times. Following Woody’s presentation, Lori Walkington (CSU San Marcos) will host the PSA’s first open mic poetry event which will exemplify ties between art, activism, social connection, and social change. The poets among us should come ready to present their own work!
Our dessert forum finale on Saturday evening will be a “town hall” event addressing head-on the role of Sociology in our current political context, titled “The 2020 Elections and Beyond.” The event will be hosted by PSA Vice President Ellen Reese, and will feature a panel of sociologists who will spark a discussion on a range of issues in contemporary politics, and the potential for sociologists to provide solutions. The panel of sociologists will be: Elijah Anderson (Yale University), Stephanie Mudge (UC Davis), Carlos de la Torre (U Kentucky), Jennifer Sherman (Washington State), Rengin Firat (UC Riverside), Barb Risman (U Illinois Chicago), Arlene Stein (Rutgers), Deana Rohlinger (Florida State), Laura Enriquez (UC Irvine), and Greg McLauchlan (U Oregon). This will be an important opportunity for a collective discussion among PSA members about our role as sociologists in finding a path out of our current political wilderness.
Beyond the thematic programming, we have over 250 sessions addressing substantive issues across the range of subfields in sociology. We have nearly two dozen panels focusing on new books in our discipline, several sessions highlighting films, a wealth of sessions focused on teaching sociology, a variety of affinity meetings and professional development opportunities. We will also have two types of special sessions to bring together members interested in specific disciplinary subfields. You will find a half dozen PSA Mentor Sessions — a new addition to our meetings in which an established sociologist in a subfield will serve as a formal discussant for presentations by several graduate students and early career sociologists. You will also find seven Open Discussion Sessions in which members can come together to discuss emerging (or ongoing) topics and issues central to their subfields – a great way to connect with colleagues sharing your particular interests. We also have dozens of undergraduate roundtables to serve the PSA’s mission of developing the next generation of sociologists – drop in on one, if you have the opportunity.
Add to all of that a generous selection of hosted receptions to allow you to meet with old friends and to make new friends, maintaining the PSA’s reputation for being the most collegial and lively of our regional meetings. All of this will take place in the beautiful city of Eugene, Oregon – a wonderful and exciting location, as you can see from the many links on our webpage. Speaking of the richness of Eugene, a golden thread running through our program is a series of sessions focused on the critical legacy of our hosts: Celebrating 125 Years of Sociology at the University of Oregon. Look for the the sessions highlighting UO faculty, students, and alums. And on Saturday evening, the UO Sociology Department is hosting a reception at Ninkasi Brewing for all PSA members to help them celebrate.
I have tried to highlight some of the richness of the program that has come together for Eugene – and this article (overly long already) only scratches the surface of what is in store for PSA members. I’ll conclude with the same challenge that I offered at the start: I dare you to find even one time slot without something that piques your interest! Indeed, your biggest challenge at our spring meeting may be deciding which of several competing sessions you’ll attend in each time slot, every day. I hope you all find the meeting professionally fulfilling and personally enjoyable – that, indeed, is the PSA tradition.
—President Dennis J. Downey