American Sociological Association (ASA)

American Sociological Association (ASA)


* Membership organization for more than 14,000 professionals in the field of sociology
* Commonly advocates for left-wing political causes
* Its Marxist Sociology Section examines “how insights from Marxist methodology and Marxist analysis can help explain the complex dynamics of modern society”
* One of its former presidents was Frances Fox Piven.

Founded in 1905, the American Sociological Association (ASA) is a non-profit membership organization for more than 14,000 professionals in the field of sociology, including college and university faculty, researchers, students, and practitioners. Dedicated to “advancing sociology as a scientific discipline and profession serving the public good” on both the national and international levels, ASA “aims to articulate policy and implement programs likely to have the broadest possible impact for sociology now and in the future.” The Association also publishes ten professional journals and magazines.

Leftist ideology has long dominated ASA’s leadership and rank-and-file membership alike. Since the days of William Graham Sumner (1840-1910)—the first American professor to teach a course entitled “Sociology”—there has never been more than a small minority of classical liberals, libertarians, and conservatives working professionally in the field.

Researchers Daniel Klein and Charlotta Stern in 2004 surveyed 351 ASA members and found that they overwhelmingly supported government interventions in the economy (e.g., minimum-wage laws, air and water regulation); public (as opposed to private) schooling; “discrimination controls” such as affirmative action; large-scale wealth redistribution; and gun control. Further, more than 85% of ASA members regularly voted for political candidates representing the Democratic Party or the Green Party. The Democrat-to-Republican ratio among ASA members was 16-to-1. This finding was consistent with that of a 2001 Brookings Institution study (which placed the ratio at 47-to-1); a 1999 survey that found 59 Democrats and zero Republicans in a particular sample of sociology professors; and a 2004 study that found 88 registered Democrats and just 2 registered Republicans in the sociology departments of eleven California universities.[1]

Over the years, ASA has engaged numerous times in open advocacy for left-wing political causes. For example, between 2003 and 2005 the Association submitted a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in support of the University of Michigan’s affirmative-action policy; issued a statement urging the defeat of a California proposition that would have ended public agencies’ ability to collect data on citizens’ race, ethnicity, and national origin; passed a resolution opposing a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriages; and condemned Harvard president Lawrence Summers for suggesting that innate differences—rather than discrimination—may have been the cause of women’s statistical underrepresentation in the fields of science and engineering.

ASA’s leftism is further reflected in the themes explored at its organizational conferences. The Association’s 2012 Annual Meeting, for instance, featured “Real Utopia Sessions” that advanced proposals for “unconditional basic income, market socialism, equality-sustaining parental leaves, participatory budgets, solidarity finance, democratic media, etc.”

Structurally, ASA is composed of 52 separate Sections, each addressing a specific subject or field of inquiry. Among the more noteworthy are the following:

* The Marxist Sociology Section examines “how insights from Marxist methodology and Marxist analysis can help explain the complex dynamics of modern society in all its dimensions: political, economic, military, cultural, even interpersonal.”

* The Section on Collective Behavior and Social Movements studies “emergent and extra-institutional social forms and behavior, crowds, social movements, disasters, riots, fads, strikes, and revolutionary movements.” In 2011, this ASA Section lauded Occupy Wall Street as a “global justice movement” that was “perform[ing] an important public service” by “articulat[ing] a broad, angry, and compelling indictment” of the “overweening corporate power” which was “the root cause of the present [economic] crisis.”

* The Section on the Sociology of Consumers and Consumption is largely anti-capitalist and seeks to “promote research, dialog and teaching about the multi-faceted ways in which consumers, commodities, consumption and market logics have come to inform virtually all aspects of social life and social interaction.”

* The Crime, Law, and Deviance Section “examines matters of sociological interest related to the study and understanding of juvenile or adult law-violating behavior and the organization and operation of law enforcement, judicial, and correctional processes.” At the heart of this Section’s research is a firm belief that the American criminal-justice system discriminates heavily against nonwhite minorities and the poor.

* The Section on Environment and Technology studies “how social, political, and technological factors drive environmental degradation”; emphasizes the dangers of “climate change”; laments that “the burdens of pollution, waste disposal, and resource extraction” are “unequally distributed among racial and ethnic groups, classes, genders, regions, and nations”; and discusses how “these inequalities can be reduced.”

* The Section on Inequality, Poverty, and Mobility fosters research on “the economic, social, and cultural forces that generate and perpetuate unequal distributions of [material and non-material] resources.” The major culprit, by ASA’s reckoning, is free-market capitalism.

* The Section on Race, Gender, and Class “underscores the centrality of race, gender, and class in society” and examines how these variables contribute to “social inequality.”

* The Section on Peace and War encourages “the application of sociological methods, theories, and perspectives to the study of peace and war.”

A noteworthy former (2003-04) president of the Association was Michael Burawoy, a self-identified Marxist whose manifesto Critical Sociology embraces “a vision of socialism that places human society, or social humanity, at its organizing center, a vision that was central to Marx but was too often lost before it was again picked up by Gramsci and Polanyi.” Another prominent ASA president was the avowed socialist Frances Fox Piven, who held that office during 2006-07.

Over the years, ASA has commonly presented its most prestigious awards to socialists. For instance, in 1980 the Association gave its “Award for a Distinguished Contribution to Scholarship” to the Harvard University political scientist Theda Skocpol, a Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) member who co-founded the Campaign for America’s Future. In 1996, ASA honored Jusith Lorber, also a DSA member, with its Jessie Bernard Career Award for “scholarly work that has enlarged the horizons of sociology to encompass fully the role of women in society.” And in 2003 the Association presented its Career of Distinguished Scholarship Award to sociologist Immanuel Wallerstein, who views capitalism as detrimental to most of humanity and, in Marxist tradition, predicts that it will eventually be replaced by socialism.

For additional information on ASA, click here.

[1] Noting that “self-reinforcing sorting mechanisms now make the discipline [of sociology] unapproachable by anyone who is unabashedly classically liberal” [i.e., “conservative”], Klein and Stern write: “To say that classical liberalism is underrepresented in sociology would be a vast understatement. Forbidden might be more fitting.”

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