Category: All Issues

Where Status takes Place: Observations from Istanbul

By Zach Richer

At the 2013 Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association, then President Cecilia Ridgeway addressed the convention with a call to arms.  The theme for that year’s conference was Interrogating Inequality, and Ridgeway was concerned that her colleagues had left by the wayside one important measure by which society is stratified: status.1

That sociologists have begun to ignore status is dismaying, but it is also surprising.  The idea that status differences constitute important forms of social inequality dates back to the founding of the discipline; Max Weber famously set the agenda in a canonical essay from 1920, “Class, Status, Party.”2 Weber’s aim was to sort out three bases of stratification that dominated different arenas of social life.  For Weber, ‘Class’ structures the field of economics—of production, the market, and private holdings.  Likewise, party is concerned with allegiances and the wielding of political power by allied interest groups.

Status as a form of inequality is more amorphous and imprecise.

Unlike class position, which could be tied to one’s access to productive resources, or party, in which power emanated from one’s government office or organizational position, Weber argued that status “depends on a specific positive or negative social assessment of honor.”3

Although institutions such as prestigious schools, respected workplaces, and private clubs can play large roles in establishing an individual’s status, much of what goes into constructing status hierarchies takes place in everyday interactions and practices.  That is, class and party positions are acquired through material wealth and political power, respectively, and status positions are secured through social judgments.

The cultural foundations of status inequalities have been of particular interest to sociologists ever since Weber (and in the case of turn-of-the-century American sociologist Thorstein Veblen4, even before Weber).  Ridgeway’s own work in status construction theory rests on the same premise that ‘honor’ is a distinction accorded to people through broad social assessments rather than our individual values.

We gain or lose status when the people around us recognize our actions as worthy of esteem or respect—not necessarily their esteem or respect, but those that are commonly assumed to be the natural standards for awarding or withholding status, however unnatural those standards may be.  Ridgeway calls these standards ‘frames’—or the pre-given set of characteristics we unconsciously use to interpret social actions.

One frame of particular interest to Ridgeway is gender.5 She argues that, whether we aim to or not, our conduct in interactions with other people is shaped by prevailing social judgments regarding the gender of the parties involved (including assumptions about our own gender that may be held by our interlocutor).

The goal of the sociologist, then, is to understand the social conditions—what she refers to as the “setting” or the “local context”—in which these frames are more or less salient.

Another approach to understanding status inequalities comes from the cultural sociology of Pierre Bourdieu.6 For Bourdieu, individuals are located in several different fields of social activity, each with its own standards for success—perhaps our salary and residential address if we are investment bankers, or our citation index score and academic affiliation if we are scholars.

What secures an individual’s status within these fields is a combination of pursuing the kinds of actions that are likely to accrue these specific resources for ourselves and knowing how to appropriate those resources in a way that reveals our familiarity and comfort with them. What’s more, the relationship between our status positions and personal choices is mutually reinforcing: the material comfort that comes along with academic life tends to allow the mind to wander into abstraction; such a disposition, in turn, allows the scholar to put forth the kinds of sociological theories that catch the eyes of his or her colleagues.7

In both Ridgeway and Bourdieu, we see how culture matters for status judgments, and we see how it varies across different “local contexts”, on the one hand, and “fields” on the other. But as foundational as these approaches have been, their references to space are largely metaphorical. This elision of place is prevalent within sociological studies of status-bearing practices.

Take consumption.  Sociologists have shown us that our choice in consumer items matters for status judgments (“Don’t order the wrong thing!”) as does the style and manners of our behavior (“Don’t order the thing wrong!”) I went to the shopping mall to investigate if where we engage in everyday practices makes a difference in how those actions are judged.

If this was indeed the case, I hypothesized, then by understanding where status takes place—and by analyzing the places that lend status to the individuals and groups who assemble there—sociologists could learn something about how status hierarchies are shaped, and also see how status is unequally distributed throughout the physical spaces in which we live, work, and shop.

Locating Status at Istinye Park

In order to see whether and how space mattered for status judgments, I researched a place that was widely associated with elites.  As it happened, a new shopping center had just opened in my sometime-home of Istanbul, Turkey, which, in its opulence and exclusivity, surpassed any mall I had seen in the United States.  That such a structure was built in Istanbul is no accident: a fast-growing but polarized economy, coupled with rapid rural-to-urban migration, created an environment ripe for status-signifying practices.  What, how, and (I supposed) where residents of Istanbul consumed would go a long way in determining the legitimacy of their claims to belonging in the city.

Istinye Park stakes its claim as Istanbul’s premier shopping destination and therefore an ideal location for observing how status hierarchies take shape. I spent the summer of 2011 at the mall, recruiting customers and patrons to participate in open-ended semi-structured interviews regarding their shopping practices and choice of shopping venues. All told, I and an assistant conducted interviews with 40 participants in the study.8 What I found was that people are highly attuned to how space and place determine their shopping practices.

They spoke openly about the features of Istinye Park that made it an attractive destination, and also with frequent and unprompted reference to other shopping venues they deemed inferior and unattractive. Whenever my respondents justified their presence at Istinye Park in contrast to another shopping destination and its surrounding areas, I made a note.

Image of Istinye Park, Istanbul. Source: Zach Richer.

Istinye Park, Istanbul. Source: Zach Richer.


At the end of my study, I got an idea of how different places measured up to the status profile of Istinye Park, and how judgments about the status of places corresponded with the assumptions of my respondents about the people who shopped there.

The result produced something of an unconventional map, what I have called a social topography9, detailing where status inequalities take place around the city, and how those places themselves are instrumental in constructing those same imbalances.

Status as Spatial Practice

When we conjure an image of status inequalities, we are likely to think of a hierarchy.  Perhaps more than other forms of inequality, status seems to lend itself to the idea of rank—the top-to-bottom vertical listing of positions from “high” status to “low” status individuals.  But in talking to customers at Istinye Park, it became evident that status has a lateral distribution too, shaping the contours of the city according to the differently-valued social practices that take place at the various locations.  Part of this story is related to the placement of Istinye Park. Unlike most other shopping malls in Istanbul, which are situated in dense retail environments along the metro line, Istinye Park was constructed away from the main public transit arteries, just north of the stock exchange and the ring road linking the European and Anatolian sides of the city.

This logic is not lost on Istinye Park shoppers, as explained by Cavit, a pseudonymously-named restauranteur, “This place was consciously chosen from the start. It attracts the elite strata…at their point of intersection.” Mobility plays a big role in the story by facilitating the arrival of certain kinds of customers while making it hard to reach for others.

Coşkun, who had driven to Istinye Park from a neighborhood near the center of the city, told me that “coming to Istinye Park without a car is nearly impossible.  [Public] transportation here is pretty tough.  At best, you’d ride the metro and go from there to here, [but] even that is a world of distance walking under the sun.  People who come here have cars.”

In a dense city where private ownership is fewer than 13 per hundred, the built environment serves as a silent accomplice to status hierarchies by granting access to some kinds of consumers while excluding others.  Shoppers at Istinye Park have the means to go there, increasing its allure as a destination.

But cities are wont to change, and when the shape of a city changes, so does the status associated with certain shopping centers.  Take the example of Alp, a jovial graphic designer who recently began shopping at Istinye Park after he gave up on the erstwhile elite mall, Akmerkez:  “You know what ruined the atmosphere at Akmerkez?  Kids from [the working class neighborhoods of] Gültepe and Kağıthane came and ruined the atmosphere.”

As important as infrastructure is, it would be a simplification to chalk up status hierarchies to the physical form of the landscape alone.  Place isn’t fate, much as some of Istinye Park’s elite shoppers would like it to be, and some people are willing to brave “a world of distance under the sun” to participate in the spectacle.  But it isn’t just access that constructs status imbalances, it’s also atmosphere.

Bülent, a recent transplant from a city outside Istanbul, tells me that he feels uncomfortable going to Istinye Park because of how other customers make a “character analysis” of him based on his clothes.  He tries to keep his distance from the courtyard “because the way they look at you, sometimes it can really affect you.  Normally, I go out there to smoke.  On foot, that is, not sitting down.”

These symbolic practices aid in the work of segregation where the geographic location of the building falls short, sending cues to shoppers like Bülent to go back inside the building to a space more suited to their status. Customers at Istinye Park work hard to maintain their mall as a space exclusive to people who occupy similar status positions among the Istanbul elite.  Part of this work is accomplished through segregation, but part of it operates through the imagination.

In other words, Istinye Park functions as an elite space not only for its own unique features, but in an actively expressed contrast to specific places in their city where other people shop.

By naming places of lower status, and imagining the motives of the people who shop there, the elite shoppers enlist these areas in a status hierarchy that stretches across the city. Thus, an Istinye Park shopper is someone who exercises taste and discretion in choosing a mall, in contrast to people who shop in the middle class neighborhood of Bakırköy, who are “just people with homes nearby or those who’ve got business to do there.”  Calling out by name the places where people of low and middle status level live and shop completes a social topography of Istanbul that positions Istinye Park as its peak.  Like a relief map showing the highs and lows of a physical landscape, charting how people classify their city gives us an idea about how status, too, is distributed across space.

This is no static map.  Places rise and fall in status according to how (and by whom) they’re used.  Likewise, no individual resident or habitué of a given location can be guaranteed the same status just by staying in place—places maintain their character only through fostering certain kinds of practices, and excluding others.


  1. Ridgeway, Claudia. (2014). “Why Status Matters for Inequality.” American Sociological Review 79(1): 1-16.
  2. A newer translation changes the title of Talcott Parsons’ original translation into English. See Weber, Max. (1920/2010). “The Distribution of Power within the Community: Classes, Stände, Parties” Journal of Classical Sociology 10(2): 137-152.
  3. Ibid., p 142.
  4. Veblen, Thorstein. (1899/2009). The Theory of the Leisure Class.  Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  5. Ridgeway, Claudia. (2011). Framed by Gender: How Gender Inequality Persists in the Modern World. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  6. See in particular Bourdieu, Pierre. (1984). Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
  7. Bourdieu, Pierre. (1990). The Scholastic Point of View.” Cultural Anthropology 5(4): 380–391.
  8. For more methodological details on this study, see Richer, Zach. (2015).“Toward a Social Topography: Status as a Spatial Practice.” Sociological Theory, Forthcoming.
  9. Ibid.

Return to September 2015 Issue

Sociology on My Mind: Traveling through Budapest

By Johanna Bockman

At the beginning of September, I traveled to Budapest, Hungary to give a talk in a conference organized by a working group of young social scientists called “Helyzet Műhely” (their name in English is “Situation” Working Group for Public Sociology). Through this trip to Budapest, not only did I come into contact with sociologists and other social scientists, I also came into contact with events of great sociological interest. Traveling sociologically brought me face to face with the Syrian refugees moving through Budapest and face to face with global gentrification.

I am not the best traveler. I often find myself bored by extremely nice vacations. For example, a vacation brought me to a tropical locale, but soon I was bored with the endless exotic animals and with the resort world.

After days of monkeys, dolphins, and so on, the tour guide in passing mentioned that he and his father had recently marched in a communist parade. Soon after this, outside looking at the star-filled sky, a restaurateur told me the details of the region’s new Free Trade Agreement, focusing on the dairy quotas.

Now, this is the kind of travel I like – traveling sociologically! Maybe some of you also like such travels. A disturbing corollary of traveling sociologically is disaster tourism, such as tours of the 9th ward in New Orleans.

While I fully accept the criticisms of such tours, I also think that traveling sociologically is much broader, including such strange activities as visiting factories, joining protests, and going to local community meetings. All these activities provide a view of events or phenomenon that cannot be gained from newspaper articles or from internet sources.

These activities also potentially tie us to others around the world in connections of solidarity. At the same time, we should recognize that we have helped to create the problems – refugee crises or global gentrification – that we observe as sociologists.

Travelling sociologically might just be part of living sociologically. I found myself in Budapest during the refugee situation – the people fleeing Syria and other war-torn or economically impoverished countries are trying to make their way through Macedonia, Greece, Serbia, and Hungary to get to Austria, Germany, and other countries perceived as having more resources and being more welcoming than Eastern Europe. The Hungarian government refused to help the refugees and suggested that they might put the refugees in severe danger.

My first observation as I drove through a large swath of the city and then walked around the city was that the city was not overrun by refugees, as the media suggests. In fact, residents and tourists seemed to be going about their usual activities on a beautiful late summer day and evening.

The restaurants were packed; the streets were filled with cars and bright lights; and there were various festivals.  A couple of people from the “Situation” working group took me over to the Keleti train station. We first bought many large bottles of water at the grocery store to bring to the Migration Aid station, the group of volunteers helping the refugees. There were refugees in a park about a block from the train station, reclining in small groups on the grass. We walked through the park and then went to the area in front of the station and delivered the water, then we walked out a different way.

Here is how I described what I saw:

I walked with some colleagues through the Keleti train station today. It seemed overwhelming that all these people have to live such public lives in such small spaces.

I saw children drawing pictures with crayons, a man painting a picture of a flag, a woman nursing her baby, kids fixing each other’s hair, many people talking endlessly in groups sitting in their small spaces.

They appear to have endless sources of patience, unimaginable patience to sit and wait in such a precarious situation and in hot/muggy weather, though in the very short time I was there I saw a child cry out of what seemed like utter frustration and a young man being comforted by what looked like friends or family.

The Hungarian government is discussing very inhumane laws in the name of being overrun, while the city continues on with life as if nothing was happening in this little section of town, the normal life of these beautiful late summer days. Taking photographs was strongly discouraged by my colleagues. There were many professional-looking photographers in the train station area, creating the photographs that we see in the media, but also invading the minimal privacy the refugees have. Yet, seeing the train station in the broader context of Budapest brought me new understanding of the situation. After having lunch with some colleagues the following day, I was walking back to my hotel and was surprised to see a group of refugees.

They were walking briskly and keeping close together. They said Join Us! I went back outside and was about to join them after I took this picture:

Refugees walking through downtown Budapest to the Austrian border. Source: Johanna Bockman.

Refugees walking through downtown Budapest to the Austrian border. Source: Johanna Bockman.


While taking this picture, I was approached by a very angry pensioner and her grandson. She wanted to know where I was from and why I was in Budapest. We ended up talking for about an hour.

Her fear made her see refugees everywhere, shutting down the city. But I said that I had been all around the city and they weren’t. She was so filled with anger and fear, but at times her fear would dissolve and she seemed surprised. I saw this similar fear appear when my father would recount things he heard on talk radio and Fox News.

I asked my colleagues: “What can we do to help the refugees?” Providing donations to refugee non-profits is one set of answers. Yet, there is another set of answers, such as that provided by one of the “Situation” working group members:

“I would also add that posts blaming Hungary and Hungarians do not help relieve the structural tension accumulated here. Yes we have angry poor Hungarians, and even poorer migrants. We have both. Not to set them against each other is one sort of help international commentators can give.”

How can we see the situation of the poor in Hungary and transnationally? How are elites pitting the poor against each other? How is the European Union benefiting from the actions of the Hungarian government?

The conference took place at the Gólya (Stork) Community Center and co-operative bar in the inner city area of Budapest.

The conference explored how knowledge – such as economic knowledge or highly technical knowledge – is produced in the specific location of Eastern Europe as the semi-periphery in the capitalist world system. Is Eastern Europe only receiving knowledge developed in the core capitalist countries, which has subordinated Eastern Europe? Or is there scientific and technical
knowledge produced in this semi-periphery that might not encourage the subordination? Might places at the margins or at the periphery provide knowledge unattainable at the center?

Gólya Community Center sits at the margins, at the border of global gentrification. Gentrification is the replacement of lower-income residents and businesses with higher-income residents and businesses. Global gentrification is this process happening around the world with global financial resources.

In the photo below, Gólya sits in a one-story building that has been a restaurant for about one hundred years. Next door, the new headquarters of Nokia is being constructed.

Across a parking lot with high-end cars is a large, new shopping mall surrounded by luxury condos and high-end restaurants, including bars, grills, gated restaurant with doormen with whisper mikes and playgrounds inside.

Gólya provides a location for those in the community to learn about urban sociology and urban geography developed around the world and to discuss what to do about this global gentrification in front of them. They also create new knowledge about how global gentrification works in their part of the world and how communities have confronted it.

Gólya Community Center, Budapest. Source: Johanna Bockman.

Gólya Community Center, Budapest. Source: Johanna Bockman.


Return to September 2015 Issue

Class Inequalities among Women

By Ruth Milkman

The United States made substantial progress toward reducing gender inequality in the late twentieth century, not only thanks to the feminist movement of the 1960s and 1970s but also as an unintended consequence of the shift to a post-industrial economy. The gender gap in pay rates, for example, narrowed not only because unprecedented numbers of women gained entry to the elite professions and upper-level management starting in the 1970s, but also because real wages for male workers, especially those without a college education, fell sharply in that same period with de-industrialization and union decline.

As manufacturing withered, the traditionally female-employing service sector expanded; surging demand for female labor, in turn, drew more and more married women and mothers into the workforce. By the twentieth century’s end, women typically were employed outside the home throughout their adult lives, apart from brief interludes of full-time caregiving. They were far less likely to be economically dependent on men than their mothers and grandmothers had been. Their legal and social status had dramatically improved as well, and the idea that women and men should have equal opportunities in the labor market won wide acceptance.

Women workers continued to face serious problems, including sex discrimination in pay and promotions, sexual harassment, and the formidable challenges of balancing work and family commitments in a nation that famously lags behind its competitors in public provision for paid family leave and child care. Still, by any standard, the situation has improved greatly since the 1970s. This improvement has not been evenly distributed across the female population, however.

On the contrary, in precisely the same historical period during which gender inequalities declined dramatically — the 1970s through the early twenty-first century — class inequalities rapidly widened, with profound implications for women as well as men. Class inequalities among women are greater than ever before.

Highly educated, upper middle class women — a group that is vastly overrepresented in both media depictions of women at work and in the wider political discourse about gender inequality — have far better opportunities than their counterparts in earlier generations did. Yet their experience is a world apart from that of the much larger numbers of women workers who struggle to make ends meet in poorly-paid clerical, retail, restaurant, and hotel jobs; in hospitals and nursing homes; or as housekeepers, nannies, and home care workers.

Many of those working women are paid at or just above the legal minimum wage; and some — especially women of color and immigrants — earn even less because their employers routinely violate minimum wage, overtime, and other workplace laws. Although female managers and professionals typically work full time (or more than full-time), many women in lower-level jobs are offered fewer hours than they would prefer, a problem compounded by unpredictable work schedules that play havoc with their family responsibilities. Millions of women are trapped in female-dominated clerical and service jobs that offer few if any opportunities for advancement, and in which employment itself is increasingly precarious. For them, best-selling books like Sheryl Sandberg’s 2013 Lean In, which encourages women to be more assertive in the workplace, are of little relevance. Indeed if women in lower-level jobs are foolhardy enough to follow such advice, they are more likely to be fired than to win a promotion or pay raise.1

The widening inequalities between women in managerial and professional jobs and those employed at lower levels of the labor market are further exacerbated by class-differentiated marriage and family arrangements. Most people marry or partner with those of a similar class status, a longstanding phenomenon that anthropologists call class endogamy. This multiplies the effects of rising class inequality: at one end of the spectrum are households with two well-paid professionals or managers, while at the other end households depend on one (in the case of one-parent families) or two far lower incomes.

In addition, affluent, highly educated women are more likely to be married or in marriage-like relationships than are working-class women, and such relationships are typically more stable among the privileged. Women in managerial and professional jobs not only can more easily afford paid domestic help, but also are more likely to have access to paid sick days and paid parental leave than women in lower-level jobs. And families routinely reproduce class inequalities over the generations: affluent parents go to great lengths to ensure that their children — now daughters as well as sons — acquire the educational credentials that will secure them a privileged place in the labor market, similar to that of their parents, when they are grown.

But class divisions have widened over recent decades within communities of color as well as among women. Although to a much lesser extent than among white women, unprecedented numbers of women of color have joined the privileged strata that benefitted most from the reduction in gender inequality over recent decades. There is a literature on “the declining significance of race,” starting with William Julius Wilson’s 1980 book of that title.2 More recently, public concern about growing class inequality has surged. Yet the rapid rise in “within-group” class inequalities among women has attracted much less attention.

One dimension of this problem involves the recent emergence of class disparities in regard to the longstanding phenomenon of occupational segregation by gender, a longstanding linchpin of gender inequality and also the most important driver of gender disparities in earnings. (That is so because unequal pay for equal work, although still all too often present, is a smaller component of the overall gender gap in earnings than the fact that female-dominated jobs typically pay less than male-dominated jobs with comparable skill requirements.)

Whereas between 1900 and 1960, the extent of occupational segregation by sex was notoriously impervious to change,3 it began to decline substantially in the United States since 1960. The standard measure of segregation, “the index of dissimilarity,” which specifies the proportion of men or women who would have to change jobs to have both genders evenly distributed through the occupational structure, declined sharply between 1960 and 1990, and in later years continued to fall at a less rapid pace, as Figure 1 shows.4 This also led to a steady decline in the gender gap in earnings. Among full-time workers, women’s annual earnings were, on average, 59.94 percent of men’s in 1970; by 2010 the ratio had grown to 77.4 percent.5

Figure 1. Occupational Segregation by Gender, United States, 1950-2000

Note: Index of dissimilarity computed from U.S. decennial census data (IPUMS) Source:

More specifically, occupational segregation by sex has declined sharply in professional and managerial jobs, but has hardly declined at all in lower-level occupations, as Figure 2 shows. High-wage “male” jobs in industries like construction and durable goods manufacturing remain extremely sex-segregated, as do low-wage “female” jobs like child care, domestic service, and clerical work.

Figure 2. Class Differences in Occupational Segregation by Gender, 1950-2000

Source: David A. Cotter, Joan M. Hermsen, and Reeve Vanneman, “Gender Inequality at Work,” The American People: U.S. Census 2000 (New York: Russell Sate Foundation and Washington, DC: Population Reference Bureau, 2004)

College-educated women have disproportionately benefited from occupational integration, while less educated women are much more likely to be in traditionally sex-stereotyped jobs with low pay and status.7

As one would expect, college-educated and professional-managerial women also tend to earn substantially higher salaries than those women who remain ghettoized in poorly paid, highly segregated jobs at lower levels of the labor market. This is one of the reasons that income inequality among women has grown, even as the overall gender gap in pay has declined.

A similar pattern of inequality applies to benefits: women in professional and managerial positions are far more likely to have access to employer-provided health insurance, as well as paid sick days, and paid parental leave than women in lower-level jobs.8 And women in elite fields are also disproportionately likely to be able to purchase paid domestic help and other services to replace their own unpaid labor inside the home.

But the class pattern of gender disparities in earnings in the late twentieth century is complicated. In absolute terms, highly educated women in elite occupations have been able to advance economically to a much greater extent than women in lower-level jobs.

However, the relative decline in earnings inequality by gender was actually smaller for women at the upper levels – simply because the earnings of men in elite jobs rose far more rapidly than the earnings of any other group.

Indeed non-college-educated men have experienced a steady and steep decline in real earnings since the 1970s, a key factor contributing to the narrowing of the overall gender gap in pay.9  Further complicating the picture is that women in high-level managerial and professional jobs are required to work longer hours than women in most lower-level jobs; and if they are parents, they also face the time demands of “intensive mothering,” aimed at ensuring that their children obtain elite educational credentials and reproduce their class status.10

The surge in economic inequality since the 1970s has been greatly amplified by endogamous marriage and “assortative mating” – that is, the longstanding tendency for people to choose partners and spouses from class (and racial) backgrounds similar to their own. This pattern disproportionately benefits highly educated women in elite occupations who share a household with a male spouse or partner at a similar occupational level. Those women, even if they earn substantially less than their spouses or partners, indirectly benefit from the soaring incomes of those men — as well as from their wealth, which is distributed far more unequally than income. Indeed, income homogamy has increased for married couples since the 1970s, alongside the growth in overall income inequality.

The result is a stark class contrast, even in an age of soaring inequality: highly educated married or cohabiting employed women supplement their own high (relative to those of less educated women) earnings with their spouses’ or partners’ high incomes, and the poorest households are disproportionately headed by single mothers subsisting on extremely low wages.11

Class inequality is hardly a new phenomenon, but prior to the 1970s, when married women’s labor force participation rate far lower than it is today, the multiplicative effects of homogamy were relatively small. Considered in that light, class inequality among women in the United States has never been greater than in the twenty-first century. That seems unlikely to change in the absence of any significant policy interventions to address the problem of soaring inequality, whose victims include millions of women struggling to survive in the low-wage labor market.


  1. Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead (New York: Knopf, 2013).
  2. William Julius Wilson, The Declining Significance of Race: Blacks and Changing American Institutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980).
  3. Edward Gross, “Plus Ca Change. . . The Sexual Structure of Occupations over Time,” Social Problems 16, no. 2 (1968): 198-208; Ruth Milkman, Gender at Work: The Dynamics of Job Segregation by Sex during World War II (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987).
  4. The data for 1990 to 2000 are not strictly comparable to one another due to changes in the methodology used by the U.S. Census, but all available data suggest that the decline in segregation gradually leveled off, and was essentially flat after 2000. See Francine D. Blau, Peter Brummund, and Albert Yung-Hsu Liu, “Trends in Occupational Segregation by Gender 1970-2009: Adjusting for the Impact of Changes in the Occupational Coding System,” Demography 50, no. 2 (2013): 471-492.
  5. Institute for Women’s Policy Research, “The Gender Wage Gap: 2013,” Fact Sheet C413 (Washington, DC: Institute for Women’s Policy Research, March 2014).
  6. The data shown in Figure 1 are decennial U.S. Census data (IPUMS) for workers aged 25-54. “Middle-class occupations” are defined as professional and managerial (including non-retail sales) occupations; all other occupations are considered “working class” in this analysis.
  7. David A. Cotter, Joan M. Hermsen, and Reeve Vanneman, “Gender Inequality at Work,” The American People: Census 2000 (New York: Russell Sate Foundation and Washington, DC: Population Reference Bureau, 2004); see also Paula England, “The Gender Revolution: Uneven and Stalled,” Gender & Society 24, no. 2 (2010): 149-166; Ariane Hegewisch, Hannah Liepmann, Jeffrey Hayes, and Heidi Hartmann, “Separate and Not Equal? Gender Segregation in the Labor Market and the Gender Wage Gap,” Briefing Paper C377 (Washington, DC: Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 2010).
  8. Ruth Milkman and Eileen Appelbaum, Unfinished Business: Paid Family Leave in California and the Future of U.S. Work-Family Policy (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013).
  9. Leslie McCall, “What Does Class Inequality among Women Look Like? A Comparison with Men and Families, 1970 to 2000,” in Social Class: How Does it Work? edited by Annette Lareau and Dalton Conley (New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 2008).
  10. On the contrast in working hours between women of different classes, see Jerry A. Jacobs and Kathleen Gerson, The Time Divide: Work, Family and Gender Inequality (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004). On intensive mothering and its relationship to social class reproduction, see Sharon Hays, The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996); Annette Lareau, Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003); and “An hereditary meritocracy,” The Economist, Jan. 24-30, 2015, pp. 17-20.
  11. Gary Burtless, “Effects of Growing Wage Disparities and Changing Family Composition on the U.S. Income Distribution,” European Economic Review 43 (1999): 853-865; June Carbone and Naomi Chan, Marriage Markets: How Inequality is Remaking the American Family (New York: Oxford University Press, 2014); McCall, “Class Inequality”; Sarah Damaske, For the Family? How Class and Gender Shape Women’s Work (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011).

© 2015 Ruth Milkman.

Return to May 2015 Issue

The Slippery Search for Kinky Sex

By Julie Fennell

Despite the extraordinary popularity of the BDSM erotic novel and film 50 Shades of Grey, many people remain uncertain about what BDSM (Bondage & Discipline/Dominance & submission/Sadism & Masochism) is. Classically, the term “BDSM” is intended to broadly encompass activities such as tying people with rope, beating them with floggers, or whipping them. Regardless of the specific activity, the defining features are usually assumed to be that (1) the activity is unusual for two people to engage in, (2) it is intended to emphasize power imbalances and/or pain, and (3) both people have negotiated and consented to the activity, and either person can make the activity stop whenever they want.

The last characteristic—consent—is the key feature that is generally assumed to separate “BDSM” from “abuse.” In the popular imagination, BDSM is generally assumed to include a fourth characteristic of being for erotic, sensual, or sexual gratification.

BDSM in popular culture looks both similar to and very different from BDSM or, more emically, “kink” practices within the kink subculture. The BDSM subculture, often known simply as “the Scene,” occupies a complex social position. It is a center for kinky pleasure and fun, as well as a center for norms and education about BDSM. In general, the Scene operates as the public-private face of “safe, sane, and consensual” BDSM practices.

Although the BDSM subculture thrives in many parts of the world, sociologists are reasonably certain that the vast majority of people who engage in kink do so privately. Consequently, we might reasonably expect that the subculture would cultivate very particular beliefs and values about kink. My research and experience with the BDSM subculture in the mid-Atlantic U.S. suggests that one of the most interesting and perhaps unexpected of these beliefs and values within the kink subculture is a persistent idea that kink can (and many say should) be separated from sex. Thus I set out to learn how a subculture that is usually assumed to be a “deviant sexual subculture” could attempt to re-define its focus as non-sexual.

I have been personally involved in the “pansexual” BDSM scene (that is, the BDSM scene that is not geared almost exclusively towards gay men) in the Washington, DC/Baltimore area since early 2010, and I started officially researching the Scene in 2012.

It is important to note that the BDSM subculture is not a monolithic entity: rather, it is a collection of micro-cultures that are loosely held together through the internet and a few large regional and national kink conventions or “events.” Throughout the summer of 2012, I interviewed 70 people in the mid-Atlantic BDSM scene about their identities as kinksters, how they became involved in the Scene, their relationship dynamics, and what it is that they enjoy and dislike about this subculture.

As I functionally immersed myself in the subculture that summer, I constantly attended kink parties, kinky happy hours, several days-long kink events, and observed online discussions; most of all, I looked for the largely unwritten social norms in this deviant subculture. I have remained deeply involved in the Scene since completing my official fieldwork, and at this point, I regularly teach at kink events and am a well-known blogger. This paper draws primarily from my ethnographic work, but also generalizes from my interviews, as I analyze the ways that the BDSM subculture has worked to re-define itself as non-sexual.

Bondage as performance art at Toronto's Morpheous Bondage Extravaganza '14. Rigger: Leon Monkey Fetish Model: Julie Fennell Photo: Patrik. A woman in bondage.

Bondage as performance art at Toronto’s Morpheous Bondage Extravaganza ’14. Rigger: Leon Monkey Fetish Model: Julie Fennell Photo: Patrik.


A Slippery Definition of Sex

Most sociological observations (including my own) of the BDSM scene have noted that remarkably little “sex” happens at BDSM parties. Although popular imagination usually assumes that kinksters and swingers occupy the same social space, that idea is only literally true (many BDSM clubs are swingers’ clubs on alternating nights). In reality, social relations between the two adjacent subcultures are so hostile that the main group for swingers on the primary kinky social networking website FetLife is called “‘Swingers’ is not a dirty word.”

Although the subcultural antagonism between swingers and kinksters is fairly pervasive, there is considerable geographical diversity in the sexuality of various individual kink scenes.

A large Maryland event posted an official rule that summarized the typical attitude in this part of the world which was: “If you are having unprotected sex, we will assume that you are fluid bonded with your partner(s) and not an idiot with a death wish.Please don’t prove us wrong.”

However, it is normal for BDSM clubs and parties elsewhere to forbid “sex” (and notably, those clubs do not label themselves “sex-negative” although the people who are annoyed by them sometimes do). The strictest anti-sex rules I have ever seen were posted in a New England dungeon which says that, “There is no sex allowed on the premises.This includes vaginal, oral, or anal,” and then adds, “If more than one people [sic] are in the bathroom, the door must remain open.” One large kink event I attended in New Jersey declared that “nothing organic may penetrate anything else that is organic” (which had the odd consequence of technically forbidding French kissing), and another in the same area declared that all sex was permissible, but “barriers” (condoms, gloves, dental dams, etc.) must be used for all forms of sex, even between people who were married.

Three things stand out about the social norms around these rules. The first is that “sex” is a very flexible idea in this context. Strap-on sex, any form of penetration with dildos or other objects, play with vibrators, and all sorts of manual sex like fisting are basically always permitted and fairly common—even in the dungeons that specifically forbid sex. Virtually all public dungeons will permit someone to be kicked or whipped in the genitalia, but many of them will forbid lips to touch those bruised genitalia.

The second is that many kinksters think that activities like whipping someone in the genitalia is obviously neither sexual nor erotic, while many others think that attitude is just plain funny. This controversy is ongoing and mostly very friendly within the subculture.

The third is that both formal and informal sexual norms in dungeons emphasize women’s sexual pleasure and largely ignore men’s.

Whether from whipping or vibrators or fisting or more conventional sexual activities when allowed, women’s (loud) orgasms are celebrated, and the focus of considerable interest, attention, and desire. Meanwhile men’s orgasms are largely ignored or sometimes even reviled.

Consequently it is much easier for women to orgasm within the (anti-)sex regulations of many kink dungeons than for men.

Even as parts of the BDSM subculture have attempted to define the focus of the subculture as non-sexual in part by utilizing a narrow definition of sex, both individuals and whole groups within the subculture have often strongly resisted these attempts. Events that do not allow sex usually are subject to anger, irritation, and sometimes flat-out boycotts by many kinksters. By contrast, I have never seen an internet war erupt saying that an event that allowed sex should stop doing so. The majority of people that I interviewed said that BDSM was always or mostly sexual for them, but the subculture as a whole is still wrestling with the relationship between kink and sex.

Anything Can be Kinky if You Try Hard Enough!

Although many BDSM microcultures narrowly define “sex,” the BDSM subculture as a whole tends to adopt a very generous conceptualization of “kink.” Many people in the BDSM subculture refer to “what it is that we do” (a common phrase in the subculture used to describe kink) as “the Lifestyle,” suggesting that it goes far beyond bedrooms and becomes an integral part of who they are.

In addition to all of the traditional things most people would usually think of as “kinky,” such as flogging, whipping, or bondage, I have also seen people at kink events regularly engage in and teach classes on: fire cupping (the same tools used by acupuncturists), “sadistic massage” (often taught by actual massage therapists), wrestling, waterboarding, and once even fire walking (walking over hot coals). “Pervertables” are also a popular concept, which consists of taking regular everyday objects (especially kitchen utensils) and re-purposing them for sadism. I attended a class on “sacred body modification” held by a local kink group, where it was taken for granted that (professional) tattooing, piercing, branding, and scarring for spiritual reasons were obviously “kinky” (people were confused when I eventually asked how this related to BDSM). The community overall cultivates a spirit of, “anything can be kinky if you try hard enough!”

Most importantly, the kink subculture typically frames “service submission” as an obviously important part of BDSM, but rarely frames it as sexual. Service submission traditionally primarily consists of tasks that “submissives” do for their “dominants,” doing the sorts of tasks that might traditionally be done by cooks, maids, or valets. In general, the subculture regards obedience (or the “discipline” part of BDSM) as very important, but this obedience can encompass everything from submissives wearing what their dominants tell them to, eating what they are told to, or cleaning the toilet and going to bed at a particular time. It may also include (or sometimes solely consists of) sexual obedience or submission, so that the submissive is expected to provide sexual pleasure for the dominant. But on the whole, the kink subculture in general envisions “service submission” and “discipline” as much broader than just sex.

BDSM Turns into Art and Religion

Although many activities that most people would probably not think of as “kinky” are often adopted as kinky in the BDSM subculture, the converse is also true for other activities: there have been movements among some groups to effectively de-kinkify certain traditional BDSM activities in specific contexts. Most notably, there is an incipient movement to create bondage as a performance art. Some “riggers” or “rope tops” have begun labeling themselves “bondage artists,” and work in both dungeons, mainstream clubs, and public art spaces.

For example, the British pop star FKA twigs recently employed the bondage artist Wykd Dave to tie her up for one of her music videos. Attempts have been made to launch a Bondage Circus for a mainstream adult audience, and an incredibly popular art bondage event called Morpheous Bondage Extravaganza occurs annually in multiple locations and is broadcast on the internet. “Rope bombing” is also a popular activity, and consists of people quickly tying (usually clothed) people up in (usually deserted) public places, taking photos, and leaving.

Many people talk about using BDSM for catharsis, meditation, spiritual connection, transformation, transcendence, and even “nirvana.” There is a complex crossover between the BDSM subculture and the Neo-pagan subculture such that many large BDSM events often host Neo-pagan style rituals, and some Neo-pagan events set up “sacred spaces” specifically for BDSM play.

In interviews, several people noted the spiritual history of BDSM, and its use in Catholicism, Native American shamanic ordeals, and other world religions as well. Although BDSM rituals do not always separate BDSM from eroticism and sexuality, they often do. The collective mystical experiences sought from people in those rituals are hard to characterize as “kinky” in any conventional sense of the word.

Social Legitimacy or Legitimate Personal Experience?

My research strongly suggests to me that outside of the BDSM subculture, people almost entirely engage in kink for sexual or erotic reasons. Respondents (matching my own personal experience) often told stories of arriving in the BDSM subculture believing that kink was entirely sexual and then discovering that there were more non-sexual possibilities and associations as they became more heavily involved.

My own personal experiences as well as my research observations suggest to me that people engage in BDSM for a wide variety of reasons, only some of which are sexual or erotic. By sometimes narrowly defining sex, usually broadly defining kink, and cultivating both artistic and spiritual uses for BDSM, the kink subculture is often successful at persuading members that BDSM is much more than “deviant sex.”

However, I believe that the subculture tends to deliberately emphasize the separation of BDSM from sex in an ongoing project of mainstream legitimation. Despite its gleeful celebration of deviance, the BDSM subculture as a whole remains conscious of and affected by mainstream heteronormative attitudes about the meaning of sex, including a sense that BDSM may be more socially acceptable when separated from sex. As long as that perception remains, it will be very hard to determine if people who say “kink isn’t about sex” mean that sincerely, or if they are trying to create an awkward compromise between a kink-positive subculture that exists in a larger sex-negative culture.

Return to May 2015 Issue

Inequality in the District

By Johanna Bockman

Last October, Mike DeBonis of the Washington Post reported that “D.C. has a higher level of income inequality than at least 66 countries.” Over the past 10 years, the Gini Coefficient for DC has gone from .595 to a high of .656 and now to .627.1 DeBonis noted that the Gini Coefficient moves in a similar pattern to the S&P 500 index, but nothing more was explained. Here I seek to encourage sociologists in the greater Washington, DC area to talk loudly and publicly about the mechanisms behind inequality and the possible ways to reduce inequality.

The U.S. Census Bureau provides the data necessary to demonstrate inequality. However, while Census data demonstrate rising inequality, as I understand, the U.S. Census staff cannot publicly provide explanations for why inequality happens. For these explanations, the U.S. Census Bureau directs the media to academics and other experts. What are these experts telling the media? Are these experts not talking loud enough?

Here are three ways that sociologists have explained inequality and ways out of it. First, sociologists have found that political leaders have a dramatic effect on poverty and wealth. In his comparison of rich democracies, David Brady (2009) found that governments greatly determine one’s risk of poverty and shape the experience of poverty.

Political actors in the formal political arena determine the nature of the welfare state and thus the nature of poverty in each country. In his book, he found, “Poverty is lower and equality is more likely to be established where welfare states are generous, Leftist collective political actors are in power, and latent coalitions for egalitarianism exert influence, and all of this is institutionalized in the formal political arena” (ibid.: 6).2

In the table below, we can see that the percentage of people living in poverty decreased both in the United States and Washington, DC during the 1960s. This large decline can be explained by the federal War on Poverty and the myriad of policies that helped low-income people escape poverty. However, while poverty continued to decline in the U.S., poverty in the District increased in the 1970s.

Then, after Marion Barry become Mayor in 1979, poverty in District decreased — from 18.6 percent to 16.9 percent through the 1980s, while poverty increased in the U.S. from 12.4 percent to 13.1 percent (see table). The unique decline of poverty in District suggests that policies aimed at helping low-income residents made a difference.

Table 1: Poverty Rate D.C. vs U.S.

Year DC % Poverty US % Poverty
1959 22.2 22.1
1969 17 13.7
1979 18.6 12.4
1989 16.9 13.1
1999 20.2 12.4
2009 18.4 14.3

Source: Persons by Poverty Status in 1959, 1969, 1979, 1989, 1999 by State; Poverty: 2000 to 2012; the U.S. Census Bureau:

In the 1990s, however, poverty rate in the District increased to 20.2 percent, even while poverty decreased in the U.S. as a whole. From 1995 to 1999, Marion Barry had his fourth term as Mayor. Within months of his inauguration, the Congress imposed the Control Board. The five-person Control Board could override decisions by the Mayor and the City Council and implemented a broad reorganization of the District government.3 The Control Board implemented significant budget cuts and undermined Home Rule. During the period of the Control Board, poverty increased in Washington, DC.

Second, Charles Tilly, Douglas Massey, and others have argued that opportunity hoarding and exploitation based on cognitive categories cause inequality. In the words of Douglas Massey: “Exploitation is the expropriation of resources from an out-group by members of an in-group, such that out-group members receive less than full value for the resources they give up. Opportunity hoarding is the monopolization of access to a resource by in-group members, allowing them to keep it for themselves or charge rents to out-group members in return for access.

In contemporary American society, the most common form of exploitation is discrimination within markets and the most common form of opportunity hoarding is exclusion from markets and resource-rich social settings. Once established, and in the absence of any countervailing social force, mechanisms of discrimination and exclusion will tend to persist over time to generate and reproduce inequality.”4

Both of these processes allow those who can pay market rates to monopolize access to these new developments.  How might we stop exploitation and opportunity hoarding?

Third, sociologists, like Erik Olin Wright, have called for real utopias like cooperatives and the sharing economy as ways to create a more equal society. Juliet Schor reminds us, however, that not all of the sharing economy is liberatory. Uber and ZipCar are important examples of the sharing economy in District, which are not so liberatory. According to Schor, we must look for other ways of organizing such elements of the sharing economy:

  1. “An alternative to the co-optation path is one in which sharing entities become part of a larger movement that seeks to redistribute wealth and foster participation, ecological protection, and social connection. This will only happen via organization, even unionization, of users.”
  2. “Existing platforms could also potentially become user-governed or cooperatively owned, an outcome some voices within the community are advocating.”
  3. “Alternately, organizations that are part of the solidarity sector, such as unions, churches, civil society groups, and cooperatives, could create platforms for their members. They could build alternatives to the for-profits, particularly if the software to operate these exchanges is not too expensive. These platforms could be user governed and/or owned.”5

The lively cooperative and sharing life in Washington, DC can be a model for other cities across the country, and could also learn from sociologists like Schor.  What do you think the media should hear from sociologists about inequality and poverty? What should every journalist know?


  1. DeBonis, Mike. “D.C. has a higher level of income inequality than at least 66 countries,” Washington Post blog District of DeBonis,” October 29, 2014,
  2. Brady, David. 2009. Rich Democracies, Poor People: How Politics Explain Poverty. New York: Oxford University Press.
  3. The Control Board’s official name was the District of Columbia Financial Responsibility and Management Assistance Authority. For the entire text of the bill that created the Control Board: H.R.1345, District of Columbia Financial Responsibility and Management Assistance Act of 1995 (Enrolled as Agreed to or Passed by Both House and Senate),
  4. Massey, Douglas A. “A Short Treatise on American Stratification,”
  5. Schor, Juliet. 2014. “Debating the Sharing Economy,”

Return to May 2015 Issue

The Founding of DCSS Part Two: Organizing

By Patricia Lengermann and Gillian Niebrugge

This article is part of a larger work in progress on the history of sociology in Washington, DC, a history shaped not by the presence of a major University Department of Sociology, as in Chicago, but by location, the center of government in the United States.

Other topics we hope to share with The Sociologist readership include

  • Visits of Harriet Martineau and Alexis De Tocqueville in the 1830s
  • Life and work of Anna Julia Cooper, after whom a circle in Le Droit Park is named
  • Lester Ward’s work and time at the U.S. Geologic Survey
  • E. Franklin Frazier’s DCSS presidency
  • C. Wright Mills’ years at the University of Maryland
  • Talley’s corner then and now
  • Jessie Bernard’s years in retirement in Washington, DC

This report on the founding of the DCSS is being published in installments, of which this is the second.  The first installment (The Sociologist February 2015), which we reprise briefly here, dealt with the social context framing that founding in 1934.  That context we saw in terms of three major events:  the Great Depression, F.D.R.’s “New Deal,” and the growing division in the sociological community over its organization, orientation to society, and methodology.

While most readers have a general familiarity with the first two, the divisions in sociology, complex and less well-known, may need some re-statement.  These divisions were partly fueled by assertions of the University of Chicago Sociology Department’s long-standing organizational dominance of the profession, on the one hand, versus challenges to that dominance, on the other.

By 1934 sociology was being practiced out of several other significant universities, most notably Columbia University. In the stress of shrinking resources and intensified competitiveness resulting from the Depression, University of Chicago became the object of calls for organizational decentralization, increasingly expressed in the formation of semi-autonomous regional and local associations. DCSS was both a part of this trend and an anomaly within it.

Suspicion and resentment of Chicago grew dramatically after 1927 when William Ogburn became Chair of the Department and rejected that program’s long-standing tolerance of multiple orientations and methods, insisting instead on a radical scientism which scorned reformist policy engagements by sociologists in favor of a rigidly objective pursuit of “pure science.”

The Ogburn faction seized upon the growing sophistication of large-scale quantitative methods, claiming it as part of the practice of pure, value neutral social science. One mark of the extent of the resentment this created is a reflection by L.L. Bernard on the founding of the American Sociological Review, “I . . . appointed the committee which recommended the substitution of the American Sociological Review for the American Journal of Sociology and pushed the resolution through . . . .  I took these steps because the department of sociology at the University of Chicago under its leader at the time [Ogburn] had become arrogant and was suspected of making the interests of the American Sociological Society subsidiary to those of the Chicago department” (Odum 1951: 410).   Part I of this article ended with the claim that DCSS was created as a challenge to the Ogburn position, an attempt to rescue quantitative method from its coupling with the “pure science” rejection of reform and policy activity by sociologists.

Part II: Organizing DCSS

Charles Camic, the leading scholar on sociology’s role during the Depression has claimed (2007) that the profession remained curiously (and all but fatally) disengaged from any intellectual curiosity about the social causes and consequences of the Depression and failed to mount a full-fledged pursuit of the career and professional possibilities opened up by the voracious demand for social science expertise created by the New Deal bureaucracy.  In so doing, he laments, sociology ceded the world of public policy to economists, in particular, but also to political scientists and lawyers, an outcome that would have long term negative effects on the profession.

The question of whether Camic’s portrait is true of all parts of the sociological community calls for further study.  (We believe that at least a part of the issue here is a narrowing of the definition of what constitutes that community to the members, and even more to the elites of the American Sociological Society.)

In the case of DCSS, locating sociology as a significant player in New Deal policy work was a central project.  Moreover the initiative for such a project came from major Chicago players, especially Ernest Burgess, an eminent presence at Chicago and in 1934 the President of the American Sociological Society (ASS) and Stuart Rice, then Assistant Director of the Census Bureau, who had taught at Chicago, worked closely with Burgess on the ASS Special Committee on the Scope of Research (Rhoades, 1981) and would be the so-called “Chicago candidate” for ASS President in 1936 (an election he withdrew from rather than face what seemed certain defeat by the highly mobilized anti-Chicago forces who were advancing the candidacy of Henry Pratt Fairchild of New York University (Lengermann, 1979).  Burgess and Rice were joined in the DCSS initiative by local academics, community leaders, and sociologists working in the New Deal agencies.

Collectively this group of about 50 players created DCSS in five months, May to September 1934, not, like so many of the new regional and local associations in a quest for autonomy from ASS, but as an accredited chapter of the national association. The creation of DCSS was monitored by the local press, the then-dominant Evening Star (1934a, 1934b, 1934c) and The Post (Baker, 1934; Post, 1934). The reporting on the three meetings that formed the Society (all held at the Admiral Inn 1640 Rhode Island Street), reveal much about its membership and purpose.

Invitation to the Admiral Inn

May 1, 1934—Plans were announced to form a sociological society in Washington, DC and to seek chapter status from ASS.  Only a few names are given in the reports—D.W. Willard of the George Washington University, Earl Bellman of the University of Maryland, and Elwood Street, director of the Washington Community Chest had drawn up an organizational plan and preliminary constitution. Ernest Burgess spoke on “The National Opportunity for Sociologists” and Stuart Rice called for the creation of a coordinating committee for sociologists in the various government agencies in a talk titled “The Opportunity for National Service by Washington Sociologists.”  Both talks show clearly that the driving motive behind the formation of DCSS was a desire to again link sociology to the solution of contemporary social problems.

May 27, 1934—Much had been accomplished in a few weeks under the guidance of a planning committee consisting of Rice, Willard, E.D. Tetreau of the Federal Emergency Relief Administration (FERA), Theodore Manny of the Bureau of Agricultural Economics, Paul Furfey (see photo) of Catholic University, Earl Bellman of the University of Maryland, Dorothy Thomas of FERA, and Carl Taylor of the Division of Subsistence Homesteads at the Department of Agriculture.   A preliminary executive had been formed with Willard as President pro tem, and Conrad Taeuber of FERA as vice-president; a constitution and bylaws were adopted by those attending, and plans made for further activities.  A petition for chapter status was forwarded to ASS, (an unusual action for a regional association, the news report (Star 1934b) states) and a Nomination Committee was formed to seek candidates for election to a permanent executive.  The attendees heard talks by Howard R. Tolley of the Department of Agriculture, Leon Truesdell of the Census Bureau, Lawrence Westbrook of FERA., and Gutzon Borglum, a well-known sculptor who throughout the 1930s worked on creating the Mount Rushmore portraits of U.S. Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt.

Paul Furfey, second from left, at Fides Settlement House with Eleanor Roosevelt, 1941. Source:

Paul Furfey, second from left, at Fides Settlement House with Eleanor Roosevelt, 1941. Source:


September 27, 1934— DCSS was formally inducted as a chapter of ASS by Burgess.  Elected officers were Rice, President; Willard, vice-president; Frederick Stephan of FERA, secretary-treasurer, and a board made up of Elwood Street, Emma Winslow of the Children’s Bureau, E.D. Tetreau of FERA and Joseph Mayer, Library of Congress.  The full membership of the Society on this date is given in Table 1, which also includes a few names of people who had participated earlier but are not named in the September listing of “charter members.”

Works Cited

  1. Baker, Morgan. 1934. “The Federal Diary” The Washington Post May 4, p. 5.
  2. Camic, Charles. 2007. “On Edge: Sociology during the Great Depression and the New Deal.” Pp. 225-280 in Sociology in America: A History edited by C. Calhoun. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  3. Lengermann, Patricia. 1979. “The Founding of the American Sociological Review: The Anatomy of a Rebellion.” American Sociological Review 44:185-198.
  4. Odum, Howard. 1951. American Sociology: The Story of Sociology in the United States Through 1950. New York: Longman and Green.
  5. Rhoades, Lawrence J. 1981. A History of the American Sociological Association, 1905-1980. Washington, DC: American Sociological Association. Retrieved Dec. 24, 2013
  6. The Evening Star. 1934a. “Sociology Chapter to Be Formed Here.” May 1, p. 23.
  7. The Evening Star. 1934b. “Professor D.W. Willard Heads Sociologists.” May 27, p. 38.
  8. The Evening Star. 1934c. “DC Sociologists Organize Chapter.” October 6 p. 13.
  9. The Washington Post 1934. “Willard Elected by Sociological Chapter Here.” May 28, p.2.

Return to May 2015 Issue

Founding Members of the District of Columbia Sociological Society 1934

By Patricia Lengermann and Gillian Niebrugge

Table 1. Founding Members of the District of Columbia Sociological Society 1934*

Name, date, reason for being in D.C. in 1934 Brief Bio
Arner, George Byron Louis

c. 1880-19

Census Bureau

Columbia University PhD 1908 “Consanguineous Marriages In The American Population.” Taught at Princeton 1908-09; Dartmouth 1901-1911. Statistician at Ohio State Board of Health. Co-author with John Spargo, Elements of Socialism  1912
Bellman, Earl S.


University of Maryland

University of Kansas MA 1929 “Attitudes of college men towards careers for wives.” Did Rural Research for the Christian Rural Social Justice Fund; A Study of the Care of the Needy Aged in Maryland Counties 1933
Burgess, Ernest


President of ASA

University of Chicago PhD 1913 “The Function of Socialization in Social Evolution” President of National Council on Family Relations 1942. Chaired University of Chicago Sociology Department 1946
Clague, Ewan


Department of Labor

University of Wisconsin PhD 1929 “Productivity Of Labor In Merchant Blast Furnaces.” Author of After the Shut Down 1934. Director of the Bureau of Employment Security 1940. Commissioner of the Bureau of Labor Statistics 1946
Dedrick, Calvert L.


Central Statistical Board

University of Wisconsin PhD 1934 “Incomes And Occupations In Madison, Wisconsin” Born San Diego. Co-author with Kimball Young, John Lewis Gillin, The Madison Community 1934
Dreis, Thelma A.



American University PhD 1951. Author of A Handbook of Social Statistics 1936.  Contributed to U.S. Department Of Agriculture’s Sample Interview Survey As A Tool Of Administration
Edwards, Alan D. Worked for the FERA
Edwards, Esther Worked for the FERA
Forster, Milton

Works Progress Administration

Yale University PhD 1934 “Temporal Relations Of Behavior In Chimpanzee And Man As Measured By Reaction Time.” WPA Coordinator of research and surveys
Frazier, E. Franklin


Howard University

University of Chicago PhD 1932 “The Negro Family in Chicago.” Taught at Morehouse. Organized Atlanta University School of Social Work. Would be President of DCSS, ESS, and ASA


Name, date, reason for being in D.C. in 1934  

Brief Bio

Furfey, Paul H.


Catholic University

Catholic University of America PhD 1926 “The Gang Age; A Study Of The Preadolescent Boy And His Recreational Needs.” Ordained priest 1934. Involved with Dorothy Day’s Catholic Worker Movement
Gerlach, Edgar M. C.


Bureau of Prisons

University of Michigan BS 1922. Worked on WPA project Social Service Resource Directory published 1937. Warden at Danbury Federal Prison
Givens, Meredith


Committee on Government Statistics

University of Wisconsin PhD 1929 “Productivity Of Labor In Merchant Blast Furnaces.” Member of Ogburn’s team for 1930s, Social Trends
Halbert, Leroy Alan


D.C. Unemployment Relief

Chicago Theological Seminary, later Doctor of Law Washburn University. Superintendent for Welfare in Kansas City, then Rhode Island. Organized consumer cooperatives
Hauser, Philip Morris



University of Chicago PhD 1938 “Differential Fertility, Mortality, And Net Reproduction In Chicago.” Demographer. Director of Population Research Center University of Chicago. Worked for  Census Bureau
Hirschstein, Bertha T.


New York University PhD 1933 “A Sociological study of the Public Library.” Worked for FERA
Leahy, Margaret

Children’s Bureau

Published study on role of social workers in Japanese American internment (1946). Worked for Bureau of Public Assistance
Lorimer, Frank               


American University

Columbia University PhD Taught at Wells College. President of Society for the Scientific Study of Population
Magnus, A.R.


Studied farmers on relief
Manny, Theodore B.


Department of Agriculture

University of Wisconsin PhD 1928 “Rural Municipalities; A Sociological Study Of Local Government In The United States.” Professor and later head of sociology department at University of Maryland
Mayer, Joseph             


Library of Congress

Sociology consultant to the Library of Congress. Reviewer for ASR. Coordinator for “Projects for collecting, listing and preserving materials of scholarship”
McCormick, Thomas Carter


University of Chicago PhD 1929 “Rural Unrest: A Sociological Investigation of the Rural Movement in the United States”


Name, date, reason for being in D.C. in 1934 Brief Bio
Mueller, John H.



University of Chicago PhD 1928 “The automobile: A sociological study.” Taught University of Oregon. Research analyst for FERA
Rice, Sarah A. Married to Stuart A.
Rice, Stuart A.


Census Bureau

Columbia University PhD 1924 “Farmers And Workers In American Politics.” Worked as political organizer Farm-Labor Party. President of American Statistical Society
Robert, Percy A.

Catholic University

New York University PhD. Became DCSS President
Spicer, Hazel I. Co-author of Study of Student Health Services for Committee on Cost of Health Care 1932; monograph becomes the example used by Johns Hopkins library website to illustrate different citation styles
Stouffer, Samuel A.


Central Statistical Board

University of Chicago PhD 1930 “An Experimental Comparison of Statistical and Case-History Methods of Attitude Research.” Author of Studies in Social Psychology in World War II: The American Soldier 1949
Stephan, Frederick F.



Taught at University of Pittsburgh. Professor at Princeton University. Co-author of Sampling Opinions 1958
Street, Elwood


D.C. Community Chest

As reporter for a Cleveland paper, was assigned to do a story on organized charity and changed careers. Director of D.C. Public Welfare
Taeuber, Conrad



University of Minnesota PhD 1931 “Migration To And From German Cities, 1902-1929.” Worked for U.S. Department of Agriculture; head of farm population and rural welfare, later Kennedy Institute, Georgetown University. Married to Irene Barnes Taeubner 1929; they did demographic research together. DCSS Student Paper Award named for her
Tattershall, Louise M.

Children’s Bureau

Barnard University BA 1908. Statistician for the National Organization for Public Health Nursing
Taylor, Carl


Department of Agriculture

University of Missouri PhD 1918 “The Social Survey, Its History and Methods.” Wrote first textbook on rural sociology 1926.  President of ASA 1946


Name, date, reason for being in D.C. in 1934 Brief Bio
Tetreau, E.D.

c. 1900-1945


University of Wisconsin PhD 1930 “Farm Family Participation in Lodges, Grange, Farm Bureau, Four-H Clubs, School And Church.”  1934 Social Forces article, “How to Study the Sociology of Direct Action Farmers’ Movement”
Thomas, Dorothy Swaine                   



London School of Economics PhD 1925 “Social Aspects of the Business Cycle.” Worked for FERA. First woman President of ASA
Tolley, Howard R.             


Agricultural Adjustment Administration

Director of the Giannini Foundation at University of California–Berkeley. Author of The Farmer Citizen at War 1943
Truesdell, Leon E.              


Census Bureau

Robert Brookings Graduate School PhD 1924. Published Analysis of the Farm Population 1920
Willard, D.W.

c. 1880-1934

George Washington University

University of Washington PhD “A Social Critique Of Current Tendencies In Health Education.” Died in October 1934 home accident when furnace explodes; Bellman and Rice are pallbearers at his funeral
Willard, Ella Married to D.W. Willard
Williams, Faith M.

c. 1900-1958

Bureau of Labor Statistics

Columbia University PhD 1924 “The Food Manufacturing Industries in New York and Its Environs; Present Trends and Probable Future Developments.” Chief, Office of Labor Economics, Bureau of Labor Statistics 1958; married to Frank Lorimer (see above)
Winslow, Emma A.

c. 1880-1941

Children’s Bureau

University of London PhD 1923 “Budget Studies and the Measurement Of Living Costs And Standards.” Worked for USO in World War II
Wood, Martha            

1891 -1948

Children’s Bureau

University of Pennsylvania MA
Woodbury, Robert M.

Children’s Bureau

Cornell University PhD 1915 “Social Insurance: An Economic Analysis.” Involved in statistical studies of infant mortality 1930s
Woolbert, Helen Griffin


University of Chicago PhD 1930 “Type of Social Philosophy as a Function of Father-Son Relationship”

*This Table is a work-in-progress and we would appreciate additional information or corrections to the information we present here.

Return to May 2015 Issue

Gender Differences in the Heterosexual College Scene of Hooking Up and Relationships

By Paula England and Jessie Ford

What is going on in today’s heterosexual college scene, which features both casual “hookups” and exclusive relationships?  How does gender structure students’ experiences? We’ll give you an overview, using data from the Online College Survey of Social Life (OCSLS) led by Paula England. This survey was taken online by over 20,000 students from 21 four-year colleges and universities between 2005 and 2011. We limit our analysis to those who said they are heterosexual.

An Overview of What’s Happening

Most students are involved in both exclusive relationships and hooking up at some point during their time in college. As students use the term “hookup,” it generally means that there was no formal, pre-arranged date, but two people met at a party, or in the dorm, and something sexual happened. Hookups can entail anything from just making out to intercourse.

The survey asked students who said they had ever hooked up while at college to provide details about their most recent hookup. It provided a list of sexual behaviors; they checked all that applied. We found that 40 percent of hookups involved intercourse, and 35 percent involved no more than making out and some nongenital touching.  The rest involved oral sex and/or hand-genital touching.

Who Initiates Dates, Relationships, and Sex?

Behavior in both hookups and relationships is structured by gender. For example, many women aim for male-traditional careers, but few ever ask a man on a date. Only 12 percent of students reporting on their most recent date said that the woman had asked the man out. A large majority of both men and women report that they think it is okay for women to ask men out—it just doesn’t happen much. Reports of who initiated the date or the talk defining the relationship match up quite closely.

How about initiating sex in hookups? Male initiation is more common than female initiation. But the size of the gender difference in initiation is unclear because men and women report things differently. Men attribute initiation to themselves than to the woman, but not by a large margin.

By contrast, women are much more likely to attribute initiation to the man than to themselves. We suspect that women are reluctant to initiate or to claim doing so in hookups because of the double standard of sexuality, that is, because women are judged more harshly for engaging in casual sex than men are.

Who Has Orgasms in Hookups and Relationships?

When we analyze gender inequality in the workplace, we usually focus on the sex gap in pay.  In the casual sex of hookups, we could see sexual pleasure as an analogous outcome measure. One available measure of pleasure is whether the student reported that she or he had an orgasm. Students were asked whether they had an orgasm on their last hookup, and also on the last time in their most recent relationship (of at least six months) when they did something sexual beyond just kissing with their partner. The figure below shows the orgasm gap in various types of hookups and in relationships.

Percent of Men and Women Reporting an Orgasm in Recent Hookup and Relationship. Graph shows that women tend to orgasm less. Note: oral sex refers to whether the student reporting on his or her own orgasm received oral sex. Data limited to students identifying as heterosexual in male/female events.

Percent of Men and Women Reporting an Orgasm in Recent Hookup and Relationship
Note: oral sex refers to whether the student reporting on his or her own orgasm received oral sex. Data limited to students identifying as heterosexual in male/female events.


We conclude several things from the graph: (1) There is a large gender gap in orgasms in hookups. (2) A gender gap in orgasms also occurs in relationship sex, but it is much smaller than in hookups. (3) Both women and men are more likely to have an orgasm in a relationship (given the same sexual behavior). Thus suggests that relationship-specific practice, caring for the partner, both matter for both men and women’s pleasure. (4) When couples have intercourse, both men and women are more likely to orgasm if they received oral sex, and this is especially true for women.

In addition to being asked about whether they had an orgasm in hookups, students were asked if their partner orgasmed. What is striking is how much men appear to overstate their partners’ orgasms. This may be because women fake orgasms to make men feel better, and men are misled by this; we learned in qualitative interviews that some women do this, but don’t know how prevalent it is. It is also possible that men simply don’t know and make an exaggerated assessment.

If women had an orgasm, they are much more likely to report that they enjoyed the hookup.  However, despite the gender inequality in orgasm, women report almost the same degree of overall enjoyment of their hookups as men report.

Conclusions and Speculations: Gender in the College Sexual Scene

Men are more likely to initiate dates, sexual behavior, and exclusive relationships. Women may feel uncomfortable initiating or claiming initiation for sex in hookups because of the double standard of sexuality, under which they are judged more harshly than men for casual sex. Hookup sex leads to an orgasm much more often for men than women; this gender gap in orgasm is greater in casual than relational sex. We speculate that men’s lack of concern for their partner’s orgasm in hookups flows from holding the double standard that gives them permission for casual sex but leads them to look down on their partners for the same behavior.

We suggest the following.

First, other research shows that gender equality in careers is enhanced when marriage and childbearing are delayed until later ages. To the extent that hooking up rather than early involvement in relationships delays marriage and childbearing, it contributes to gender equality.

Second, an alternative to a series of hookups in college could be a series of a few extended monogamous relationships. Because we find that women orgasm more and report more enjoyment in relationship sex than hookup sex, a change from hookups to relationships would improve gender equality in sexual pleasure. One question is whether this shift could occur without encouraging earlier marriage, which, as mentioned, is bad for gender equality in careers.

Third, because we speculate that it is men’s belief in the double standard that leads them to fail to prioritize their hookup partners’ pleasure because they feel some disrespect for them, it follows that if the double standard could be changed, gender equality in sexual pleasure might be achieved within the hookup context.


This article summarizes a talk presented by ASA President Paula England to DCSS in November 2014.  If you are interested in using the OCSLS data, contact Paula England at

For published analyses using the OCSLS data, see:

  1. Armstrong, Elizabeth, Paula England, and Alison Fogarty. 2012. “Accounting for Women’s Orgasm and Sexual Enjoyment in College Hookups and Relationships.” American Sociological Review 77(3): 435–462.
  2. Bearak, Jonathan Marc. 2014. “Casual Contraception in Casual Sex: Life-Cycle Change in Undergraduates’ Sexual Behavior in Hookups.” Social Forces 93: 483-513.
  3. England, Paula and Jonathan Marc Bearak. 2014. “The Sexual Double Standard and Gender Differences in Attitudes Toward Casual Sex among U.S. University Students.” Demographic Research 30, 46:1327-1338.
  4. England, Paula, Emily Fitzgibbons Shafer, and Alison C. K. Fogarty. 2012. “Hooking Up and Forming Romantic Relationships on Today’s College Campuses.” Pp. 559-572 in The Gendered Society Reader, Fifth Edition, edited by Michael Kimmel and Amy Aronson. New York: Oxford University Press.

Return to February 2015 Issue

The Founding of DCSS Part One: The Context

By Patricia Lengermann and Gillian Niebrugge

This paper shares a work-in-progress on the history of sociology in the District of Columbia.  We welcome information and corrections.

The earliest published reference to the District of Columbia Sociological Society that we have located is Morgan Baker’s May 4, 1934 “The Federal Diary,” a daily feature The Washington Post began running on November 29, 1932.  The lead entry in that day’s “Diary” reports on “a conference of sociologists” recently held at 1640 Rhode Island Avenue N.W.  Located near DuPont Circle, it was the address of The Admiral Inn, a preferred meeting place for D.C.-based sociologists; it became the B’nai Brith Museum and is today the site of the Human Rights Campaign.

Attending were two prominent figures in the American Sociological Society (since 1959, “Association”), Ernest Burgess, that year’s President and an eminent member of University of Chicago’s Department of Sociology, and Stuart A. Rice, an active figure on ASS committees, past president of the American Statistical Association, and at that time the Assistant Director of the Census Bureau; both were members of the ASS’s increasingly important Research Planning Committee.  Also present were D. W. Willard, chair of the Department of Sociology at the George Washington University and Earl Bellman of the University of Maryland. Together with then-director of the Community Chest, Elwood Street, they presented a “constitution and plan” for the formation of a local chapter of the ASS.  That presentation was bracketed by Rice’s talk on the need for “a sociological council to reconcile and coordinate the sociological objectives of various government bureaus and offices” and a talk by Burgess on the “National Opportunity for Sociologists.”

Part One of our paper identifies three societal factors shaping that founding:  (1) The Great Depression of the 1930s, (2) the New Deal, and (3) the intensification of conflicts long brewing in American sociology.

The Great Depression

Although as early as 1927 there were signs of weakness in the seemingly boom economy of the 1920s, the Great Depression is popularly taken as beginning with the stock market crash in October-November 1929; by November 13, about $30 billion in the listed value of stocks had been lost—by the middle of 1932, $75 billion, or 89 percent of the listed value before the Crash.  From 1930 to 1933, the Depression worsened despite the efforts of the administration of President Herbert Hoover (elected in 1928). Industrial production reached an all-time low; over 5,000 banks failed; unemployment rose to 35 percent (the figures partly reflect debates over agricultural unemployment caused by “the Dust Bowl” on the one hand and bank foreclosures on the other).

Image of newspaper called the "Brooklyn Daily Eagle" with headline 'Wall St. in Panic as Tocks Crash"

Yet the leadership of the American Sociological Society for the most part failed to confront it—a pattern of avoidance that Charles Camic (2007) traces in the ASS Presidential Addresses from 1929 to 1933. This blindness may have occurred because that leadership was so economically secure they failed to recognize the scale of the disaster.  But this avoidance had long-range deleterious effects on the status of sociology in American life and on job prospects for sociologists down to this present moment.

For sociologists outside of that leadership circle, however, the Depression impacted employment and livelihood.  While there is at present no clear aggregate data on sociology departments in this period, what can be inferred is that sociologists, like other academics, lost employment opportunities as colleges and universities reduced faculty size by approximately 8 percent, and cut salaries (except at the elite schools) by as much as 30 percent  (Camic 2007: 240-241).   Faculty from that period reported the practice of small economies, like using both sides of sheets of paper for student exams, formal letters, and even papers submitted to meetings (Lengermann, personal communication).

The New Deal 

The “First Hundred Days” of Roosevelt’s administration produced a tidal wave of New Deal measures designed to reform economic institutions, create jobs, and provide relief using an enlarged federal bureaucracy, the creation of which gave rise to the famous alphabet soup of New Deal agencies.  These agencies, in turn, came to employ thousands of people—representing enormous opportunities for social scientists for paid work and intellectual challenge.

This moment forever changed Washington, D.C. from what many had regarded as only slightly more than a sleepy Southern town to the center of national power, a rival to New York and Chicago.   In size, the city expanded from 486,000 in 1930 to 663,000 by 1940 (; employment in the federal government in Washington, D.C. grew from 57,000 in 1927 to 117,000 in 1936 (American Liberty League Pamphlet 133, 1936).

Black and white photograph that shows for children sitting on steps and a woman satnding behind them. A sign the righht reads "4 Children for Sale Inquire Within"



Camic (2007: 228-229) challenges the unproved assumption that “federal jobs for ‘social scientists’ mean positions specially for sociologists; and/or . . . that the availability of positions for sociologists in a few federal agencies meant a wider opening up of such avenues of employment.”    He argues that perhaps only a hundred sociologists found full professional level employment in federal agencies, compared with the thousands of such job openings for economists, political scientists, and lawyers.

He notes, however, that a larger number of lower level positions for the implementation of relief projects may have gone to junior sociologists, like those without a Ph.D., and “social workers” (a label that may have included many women who self-identified as “sociologists and social reformers”—see Lengermann and Niebrugge 2007).

Though the number of sociologists hired at New Deal agencies looks small in comparison to the number of economists, lawyers and political scientists, the impact of several dozen newly hired sociologists on the Washington, D.C. sociological landscape may have been the primary force producing DCSS in 1934.

Sociologists found significant employment at agencies like the Census Bureau, where Stuart Rice was Assistant Director, the Department of Agriculture where rural sociologists under Carl Taylor were a dominant force, and the Federal Emergency Relief Administration and the Children’s Bureau.  That employment brought sociologists into contact with other social scientists and would naturally have produced comparisons of orientation and methods.  But that employment also made the more prescient of them, notably Stuart Rice, aware that sociology was losing out, particularly to economists, in the competition to define the situation they and the nation confronted. Rice emerges as a prophetic voice in his call, frequently reiterated, that sociology must make its presence felt in the organization of government agencies and as sociologists not just as statisticians.

Conflict in the Profession

Sociology’s inability to formulate either an analytic or an organizational response to The Depression and the New Deal deepened rifts that pre-dated 1929 but had, prior to that moment, been mitigated by a practice “of organizational control . . . [that] went along with a broad and eclectic definition of what constituted ‘good’ sociology”  (Lengermann 1979: 194).  The deepening and overtly expressed conflicts in the Thirties center around three oppositions:

(1) elites in the profession, most especially Chicago faculty, graduates and other loyalists versus everyone else, (2) centralization of administration and resources—research grants, meeting programs, publication opportunities—at Chicago versus a growing demand for autonomy through decentralization, and (3) most significantly in the 1930s, fights over the appropriate orientation and methodology for sociology.  This last conflict was located in the long-standing debate between positivists who insisted on creating a value-neutral sociology versus activists who embraced sociology as a critical and ameliorative project.

This conflict was now complicated by the growing sophistication of statistical method; positivists saw quantification as a natural extension of empirical rigor, but statisticians were more ambivalent, often deterred by the positivist rejection of an active pursuit of social reform.

In 1927, when William Ogburn moved to Chicago and consolidated his power there, the positivist/quantifier camp assumed a newly radical stance, the extremism of which can be seen in a letter to the membership by Maurice Parmelee and others at the 1931 Annual Meeting: “[T]he scientist qua scientist should not be influenced by the practical significance of his work. . . .   [We] wish to prune the Society of its excrescences and to intensify its scientific activities. . . . [This] means limiting its programs and publications to the problems of our science without including melioristic and propagandistic activities” (Rhoades, 1981).  This stance not only alienated the critical reformers and those using qualitative methodologies, it logically precluded sociology’s engagement with the great state-run reforms of the New Deal and from the rewards and satisfactions of such engagement.

Both Rice and Burgess actively rejected this rigidity, embracing the tolerance and eclecticism of earlier years.

To be continued.

Works Cited

  1. American Liberty League. 1936. No. 133 “Federal Bureaucracy In The Fourth Year Of The New Deal.” August 23. Retrieved December 27, 2013.;idno=kuk59m61
  2. Baker, Morgan. 1934. “The Federal Diary” The Washington Post May 4, p. 5.
  3. Camic, Charles. 2007. “On Edge: Sociology during the Great Depression and the New Deal.”  Pp. 225-280 in Sociology in America: A History edited by C. Calhoun. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  4. Lengermann, Patricia. 1979. “The Founding of the American Sociological Review: The Anatomy of a Rebellion.” American Sociological Review 44:185-198.
  5. Lengermann, Patricia and Gillian Niebrugge. 2007. “Thrice-Told: Narratives of Sociology’s Relation to Social Work.” Pp. 63-114 in Sociology in America: A History edited by C. Calhoun. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  6. Rhoades, Lawrence J. 1981. A History of the American Sociological Association, 1905-1980. Washington, D.C.: American Sociological Association. Retrieved December 24, 2013

Return to February 2015 Issue

Rethinking Police-Community Relations

An interview with Ron Weitzer

On December 22, 2014, The Sociologist (TS) interviewed Ron Weitzer, who has studied and written two books and many articles about police-community relations in the U.S. and other nations. Below we have reproduced excerpts from the interview. Professor Weitzer is in the sociology department at the George Washington University.

TS: Over the past 20 years, you have researched, studied and written about police-community relations. What are the key findings you can share with us in the wake of the protests surrounding the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and John Crawford?

Ron Weitzer: There are over 17,000 police departments.  First, we have to be careful not to generalize from one incident or one pattern of practice (like racial profiling in a particular police department) to other departments.  Second, over the past 50 years there has been significant progress in policing in the United States. In the past, both patrol officers and their supervisors were much less accountable than they are today. There was much less media coverage of harsh and oppressive police practices or of questionable incidents resulting in injury or death. One major variable is the type of philosophy or police culture in a department.

Philosophies of Policing

There are different types of organizational cultures: one is the zero-tolerance approach—also called the “broken-windows” approach—where the police believe that by cracking down on very minor offenses they are thereby preventing more serious offenses from occurring; the offenses may be minor misdemeanors or just civil infractions like selling cigarettes illegally on the street (Eric Garner in New York). Some police departments put a lot of resources into enforcing the law against these minor offenses, because of the department’s ethos of zero-tolerance or broken-windows policing.  The New York Police Department (NYPD) and a few others adamantly believe that this approach works to reduce crime.

The opposite philosophy is community policing. Under community policing, officers do not necessarily ignore minor infractions, but they are less likely to devote significant resources to minor infractions, and focus instead on more serious crimes. And at the same time, police try to build positive relationships with neighborhood residents and merchants in a way that can help officers solve crimes in the present or can help to deter criminal activity in the future.

Community policing shifts the priorities away from low-level infractions towards more serious crimes and also toward building ongoing collaborative relationships with neighborhood residents.

Variation in Policing

TS:  Are there variations in policing, within a particular city, based on the composition of neighborhoods?

Ron Weitzer: Yes. Police practices vary, at least to some extent, by racial, ethnic and class composition of a neighborhood. Neighborhoods that are predominantly black or Latino—and especially those that are socioeconomically disadvantaged—tend to get a different kind of policing than neighborhoods that are white or middle class. So there’s both a race and class difference in how the police perceive different neighborhoods, and also in how they behave in those neighborhoods. What makes it somewhat complicated is the local crime rate: the police will tell you that they make no distinctions by racial or class makeup of neighborhoods. Instead, police  practices are governed solely by the local crime rate; but, there are some very good controlled studies comparing different types of neighborhoods by race, class, and crime rate that find that the police do act differently in black and Latino communities than in white communities—and particularly in poor neighborhoods and areas.

Blue shield that reads "Metropolitan Police USA" in white

TS: Do police receive training to sensitize them to different groups?

Ron Weitzer: The police get sensitivity training in the police academy, which attempts to reduce racial bias, and this has been a progressive development across the board in police departments over the past 40 years or so. Part of their training involves community sensitivity courses, and other attempts by the instructors to reduce or prevent class or racial profiling once recruits start working the streets.

Racial Profiling

Once they get out of the academy, many officers have progressive views: they see themselves as serving the public and fighting crime with no animus toward civilians. But after they have worked for some time, the tendency is for officers to begin to typify people according to type of neighborhood, because officers receive a disproportionate number of calls to high-crime neighborhoods. So, their day-to-day activities begin to generate typifications of “good” and “bad” neighborhoods as well as the residents living in them. The other part of this evolving orientation is socialization by other officers, where they learn to perceive some people as crime-prone or some neighborhoods as criminogenic, compared to other neighborhoods that are viewed as law-abiding.

We know that the police stop young black or Latino males more often than they stop young white males. And young minority males are not just stopped disproportionately; they are stopped repeatedly. This certainly feels like harassment and discrimination. We don’t hear young white males claiming that this happens to them.

TS: Can we say that whatever prejudices the police recruits have before they enter the academy are washed away through training in the academy?

Ron Weitzer: We shouldn’t assume that they have a clean slate either before or after training. There are individuals who come into the training academy with strong prejudices. I am sure there are individuals like that. I don’t think there’s much research, however, on recruits’ racial attitudes prior to coming into the academy.

What we do know is that, just like the wider public, implicit racism operates. Police officers as well as civilians hold perceptions and stereotypes that are latent and semi-conscious, as revealed in experimental studies. Most of us have these implicit racial biases, and individuals who enlist in a police department bring those biases into the force, just like ordinary civilians do in their daily lives.

Typical Background of the Police Recruit

TS:  What is the typical background of a police recruit who enters the academy?

Ron Weitzer: Forty years ago, a typical recruit would be someone who is white, male, working-class, and had not gone to college. But today, it is much more mixed, especially in big-city departments. In rural areas or small cities there remains a preponderance of officers with blue-collar backgrounds. But when you come to the big cities, there are recruits who are college graduates (some have master’s degrees), are from middle-class families, and come from all racial and ethnic groups. The number of female officers has increased as well, though not so dramatically. This raises the question of whether diversification makes a difference in officer behavior.


There are data that show that some black officers are better able to communicate with black citizens than white officers.

In enforcing the law, they tend to act similarly. You could say that officers are “blue” rather than black, brown, or white.

On the other hand, diversification of a police department is important symbolically in multi-racial cities. Research shows that the American public overwhelmingly favors the diversification of departments to make them visibly reflect the composition of the local population. This can enhance the level of public trust and confidence in the police.

The Fringe

TS: How about the recent killing of the two police officers in New York City in December 2014? What does it say about the direction of police-community relations?

Ron Weitzer: Attacking police officers is a way for extremists, angered by incidents of police misconduct, to retaliate or, as we have seen in other recent shootings, for anti-government radicals to attack the state. In June 2014, a young man and woman killed two Las Vegas officers at a restaurant, apparently acting on their white-supremacist, anti-government views.

The killing of the officers in New York City is a bad omen in several ways. It has already made the police more tense, more guarded, and perhaps more likely to shoot unruly civilians. And this kind of reaction goes in the opposite direction of the way the police should be going. An incident like this, perhaps understandably, may make the NYPD and other police departments much more cautious and less willing to reach out and have conversations with minority communities. A violent attack on a police officer undermines progress in opening up channels of communication and problem-solving. It puts all officers on edge and makes them less likely to have constructive engagement with the public. It is unfortunate for improving police-community relations throughout the country.

Return to February 2015 Issue