Sunday, August 24, 2014

Media Sociology Preconference Report (Mills College, August 15, 2014)

Margaret Hunter welcomes Media Sociology Preconference attendees to Mills College

As Rodney Benson wrote last year in his review of the inaugural Media Sociology Preconference held at NYU’s Institute for Public Knowledge, “Elihu Katz and Jeff Pooley (2008) maintain that sociology abandoned mass communications research. This may have been true at one point, but in recent years increasing numbers of sociologists are claiming back this territory as they realize how obviously central media are to their research questions. […] The drive for institutionalization [of media sociology] is moving forward at a rapid pace and scale, exceeding initial expectations.”   

In my capacity as co-organizer of the Media Sociology Preconferences, I am therefore delighted to report that the energy and appetite for media sociology in the American Sociological Association has not waned, and our second preconference on August 15, hosted at the Mills College Lorry I. Lokey Graduate School of Business in Oakland, California, was a resounding success. We received 68 paper submissions by the deadline, with scholars hailing not just from the United States and Canada but also China, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, Malaysia, the Netherlands, and Russia. In total, there were 77 pre-registered attendees.

Clayton Childress delivers his morning keynote address on "Being Passable: The Double Match of Race and Meaning in American Book Publishing"

The day kicked off bright and early with a catered breakfast and a welcome from Mills College sociologist Margaret Hunter. This was immediately followed by a fantastic lecture by Clayton Childress of the University of Toronto – Scarborough. In keeping with a tradition begun in 2013, the preconference’s morning keynote slot was reserved for a junior scholar whose work we believe will become central to the field of media sociology in the future. Clayton did not disappoint; his talk on the troubling whiteness of both production and content in American trade book publishing was clearly well-received and provocative.

A jam-packed program of panel sessions followed, featuring a diverse range of substantive areas, theories, and methodologies. It was especially fascinating to see the ways in which media sociology intersects with established subfields such as the sociologies of work, race, gender, nationalism, and even the teaching and learning of sociology. Yet there was also plenty of downtime throughout the day to socialize and network over lunch and afternoon coffee, and to explore the idyllic Mills College campus.

"Media Sociology as a Vocation" Plenary Panel, featuring (from left to right): Casey Brienza (moderator), Laura Grindstaff, Paul Hirsch, Paul Lopes, Guobin Yang, and Ron Jacobs

The preconference concluded with an evening plenary discussion panel on “Media Sociology as a Vocation.” Moderated by myself and featuring Laura Grindstaff, Paul Hirsch, Ron Jacobs, Paul Lopes, and Guobin Yang, this panel focused on various pragmatic, professional, and vocational considerations for--and challenges facing--media sociologists. Panelists discussed lessons from their own career biographies and the importance of interdisciplinarity both within and beyond sociology. They further praised the remarkable breadth of scholarship the preconference had attracted and the novel intellectual linkages the gathering encouraged. Nevertheless, the panelists affirmed, formal legitimation for media sociology within the ASA is absolutely critical. Of particular significance is their recommendation, given the growing role of the media in all arenas of contemporary social life and the enduring popularity of the subject with students, that we do more to lobby Department Chairs/Heads, Deans, and Provosts for faculty lines in media sociology.

All in all, it was a productive and exhilarating day, and I was both inspired and humbled by the energy and talent of the media sociologists of the American Sociological Association. Matthias Revers and I continue to advocate for formal recognition for media sociology in the ASA, so if you are current ASA member (regular, student, or emeritus) and would like to see that happen, please do sign the petition. Signing the petition, if you have not already done so, will also keep you updated on the latest news from the section formation campaign.

We look forward to seeing you in Chicago in 2015!

– Casey Brienza 

Special thanks to Dan Ryan and to the Mills College Department of Sociology & Anthropology for their generous sponsorship.

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