and don’t hit your american sociological society on the door on your way out

We knew ASA Vegas was going to be special, but… has there been an ASA before where part of the aftermath was a story in the hosting city’s local media telling us not to come back? [HT: various]

Also, fact-check question: I’ve heard the complaint from various people that ASA Vegas was unusually expensive, especially for students, but when I repeated this to someone today, they said, “That’s absurd. They’re forgetting how much people saved on average on their hotel rooms and airfare.” To which I had no reply. Anybody have a sense of how this balanced out?

[BTW, as for Twitter: sure, it’s easy in tech discussions to fall back on a rhetorical division between the ones who “get it” and the crotchety folks angrily waving their canes and shouting for the young’uns to get off their lawns, but–hey!–I was practically begging people to tweet ASA in serial blog posts back in 2007. Even though I haven’t taken to Twitter much myself since, I am glad people are tweeting about content as well as fun at the meetings. During-talks tweets don’t bother me personally–academic speakers are supposed to be conversation pieces–but I’m sure you’ll also understand if I only give so much credence to anybody’s 140-character second-hand characterization of a project. Then again, if there really is an actual intellectual market for such things, maybe ASA should supplement the middle-micro-blogger by having us all submit our own 140 character abstracts when we upload our papers. I’d read them.]

Author: jeremy

I am the Ethel and John Lindgren Professor of Sociology and a Faculty Fellow in the Institute for Policy Research at Northwestern University.

26 thoughts on “and don’t hit your american sociological society on the door on your way out”

  1. As a grad student I did find Vegas to be particularly challenging financially. The rooms were cheap, yes, but in the end I spent more for 5 days in Vegas than I did for 5 days in San Francisco, and a good deal of this came down to food. For both trips my airfare was about the same, as was my hotel cost (I stayed in a hostel in San Francisco). In San Francisco, like many other cities, you could easily walk a city block and find a small sandwich shop, Thai place, or some other establishment with inexpensive lunch specials aimed at local business people rather than tourists. In Vegas the closest, cheapest food was the food court, and this food was not particularly cheap given the quality, nor was it particularly vegetarian/vegan/health friendly. Cheaper food could be found if you were willing to grab a taxi, but then you’re paying for a taxi- and for some that’s not a reimbursable expense (if you’re lucky enough to have travel funding at all)

    I think another problem was that I could plan for the cost of airfare and lodging, but having never been to Vegas, I could not plan for how expensive the food would end up being. Had I known, I might have decided to squeeze a few more grad students into my hotel room rather than just share with one other student.

    In the end I didn’t hate Vegas. There were a lot of great things about having the conference there. Being under one roof was fantastic, the facilities were clean and the employees were helpful and friendly. I even think that I would happily go back. Knowing what I know now, I could better plan for the expense.


    1. I pretty much agree with Melissa. I choose to stay in the conference hotel this time, in part because the room was cheaper than in past years’ conference hotels and in part because we were going to a desert in the middle of August. Getting from Caesar’s Palace to anywhere with food cheaper than 10$/meal was time-consuming, non-obvious and/or expensive, and what food there was on-site was not especially vegetarian friendly (except perhaps in the much higher cost brackets). So, there were trade-offs: I got to stay on-site, but had to pay for expensive drinks and mediocre food, while in past years I stayed a few blocks away, found cheaper places to eat, but had a small commute. In some ways, it probably made for a better meeting: lots of shared complaining, and a lot more moderation in drinking than you’d expect from an event in Vegas simply for cost concerns.

      Judging airfare costs is tricky – I think airline prices in general have been going up (connected to fuel prices), and also it’s so city to city specific. I know moving to Vegas was terrible for all of us in the Midwest who had planned to drive, but it probably was a boon to folks in the Southwest, and may well have been cheaper than other cities similarly far away.


  2. I didn’t like Vegas, but not for the inauthenticity reason, which I find absurdly, even pathetically, un-sociological. The columnist has that right.

    Yes, the conference rate for rooms was lower than often; but one can often find cheaper rooms nearby in other cities, so I don’t think that really worked to our benefit. Not sure if others found cheap airfare — I DEFINITELY didn’t, but probably because I procrastinated on buying my tickets. The food was the real budget-buster, and the long lines to boot.


  3. Sure, the food was expensive but the lines? I didn’t wait more than 15 minutes for a meal (and I was usually seated right away) and I wasn’t wandering offsite to get meals either. Most of my meals were in Caesar’s.

    I was actually really happy with the food. The quality of the restaurants inside Caesar was pretty darn good compared to what you get close to most city convention centers.

    I’m surprised more grad students didn’t wander over to the Mirage for meals. I stayed there my last night because I booked my room to late at Caesar’s and found that there were plenty of cheaper fare restaurants (e.g., California Pizza Kitchen).

    For me the best part about having the conference in Vegas was the convention center itself. It was so nice having the conference all under one roof. I ran into more friends and acquaintances that I normally do because we were all wandering up and down the same hall, rather than jetting between hotels and trying to find an obscure conference room in the basement of the Marriott. I’d be in favor of going to Vegas again.


  4. The idea of having a 140 character abstracts is brilliant! Think about how much easier it would be to figure out which sessions to go to.

    You could take it further… If someone with app making skills put together a searchable mini program for the smartphone with those abstracts, that would be so much nicer than trying to carry around that lug of a conference program everywhere.

    I don’t know that the food was any more pricey than other places we could have gone. How many among us have paid for the $10 sandwich in SF because it would take us too much time to go out and grab something else? The only way to make sure you don’t have to pay an arm and a leg at any conference is to bring your own food.

    I thought Vegas was a good stretch in a sociological sense. Just like I tend to throw my students out into the field in a qualitative methods class, I think it’s good for us collectively as a discipline to confront a place that is not our typical locale.


      1. Yeah, PAA managed to get this done and to have member dues that are under $100 if you opt out of a print copy of Demography. And you get a free drink ticket with your conference registration.Is Another World Possible?


  5. I’m pretty sure things evened out for me, cost-wise, in the end. I stayed at the Flamingo across the street, which was much cheaper than places I’ve stayed at other ASA’s (and the food was slightly cheaper there as well). I got a really cheap flight because Southwest was having a sale. The food (especially coffee) was more expensive than usual, but the savings in flight & hotel did make up for it, looking back at my receipts and adding everything up.

    For what it’s worth, I enjoyed Vegas, but I get why people didn’t. In any case, even if I hadn’t, it sure beats having to cross a picket line.


    1. We definitely want ASA back! But this time, maybe ASA could ask the UNLV faculty for some venue recommendations and a dining guide (there was cheap food to be found very easily if you knew where to go). We loved having ASA here and were suprised and disappointed with the negative reactions. It could just be that the journalists didn’t bother interviewing the people who had fun and had more positive views of the city.

      We probably wouldn’t have recommended Caesars, but we weren’t even informed that ASA had moved from Chicago to Vegas until after the venue had been decided. I actually found out via an email from SSSP before anyone from ASA even contacted our department (mid January).

      At any rate, I’m calling for ASA in Vegas in 2017!


  6. I had a great time in Vegas, and overall it ended up being a little cheaper than Atlanta was last year. Food was a little pricey, but I was able to find coupons for nearly every meal, so that wasn’t too bad.

    I’m worried that stories like this might make further push our disciplines to the margins. As it is when I tell someone I’m a sociologist I get the typical blank stare and “oh so you’re a counselor?” response. Now I’m afraid that I’ll be reduced to a “whinny counselor”.

    I understand why people hated Vegas, but ultimately I had a good time…


  7. I stayed at Bill’s – across the street from Caesars – for $60/night. I had friends at the Imperial Palace who paid less than that. Even if the food options were a bit more expensive in Vegas than other conference cities, the low hotel costs more than made up for it.

    While I didn’t enjoy the triple-digit heat or omnipresent second-hand smoke, I must say that the swimming pools and buffets were enjoyable perks. I’m not in any hurry to go back (personally or professionally), but I’m glad we went to Vegas and wish the uber-negative accounts from sociologists weren’t pushed to the forefront the way they were.


  8. I don’t think the issue was with the actual cost (which for me was in a similar range as past years), but rather that we might have assumed the costs would have been lower than other places. Speaking to several colleagues there was a general sentiment like “I thought Las Vegas kept all the rooms and food cheap to get people into the casinos.” I believe this is a situation where perceptions mattered a lot.

    Growing up relatively near Las Vegas I never particularly liked it, but as a conference location (in months other than July and August) I think it would be fine to keep it in the rotation.


  9. I was also disappointed by the general anti-Vegas sentiment. I don’t think anyone’s pointed out that as popular vacation destination (and we shouldn’t be in the business of telling people how to spend their vacation dollars or what activities they should find fun) Las Vegas is actually relatively accessible to people of many socioeconomic levels. There’s fun to be had at different spending levels: basic hotels and nickel slots, as well as luxurious suites and thousand-dollar-a-hand blackjack. How many other vacation spots can claim this? Shouldn’t we be supportive of this?


    1. I will confess to a temptation to actually write out a list of the assertions made in the Zukin video. I’m baffled by the one about Mall of America, for instance. But, in terms of their not being nothing to do for free in Vegas, my frugal traveling companion certainly found a lot of free/inexpensive things to do for fun while I was at the conference.


      1. Unless I blinked at the wrong time, the video looked to me like it was one continuous shot.

        I’m glad ASA Vegas was in 2011, rather than 2010, so the video didn’t end up in a Sharron Angle campaign ad.


    2. As a sociologist who lives in Vegas, it’s been pretty embarrassing–pretty much everyone non-sociologist I know in town has forwarded the link to the “don’t come back” article, which has definitely been making the rounds, and basically saying “OMG, what happened at your conference?”, “I thought sociologists would find something like Vegas fascinating,” or “I thought sociologists weren’t supposed to be snobs?” Given that we’re in a state with a massive budget crisis where whole departments have been threatened at some schools, I found myself thinking, “please don’t let this become an excuse to start an anti-sociology drive in the next budget session.”

      So those of us who live here are sort of having to try to half-explain/contextualize, half-apologize, and duck our heads and try to lie low until it blows over.


  10. I guess we all had different experiences when it came to food prices. Mine was the same as Melissa’s. Overall, because of food, I spend more than I did in San Fran. And because I am at a state university, I only get the allowable federal per diem back. So I’d say I’m done about $250. But as an urban sociologist, I’m always eager to travel to different cities and I got same great photographs. And what about those bathtubs in the rooms at Caesar’s? THAT you certainly wouldn’t get in other cities. So Vegas may not have been my favorite venue, but I think the columnist is right and we as Sociologists in general should be more respective of the local (I’m referring to the Zukin video). Also, one last note. Does anyone remember Anaheim in ’01? I was a grad student then so we were doing the ‘reception eating tour’ — and actually the food was quite good. But the place…well never mind.


  11. re what shannonmonat said (and I’d thought that too). I know why UNLV wasn’t asked, or I think I do, which is that the whole thing was very last minute and what they could get. But it was a problem that there was no local arrangements committee giving us a dining guide, and no local sociological tours. Instead there were sessions on Chicago! As I said, I know why — the program is actually set a year in advance, and the late venue switch left people in the lurch for the usual “getting to know the city” ASA stuff. But I am sure it would have helped.

    To be very clear, I’m not blaming UNLV for not doing local arrangements, since nobody even asked them, and I”m not blaming ASA for not asking, because I’m sure they were just scrambling to cope. But I do think that lapse created a lot of the bad vibes that otherwise could have been countered with local insight.


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