does asa speak for sociology? do they even try?

Sociologists will often profess especial concern for inclusiveness and minority rights. So, when it comes time for sociologists to set up a democratic system of their own, how do they do it? The ostensible governing body of the ASA Membership, its Council, has 20 or so sociologists in the room. By the system that sociologists have devised, it is possible for 49% of voting ASA members to have voted for none of those 20 people. How can that possibly be morally defended?

(Note: in the United States, the winner-take-all system at least comes about as a by-product of the constraint that individuals only vote for one person in a particular election, so it’s hard then to see how the system could be changed without a radical overhaul of what being a Congressperson means. Sociologists have set up their systems so that multiple Council-Members-At-Large are elected via the same election, and sociologists have chosen to run the election so that voters each vote for X candidates and the top X vote-getters are chosen–the most “tyranny of the majority” method of doing so.)

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.

3 thoughts on “does asa speak for sociology? do they even try?”

  1. Maybe sociologists could read the political science literature on voting rules and the advantages and disadvantages of particular rules. I have only a nodding acquaintance with this literature, but I’m pretty sure you are right, that this rule (multi-member districts elected by a majority) is widely understood as one way to disenfranchise a minority. It was adopted, for example, in many Southern states in the wake of the Voting Rights Act, and I believe is also the preferred method in cities that wish to disenfranchise minorities.

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  2. A more fundamental problem with our voting system is that it is non-partisan. The simplest heuristic that low information voters have is party identification, and when it comes to ASA elections I think it’s fair to say that most of us are low information voters. For instance, I know how high impact of a scholar somebody is and what subfield they come out of, but I usually have a very vague idea of whether they’ll shape the association in the direction I prefer. If we had parties vetting and endorsing candidates (say “Jesper’s List” and “Burawoy’s Bolivarians”) then I could just vote a straight ticket and be relatively confident I was choosing candidates who represent my preferences for professional governance. Some political scientists have talked about this issue in municipal elections, which tend to be either nonpartisan or single-party, even though there are obvious intra-Democratic ideological cleavages within big city politics where everybody may agree on abortion but strongly disagree about things like public transportation, charter schools, taxi regulations, aggressive policing, etc. that in principle could be flagged by party identification.
    However, on the plus side I think it’s plausible that two wrongs make a right in this case. The lack of partisan id as a signal means that it is exceedingly hard for first-past-the-post plus multi-member districts to disenfranchise the ideological minority. Given that my own preferences for professional governance are probably in the minority that would be disenfranchised if we kept our current electoral system but added in party id to provide more information, I am basically comfortable with the bad electoral rules plus low information muddle.

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