I was recently in Sacramento, California, at the annual meeting of the California Sociological Association. Two years ago I attended the meeting in Oakland, where I live. I again saw none of my sociology teachers or classmates from any of the four Peralta Community Colleges. I did run onto William Ochoa, a former colleague and Senator in the Associated Students of Laney (Community) College, now working on his Master’s degree in Sociology at Mills College in Oakland, California.
I attended all seven sessions of the two day conference including; the Popular Culture & New Technology panel, the Community College Roundtable, Critical Perspectives in Education, The 2016 Presidential Election Revisited panel, Making Sociology Matter, Social Movements and Sociology: the Big Picture. The panels included many interesting presentations and many I attended were student driven. The highlight for me was an unusual and memorable presentation by Frank Roberts from Mt. San Antonio Community College on his project to unify the major theories of sociology. The last session of the conference, there were only five attendees which allowed a lively and prolonged discussion.
First Roberts mapped Donald Brown’s Anthropological catalog of 369 “Human Universals” traits to Robert Nisbet’s “Unit Ideas of Sociology” using an Excel spreadsheet. Balancing Nisbet’s conservative, community oriented approach, Roberts added sociological Agency to Community, Sacred, Authority, Status, Alienation units. This accounted for many personal and creative traits. Then Roberts mapped these six unit ideas to the three major sociological theories: Structural-Functionalism, Comfit Theory and Symbolic Internationalism. I imagine the resulting integration of sociological theories can be used to describe and possibly clarify many intersectional positions. This is an idea I will continue to reflect on and try to use in my future sociological studies.
The official theme of the California Sociological Association annual meeting was “A Legacy of Sociology”: the keynote presentation was “Who Rules America?” by William Domhoff, Distinguished Professor Emeritus and Research Professor in the Sociology Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz. His latest work is as co-author of Studying the Power Elite: Fifty Years of Who Rules America? (Routledge 2018). Dr. Domhoff summarized his long career in researching America’s elite and focused on the rise of think tanks (and policy discussion groups) in influencing policy and politics. This corresponded with the waning of Marxist theorists’ influence in academia and resulted in a lessening of criticism of corporate influence. Dr. Domhoff didn’t mention Louis Powell’s 1971 memorandum for the American Chamber of Commerce, “Attack on the American Free Enterprise System” but I couldn’t help wondering how Dr. Domhoff would characterize its influence. He’s inspired me to read the book that started this line of inquiry, C. Wright Mill’s 1956 book The Power Elite. Researching the interlocking nature of corporate directors, first with excel spreadsheets and now with powerful computers running social network analysis software, Dr. Domhoff has tracked how corporate power has fragmented from being centered in banks to a more distributed system of endowed academic chairs, corporate funded policy groups and think tanks, foundations and emerging industries. Dr. Domhoff concluded optimistically; there’s a new wave of power structure researchers using larger databases and the final chapter of the story of “America’s Power Elite” has not been written.