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UC Berkeley's sociology department is home to new magazine designed to reach readers beyond the ivory tower
08 August 2002

By Carol Hyman, Media Relations

Berkeley - The University of California, Berkeley's Department of Sociology has a long-held tradition of researching and teaching about topics that have practical meaning to people's everyday lives. So, it's no surprise that this department, part of the College of Letters & Science, is the home of a new quarterly publication for readers beyond the halls of academia.

  Contextx magazine

"Contexts," a 70-page magazine of the American Sociological Association (ASA) that is published by University of California Press, covers diverse issues of interest to a wide audience. The fall 2002 issue, for example, includes a discussion of American slavery reparations, a photo essay of a Chicago neighborhood and a first-person article about genetic research. The publication's "Discovery" section, which highlights new social research, explores topics ranging from bridal showers to the myth of the "dumb jock."

"UC Berkeley is a public institution, and so it has a responsibility to give back to the public," said Claude Fischer, UC Berkeley sociology professor and "Contexts" editor. Fischer hopes the new publication will reach an audience including teachers, students, journalists, civil servants and policy makers "seeking out important developments in social research.

"It's really for anyone who is interested in social change, important trends and the implications of sociological knowledge for policy and public debate," he said.

While "Contexts" is slowly making its way onto newsstands across the country, subscriptions may be obtained through its Web site —

Faculty members in UC Berkeley's sociology department, one of the top sociology departments in the country, take pride in a commitment to what they refer to as "public sociology," striving to bring sociological issues to an audience beyond those who study and conduct research for their livelihoods. They credit a diverse department where scholars collaborate with many departments across campus on crucial public issues and the pressing concerns of real people in the real world.

"As mirror and conscience of society, sociology must define, promote and inform public debate about deepening class and racial inequalities, new gender regimes, environmental degradation and state and non-state violence," said Michael Burawoy, the department's chair and ASA president-elect. "I believe that, more than ever, the world needs public sociology, a sociology that transcends the academy.

"We believe that our vocation as a community of social scientists is to deploy our tools, methods, concepts and theories, developed for a specialist audience, in the construction of bridges to a broader public. And we do so with a view to enhancing and deepening debate about social trends and transformations."

This new publication follows that open, inclusive tradition.

While it's based at UC Berkeley, the articles are written by experts from throughout the country. In the current issue, Lee Clarke of Rutgers University delves into the misconceptions versus the truth about how people react in a disaster in his article, "Panic: Myth or Reality?" He draws comparisons between reactions presented in films like "Armageddon" and "Independence Day" to the way people responded in real crises like Sept. 11.

Bruce Western of Princeton University and Becky Pettit of the University of Washington examine the changes in government policy that have led to many more poor minority men being behind bars and the future of an even greater inequality in "Beyond Crime and Punishment: Prisons and Inequality."

UC Berkeley's Fischer gained prominence a few years ago with an award-winning social study of the telephone, "America Calling" (University of California Press). He also collaborated with a number of UC Berkeley colleagues on "Inequality by Design: Cracking the Bell Curve Myth,"(Princeton University Press) named a 1998 Outstanding Book by the Gustavus Meyers Center for the Study of Human Rights in North America.

With UC Berkeley colleague Michael Hout, Fischer is working on "USA: A Century of Difference," a project funded by the Russell Sage Foundation. Tasked to draw on the 2000 census, this project will report on how Americans live, work, consume and pray at the beginning of the 21st century.