The Dialectic of the Tuxedo and the Blue Jeans

A great friend of Contexts, Rubén Rumbaut, pointed out at our annual board meeting that our editorship is animated by “the dialectic of the tuxedo and the blue jeans.” It may sound cryptic now, but we were, in fact, all dressed up—one in a full tux, the other sporting a brand new tie and his most formal pair of jeans—to present the inaugural “Claudes.” These awards, detailed here, were presented in our idiosyncratic marriage of Hollywood style and Midwestern sensibilities, and they do represent Contexts and its dialectics well. Like a bow tie and Levis, our best articles bring together the academic and the public, formal science in the vernacular of the people.

Beyond our own board meeting, the American Sociological Association’s 2010 meetings in Atlanta turned out to be good fun for the Contexts crew. The conference started, for our team at least, with the news that SAGE has signed on to become our new publishing partner in January of 2011. SAGE takes over from the University of California Press, which has done a decade of yeoman’s work in launching and establishing this publication. SAGE, which now handles almost all of the journals in the ASA portfolio, promises to maintain all of the great qualities Contexts is known for and to increase the visibility and circulation of our content. We look forward to working with them.

We also found Atlanta’s conference energizing and inspiring. Proudly, we were on the receiving end of rave reviews for our spring and summer issues, and we heard dozens of exciting and innovative “pitches” from prospective authors. We sat down with the fine folks at Norton to put the finishing touches on a new edition of the highly successful Contexts Reader. The updated second edition of this popular text will feature many of the articles that have run during our editorship and should be ready for next year’s annual meetings—just in time for fall course adoptions.

Finally, our spring 2010 feature on bestsellers provoked a number of spirited conversations. More than a few folks approached us at ASA with hard-hitting, serious questions about the low sales figures reported in that feature and what it all means for our discipline. One of the great ironies of public sociology, we have come to realize, is that for a field that prides itself so much on empirical research, we actually have little solid data and information on if, when, and how our work makes its way into the public realm.

We edit Contexts with the belief that bringing sociology to a broader public can have the additional, unintended consequence of helping frame and shape conversations in the field. As they like to say on AM radio, the best sellers feature turned out to be a “real talker.” Several people asked us what we thought could or should be done to address the problems of public engagement they saw in our data. We don’t have a full answer to that just yet, but we’re happy to keep doing our little part, plugging away here at Contexts.