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Outgoing President's Report: 2014-15

Maggie Kusenbach

Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction


Just as the previous year, this past year has been a time of continued growth and success for our organization. When I took over from Lori Holyfield in 2014, the Society had just passed a new constitution and appointed several new officers. We all owe much gratitude to Lisa-Jo van den Scott, SSSI Treasurer, and Laurie Linhart, SSSI Secretary. Without their enthusiasm and hard work, our organization simply would not function. Many thanks also to the other members of the SSSI Executive Committee for their wisdom and generous support during the past year.  

Our journal Symbolic Interaction continues to shine, thanks to the ingenuity and industry of Editor Robert Dingwall, Associate Editors Thomas DeGloma and Staci Newmahr, Book Review Editor Dirk vom Lehn, Managing Editor Patricia Hulme, and Chair of the SSSI Publications Committee Ruth Horowitz. Many excellent papers were published during the past year. The journal’s impact factor has risen to 0.625. It has been a real pleasure to continue working with our Publisher Wiley on the journal and on managing memberships and subscriptions. I encourage everyone to check out the “SSSI Org” channel on YouTube which features video abstracts, interviews, and other interesting items. Congratulations to Sandy To for winning the 2015 SSSI Video Award.  Ruth Horowitz’ term as Publications Committee Chair ended in August 2015 and Committee Member Peter Hall has taken over the leadership. We also welcome two newly elected members to the Publications Committee, Linda Belgrave and J. Sumerau.

Others who served the Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction this past year were the chairs of the five SSSI Award Committees: Kathy Charmaz, Chair of the Mead Award Committee; Donileen Loseke, Chair of the Cooley Award Committee; Staci Newmahr, Chair of the Blumer Award Committee; Dan Miller, Chair of the Mentor Excellence Award Committee; and Joseph Kotarba, Chair of the new Early-In-Career Award committee. I thank the chairs and members of these committees for their commitment to our tradition of recognizing excellence in scholarship and mentoring. The names and accomplishments of the 2015 SSSI Award Winners are featured on our website.

One goal for the past year was to continue the excellent administrative work done over the last several years. We have made a number of important decisions in the Executive Committee. During the past year, SSSI has moved from being a public non-profit organization to a private operating foundation with non-profit status, a classification that better fits our profile. There are no disadvantages to this transition financially or from an organizational point of view.

One ongoing and serious issue of concern is the Society’s financial viability, considering that the cost of our annual meetings have risen sharply and will likely continue to go up. The Executive Committee saw a need to raise the cost of SSSI annual memberships and journal subscriptions, proportionally to members’ incomes. Overall, our dues are still much lower than the ones of comparable professional associations, and the rates for student were kept as low as possible. The new dues structure encourages online journal subscriptions which is more cost effective overall, thus allowing for a larger margin of return. Yet this change alone will not be sufficient in securing the financial health of SSSI in the future. The new SSSI leadership team is planning to get in touch with members very shortly to discuss other measures and options to this end. The long-term survival of our organization depends on successfully addressing these financial issues.

I am very pleased to announce that, based on members’ suggestions, we gave our Mentor Excellence Award, originally known as the Feminist Mentor Award, a real name. From here on, it will be called the “Helena Znaniecki Lopata Mentoring Excellence Award.” Helena, who passed away in 2003, served the Society for the Study for Symbolic Interaction for many years; she was well known and loved as a scholar and mentor. Moreover, in 1999, she was an early recipient of this award.

As always, it is the SSSI Vice President who takes on the biggest responsibility of the year, namely the organization of the Annual Meeting. Vice President Antony Puddephatt worked tirelessly to put together this year’s conference in Chicago from the other side of the Canadian border. The elegant Public Chicago Hotel in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood was a perfect venue for this year’s meeting on “Symbolic Interaction and Public Sociology.” Our distinguished lecturer, Diane Vaughan from Columbia University, gave a fascinating talk on her experiences and insights as an eminent public sociologist. Thanks also go to Tyler Schafer for coordinating the student volunteers, Taylor Price for assisting the Vice President, and all session organizers and chairs. Incoming Vice President Patrick McGinty and former Vice President Patrick Williams served as members of the Program Planning Committee. As you can imagine, the planning of our next Annual Meeting in Seattle in August 2016 is already in full swing. The theme will be “Environment, Body, and Other Complex Systems in Symbolic Interactionism.” Expect to see a call for sessions very soon. The deadline for abstract/paper submission will be in January 2016.

I gladly report that we held a well-attended Couch Stone Symposium in March 2015 in balmy St. Petersburg, Florida, on the topic “Tools of the Trade: Advancing Qualitative Inquiry and Analysis.” I am much obliged to my colleagues Sara Crawley and Donileen Loseke, as well as to the rest of our fabulous team (Maggie Cobb, Mary Catherine Whitlock, and Skyler Lauderdale), for the extensive help and support I received. Carolyn Ellis was the plenary speaker. Conference participants enjoyed watching part of Carolyn’s documentary film “Behind the Wall” and having a memorable conversation with the film’s subject, Holocaust survivor Jerry Rawicki. Carolyn’s introduction and the film are both posted on the SSSI YouTube channel. 

More good news. Among several interesting proposals for the 2016 Couch Stone Symposium, the Executive Committee selected the one by Elizabeth McLin. The next Symposium will be held in Nanaimo on beautiful Vancouver Island, Canada, on the theme “Diversities of Social Engagement: Where Dialogue Happens,” in April 2016. The due date for the submission of abstracts is approaching in late November 2015.

Another way to promote Symbolic Interactionism and improve the visibility of our organization are the continued activities of our Regional SSSI Representatives. Many thanks go to Natalia Ruiz-Junco who continued to serve as our ESS Representative; Timothy Gongaware, our MSSA Representative; Ken Kolb, our SSS Representative; and Robert Gardner, our PSA Representative. Special thanks go to David Schweingruber and Laurie Linhart for organizing the SSSI Banquet at the MSS conference in Kansas City, MO, in March 2015. Joseph Kotarba was this year’s Peter Hall lecturer at the MSS meeting. We are always on the lookout for new representatives to promote SI and connect SSSI with other regional, national, and international organizations.

Another goal for the ongoing year was to continue to improve the organization’s communication with its members. I hope that you were satisfied with these efforts. I thank Newsletter Editor William Force for his timely and attractive newsletters. Dirk vom Lehn remains a key figure in our Society due to his excellent work of managing and updating the SSSI Website, and feeding our various other media outlets (such as the SSSI Listserv, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and blogs). Thanks to the efforts of Dirk and Lisa-Jo, we can now accept credit card payments on our website. If you ever run into any problems with online payments, please contact Lisa-Jo and she will be able to help. We also owe gratitude to two other members for hosting the SSSI Listserv at their university: long-term former Listserv host Jim Thomas, and Douglas Smith who stepped forward in no time as the new Listserv host earlier this year.

Throughout the year, the other SSSI officers and I have mainly used email to stay in touch with members and to run our annual elections. To reach our goal of one hundred percent email coverage of all SSSI members in the future, please enter or update your email address when renewing your membership for the coming year 2016. I thank all SSSI members who contacted me throughout the year to offer valuable suggestions, feedback, and support.

A last goal during the past year has been to continue the work of including and supporting our international members, especially the strongly represented European contingent. About one quarter of all current SSSI members reside in countries other than the United States, and we expect that this number will continue to rise in the future. I thank EU-SSSI president Andrea Salvini and his Board Members for their passion and hard work in promoting Symbolic Interactionism as a perspective, and SSSI as an organization, overseas. Making our organization more global and more diverse, and developing institutional structures that will support these goals, is an ongoing process. I encourage all members to share their suggestions, and I thank everyone for their patience while we continue to work on this very important task in the future.

Regarding international news, I am very pleased to report that Karen Staniland and Greg Smith organized the 6th EU-SSSI conference at the University of Salford in Manchester (United Kingdom) in July 2015. The conference theme was “Working the Interactionist Tradition: Contributions, Legacies, and Prospects.” Featured speakers included Paul Atkinson, Joseph Kotarba, Ruth Horowitz, Dennis Waskul and Yves Winkin. Many thanks to Karen, Greg and their team for continuing what is now a vital tradition.

Planning activities for the 7th EU-SSSI conference are well under way. Andrew Blasko and Vessela Misheva are inviting everyone to Topala, located on the Black Sea Coast in Bulgaria, in June/July 2016. The topic of the meeting will be “Integrating Interactionist Traditions: Building Theoretical, Methodological, and Disciplinary Bridges in the Study of Everyday Life.” All conference participants will be housed in a resort with access to swimming pool, sauna, spa, and other luxuries!

And there is more. The Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction is proud to co-sponsor a Summer School on “Constructionist Grounded Theory and Qualitative Methods” in Pisa, Italy, in June 2016, organized by Andrea Salvini. Summer schools are excellent opportunities for intensive training and professional development of graduate students. Please check the SSSI Website and other outlets for updates on all upcoming events, national and international.

The new SSSI leadership and the Executive Committee plan to work on a variety of important issues during the coming year, including the above-mentioned financial concerns and the ongoing globalization of our Society. Arguably the biggest task ahead will be the search for a new Editor, and Editorial Team, to take over Symbolic Interaction when Robert Dingwall’s term as Editor expires at the end of 2016.  I invite all of you to participate in this search and to forward any ideas and suggestions you might have. Please know that your input is valued and appreciated. 

In closing, please welcome our incoming SSSI officers: President Dennis Waskul and Vice President Patrick McGinty. Both have already been very active behind the scenes. Last not least, it is an honor to introduce the new President-Elect, Leslie Irvine, and the new Vice President-Elect, Jennifer Dunn. We wish all of them good luck. Keep calm and carry on!

Respectfully submitted,

Maggie Kusenbach