The American Sociological Association (ASA) has recognized Boston College professor of sociology and best-selling author Juliet Schor as the recipient of this year’s Public Understanding of Sociology Award.
The award is presented annually to a person who has made contributions to advance the understanding of sociology and related scholarship among the general public. Since arriving at BC in 2001, Schor has focused her research on consumer culture, sustainable consumption, and climate change-topics that were not widely addressed in her original field of economics.
“When I came to Boston College in 2001, I switched from economics into sociology, largely because I had been working on consumer culture, a topic that sociologists have long addressed, but which economists aren’t particularly interested in,” Schor said in an email. “I was also drawn to sociology because it is more open to critical analysis, [or] questioning what is taken for granted. Sociology is also methodologically and theoretically pluralistic, which I appreciated.”
At BC, Schor teaches seminars on consumer culture and environmental sociology, as well as a social science core and history elective course on the history and future of human impacts on the planet with her husband Prasannan Parthasarathi, a professor within and assistant chair of the history department.
Schor said that in the core class, she tries to draw connections between the class material and what is happening in the news, and she has even offered opportunities to do campus projects that address the issues studied in the course.
These aspects of the course make the material more relevant, and relate to Schor’s dedication to advancing the public’s understanding of her field.
“There are so many reasons why sociology is important for the public to understand, from its ability to debunk popular, but wrong, conventional wisdoms, to the insights it can provide for policy, to how sociological analysis can help people act in more just and compassionate ways,” Schor said.
“As a scholar of consumption, I see how sociology can give people valuable insight into their spending and lifestyle decisions.”
In her recent research, Schor has been paying close attention to climate change, and she recently finished a chapter for the ASA Task Force on Climate Change that focuses on the carbon footprints of U.S. consumption patterns and ways to lower them. This research will contribute to the association’s first report on climate change and add to the policy debate surrounding the issue.
“I work on the factors that lead people to spend money, how consumption patterns and attitudes vary by social class, and how we can shift to a more ecologically sustainable and more socially just consumer culture,” Schor said.
Schor has focused on these themes in her numerous books published throughout the last two decades, including The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure, Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture, and The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don’t Need. Her most recent book, True Wealth: How and Why Millions of Americans Are Creating a Time-Rich, Ecologically Light, Small-Scale, High-Satisfaction Economy was released in 2011.
“Like many young scholars, in the first years after receiving my Ph.D., I focused mainly on research and publications that were of interest to other scholars,” Schor said. “After about a decade, I decided to write a book [The Overworked American] for a wider audience … having one’s voice heard by large numbers of people is a great privilege-and I also found writing for the public very enjoyable. Since then I have continued to do both scholarly and popular writing.”
Schor acknowledged the numerous colleagues and coauthors with whom she’s worked over the years, particularly BC graduate students Luka Carfagna, GA&S ’18; Bobby Wengronowitz, GA&S ’19; Emilie Dubois, GA&S ’17; and Will Attwood-Charles, GA&S ’17. These students have worked with Schor on her most recent project about the “sharing economy.”
In addition to her writing and research, Schor has consulted for the United Nations Development Program and World Institute for Developmental Economics Research. She is also a co-founder of a national sustainability organization, the Center for a New American Dream.