Death threats and sociologists aren’t words you often hear in the same sentence. Since I’m in training to be a sociologist, this is a source of some comfort to me.
Given how tame my life has been, I have a perhaps unreasonable fear of death-threats, knocks on the door in the middle of the night, and other forms of intimidation. I’ve known a few people who’ve had to deal with them, but they’ve almost always been doing much more controversial work than my own, and they’ve hardly ever been scholars. So imagine my dismay this week when I learned that the right-wing attacks against sociologist Frances Fox Piven have escalated to the point of death threats. This is especially alarming since Piven is the kind of scholar that I often hold up as a model for myself. She’s spent her life studying social movements and politics in the US, and tries to make her work speak to audiences beyond just other scholars.
Piven is a prolific writer, and I’ve only read a fraction of her work. She’s certainly on the political left, but hardly off the deep end. Here’s what I’ve read by her so far:
- Poor People’s Movements: Why They Succeed, How They Fail (describes how the social movements that were the most disruptive achieved the most in US history. For example, the labor movement of the 1930’s and the civil rights movement of the 1960’s)
- Why Americans Still Don’t Vote: And Why Politicians Want it That Way (this one chronicles the history of US voter disenfranchisement, and then describes her efforts to increase voting rates by the poor. How? Making it possible to register to vote at the DMV and some social service agencies. Hardly the work of someone bent on “bringing about the fall of capitalism.”
- and a chapter in Public Sociology: Fifteen Eminent Sociologists Debate Politics and the Profession in the Twenty-first Century
And here’s some of the press on her frightening circumstances now:
- A Call to Protest Ignites a Call to Arms, by Barbara Ehrenreich, LA Times, Jan. 26, 2011
- Spotlight from Glenn Beck brings a CUNY Professor Threats, by Brian Stelter, New York Times, Jan. 21, 2011
- The ACORN Conspiracy, Continued, by Peter Dreier, The American Prospect, March 23, 2010 (and reprinted in the American Sociological Association’s “Footnotes” newsletter, where I found it)
- Crazy Talk and American Politics; or, My Glen Beck Story, by Frances Fox Piven, The Chronicle of HIgher Education, Feb. 10, 2011.