The American Sociologist

, Volume 39, Issue 2–3, pp 169–180 | Cite as

Reflections from the Middle: Making Sense of Elitism in Our Midst

  • Kathy CharmazEmail author


This article sketches a personal story of life at a teaching institution when jobs in sociology were scarce. I examine the concept of elitism and situate it in conditions that shaped the discipline of sociology in the 1970s when a growing number of women entered the field. Throughout my story, I raise the following points: (1) Defining elitism requires comprehending its relativity, (2) Understanding what stands as elitism necessitates examining local and national standards for professional performance, (3) Recognizing that unshared standards or lack of awareness of routine standards leads to charges of elitism, and (4) Acknowledging that the discipline’s class system hardens into a caste system when jobs are tight and thus fuels elitism. I conclude by reflecting on the place of standards in local sociology departments and the larger discipline.


Discipline Elitism Hierarchy Social construction Standards Teaching institution 



Writing this paper forced me to revisit lengthy turbulent periods of my life. To this day, I am enormously grateful to colleagues in the School of Humanities at Sonoma State University who welcomed me and appreciated my teaching during the lay-off crisis as well as to former colleagues in the Sociology Department and throughout the School of Social Sciences. I also much appreciate colleagues near and far who found merit in my scholarly work during difficult years and encouraged me to me to continue it. An earlier version of my reflections was presented at the 2007 annual meetings of the Pacific Sociological Association. I thank Reid Helford for inviting me to serve as a panelist. Many thanks are due to Noel Byrne, Charles Hohm, Melinda Milligan, Harvey Rich, and Robert Thomas Rosin for their comments on an earlier draft of this article.


  1. Abel, M. H., & Meltzer, A. L. (2007). Student ratings of a male and female professors’ lecture on sex discrimination in the workforce. Sex Roles, 57, 173–180.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Essed, P., & Goldberg, D. T. (2002). Cloning cultures: the social injustices of sameness. A discussion piece. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 25, 1066–1082.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Goldsmith, J. A., Komlos, J., & Gold, P. S. (2001). The chicago guide to your academic career: A portable mentor from scholars from graduate school through tenure. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  4. Sinclair, L., & Kunda, Z. (2000). Motivated stereotyping of women: She’s fine if she praised me, but incompetent if she criticized me. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 26, 1329–1342.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Sprague, J., & Massoni, K. (2005). Student evaluations and gendered expectations: What we can’t count can hurt us. Sex Roles, 53, 779–793.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Sonoma State UniversityRohnert ParkUSA

Personalised recommendations