is asa slowly dying?

In this month’s ASA Footnotes, there is an article called “Is ASA Only for the Rich?” This passage stuck out:

As with most member organizations, ASA’s membership has fluctuated over the last half century. It grew rapidly in the 1960s to an historic high of 14,934 in 1972, and then declined steadily in the 1970s to a low of 11,223 in 1984. A period of resurgence followed with membership reaching just over 13,000 by 1991. While it remained relatively constant across the 1990s, membership dropped to 12,368 by 2001. It then climbed rapidly back to near its historic peak, reaching 14,000 in all but one year between 2006 and 2011. The last four years have again seen declines, with final 2015 membership at 11,949.

Whoa. Let me rephrase this, ASA membership has dropped to the lowest levels in over 32 years. This is amidst a modest economic recovery in the early 2010s and an overall expansion of higher education where many sociologists are working in business schools, education schools, and policy schools.

In the rest of the article, Mary Romero presents data showing that the composition of the ASA hasn’t changed much and that those who are ASA members attend at relatively high rates compared to the past.

Here’s my conjecture: A long, long time ago, ASA fees were probably low, adjusting for inflation. Then, they slowly crept up. As they crept up in the 2000s, people still enrolled since universities would foot the bill. But in the recession of 2008, many universities cut back or eliminated travel budgets for faculty and universities (mine did!). Also, pre-2008, most folks probably were signing up to get journals. Now, almost all university based students and faculty can get the major journals for free from the library. So there is no need to sign up for ASA unless you need to go to the conference, which explains the increase in the proportion of members who attend the ASA. To offset this, fees have to stay high, which drives away people.

I’d like to hear about your decision to sign up/not sign up for ASA. Personally, once travel funds were cut at IU a while back, I just stopped signing up unless I really, really had to go in an official capacity. Also, seeing that the dues are too damn high relative to other associations make me want to sign up even less. What is your reason for signing or not signing up? Use the comments.


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Written by fabiorojas

June 29, 2016 at 12:13 am

9 Responses

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  1. Two kinds of reports. One says, “the numbers look great!” and the other says, “well, they always fluctuate.” Clearly there is a problem. Your explanation is reasonable. You could zoom out a little and say that the two big things ASA does – publish paywalled journals and host a conference – are both old media practices doomed to decline.

    Liked by 3 people

    Philip N. Cohen

    June 29, 2016 at 2:06 am

  2. Interestingly, publishing journals and holding conferences are the profit-making parts of the enterprise. I keep paying and go to ASA every year because that is where I feel I make sociology connections. I’ve always paid for my ASA dues myself, not from a university account. I’m old enough that it was not normal to get a big research fund as part of an offer, and I’ve only had extra spending money for travel etc. off and on when I won internal fellowships. Wisconsin has always been cheap about paying for travel–only 1 trip every two years–so I’ve paid my own way to ASA annual meeting for a long time.However, it is actually easier to make connections at smaller more specialized conferences. The lack of travel support led me not to go to the smaller conferences, which I feel was a detriment. I actually believe that conferences are really important for really knowing what is going on in a field.

    Liked by 1 person


    June 29, 2016 at 2:58 am

  3. For people like me who teach at a community college, and don’t do research, the ASA does not offer much: one or two relevant journals (Teaching Sociology and Contexts), one section, very few sessions at the conference, one measly breakfast at 7am (I’m a night owl, so, that’s out), which only makes one feel marginalized. And frankly, not doing research leaves one out of the connections and social networking at the conference. So, I renew my membership every year (1) because it’s part of my professional development benefit / fund, (2) I like to get TS and Contexts for my own personal library, and (3) well, loyalty, I guess. But I have stopped going to the annual conference.



    June 29, 2016 at 4:05 am

  4. I am an ASA member for the past 8 years. I receive the Sociological Forum and Contemporary Sociology. If I did not get the hard copy, I probably would not read as much of these periodicals as I do because I have so much other reading to do. The main reason I joined is to attend the yearly conference. However, when I first joined, I was taking advantage of the digital subscription to journals for an extra $40. But, in the past 3 years, I have free access to JSTOR, so this is no longer relevant to the reasons for belonging to ASA. Having attended many ASA conferences, and ESS conferences also, the stark issue becomes the motivation for attending the conference. Given the nature of the panels and the lectures, and the kinds of interaction at the Conferences, I have often wondered about why people joined ASA and attend the conference. In order to attend the conference, you must be a member. I think this is the primary reason.

    There are interesting events at the Conference: Awards Ceremony, Presidential Address, book exhibits, movies, courses, tours, etc.

    One thing has become clear, many attendees are presenters and therefore it appears that presenting gains rewards either with their home University which might be paying for ALL expenses, or gains from interpersonal networks. Many of the attendees/members are older people who may no longer be researching or teaching. There is also a considerable number of students who attend. Undergraduate presenters are at least 300+ and probably attend with friends. There is a considerable number of people who present and then leave. All they do is present on their panel and then abruptly leave, no hotel stay!

    The hotel cost is high, always over $200/night. So, it does seem that expenses are paid by the member’s home organization. It is also rare for the same person to present for 2-3 years in a row. I suppose there is certain percentage of members who frequently present, but I think that presenters have their experience and glean some capital for their vitae and then stop presenting. Contacting presenters for paper copies before or after the Conference is a hit or miss adventure – many presenters have some preparations but not a formal paper.

    The questionable format of the conference are the panels which only permit each presenter 10-15 minutes to talk and then questions and comments. The attendee has only the session title and the titles of the talks to go on although the session organizers are sometimes more established sociologists who really try to organize a networking opportunity for the presenters. But, this often seems confusing to me because the presentations sometimes seem to be a hodge-podge of viewpoints. I might find myself attending one session to listen to one person, then dashing to another session in hopes of catching another talk that seems interesting. In the end, I ask myself, does this make a difference, am I learning something invaluable, are the presenters gaining anything from all this?

    In order to accommodate all of the presenters, panels of 4-5 are organized. There is also the phenomena of RoundTables where approximately 50-60+ presenters all meet in one room at different tables and give their brief presentation. There are meetings of sections and Receptions. And, there are the Major Sessions and Panels which are attended by quite a few people. There are so many presentations that it is overwhelming to select which ones to go to and they are poorly attended, roughly 10 or so people per, some draw quite a few more. The effect of going is to give the observer a sense of the field of sociology and some information on the topic of the conference. There are roughly 7-8000 people who attend each of these conferences altogether. It is possible to see other people in the field, meet a few for some light conversation and share your point of view. I have found that this event is a status competition. Perhaps the worst aspect of it all is the suspicion that people are searching for new ideas to plagiarize from others! So, note-taking or using one’s computer elicits reactions!!

    The premise is that there is an opportunity to share theoretical viewpoints. This is the most valuable aspect of the conference and membership in ASA. However, interpersonal conversation about theory or research is lacking and I do not think it occurs much outside of the panel sessions or poster sessions. My impression is that there is very little real debate or argument at the Conference. I am asking myself, ‘does it make a difference?’


    Fred Welfare

    June 29, 2016 at 4:10 am

  5. I only signed up for the membership if I present at the annual conference. But as the cost of attending the annual conference becomes too expensive to afford, I simply stop attending. My department only gives a very small amount of funding, and it is not even enough to cover two nights’ hotel fee… airfare and other expenses are going to be out of pocket.

    The service that ASA offers to its members is not so attractive. Most people have access to the ASA journals through library regardless the membership status, why spend the money to become a member?



    June 30, 2016 at 12:21 am

  6. I reread the Footnotes article: the author Mary Romero makes quite a bit out of the income data which I thought was misplaced. Although, she says, ASA does not “require” income data, they ask for it voluntarily. I don’t see the difference. One category was odd – unemployed. What could this mean? How could someone who was unemployed afford the conference? from savings!? So, income data or earnings does not necessarily reflect capital gains, and it surely does not reflect the institutional/organizational funding that is often provided. All costs of a conference are also deductible on one’s income tax if you happen to itemize. Clearly, individuals who earn capital gains and also itemize are richer that those who do not, and if one’s institution funds the Conference, then it adds to their capital. I won’t go into the sociohistorical socio-economic status of individuals but it seems intuitive that there are extremes.

    Income or earnings however are not the critical status factor when considering the differences between students, MA’s, High School teachers (who may very well out-earn University professors), and Ph.D’s, employed or not. So, let’s get down to brass tacks – what are the actual costs, estimated: Registration $100, Membership $100-$200, Hotel 4 nights $800, travel expenses (drive and park from local to out of state $100-$300, airfare and taxi $300-$500), and meals $200. I think the total cost is approximately $1500 give or take $300. So, yes, attending the Conference is not just a professional priority, it is also for the rich!


    Fred Welfare

    June 30, 2016 at 3:16 am

  7. I only sign up for membership to attend the conference, but as a postdoc I find it difficult to attend. I receive no travel funding. Why hold the annual meeting during the most expensive month of the year for travel?



    June 30, 2016 at 11:51 am

  8. The ASA conference has always been an unfair burden on grad students and postdocs – the costs are quite high, the timing is terrible for those that teach, and the perception is that attendance is nearly mandatory for the job market. Further, the job market “services” are lackluster at best, and charging those already nearly destitute groups for participation is unconscionable. Make departments shoulder that load. It is hard to see the routine as other than “let us spend a weekend in some place nice”. Itemizing the expense doesn’t help with the immediate cost, and it doesn’t really minimize it that much, either. Even as junior faculty, the costs of membership and the conference registration are quite high. Approaching 1% of one’s yearly salary (and certainly more than 1% of their yearly take-home pay), in some brackets.

    That is a lot of money for an awkward three-day party where everyone is nervous and wearing business casual clothing.



    July 1, 2016 at 2:38 pm

  9. I have been a member every year since my third year in graduate school and have attended ASA every year since my fourth year of graduate school, except once when I had a conflict with an important family event. I do not get any kind of guaranteed funding to cover my attendance–we can apply for funding on a competitive basis at my institution. Some years I get nothing, and I may not find out what I got until after ASA is over, so I always have to assume I will get nothing. I’ve never had the whole cost covered, and the increasing cost of hotel rooms has made this difficult. However, I treat the cost of going to ASA as an important part of my budget. I’m not highly paid, and I know that many people’s budgets cannot bear the cost. However, my involvement at ASA has been invaluable for me professionally. It has let me to build strong professional connections with people I would not have otherwise met and helped me maintain relationships with professional collaborators that have led to a variety of publications. For those of us at regional colleges without the kind of national research reputation, being involved in ASA on an ongoing basis helps us get taken seriously as scholars and sociologists.

    I really hope the hotel costs do not keep rising faster than inflation, but I know I will keep belonging to ASA and attending the Annual Meeting. I can’t imagine my career without it.



    July 4, 2016 at 4:16 pm

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