University of Colorado Boulder, August 12, 2017: 

Leslie Irvine

The theme of this year’s meeting is “SSSI at 40: Reflecting on the Past, Engaging with the Present, Imagining the Future.”

To get a sense of our past, I turned to volume 20, issue 2 of Symbolic Interaction, published in 1997, under Mike Flaherty’s editorship. The issue features articles by Carl Couch, Norm Denzin, and others outlining the history of the SSSI. It’s worth reading, or re-reading, that issue. In a moment, I’ll offer a condensed version of that history. First, I want to share the opening line from Lyn Lofland’s contribution to that issue. Lyn writes, “It is easy to take an organization for granted.”

Indeed it is. Just look around. We’ve had two full days, with a third yet to come, of highly organized, seamlessly flowing sessions, enjoyable receptions, and now a terrific banquet. Let’s not take for granted the work that made it all possible. Let’s thank our Vice President, Beth Montemurro, for her commitment over the past year to making this happen. Let’s also thank John Pruitt, who has been Beth’s right hand. And if you noticed that the program and nametags look especially nice this year, that’s thanks to Brittany Presson and her graphics skills.

Lest we take this organization for granted, here’s my condensed version of the history:

At the 1973 meeting of the Midwest Sociological Society in Milwaukee, Carl Couch and Gregory Stone talked about attacks on symbolic interactionism by “mainstream” sociologists. Over the course of several days, and over many drinks, Couch, Stone, their students, and their friends, decided to do something to protect the perspective. At informal symposia held over the following three years, they discussed the feasibility of forming an organization and publishing a journal.

These discussions ultimately resulted in the creation of the Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction. In 1976, the by-laws were approved by 400 members. The document issued by the State of Illinois marks Dec 6th 1976 as the date of incorporation. So while SSSI may have informally begun in 1973, its first official meeting was held in 1977. That same year, the first issue of the journal was published, with Peter Hall as its first editor. That makes this our 40th anniversary, a milestone we incidentally share with Star Wars. Today, we honor the memories of Gregory Stone and Carl Couch through our annual symposium, and SSSI members have a significant voice in the discipline of sociology.

Along with reflecting on the past, the theme this year includes imagining the future. The officers in the SSSI have worked hard to insure that we have a future. That work has involved re-imagining our annual meeting schedule so that we can preserve our financial resources for years to come. Next year, we’ll hold the Couch-Stone Symposium in July, at Lancaster University Law School in the U.K. In August, we’ll test out an idea of holding a mini conference prior to the ASA in Philadelphia so that we can maintain our presence even in the years that we don’t hold a concurrent annual meeting. And throughout, we’ll continue our efforts to honor diversity and ensure that no one feels silenced in this organization.

Finally, our theme reminds us to engage with the present. Our annual awards represent an important means of doing exactly this. In just a moment, we’ll acknowledge the great work being done by five of our members.

Before we give out the awards, I want to say that it has been a great honor to serve as president of this organization. I appreciate the trust you’ve placed in me. I’ve enjoyed reflecting on the past and engaging with the present during this anniversary year. Now let’s imagine a bright future for the SSSI.

—Leslie Irvine University of Colorado Boulder August 12, 2017.