UC Press is proud to call current ASA President Cecilia Menjívar a UC Press author. For the upcoming 2022 American Sociological Association conference, we interviewed Menjívar about her perspective on future directions for the discipline, her approach to mentorship, and the role of sociologists today.
Cecilia Menjívar is Professor of Sociology and Dorothy L. Meier Social Equities Chair at the University of California, Los Angeles. Her work centers on manifestations of state power—through legal regimes, bureaucracies, and formal institutions. She is the author of the award-winning books, Fragmented Ties: Salvadoran Immigrant Networks in America and Enduring Violence: Ladina Women’s Lives in Guatemala. She is the recipient of two career awards from the American Sociological Association, from the International Migration Section and from the Latino/a Section. She received a John S. Guggenheim Fellowship and an Andrew Carnegie Fellowship. She was previously Vice President of the American Sociological Association and is currently its President.
What are you most excited about in the discipline of Sociology right now, and what is your vision for the future of the discipline?
Everything in Sociology has always been exciting and energizing to me! But at this moment, what excites me is the relative openness I see to incorporating new approaches and frameworks, and new ways to think about our work, including more receptivity and engagement with public and policy spaces.
We’ve been living through multiple, compounding social crises over the past couple years. What role do sociologists play in these times?
We are at a crucial moment in this country and globally, a result of an accumulation of various social crises, brought to light and exacerbated by the pandemic. These crises involve core issues in sociological scholarship, including the multiple forms that inequality takes. This is precisely why sociologists have a key role to play now, and perhaps a responsibility, to shine a light on the root causes and also point to avenues for change. I believe that Sociology is the social science discipline best equipped to do this right now.
As the Dorothy L. Meier Professor of Social Equities, your own work has focused in the areas of immigration, gender, family dynamics, social networks, and broad conceptualizations of violence. What has been the throughline in your research? What do you hope to work on next?
The throughline in my research, both on immigration in the United States and on gender-based violence in Latin America, has been a focus on how state power manifests in the lives of vulnerable populations. State power stratifies. —it intersects, creates, and sustains various forms of inequality. My work reveals these intersections, how they produce inclusion, exclusion, limbos, neglect, and abandonment. I will continue to pursue this focus in my current projects on legal systems that fail to protect women from gender-based violence in Central America and on the lives of Guatemalan immigrants in rural Kansas.
What has been a highlight from the past year of serving as ASA President?
A highlight has been seeing the dedication of many, many sociologists to building community through their engagement with the ASA. These efforts do not always result in publicized contributions, but they are there and are vital to the association. It is quite uplifting to witness how much sociologists care about their professional community.
You’ve won multiple awards for your outstanding mentorship to young scholars. Can you describe how you approach mentorship? What advice would you give to young sociologists who are just entering the field?
I truly believe that good mentorship is, or should be, at the top of our goals as academics. I have dedicated quite a bit of my time to ensuring that whoever comes to me looking for mentorship receives it, and I do it with deep conviction. Oftentimes academia can be hostile or at best closed to sociologists who do not have the right connections or pedigree. I see it as our job to be sensitive to and recognize these gaps and be the mentors who will fill them. My advice to young sociologists? Reach out! Many of us are here for you!
What book is on your nightstand right now?
Tiempos Recios by Mario Vargas Llosa, The Sentence by Louise Erdrich, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid, and We Keep the Dead Close by Becky Cooper. I plan to reread America is not the Heart by Elaine Castillo and Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, so these two are also close by!