The American Sociological Association (ASA) is honoring Princeton professor Viviana Zelizer for her pioneering and transformative contributions to her field and beyond with its highest honor, the W.E.B. Du Bois Career of Distinguished Scholarship Award.
The ASA will also honor Zelizer, the Lloyd Cotsen '50 Professor of Sociology, with its Distinguished Career Award for the Practice of Sociology at its annual convention in Philadelphia in August.
“For a field without a Nobel prize, this is as close as a sociologist can come,” said Mitchell Duneier, chair of the Department of Sociology, referring to the W.E.B. Du Bois award. “It is unprecedented for anyone to receive both awards in the same year,” added Duneier, the Gerhard R. Andlinger ’52 Professor of Social Sciences.
"When I received the news about the twin awards my first thought was that this must be a mistake!” Zelizer said. “After that, I felt immensely grateful (and am still awed) that my peers recognized so generously my contributions.”
The selection committee for the Du Bois award said members kept returning to the terms transformative, pioneering and iconoclastic when considering Zelizer for the honor.
“Considered by many one of the greatest and internationally impactful living sociologists, Professor Zelizer has, over a career spanning more than four decades, made field-defining and generative contributions to various areas, including Economic Sociology, the Sociology of Childhood, the Sociology of Intimacy, and perhaps most fundamentally, the Sociology of Money,” the committee wrote. “In all cases, Zelizer’s work constituted veritable intellectual revolutions, generating whole lines of scholarship where there were virtually none.
“As a result, contemporary economic sociology has taken a decided ‘Zelizerian’ turn, with core concepts and methodological and analytic approaches in the field either traceable directly to Zelizer’s work or the scores of students and acolytes whose work she has influenced and profoundly shaped,” the citation said. “In this respect, Zelizer’s tremendous impact has been realized as much by her tireless mentorship of numerous women and scholars of color, leading to the wholesale transformation of both the face and the thematic orientations of various fields central to contemporary sociology.”
In the citation for the Distinguished Career Award for the Practice of Sociology, the awards committee commended Zelizer as “an outstanding ambassador for sociology, globally and outside our discipline. She has advanced sociology by fundamentally reorienting multiple subfields within the discipline and claimed novel space for sociological inquiry into economic processes.”
The committee noted that Zelizer helped establish the subfield of economic sociology. “Her scholarship has also powerfully influenced researchers outside of sociology, including legal scholars, anthropologists, historians, behavioral economists, feminist economists, political scientists and business scholars, among others.”
A native of Buenos Aires, Argentina, Zelizer emigrated to the United States and received a bachelor of arts degree at Rutgers University in 1971, followed by an M.A. and M. Phil. in sociology from Columbia University in 1974 and Ph.D. in sociology from Columbia in 1977. She taught at Rutgers, Columbia and Barnard College before joining the Princeton faculty in 1988.
She has published books on the development of life insurance, the emergence of the modern child, the place of money in social life and the economics of intimacy, among others. A collection of her essays appears in Economic Lives: How Culture Shapes the Economy (Princeton University Press, 2010). In 2017, Princeton University Press published a new edition of her book The Social Meaning of Money, and Columbia University Press published a new edition of Morals and Markets: The Development of Life Insurance in the United States.
Her most recent book is Money Talks: Explaining How Money Really Works (Princeton University Press, 2017), co-edited with Nina Bandelj of the University of California-Irvine and Frederick Wherry, Princeton’s Townsend Martin, Class of 1917 Professor of Sociology, vice dean for diversity and inclusion, and director of the Presidential Postdoctoral Fellowship Program.
Among Zelizer’s many honors, she was elected to the American Philosophical Society and the American Academy of Arts & Sciences in 2007. She received the Outstanding Faculty Advisor Award from the Department of Sociology and the Graduate Mentoring Award in the Social Sciences.
Her son, Julian Zelizer, is the Malcolm Stevenson Forbes, Class of 1941 Professor of History and Public Affairs in the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs.
Of the ASA awards, Viviana Zelizer said: “I was especially touched by the reference to mentoring. It has been one of my life’s joys throughout my many years at Princeton to work with so many of our talented students. Receiving my students’ and colleagues’ enthusiastic responses to the awards has been an additional precious gift."