Mayer Zald, emeritus Professor of Sociology at Michigan, passed away this morning. Mayer was probably best known for his work on social movements, pioneering the resource mobilization approach with McCarthy. He was also very influential in bringing organizations into the center of social movement analysis (for a later contribution in this direction, see this edited volume).
Despite being emeritus, Mayer was extremely active during the past few years. Last year, for example, he spoke on a panel at our recruitment weekend about the future of social movement theory. Other professors spoke for 10 minutes; Mayer spoke passionately for forty about the need to incorporate new methods of data collection, the need to continue expanding our research into conservative movements, and a dozen other important points I wish I could remember. He also continued publishing, on social movements, organizations, the need to reinvigorate the study of influential positions (or “command posts”), the relationship between sociology and philosophy and more. My favorite of his think pieces concern sociology’s status as a cumulative or progressive science and its relationship to the humanities.
I had several chances to interact at length with Mayer. He frequently attended the Social Theory workshop at Michigan. He also met with my colleague Russ Funk and I when we were trying to grapple with mid-20th century American social theory for an independent readings course. One tidbit: when we asked Mayer about the dominance of Parsons, he said, “Everyone was reading Parsons, but everyone was doing Merton.” [Meaning Merton’s “middle-range” theory approach, in contrast to Parsons’ high-theory functionalism.] While this view probably reflected Mayer’s position at the center of Midwestern Sociology (having studied at Michigan, and taught at Vanderbilt and Chicago before coming back to Michigan), it was still a nice counterpoint to the standard narrative of Parsons’ dominance.
Mayer Zald was the epitome of a dedicated, insightful, and considerate scholar. His passing was sudden, and he will be very sorely missed.