ROBERT ROSS ALFORD
City University of New York Graduate Center
New York, NY—February 2003
Robert Alford, an esteemed political sociologist, died Friday, February 14, in New York of pancreatic cancer. He lived in Manhattan, and also maintained a second home in Avery [Calaveras Co.], California. Although 74 years old, the cancer caught him suddenly and unawares in the midst of his very active work as Distinguished Professor of Sociology at the CUNY Graduate Center.
Professor Alford was at the time of his death working along with his former student and Canadian scholar Dr. David Peerla on developing a new theory of misinformation, using Enron, other corporate scandals, and contemporary politics to examine what he considered an emerging phenomenon in our society. “On the one hand, more information is now produced and consumed than in any previous era. On the other hand, much of that information is fictitious and fraudulent,” he stated in Ideology and the Politics of Information: The Case of Enron, a paper jointly authored with Peerla. “The case of Enron, and subsequent corporate bankruptcies and scandals, is an example of the systematic falsification of information, or (to reverse it) the production of misinformation. What is striking is how little this phenomenon is recognized, let alone explained or theorized, in all of the theories of information that we have examined.” He went on to analyze the way in which the crisis in Iraq diverted media attention from the administration’s circumstantial connection to the corporate scandals.
A dedicated and involved teacher and researcher, Professor Alford was renowned in his field, respected by his colleagues, and deeply appreciated by his students. In 1997, he was awarded the Distinguished Contribution to Teaching Award from the American Sociological Association, and he was particularly known for his understanding, insights, and explanations of how sociologists go about doing their work.
His landmark 1985 book Powers of Theory: Capitalism, the State and Democracy (Cambridge University Press), written with a former student, Roger Friedland, was an extremely influential analysis of theories of state action, democratic participation, and class politics. Published in 1975, his book Health Care Politics: Ideological and Interest Group Barriers to Reform (University Chicago Press) presaged the politics of health care that emerged more than a decade later. The book won the C. Wright Mills Award from the Society for the Study of Social Problems for the best book published in the United States during 1975 in the area of social problems. He also made a pioneering contribution to the study of social class and voting in his book Party and Society (1963), which examined the relation between class and political parties in the U.S., Canada, Britain, and Australia. In all, he wrote, edited or contributed to dozens of books and articles.
Until he recently turned deaf, he was an accomplished pianist and played with a professional quality string quartet. He also enjoyed working with his hands and even once built a harpsichord. He just recently built a second home for himself and his partner, Noll Anne Richardson, on a family ranch in Avery.
The idea of craftsmanship extended from his personal life into his professional work. “He frequently drew the analogy between intellectual life and craftsman’s discipline and urged students to approach research with a craftsman’s marriage of inspiration and technique,” said Philip Kasinitz, Executive Officer of The Graduate Center’s Ph.D. Program in Sociology.
At the time of his death, he was also collaborating with another former student, McMaster university professor Neil McLaughlin, building on Professor Alford’s book the Craft of Inquiry: Theories, Methods, Evidence (Oxford University Press, 1998) to write an expanded version of his theoretical argument for a multi-method approach to social sciences. This work would, according to Dr. McLaughlin, “summarize his very original and important perspective on the relationship between theory and research in the social sciences.” Another project he was working on was A Handbook of Political Sociology, to be published by Cambridge University Press and co-edited by himself along with Thomas Janoski, Alexander M. Hicks, and Mildred A. Schwartz. The book features over 30 original chapters assessing the field of political sociology.
He spent his early career at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where he rose to the rank of full professor, from 1961 to 1974, then joined the faculty at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He was also a Visiting Professor at the University of Essex, England; Columbia University; and New York University. He came to The Graduate Center of the City University of New York in 1988 as a Distinguished Professor in the Ph.D. Program in Sociology and also served as Executive Officer of the program from 1988 to 1992.
“Bob Alford was an astonishingly original and independent-minded sociologist whose work will continue to influence the field. To those who knew him, he was also a loving and honorable man, an attentive teacher and mentor, and an irreplaceable friend,” said Distinguished Professor Frances Fox Piven, who is on The Graduate Center’s doctoral faculty in political science, as well as sociology.
In addition to Richardson, he is survived by his first wife, Gloria Alford; second wife, Nayra Atiya; step-daughter, Katie Walker (Atiya’s daughter); three children by his first marriage, Heidi Alford (of Portland, Oregon), Jonathan Alford (of Oakland, CA), and Elissa Alford (of Northampton, MA); siblings Dorothy Walker, sister, and David Alford, brother; two grandchildren and seven nieces and nephews.
In another article:
Sonora, Tuolumne Co., CA—Sunday, 6 March 2003
Robert “Bob” Alford, 74, a former resident of Angels Camp [Calaveras Co.], died on February 14, 2003, in New York. A celebration of his life was held at the family ranch in Avery on the weekend following July Fourth. Gramercy Park Memorial Chapel in New York handled arrangements.
Mr. Alford was born in Stockton on April 18, 1928, and grew up in Angels Camp. He earned a doctorate from the University of California, Berkeley. After graduation, he took a job at the University of Wisconsin. He became the director of the sociology program at the University of California, Santa Cruz in 1974. After doing research in New York, he moved to Manhattan in 1988 and became a professor of sociology at City University of New York graduate center. He published many papers and books during his career and won awards for his efforts. A gifted teenaged pianist, he hitchhiked from Angels Camp to San Francisco just to hear Vladimir Horowitz play.
Surviving are his partner, Noll Anne Richardson of New York; three children, Heidi Alford of Portland, Oregon, Jonathan Alford of Oakland, and Elissa Alford of North Hampton, Massachusetts; two grandchildren, Kelsey Alford-Jones and Eli Alford of Portland, Oregon; his former wife, Gloria Alford of Santa Cruz; a brother, David Alford of Avery; and a sister, Dorothy Alford Walker of Berkley.
In another article:
CONNECT WITH ALUMNI
Department of Sociology, University of California, Berkeley
By Roger Friedland
Departments of Religious Studies and Sociology, UC Santa Barbara
Robert Alford died of pancreatic cancer on February 14, 2003, just months before his 75th birthday. There was to be a celebration at his parents’ ranch in Avery, California in the Sierras. Bob grew up near here at Angel’s Camp, the site of the Calaveras jumping frog contests fabled by Mark Twain. Bob loved to walk the forests paths that radiate out across the property, past the pond dense with water lilies and an apple orchard with forgotten species of fruit. The lupine and the Indian paintbrush would have been in bloom. Bob was a huge man who loped gracefully and could walk for miles. He thought best walking, which was how we worked out the structure of the Powers of Theory (1985), through hours and hours of movement.
A socialist radical with a Wobbly heritage, he dropped out of UC Berkeley in 1951, opposed to the McCarthy loyalty oaths, and went to work and to organize as member of the Labor Youth League in an International Harvester truck factory. Robert Blauner was a fellow worker and cell-member there. After Khrushchev’s “secret” speech to the 20th Party Congress leaked out, a speech detailing Stalin’s “crimes,” his incarceration and execution of spies and enemies who were, in fact, loyal Communists, Alford, like many others, including Blauner, returned to the university. The state’s promulgation of information that was, in fact, disinformation, or outright lies, would later become a theme in his work.
A graduate student of Seymour Martin Lipset, his 1961 doctoral dissertation on class voting was subsequently published as Party and Politics, distinguishing between determinants of the class distinctiveness of parties and the partisan distinctiveness of a class in Anglo-American democracies. The young quantitative political sociologist left for the University of Wisconsin, where, together with Michael Aiken, he led the Social Organization program until 1974. In this multivariate citadel, a generation of young students fired by the new-left enabled Bob to return intellectually to the home terrain of his politics, and indeed to leave behind the econometric rewriting of the social. In his turn Alford took his students through a critical re-engagement with the classic debates with Marxism as the way forward. It was at the seminar table, through a combination of withering critique and an overwhelming sense of care, that Bob shaped generations of sociologists who learned from him that a statement of a problem, the choice of an indicator, the settling on a particular level of observation, could have fateful consequences. His objective, as he put it, was “to unpack” a student’s approach to a problem. Doctoral prospectuses, chapters, seminar papers all merited copious, typewritten comments. His seminars were always charged, overcrowded zones of engagement. We all foolishly thought that this was how academic life was lived everywhere. Teaching for him was a kind of wrestling, a loving combat. Sometimes after Bob’s “unpacking,” you just wanted to go home and get in bed for the indefinite future. But you knew he knew you could go farther. And you did. His students didn’t just admire him; we loved him. In 1997, he was given the ASA’s Distinguished Contribution to Teaching award.
Bob left Wisconsin to return home to California in 1974, taking on the direction of the sociology program at UC Santa Cruz. In 1975, he published Health Care Politics: Ideological and Interest Group Barriers to Reform. In that work he showed the ways in which displays of rationality and rituals of rationalization were forms of symbolic politics, part of a political process by which interest groups, organizations and the very structure of the system blocked substantive reform. The volume won the C. Wright Mills award.
This work on politics as aesthetics, beautiful form as substitute for interested transformation, was later followed by work on the politics of aesthetic production. Music was Bob’s first passion and the piano a life-long gift, one whose pleasure was later denied him by a congenital ear defect that steadily rendered him deaf. I think music was, in fact, the template by which he understood the practice of sociology, the imagination and construction of a beautiful structure, a disciplined passion, an enchanted reconstruction of the world. And it was from music that he learned the problematic of technique. A gifted teenage pianist, he had hitchhiked from Angels Camp to San Francisco just to hear Artur Rubinstein play. If you asked him, forty years later, he would still talk about Rubinstein’s piano-playing technique. Bob discovered that concert pianists, as well as other types of musician, often experienced bodily pains, sometimes quite extreme, indeed even leading to permanent injury. This pain, however, was not a necessity, but a taken-for-granted cost of an institutionalized technique. Bob wrote about it with Andras Szanto in “Orpheus Wounded: The Experience of Pain in the Professional Worlds of the Piano” (1996, Theory and Society). He had wanted to write much more, but his own pain at not any longer being able to hear the music ended that research.
Bob used to take out his dog-eared copy of The Sociological Imagination and read passages out loud to me like a catechist. C. Wright Mills had felt that he arrived when he finally made it to Manhattan. Bob had fallen in love with New York City as a result of doing research there for his health care politics book. Like Mills, in 1988 Alford, too, finally made it to Manhattan, where he was Distinguished Professor of Sociology at the CUNY Graduate Center. At CUNY, he spent most of his time working with students crafting their dissertations. Sociologically speaking, Bob was a committed Trinitarian. Everything came to him in threes—home domains, theories, levels of analysis, modes of inquiry, classical theorists, and as it turned out, academic homes. His last major book, The Craft of Inquiry: Theories, Methods, Evidence (1998), an exploration of historical, quantitative and interpretative modalities, developed out of decades of doing what he did best--working through the design, the genre, the technique by which one sought to apprehend the social. Bob was the master of the master class. There are hundreds of scholars out there whose craft was learned at his table. And for this we give thanks.
AAFA NOTES: SSDI records confirm the birth date of Robert R. Alford (SS# issued in CA, last residence New York City, NY), but his death date is listed as 15 February 2003.
See Some of the Known Descendants of John Alford who died 1748 VA for more information about Robert’s ancestors.
His lineage: Robert Ross 1928 CA1, Ellsworth 1894 CA2, William Sherman 1867 IN3, James 1824 IN4, James 1791 VA5, John 1768 VA6, Thomas 1736 VA7, John 1696 ?? 8.
Stockton (District 68), San Joaquin Co., CA, dwelling #9:
Elsworth Alford head 34 CA gasoline salesman age 32 at 1st marriage
Grace E. wife 31 Canada Eng. age 29 at 1st marriage
immigrated in 1899
Robert R. son 2 CA
Elsworth reported that his father was born in the U.S. and his mother in NV.
Also in Stockton in 1930 are Ellsworth’s parents, the only other Alfords in that city:
Wm. Sherman Alford head 61 IN gardener,CA Water Co. age 26 at 1st marriage
Lucy wife 55 NV age 18 at 1st marriage
Township 2, Amador Co., CA, dwelling #296:
Sherman Alford head 33 b. Feb 1867 IN farm laborer m. 10 years
Lucy wife 24 b. Dec 1875 NV 3 children, 3 living
Lucy M. dau 9 b. Mar 1891 OR
Albert R. son 8 b. Mar 1892 CA
Ellworth son 6 b. Dec 1894 CA
May Chamberlain sister 15 b. Dec 1884 OR [sister of Lucy]
Mary Chamberlain sister 24 b. Feb 1875 NV [sister of Lucy]
Belleville, Chautauqua Co., KS, dwelling #117:
James Alford head 56 IN farmer
Harriett J. wife 45 IN
Walter S. son 25 IN
Oliver P. son 24 IN
James M. son 21 IN
Margret dau 16 IN
William S. son 14 IN
George W. son 12 IN
Melissia dau 9 KS
Belville, Howard Co. (Chautauqua Co. in 1875), KS, dwelling #130:
James Alford head 46 IN farmer
Hannah G. 36 IN
Henry S. 15 IN
Oscar P. 13 IN
John N. 11 IN
Ida 9 IN
Margret 7 IN
Sherman W. 5 IN
George W. 3 IN
Reeve, Daviess Co., IN, dwelling #727:
James Alford head 36 IN farmer
Harriet J. 25 IN
Walter C. 5 IN
Oliver P. 3 IN
James M. 1 IN
Next door is Ann Goldsmith, age 60 b. KY.
In dwelling #714 is the family of James’s parents:
James Alford head 68 VA
Hanor 67 VA
Hanor 22 IN
Orlena Hariss 8 IN
[granddaughter of James and Hannah Alford, daughter of their daughter Helen and Nicholas Harris]
In 1850, the family is still in Reeve, Daviess Co., IN, dwelling #1531:
James Alford head 59 VA
Hannah 58 VA
James Jr. 27 IN
Ellen 20 IN
Hannah 13 IN
Franklin, James and Hannah’s eldest son, was the father of the three brothers (Lafayette, Wayne, and Warren) who were the subjects of the book, The Alford Brothers: “We All Must Dye Sooner or Later”, by Richard Skidmore.
Posted by Deena Smith Cross, AAFA #0126, on RootsWeb:
In 1816, the year that Indiana became a state, James Alford
Wytheville, Wythe County, Virginia. There he associated himself with a man by the
name of Reeder and the family of each occupying the same wagon moved westward.
James Alford (called Captain by his friends) and Hannah Baker Alford first
settled on the south bank of the White River at Portersville, Dubois County.
After a few years they moved northward about 5 miles to a two story hewed log
house. This was the first building in what was to be Alfordsville. He gave the
land for the first Christian Church, which most of the Alfords attended in
Reeve township, Daviess County, Indiana. He also gave the land for the first
school house in Reeve Township. Hannah (Baker) Alford moved to Chautauqua
County, Kansas, with her granddaughter, Orlena Harris Alford and her husband
William H. Alford. James Alford had died in 1861 in Daviess County and is buried in
the Christian Cemetery at Alfordvsille, Indiana.
Posted by Mary Triplett on Ancestry.com:
James Alford (called Captain by his friends) and Hannah Baker Alford moved to Indiana in 1816 and settled on the south bank of the White River at Portersville, Dubois County. After a few years they moved northward about 5 miles to a two-story hewed log house. This was the first building in what was to be Alfordsville. He gave the land for the first Christian Church, which most of the Alfords attended in Reeve Township, Daviess County, Indiana. He also gave the land for the first school house in Reeve Township. Hannah (Baker) Alford moved to Chautauqua County, Kansas, with her granddaughter, Orlena (Harries) Alford and her husband, William H. Alford. James Alford had died in 1861 in Daviess Count and is buried in the Christian Cemetery at Alfordsville, Indiana.