In Memory of Edwin M. Lemert



This page is created in memory of Edwin M. Lemert, my late mentor and friend, sociologist/anthropologist, and gentleman. I hope to develop it over the coming months and years as my understanding and appreciation of Ed's life and work grows.

We begin with an obituary of Ed written by his nephew, Charles Lemert and Michael Winter. It is reprinted with their permission. I have made minor editorial changes and added a hypertext link to a description of Ed's recent book.

Edwin M. Lemert (1912-1996)

Edwin Lemert had just begun work on an article and completed his last book, The Trouble With Evil: Social Control at the Edge of Morality (Albany: The SUNY Press, 1997) at the time of his death in his eighty-fifth year, on November 10, 1996. Few persons of such longevity continue to work so steadily until the last minute. Although Edwin had many interests in life, not the least of which was his large and dispersed family, he was devoted to sociology, which he pursued with a broad intellectual compass. This devotion kept him at work daily in his office at the University of California, Davis long after formal retirement.

Edwin Lemert is widely regarded as a pioneer in the labelling theory of social deviance, which he preferred to define as societal reaction theory. He was a maverick in many things, beginning with this important theory he first developed in his classic 1951 work, [and mistitled book, added by P.J.]
Social Pathology: a Systematic Approach to the Theory of Sociopathic Behavior. But while some in the labelling tradition followed an exclusively social psychological path, Lemert insisted on a robust attention to the wider social forces involved in the individuation of socially-imposed identities.

His distinctive gifts of thought and writing were formed early in life. Before receiving the B.A. in Sociology in 1934 from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, Lemert had studied with William F. Cottrell, whose thinking induced a lasting impression of the importance of the historical and the structural in sociological reasoning. In those same years, Lemert studied with Miami's Professor of English, Walter Havighurst, from whom he learned the craft of elegantly worded but honest expression. He completed his Ph.D. in a combined department of Sociology & Anthropology, at the Ohio State University in 1939.

Before coming to teach at the University of California at Los Angeles in 1943, he taught briefly at Kent State University and Western Michigan University. Recruited to UCLA by his Kent State colleague and friend Leonard Broom, Lemert joined a small and growing Department of Sociology and Anthropology there in 1943. At UCLA he was encouraged by a distinguished group of colleagues, including Ralph Beals, Robert F. Heizer, and William Lessa in anthropology; and Ralph Turner, Donald Cressey, Broom, and Philip Selznick in sociology. At UCLA he was also associated with an unusually promising group of graduate students, which included Sheldon Messinger, Scott Grier, John Kitsuse, Aaron V. Cicourel, and others.

His reputation growing, Lemert was invited by Dean Herbert F. Young to become the founding chair of the sociology department of UC Davis, then just emerging as a general campus of the University of California. He and his family moved to Davis in 1953, and he began an association with the campus that lasted over forty years. During that period, he not only produced two editions of the central work of his later period,
Human Deviance, Social Problems, and Social Control, and a great many influential articles, but was also instrumental in recruiting a number of important scholars and launching the graduate program in sociology.

His voluminous writings were put in the finest literary style, yet with constant and scrupulous attention to the empirical evidence, most of which he gathered himself. Those who worked with him over the years regard his gift for the personal interview, especially with resistant subjects, as masterful. (For one of many examples, see the material appended to "Alcohol and the Northwest Coast Indians", published in 1954). He was equally at home with native people in the Northwest or the Pacific Islands as with incarcerated juveniles or check forgers in Los Angeles. His gift of respectful comfort with persons different from himself drew on his irrepressible curiosity about the conditions and styles of human behavior.

The topics to which Lemert made definitive and still cited contributions range over a stunningly wide area, including the jury process, stuttering, alcoholics and alcoholism, check forgery, juvenile justice, prostitution, drug abuse, and of course the general theory of crime and social control for which he is so justly famous. Lemert was President of the Society for the Study of Social Problems (1972) and of the Pacific Sociological Society (now Pacific Sociological Association) (1973) and served as member or consultant to numerous agencies, including Presidential Commissions on juvenile justice, violence, and alcoholism. For a number of years he served on the Editorial Board of the
Quarterly Journal of Studies on Alcohol. In 1974 he received the E.H. Sutherland Award for lifetime achievement from the American Society of Criminology, and in 1995 he received the life achievement award from the American Criminal Justice Research Association. (In 1996 he received the Paul Tappan Award from the Western Society of Criminology--P.J.)

Ed is missed by his six children--James, Blaine, Sean Elizabeth, Deborah, Dierdre, and Teri--and by his many grandchildren, nephews, and nieces, some of whom were just beginning to realize what his many friends in the intellectual professions had long known: this was a modest, hardworking, and brilliant man, who thought against the grain, and lived an extraordinarily full and productive life.
Reprinted with permission from Charles Lemert (Wesleyan University; 860-663-2254) and Michael F. Winter (University of California, Davis; 916-752-3058;


Edwin M. Lemert (left) and Pat Jackson, Feb. 1996
at the Western Society of Criminology meetings.
This photo was taken just before Ed received the Paul Tappan award.

Publications About and By Edwin M. Lemert

If you would like to get a feeling for the kind of person Ed was at about the time he retired, you can do so by reading this interview with Ed conducted by John Laub.

This interview is owned and copyrighted by John Laub. Permission to download the interview is granted for personal and educational use only. The document may not be reprinted in any other venue, print or electronic or other, without written permission from John Laub.

One of Ed's earliest articles, reproduced here, was "Technological Trends," published in
Sociology and Social Research 26, No. 3, January-February 1942, pp. 265-271. Another early article was Social Participation and Totalitarian War," American Sociological Review 89, No. 5, October 1943, pp. 531-536.

Students of the history of labeling theory are aware of the importance of stuttering to Ed's thinking and theory of secondary deviation. Some early work on speech defects, co-authored with Charles Van Riper, is "The Use of Psychodrama in the Treatment of Speech Defects," Sociometry 7, No. 2, May 1944, pp. 190-195.

More of Edwin's early works are forthcoming here.

A important aspect of Ed's intellectual legacy is his graduate students. As the above obituary indicates, he had graduate students at UCLA: Sheldon Messinger, Scott Grier, John Kitsuse, Aaron V. Cicourel, and others. At U.C. Davis the list includes James Austin, Jean Bottcher, Patrick Jackson, Karen Joe, Carl Sundholm, Jake Dear, Robert Tillman and others. He also mentored other students such as Carol Inglebrook and was a collaborator with Forrest (Woody) Dill, Floyd F. Feeney, Franco Ferracuti, and others.

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