Chuck’s Extended Academic Family

Ron Aminzade

It’s very difficult for me to write this tribute given the flood of memories and emotions that Chuck’s passing has evoked. I’d like to share a few stories from Chuck’s pre-New York days. As a young and insecure graduate student who came to the University of Michigan in 1971 to work with Chuck, I was repeatedly struck not only by his combination of genius and egalitarian instincts but also by his generosity and kindness. I remember his soothing and encouraging words when I received my first rejection letter from a journal, and his tireless efforts to help me turn a problematic piece into a publishable article. His seminars—especially, the one where we spent a semester critiquing each chapter of a book he was editing on the formation of nation-states in Western Europe—helped transform the way I thought about the world. However, I probably learned more in his Ann Arbor living room, where he held regular gatherings of graduate students from various disciplines, and in the lunch room of the Perry School, where his Center for Research on Social Organization was based.

I remember entering Chuck’s office with what seemed like an insurmountable problem with a dissertation chapter. Chuck listened carefully and then rapidly diagrammed what I was trying to say on the small blackboard in his office, giving me hope that there was indeed light at the end of the Ph.D. tunnel. While I was struggling to write my dissertation, Chuck invited me to join him on a trip to the University of Chicago and paid all my expenses so that he could introduce me to faculty members and graduate students whom he thought I should meet.

My favorite Chuck story took place in Toulouse, where I was doing archival research for my dissertation. He came to the southwest of France to check up on how my research was progressing and to explore the city. Over a long six course dinner in a small neighborhood restaurant, I mentioned how excited I was that the local archivists, who were grateful for the fruit tarts that I had been baking for them, had given me access to a large quantity of non-catalogued 19th-century police spy records containing detailed information about revolutionary workers. Chuck had his camera with him and offered to come to the archives the next day to photograph the documents for me. I insisted that he spend the day exploring the city’s museums, churches and old neighborhoods, but he showed up at the municipal archives the next morning, his camera and equipment in tow, and spent the day photographing documents. The archivists were astounded. They couldn’t believe that Chuck was really my dissertation advisor. No professor in France would ever do such a thing for their students, they exclaimed. I told them that Chuck was one of a kind and that I’d be hard pressed to find another American professor who related to his or her students in a similar way.

That evening I cooked dinner for Chuck, including a fruit tart. When I tried to thank him for his work in the archives, I got the standard Tilly response. He told me to do the same for my own graduate students when I became a professor. I’ve tried my best, but he’s set a very high standard. My memory of Chuck’s response to my efforts to thank him often comes to mind when I’m feeling impatient with a grad student or tempted to deny a request to write a letter on short notice or read yet another version of a paper or dissertation chapter.

Chuck never sought disciples and always encouraged me to follow my own path, which eventually led to East Africa and to the sociology of emotions. He always pushed me to think across boundaries, resist disciplinary reflexes, and ignore academic hierarchies. Chuck always seemed more relaxed and playful when he was in Europe, and I have many fond memories of the time we shared together at museums, movies, and restaurants in France, and of taking walks with him through parks in Paris and Cambridge, with my young children on his shoulders. I also remember his smile when Sid Tarrow, Doug McAdam and I roasted him in Amsterdam with a rap music performance of his writings and when I poked fun at his volleyball attire, or lack thereof, during a stand-up comedy routine at the Center in Palo Alto. The fond memories are abundant and the pain felt by his loss is very deep. Chuck lives on—not only in his many brilliant books and articles but also in the lives of those of us who had the good fortune to be a part of Chuck’s extended academic family.


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