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Department ofSociology

Charles Powers

Charles Powers

(1986), Professor
Ph.D. 1981, Sociology, University of California-Riverside

Sociological Interests and Accomplishments

            Chuck’s contributions to teaching have gone beyond normal classroom activity and textbook writing.  He made a noteworthy contribution when the American Sociological Association (the ASA) was carefully considering its approach to writing in capstone courses, he was a contributing author of one of the ASA’s manuals describing employment opportunities for students with degrees in sociology, he helped establish or more fully institutionalize undergraduate sociological conferences or publications in three separate regions of the country, and he was instrumental in broadening undergraduate student participation in both the Pacific and the California Sociological Associations.  It was also under Chuck’s leadership that Santa Clara University won the American Sociological Association’s Distinguished Contributions to Teaching Award in 1998.  Chuck’s professional service contributions often extended far beyond his home department.  Among other things, he is a former co-editor of the research journal Sociological Perspectives, and he served for a number of years on the editorial boards of two other journals.  Chuck continues to review occasionally for some social science research journals in Europe and the United States, but some of Chuck’s more enduring contributions are found his own scholarship, sometimes working alone but often writing collaboratively with colleagues, Dr. Powers has left a notable mark on the development and application of sociological theory.  (1) Over a period of four decades, Chuck advanced reinterpretations of works of some of sociology’s classical theorists; especially those of Vilfredo Pareto.  In his “Sticking Points” paper (which was published in Great Britain in 2012), Chuck was finally able to describe the kind of feedback mechanisms which Pareto tried to argue give “social systems” (societies, large communities, and enduring complex organizations) a degree of “systemic” character.  This body of work, which took decades for Chuck to complete, seems to accomplish what Talcott Parsons was unable to do by approaching social systems, not just as ill-defined abstractions, but as emergent domains having internal processes which under some circumstances can be expected to lead to constructive change, while under other circumstances almost certainly result in dysfunctional outcomes.  (2) Chuck’s initial explication of the concept of “role improvisation” (published in Ireland in 1981) and further developed collaboratively with Jerald Hage (in their 1992 book Post-Industrial Lives), provides useful clues to the puzzle left unresolved by George Herbert Mead and Herbert Blumer; the challenge of explaining how enduring structural regularities and distinct institutional forms can arise from out of the seemingly random mix of everyday interaction.  (3) Several of Chuck’s recent papers, including some written with colleague Marilyn Fernandez, have contributed to our understanding of organizational innovation and change.  The empirical aspects of this work included novel use of administrative protocols as sources of data and the development of a promising new survey construction technique for building data sets when interviewing people from a highly diverse sample of organizations (big and small organizations, for profit and non-profit organizations, etc).  (4) Chuck’s most important contribution to economics is found in his theoretical explanation of the relationship between levels of income inequality and a reduction in general economic welfare (most clearly explained in Chuck’s 2006 economics paper published in The Netherlands).  This work directly challenges the fundamental idea behind to “trickle down” economics.  (It also illustrates a point Chuck has always insisted on; that structural arrangements people might say lead to good outcomes can actually lead to very bad outcomes, and that well-constructed theoretical analysis can reveal this if anyone cares to listen.)  (5) Chuck’s contribution to administrative studies consists of a wide range of managerial observations and insights, many developed collaboratively over the years with Ray Maghroori, and often informed by Chuck’s observation that changes in organizational structure (which economic historians have long recognized are linked in predictable ways to economic and technological evolution) can be better understood if we also take into account changes in organizational culture and the capacity for sustaining innovation. 


Current Teaching Assignments

At the present time, (1) Chuck’s primary assignment is to teach sociological theory.  When teaching theory his main goals are to help students make sense of a range of theoretical paradigms, to gain more active appreciation of the role of theory in the research process, and to develop more awareness of the fact that different research methodologies are not always equally appropriate when testing a particular theoretical premise.  (2) Chuck’s second assignment at the moment is to teach the writing capstone.  When offering the writing capstone, Chuck stresses the importance of arriving at good research questions, of being aware of theoretical premises which might help inform our understanding of those questions, and of employing practical data gathering strategies, conducting thoughtful analysis, and of editing (a lot of editing). 



            Chuck continues to have some small research projects underway in the United States and Japan, but his most active research site is in Aotearoa/New Zealand.  In New Zealand, Chuck is learning all he can about the extension and institutionalization of “legal rights of personhood” for natural places (mountains, forests, rivers, aquifers).  In a return to some of his early roots in rural sociology Chuck is also learning all he can about farmers’ decisions regarding “regenerative” agricultural practices designed to, for example, sequester more carbon in soil, reduce fertilizer runoff from corps and pasture lands, and also reduce the natural release of methane and other gases from farm operations. 

Curriculum vitae
Curriculum vitae