1933 - 2014
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Bill Chambliss, a transformative force in conflict theory, the sociology of law, and criminology, died on February 22, 2014.
Throughout a long and productive career that included positions at the University of Washington, the University of California at Santa Barbara, the University of Delaware, and George Washington University, Bill served as mentor for many of today's leading criminologists and sociologists of law, not to mention thousands of students. The author or co-author of nearly two-dozen monographs and edited books, along with countless chapters, journal articles, and popular pieces, he received numerous prestigious awards. Among these were the Presidencies of the American Society of Criminology and the Society for the Study of Social Problems; Lifetime Achievement Awards from the American Sociological Association's sections on Criminology and the Sociology of Law, and the Society for the Study of Social Problem's section on Law and Society; the American Society of Criminology's Major Achievement Award and Edwin H. Sutherland Award; and the Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences Bruce Smith Sr. Distinguished Leadership in Criminal Justice Award. In 2009 he received a singular honor from the SSSP: The creation of the William J. Chambliss Lifetime Achievement Award "to recognize career-spanning excellence and achievement in the area of law and society."
Bill believed that good scholarship required both the library and the street. As he explained in his classic book On the Take: From Petty Criminals to Presidents, "Going to the streets of the city, rather than the records, may bring the role of corruption and complicity between political, economic, and criminal interests into sharp relief." During the course of a productive 50-year career, Bill repeatedly went to the streets. He hung out with such notorious organized crime chiefs as Meyer Lansky as well as low-level drug dealers and petty criminals in Seattle; poppy growers, heroin traffickers, and CIA chiefs in Thailand's Golden Triangle; pirates of many stripes, whenever he could find them.
Bill's monographs and textbooks advanced arguments that are now widely accepted: that lower-class black crime is rendered more visible than middle-class white crime, resulting in higher rates of criminalization among blacks; that "state-organized crime" (his phrase) has been a driving force throughout history, from piracy (Sir Francis Drake was knighted by Queen Elizabeth for plundering Spanish ships and towns), to U.S. government surveillance of its citizens, to victims of the "War on Drugs," which Bill argued was the result of a manufactured the crime panic over supposedly predatory black males.
Bill will be greatly missed by his wife Pernille, his sons Jeff and James and daughter Lauren, his grandchildren, his students, his many friends. His legacy will live on in their memories, his writings, and the imprint he has left as a scholar who was never afraid to speak truth to power.
Published on NYTimes.com from Apr. 21 to Apr. 22, 2014