California Sociological Association Annual Conference

The official theme of the California Sociological Association annual meeting was “A Legacy of Sociology”: the keynote presentation was “Who Rules America?” by William Domhoff, Distinguished Professor Emeritus and Research Professor in the Sociology Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz. His latest work is as co-author of Studying the Power Elite: Fifty Years of Who Rules America? (Routledge 2018). Dr. Domhoff summarized his long career in researching America’s elite and focused on the rise of think tanks (and policy discussion groups) in influencing policy and politics. This corresponded with the waning of Marxist theorists’ influence in academia and resulted in a lessening of criticism of corporate influence. Dr. Domhoff didn’t mention Louis Powell’s 1971 memorandum for the American Chamber of Commerce, “Attack on the American Free Enterprise System” but I couldn’t help wondering how Dr. Domhoff would characterize its influence. He’s inspired me to read the book that started this line of inquiry, C. Wright Mill’s 1956 book The Power Elite. Researching the interlocking nature of corporate directors, first with excel spreadsheets and now with powerful computers running social network analysis software, Dr. Domhoff has tracked how corporate power has fragmented from being centered in banks to a more distributed system of endowed academic chairs, corporate funded policy groups and think tanks, foundations and emerging industries. Dr. Domhoff concluded optimistically; there’s a new wave of power structure researchers using larger databases and the final chapter of the story of “America’s Power Elite” has not been written.

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