A Tribute to Allan Schnaiberg
August 1939 - June 2009
Allan Schnaiberg, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Northwestern, died June 6 at his home in Chicago, at age 69.
Son of Belle and Harry Schnaiberg, Allan was born August 20, 1939 in Montreal. He graduated with distinction in general science from McGill University and went on to earn a Master of Arts and Ph.D. in Sociology from the University of Michigan. He joined the sociology faculty at Northwestern University in 1969 and served as sociology department chair from 1976-1979, receiving numerous honors and awards for his scholarship over the years. He retired from Northwestern in 2008 but remained actively engaged in his field.
Allan was the author of scores of scholarly articles and books on topics ranging from globalization and the environment to labor and social inequality. He was a founder of the field of environmental sociology, generating a groundbreaking Treadmill of Production framework for understanding environmental degradation and authoring a seminal 1980 book The Environment: From Surplus to Scarcity.
Allan served as mentor to countless students and was widely known for his devotion to and continued connections with former students, practicing an open door—and open heart—policy. He was wide open to the adventure of life. He was very much loved and will be deeply missed by all.
Donations in Allan's name may be made to MoveOn.org, an organization he supported generously.
Mary Pattillo, Department Chair
Allan Schnaiberg was a treasured member of the Sociology Department since 1969, serving selflessly as chair from 1976-1979. We join together to celebrate his life and mourn his passing. We are comforted knowing that he is at peace. As would be fitting for his scholarship, we also know that he is participating in the most divine of recycling rituals. Our deepest condolences go out to his family and closest friends.
Robert Nelson, Department Chair, 1997-2000
Allan Schnaiberg came to Northwestern sociology having been trained in demography at the University of Michigan. Early in his career he began to question the premises of demographic analysis and moved increasingly into political economic analyses of environmental issues. He became a leading figure in a field he literally helped to create - environmental sociology - with a series of landmark articles and books.
He left a lasting imprint on the Northwestern department, and indeed on the entire field of sociology. He served as department chair. For almost 2 decades he taught the undergraduate research seminar that was the capstone course for sociology majors. One of his lasting legacies is the research of his doctoral advisees. Allan's students consistently published their dissertations as books, leaving a body of scholarship that would make any mentor proud.
Perhaps foremost we, his colleagues and students, will remember Allan for his humanity. For his puns, for his beloved dog Sugar, for his compassion in the face of our problems, for the love of his family, for his demand that we critically confront the forces in our world that generate inequality and degrade our environment.
Allan with Wendy Espeland, 2004
Bruce Carruthers, Department Chair, 2004-2006
I was Allan's colleague from 1990, when I was hired as an assistant professor, until the time of his retirement. Among my many remembrances of him, three in particular come to mind at this sad time. In faculty meetings, Allan was the source of many outrageous puns. They ranged in quality from terrible to brilliant, but they were always outrageous and he supplied them with dependable regularity. Second, as a fellow Canadian Allan helped to satisfy my occasional need to express sadness, concern or elation over whatever developments were unfolding in Canadian politics and society. We usually managed to have these Canadian-centric conversations in the hallway, or while picking up our mail, in a somewhat conspiratorial fashion. And finally, both before and after his retirement I used to see Allan at SPAC. He was there to swim and I to exercise, but we would occasionally see each other in the locker room or at the building entrance. He always asked about how my children were doing, he might have a question or comment on some departmental issue, inquire about a grad student, and (after retiring) he caught me up on how he was doing or what he was working on. Alas, these long, civil, and intermittent conversations have come to an end.
Allan with sociology majors, 2006
Albert Hunter, Professor of Sociology
My first memory of Allan Schnaiberg was more than three decades ago. A small group of 3 or 4 faculty members sat around informally after my job talk and I noticed this excited, enthusiastic, smiling and head-bobbing red-haired Canadian communicating his interest, approval, and encouragement. How could I resist not joining him and his colleagues? And, because of our first names, we would establish the tradition of having at least three "Al's" in the department at any given time.
The decades have passed like days, books and articles have been published, the faculty have come and gone, the courses have been taught, and waves of students both undergraduate and graduate have washed over the threshold of Allan's office. I believe that Allan fully understood and appreciated that the "intimations of immortality" that academics vainly search for in their publications and ideas could not match the enduring personal influence in the lives he directly touched, and he had the wisdom to combine these to the benefit of others.
As I said just a couple of years ago upon his retirement, we all would miss stopping by his office and seeing if the light was on under his door so we could softly knock and be invited in to share our concerns of the day. Now, the door is locked, the light is out. We must now tap our memories and our hearts for the interest, approval, and encouragement which were the lasting gifts of his life, and offer in return our personal, and our collective thanks.
Allan Schnaiberg, 1971
Aldon Morris, Department Chair, 1992-1997
I have many fond memories of Professor Allan Schnaiberg. But the two that standout are the ways in which he relished being the institutional memory of Northwestern's Sociology Department and the mentor of both graduate and undergraduate students. As of this year, Allan had been a member of the sociology Department for forty years. When I arrived twenty years ago, it was Allan who delighted in steeping me in the history and lore of the Department. Like an African griot, he would pull me aside and inform me in the way we do things around here. Yet he never objected when I acted as a loose canon demanding that some things ought to change sometime. When I became department chair, his institutional memory was most valuable in guiding me in the right direction and preventing embarrassing situations.
Allan came to life when discussing the experiences of the students he mentored. He loved to participate in their growth process which he witnessed and nurtured. Allan would glow when his students excelled. He often exclaimed that he was willing to mentor students other big time professors avoided because they were not considered sufficiently prepared or gifted. When they succeeded, you could sense that Allan was bursting with pride. It is a real achievement to excel both as a griot and a mentor. Allan's dual legacy will forever shine as a beacon of light in Northwestern's halls of Sociology.
Allan with Dan Linzer and Aldon Morris, 2006
Bernard Beck, Emeritus Professor of Sociology
He was a dear friend and a brilliant sociologist. His many contributions to the Department, the University, the profession and the world speak now more eloquently than our words to his greatness when he was here and our profound feeling of loss at his going. We were honored and blessed to have him with us. My deep condolences to everyone in the Department.
Michaela DeSoucey, Graduate Student
In my first year of graduate school, someone suggested I go and talk with Allan about my interest in environmental sociology. From that point on, Allan's office was the one that I'd go to when I felt alienated, overwhelmed, or plainly put, stupid. When I've described Allan to others over the past seven years, I've called him "my cheerleader." Every time we talked in his office in 1808 and then in 1812, I left feeling relieved and inspired. This was Allan's undertaking - to turn students into colleagues. Allan took pride in mentoring students who felt wayward and lost, and for this alone he will continue to be celebrated. Working with Allan in the undergraduate senior thesis class showed me that he didn't only treat graduate students in this manner, either.
But my favorite memory of Allan is a non-professional one. After recovering from the loss of his beloved Sugar, he and I conspired to find him another dog. I helped him scour craigslist and Petfinder.com, and went on "secret missions" (unbeknownst to his wife) to animal shelters with him. He eventually located Sweetie through craigslist, and I know that she gave him comfort these last few years.
Allan was, and continues to be, a major influence in my life, as a sociologist, a teacher, and a person. Thank you, Allan. You will be sorely, sorely missed.
Susan Thistle, Associate Department Chair and Senior Lecturer
For many years Allan Schnaiberg had an office right across the hall from me. I had a black lab and he had a small white Scottish terrier that he adored, named Sugar. Every morning when he and Sugar arrived my dog, Annie, would start sniffing and pawing at my office door, and I'd let her out to greet them. It made Allan and I laugh to watch his little white dog and my big black dog roll about on the hall carpet. This was a very nice way to start the morning. Allan was also a source of kind encouragement not only for myself but for many undergraduate and graduate students when they ran into difficulties in their work. Allan was a leader in the development of the area of environmental sociology and encouraged my interest in this area. He recognized the key role played by the "treadmill of production" in environmental problems. His advanced undergraduate course, Social Change and the Environment, which he taught for many years, has long been one of the core courses on environmental issues at Northwestern University and it was a privilege for me to take it over when he retired. After his retirement I would sometimes see Allan at SPAC, where he came to swim. He often had a kind word for me. In our last conversation, he talked passionately and at length about his concerns about global warming. He was clearly still very involved in environmental issues. I wish he were still here.
Alan Czaplicki, Ph.D., 2009
Allan and I often talked about "lights under bushels" – his metaphor for selling oneself short. He always encouraged others to be introspective and honest, and had a tremendous sympathy for those feeling trapped by themselves or social circumstances. These contradictions of life – the dialectical qualities of social systems – defined his work and were the passionate basis of his advocacy for others. His ability to understand and empathize with these dilemmas – in politics, academia, even within environmentalism – was a great strength in his personal friendships and academic labors. His light shines brighter for this gift to generations of students and colleagues. He was a friend and mentor to me, and I will miss him dearly.
Allan with Alan Czaplicki and Nehal Patel, 2009
Nehal Patel, Ph.D., 2009
My first memory of Allan is in front of the sociology department on a beautiful sunny day. He was standing in the grass with his dog, Sugar, nearby on a leash. As a junior graduate student, I had not interacted with him beyond a simple smile & hello that we would exchange on my way in & out of the department, as we did that first day. However, I felt even at that time a softness and humanity from Allan that I was privileged to experience more directly as a senior graduate student.
Allan not only mentored me, but he also nurtured me. He keenly was aware of how encouragement was more valuable than criticism. After several recommendations from the rest of the faculty, I met Allan to discuss my interest in writing a dissertation on environmental activism. Much to my surprise and pleasure, when I got home that evening from our meeting, I found that Allan already emailed me, continuing our conversation. He not only provided a great deal of helpful information, but more importantly, he made me feel motivated to pursue my interest. He seemed to understand intuitively that I needed encouragement above all else, and it seemed almost effortless for him to provide it.
Over the years, I adored Allan's transparency. It was easy to love him. He was honest & kind, and he became a friend and guru. I don't know how he can be replaced. Thank you, Allan, for fostering me with such care. I always will be indebted to you.
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