Paul Joseph DiMaggio


As a proud native of South Jersey, Paul DiMaggio learned the ways of the world in Philadelphia. For college, he turned down an offer from Princeton in order to attend Swarthmore College (part of an illustrious group of Swarthmore alumni scholars and sociologists). He spent some time after graduation attempting a music career in Nashville (and he remains a fantastic musician who has delighted many at department parties).

Country music’s loss was Harvard’s gain. At Harvard, Paul studied with Christopher Jencks, Ann Swidler, Michael Useem, and Harrison White. He combined his interests into pioneering publications on country music and its relationship to broader American culture and edited the Harvard Educational Review.

After receiving his Ph.D. in 1979, Paul moved down the East Coast to Yale University. There, he taught in the Department of Sociology and School of Management, led the Program on Nonprofit Organizations, and was promoted to professor.

Paul was one of the late Marvin Bressler’s great recruits. He was chair of the department during the critical years 1996 to 1999 and helped consolidate the department’s rise in the discipline. In the 1990s, he also assisted Professor Stanley Katz in founding the Center for Arts and Cultural Policy Studies at the Woodrow Wilson School. During much of the 2000s, he served as the director of graduate studies for the sociology department. In 2008, he founded the Center for the Study of Social Organization, joined the Wilson School, and became the A. Barton Hepburn Professor of Sociology and Public Affairs.

Paul’s scholarly accomplishments are many and varied. In the first years of his career, he focused on the production and consumption of art, and this led to the study of arts organizations. This stage of his work produced a now-classic analysis of the development of arts institutions in Boston as well an initial analysis of how cultural capital determined life success.

His work on the classification of art and the status hierarchy thereof was another important contribution. A 1976 essay review introduced the work of Pierre Bourdieu to U.S. readers, and he published the first empirical test of Bourdieu’s theory of cultural capital in 1982.

The next stage of Paul’s scholarship focused on organizations. This included an 1983 paper published in the American Sociological Review that has consistently been one of the most cited in the social sciences (more than 34,000 citations by April 2016 — the most for any paper in the leading journal in the discipline). With the same coauthor, lifelong friend Woody Powell, he edited the seminal collection The New Institutionalism in Organizational Analysis (University of Chicago Press, 1991), a book that contributed to the return of institutional concerns to a broad array of fields.

During the 1990s, Paul continued his work in both areas and often combined the study of art and organizational life and particularly the importance of cultural capital. He also began a series of projects on American public opinion, including important papers on polarization and the sociological basis for consumer choice.

The new century brought two new concerns in which Paul was again an intellectual leader. The first had to do with the role of the Internet in defining public knowledge and social stratification. The issue of the digital divide was part of Paul’s scholarly agenda a decade before it made national news. A second scholarly focus was on the role of cognition in social life, and an effort to integrate insights from cognitive psychology into the sociological study of culture. Finally, over the past few years, Paul has been a leading proponent within sociology of computational textual analysis as an approach to the study of cultural change.

In short, over the past three decades, Paul has been an intellectual leader in the social sciences, continually opening new areas for investigation as well as providing the methodological tools with which to explore them.

His influence in sociology cannot just be measured by scholarly output. Paul’s mentorship is justifiably famous. His students represent something of all “all-star team,” with appointments in all of the leading departments in the country including the University of Pennsylvania, Princeton, Duke University, Northwestern University, University of California–Los Angeles, University of Southern California, Harvard, Barnard College, University of California–Berkeley, Stanford University, and Rutgers University. The department hosted an event for his past graduate students that not only attracted huge enthusiasm but also featured some of the best scholarly work by young scholars in the discipline.

Aside from his service to practically every committee on campus (including the Faculty Advisory Committee on Appointments and Advancements, or C3) Paul has been an outstanding disciplinary citizen with frequent service on the American Sociological Association’s executive committee, council, and publications committee.

His honors include a wide number of invited lectureships, grants, residential fellowships at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford and the Russell Sage Foundation, and memberships in the American Academy of Political and Social Science and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

For over two decades, Paul has been the heart and soul of Princeton sociology, and the faculty, students, and staff of the department as well as his many colleagues in the University will sorely miss him.

Paul DiMaggio retired as of February 2016 and has assumed a new post as professor of sociology at New York University.