Joshua Gamson (1987)

Professor of Sociology, University of San Francisco

I came to Berkeley from Boston, where I'd worked for a couple of years after graduating from Swarthmore College. Coming from a sociology family, I was ambivalent and vaguely embarrassed about the Sociology PhD part of the plan, but I figured it was warmer in California, physically and culturally, and I liked the idea of being both learned and tanned. It turned out to be a great place for me. I immediately adored my cohort, even though I was scared of how smart everybody was, and I was impressed by how often people were in the mood to drink. The faculty was accessible and interesting. I didn't really know quite what I wanted to do with myself, besides teach and write, so it suited me to have people who could push me in different areas but who never wanted to make me into mini-thems. Gradually, some interests started to emerge. With Ann Swidler and Todd Gitlin, I started to get more serious about the sociology of culture, especially media culture. With Michael Burawoy's intense P.O. seminar, I started to get interested in social movements, especially sexuality-based movements. Somehow, I wound up writing a dissertation about celebrity culture, which became a book, and then a few articles about gay and lesbian movements. The next thing I knew I was teaching at Yale--a mixed blessing, though a great experience. In 2002, I moved back to the Bay Area to teach at University of San Francisco. I think what Berkeley gave me was a sense that I could confidently pursue things that really interested me, however strange my choices might seem to others, and that the best work would come out of the pursuit. I've tried to pass on to students during the past decade. I suppose you could argue that I've taken that all a bit far; I've written about tv talk shows and sex scandals,among other things, and published a life-and-times biography of the late disco star Sylvester. But I thank the Berkeley faculty for teaching me that rigor and intelligence can be combined with curiosity, humor, and play.

Dissertation Title: 
Claims to Fame: A Study of Contemporary American Celebrity
Dissertation Book Title: 
Claims to fame : celebrity in contemporary America