Richard Weisman (1963)

Professor in Law and Society Program, York University, Canada

I came to Berkeley in 1963 with the naive faith that lived experience and social perceptions could be recorded on punch cards with nothing lost in the translation. Four years later, when I left to work in New Jersey, my assumptions about the availability of the external world had been badly shaken on moral and methodological grounds. If the pursuit of sociology was inextricably value-laden, was our privilege to speak as scientists a sham? And, if we relied in an unexamined way on common sense to ground our insights and test our theories, were we the emperors without clothes? What happened in between was immersion in the legendary Berkeley of the mid-sixties - the rise of ethnomethodology and my succumbing to its subversive charms, countless discussions with fellow grad students about the early R.D. Laing, and the intellectual ferment of a major theoretical reorientation in deviance- as well as exposure to social movements that were upending familiar categories of race, gender, and sexuality. It was a blessing and a curse but ultimately more of a blessing. In Berkeley, I saw the future before it arrived elsewhere - but the intensity and instability drove me to seek sanctuary in the East and ultimately in Canada. My career has been interdisciplinary to say the least- my dissertation was intended to apply sociology to history but overshot the mark and when it was published(in revised form) got lots of attention among historians but was ignored in sociology. I went back to school in 1982 and got a law degree in 1985. My research and teaching has since been focussed on analyzing legal discourse- as the great normalizing language- and placing it in historical and sociological context.

Dissertation Title: 
Witchcraft in 17th Century Massachusetts: The Construction of a Category of Deviance
Dissertation Book Title: 
Witchcraft, magic, and religion in 17th-century Massachusetts