Bill Gamson, sociologist and inventor of games, dies at 87


Bill Gamson, a prominent sociologist who explored the structure of social movements and whose childhood love for games led him to create one that became an inspiration to the fantasy sports industry, is died March 23 at his home in Brookline, Mass., he was 87 years old.

The cause was sarcoma, a type of cancer, her son Joshua said.

As a young associate researcher at Harvard, Professor Gamson indulged his enthusiasm for baseball and his dedication to the games by creating what he called the National Baseball Seminar, a simulated game in which every person of his group (originally three) had a budget to write leagues for a team. Players were measured throughout the season based on batting average, points played, average points earned and wins.

“We thought these stats reflected productivity, but in truth there wasn’t a huge availability of stats back then,” Professor Gamson told ESPN magazine in 2010. “We knew these four stats would be published in all newspapers. “

When he moved to the University of Michigan in 1962, he recruited around 25 people for his game, including Robert Sklar, professor of history. In 1968, Professor Sklar told Daniel Okrent, a student he was counseling. A decade later, Mr. Okrent invented the more complex Rotisserie League Baseball which allows its “owners” to trade during the season; he is considered the closest ancestor of today’s billion dollar fantasy sports industry.

“There is no doubt that the Rotisserie baseball bloom was born from very rough seeds strewn about a dozen years earlier by Bill Gamson and Bob Sklar,” wrote Mr. Okrent, a writer and editor who was the first public publisher of the New York Times. an email. “Would something like Rotisserie have happened otherwise?” Probably – but it wouldn’t have been started by me.

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Professor Gamson viewed his acting as a minor part of a career that included the authorship of “The Strategy of Social Protest” (1975), a data-driven review of the success, failures and leadership of 53 social movement organizations. from 1800 to 1945.

“What preceded him were studies that saw movements as irrational reactions to stress in society, and his innovation was to reverse that and treat movement behavior as rational and subject to scientific analysis.” Joshua Gamson, professor of sociology at the University of San Francisco, said in an interview.

Senior professor Gamson himself took part in a protest in 1965, when he helped lead an anti-Vietnam War education at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

The education is believed to be the first against war, held as US military involvement in Vietnam gathered pace. It started at 8:00 p.m. on March 24 and lasted 12 hours as professors and activists gave speeches and seminars to over 3,000 students. Bomb threats, apparently by a pro-war group, interrupted him twice.

“There was a general sense of mass movement,” Professor Gamson said in a 2015 oral history interview with the University of Michigan, adding that President Lyndon B. Johnson’s “betrayal” of his promises during of the 1964 presidential campaign not to make the situation worse. the war “fueled a kind of righteous anger and indignation.”

Michigan’s teaching has inspired others on campuses across the country.

Professor Gamson was part of a group of professors who provided an atmosphere of support for students for a democratic society, the anti-war activist group that was formed on the Michigan campus, said Todd Gitlin, a former president of the SDS who wrote extensively on the 1960s.

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“They had a kind of intellectual clout that undergraduates and graduates didn’t have,” said Professor Gitlin, who teaches at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and took the professor’s political sociology course. Gamson. “And they were on the left but weren’t associated with leftist groups, so they had a refreshing independence.”

Professor Gamson said his activism, including his participation in a hunger strike against military research on the Michigan campus, was inspired in part by Horace Mann’s exhortation to “Be ashamed to die until that you have won a victory for mankind ”.

William Anthony Gamson was born January 27, 1934 in Philadelphia to Edward and Blanche (Weintraub) Gamson. Her mother was an actress before becoming a housewife; her father owned a business that made women’s coats and suits.

Bill was influenced early on by his father’s interest in progressive causes such as utopian communities. He also developed an early passion for games, inventing one when he contracted scarlet fever at age 6 or 7 and stayed home for six months, and organized a baseball team with his stuffed animals. “He made them swing marbles with a pencil bat and he kept their stats,” his wife, Zelda Gamson, told ESPN the Magazine. “Maybe he found the games would save you.”

After earning a bachelor’s degree in political science and government from Antioch College in Ohio in 1955, he received a master’s and doctorate degree in sociology from the University of Michigan. His thesis was on the formation of a coalition.

Soon after arriving in Michigan, he began creating immersive classroom simulation games, like Simulated Society, in which students dealt with real-world issues of conflict, inequality, injustice, and order. social and were looking for solutions as a group.

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“If society is to be a valuable learning experience, we will need your cooperation,” wrote Professor Gamson in his book, “SIMSOC: Simulated Society, Participant’s Manual” (2000, with Larry Peppers). “Cooperation in this context means taking your goals in society seriously. We have tried to create a situation where each of you has goals that depend on other people in the company for their achievement. “

He left Michigan in 1982 for Boston College, where he and Charlotte Ryan co-founded the Media Research and Action Project. The project helped trade unions, movements and grassroots community groups to better write their message to the news media.

Professor Gamson was a past president of the American Sociological Association and a recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1978. He retired from teaching in 2000 but remained with the media project until 2017.

In addition to his son and his wife, who taught sociology at the University of Michigan and the University of Massachusetts in Boston, he is survived by his daughter, Jenny Gamson; five grandchildren; and his sister, Mary Edda Gamson.

Professor Gamson’s interest in social movements has never wavered. In 2013, he and Micah Sifry, writer and family friend, edited an issue of The Sociological Quarterly on the Occupy movement.

“He connected it to a movement that had exploded in Israel around the same time, a youth rebellion against economic frustrations with settlements in big cities,” Sifry said.

“His work was about how people organize themselves,” he continued, “but what he added to the mix was an awareness of the problems that arise when movements don’t have leaders. , like Occupy, or formal structure for making decisions.


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