OMT WebOrganization and Management Theory Division of the Academy of Management
The community of social movement scholars -- or at least its U.S. branch -- has lost its patriarch. That’s the way I will always think of Mayer Zald; as the father figure who not only helped birth the field in the mid-1970s, but who nurtured it through early growing pains to become the vital, lively subfield it is today.
Or maybe Godfather is the more appropriate image here. Mayer was forever making people offers they could not refuse…… to co-author this article, or co-organize that conference. And like all good Godfathers, he was the ultimate broker, not simply connecting people to people, but people to other people’s work. It was a rare conversation with, or message from, Mayer that did include 1-2 references to new work I just had to read.
He was also the most extraordinary of mentors…… to just about everyone in the field. He was extraordinarily kind to me when we first met during a visit he made to Stony Brook in the mid-1970s, just as his groundbreaking work with John McCarthy was undermining the collective behavior tradition and reclaiming the study of social movements for political and organizational scholars. He was there to give a couple of talks, but still found time to spend a good hour talking ideas and giving helpful career advice to a rather unkempt and seriously green graduate student. That student was, of course, me. Nearly 40 years later, I was still benefitting from his advice, intellectual feedback and general kindness. True to form, the last time I saw him -- at a memorial event for Sharon McCarthy -- he passed on two references and a helpful suggestion about a project I was just starting.
The more general point is that countless people in the field -- and virtually anyone over 45 -- would have a host of similar stories to tell about Mayer. He was simply the uber-mentor, with a kind word, a bit of intellectual feedback, a reference or 2, and great gossip -- always with the gossip -- to pass on….. the latter always punctuated with that irrepressible cackle that passed for his laugh. It’s hard now to think about that cackle without tearing up.
To Mayer, the ultimate academic mensch. It would be hard to overstate the void your passing has left in the field and in our lives. You will be sorely missed.
Doug McAdamStanford UniversityAugust 24, 2012
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