I was born and raised in New York City — that exciting, bustling metropolis or that den of iniquity depending on your point of view. My parents were members of the lower middle class striving like most others in the 1950s to keep up with the Joneses. They never quite succeeded in that goal. I was graduated from Martin Van Buren High School, then a relatively new school in eastern Queens. Initially, I had no desire to go to college, but with prodding from my mother and funds from my wealthy aunt, I attended Hofstra University and received a BA in History. I fully intended to become a junior high school social studies teacher.
The world intervened. A Peace Corps recruiter came along and on a lark I decided to apply. To my surprise I was selected and was invited to begin training at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in February of 1965. Strangely — at least to me — I was put into an agricultural program even though the closest I came to agriculture was mowing the lawn on the 18′ by 38′ backyard behind our row house. I spent a total of 3.5 years in the Peace Corps, first in Guinea and then in Togo. In Guinea I met my wife who arrived as a volunteer about five months after I did. We went to Togo together.
On returning from West Africa, I landed a job a a VISTA supervisor in Rose Hill, North Carolina. At the time VISTA was a part of Lyndon Johnson’s war on poverty. I supervised about 35 volunteers over a two year period. By then I had pretty much abandoned my desire to become a social studies teacher. Instead, I was offered a teaching assistantship at Cornell University in what was then the Department of Rural Sociology. Four years later, I had doctorate from that institution and had decided to become an academic.
Today, I am University Distinguished Professor of Sociology at Michigan State University. I have been on the faculty at the University of Kentucky, the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Lancaster University (UK), and what is now the French Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (IRD).
I am (co)author or (co)editor of 14 books including Le Marché aux Connaissances [The Market for Knowledge] (Quae, 2014), Standards: Recipes for Reality (MIT Press, 2011). Universities in the Age of Corporate Science: The UC Berkeley–Novartis Controversy, (Temple University Press, 2007), and Agricultural Standards. (Springer, 2006). I have also authored or coauthored more than 150 other publications.
I am past president of both the Rural Sociological Society and the Agriculture, Food, and Human Values Society, as well as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a Chevalier de l’Ordre du Mérite Agricole and an elected member of the Académie d’Agriculture de France. in 2009 I received a doctor honoris causa from the Universidade Técnica de Lisboa. My current interests include applying a Science Studies perspective to the current issues facing American society and the world, the use of standards in public and private policy making, and public participation in the policy making process. A complete curriculum vita can be downloaded here. More information on my books can be found here.
I have two adult children and four happy grandchildren as well.