Naomi Klein may often be considered “radical” but she is not a “sociologist”

Naomi Klein is a popular journalist (most popular book: No Logo) but is she really a “radical sociologist”?

WHEN RADICAL sociologist Naomi Klein addressed the Occupy Wall Street camp in Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan last week, she echoed in a rhetorical question what many have asked of Ireland’s passivity in the face of the recent economic crisis. The baffled TV pundits ask why they are protesting, she said. “Meanwhile, the rest of the world asks: ‘What took you so long?’”

Klein may use some sociological ideas and be liked by many sociologists, but I can’t find any evidence she has much of a background in sociology itself. Here is what the biography on her website says about her background:

Naomi Klein is a contributing editor for Harper’s and reporter for Rolling Stone, and writes a regular column for The Nation and The Guardian that is syndicated internationally by The New York Times Syndicate. In 2004, her reporting from Iraq for Harper’s won the James Aronson Award for Social Justice Journalism. Additionally, her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Newsweek, The Los Angeles Times, The Globe and Mail, El Pais, L’Espresso and The New Statesman, among many other publications.

She is a former Miliband Fellow at the London School of Economics and holds an honorary Doctor of Civil Laws from the University of King’s College, Nova Scotia.

In a 2009 interview, Klein says that she did not finish her undergraduate studies in philosophy and literature at the University of Toronto before beginning her journalism career:

LAMB: Did you get a degree from…

KLEIN: Then I went to the University of Toronto.

LAMB: And your degree is in what?

KLEIN: I studied philosophy and literature, but I actually left when I got offered this job at the Globe and Mail. It was an election – I went as a summer intern, and I had a couple of credits left. And then there was an election campaign, pretty sort of hot election campaign, and they asked me to stay on. And I never actually made it back to school. So yes.

This reminds me of a plenary session I attended at the 2007 American Sociological Association meetings in New York City that featured Klein. The session on globalization featured Klein and well-known economist Jeffrey Sachs (along with two others). See video of this ASA session here (Klein starts speaking at about 46:52). Klein was, to put it mildly, well-received by the crowd of sociologists (applause from 1:20:42 to 1:21:12). On the other hand, Sachs sent in a video, which was probably a smart move on his part as he probably would have not been so warmly received. Here is an example of how the story was spun by those more favorable to Klein’s point of view:

One of the most highly anticipated sessions was to feature Jeffrey Sachs, an internationally known economist and a former special advisor to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, versus Naomi Klein, the Canadian journalist and author. But shortly before the ASA conference opened, Sachs pulled out. Unclear if it was related to the fact that Naomi Klein takes him on in her forthcoming book, “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.”

How long until Klein wins the ASA’s “Excellence in the Reporting of Social Issues Award“?

But, just to repeat, Klein is not a sociologist herself.

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