The 2011 American Sociological Association meetings are still going on in Las Vegas. While I was only out there for the first half of the meetings, here are a few thoughts on the annual convention:
1. Las Vegas presents a series of contradictions and this irony should not be lost on sociologists.
1a. When you fly in and out, you really see how the city rises right out of the desert.
1b. I stayed a little bit off of The Strip and this daily walk was interesting in that the landscape several blocks away was really empty, desert lots and more rundown facilities. The airport backs right up to the south end of The Strip.
1c. The opening plenary session on Friday night included discussions of different sociological traditions including feminism and Marxism. The reception afterwards included a greeting from a Las Vegas girl in a feathery costume and a Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis, Jr. impersonator providing entertainment. Can one easily go from discussing inequality and oppression to enjoying the fruits of capitalistic success? The answer appeared to be yes.
2. Some of the main themes I heard at the sessions I attended: an interest in explaining the Tea Party; some nervousness (?) about the reelection prospects of President Obama; explanations that Democrats won the recent recall elections in Wisconsin (despite media reports to the contrary).
3. The conference is being held at Caesar’s Palace, just a gargantuan facility. The main conference hall must have been at least 1,500 feet long. Two downsides to the conference setting: a lack of nearby coffee shops (the closest one had ridiculous lines on both Saturday and Sunday mornings) and it was difficult to walk to other nearby attractions. One thing I noticed: while typical ASA meetings tend to tie up the facilities in one or perhaps even two big city hotels, we were just a drop in the bucket of Caesar’s Palace.
4. The Strip has to be one of the most fascinating streetscapes in the world. The combination of heat, casinos, people drinking while walking, families, the homeless, and more is a sight to behold. Of course, it is more interesting because it is all inauthentic: this isn’t a neighborhood where people live but it is an endless stream of visitors.
5. I know the country is experiencing economic difficulties but I don’t think you could tell this by simply looking at The Strip. There were plenty of people of all ages and backgrounds walking around and spending money. If you wanted to find a place to study consumption and/or tourism, this would be it.
6. One thing I just cannot understand: why is there not public transportation from the airport to The Strip? While there is a monorail that runs behind the hotels on the northern end of The Strip, one has to take a shuttle or a taxi from the airport. I don’t know if these private firms have a lot of political clout but it seems like the city would want to help people get from the airport to The Strip as quickly and cheaply as possible.
7. People say the heat is a “dry heat” – I do think it makes a difference. While it was roughly 103 degrees during the days I was there and it was still 94 degrees at 10 PM one night when I was out walking, I definitely felt the humidity in Chicago on Sunday night.