Tribute to the Sally Next Door
I knew Sally as a scholar for citation long before I met her, through my collaboration with my friend Don Brenneis in writing about disputing, about language and politics, and later when I taught a bit on that subject. At NYU, I became involved with an initiative between FAS and the Law School on Law and Society. We were at first a group of like-minded souls with a shared interest, in an area in which Sally had established a strong reputation as one of the leading anthropologists of law; her work was a beacon of possibility. Eventually, the Law and Society group morphed into the Program in Law and Society. There were eventually some faculty lines available; I remember for years we discussed the possibility of luring Sally down from Wellesley, where she taught. We knew, however, that several other universities had tried to hire her and were trying still to hire her away, but she seemed ensconced at Wellesley.
Finally, however, the Law and Society program had a line for a senior scholar involved in relevant ethnographic research. Fortunately, the timing was right. Anthropology had a sympatico group of senior women and a reputation for collegiality and apparently the timing worked. That’s really how I came to know her; as Chair of Anthropology and a member of the Law and Society Steering Committee, I worked hard at recruiting her. We were eventually successful in bringing Sally to NYU, jointly with Law and Society. Her office was then in the Law School, a far fancier and more privileged unit of the University, where she had very strong relationships with the faculty there, especially Ben Kingsbury and Philip Alston, and a presence as a major scholar on human rights.
When the Law and Society program was dismantled, an unfortunate result of shifts in the support structure within the University, Sally and I had many long discussions not only about these changes but also about her coming full-time into the Anthropology Department and moving her office to our building at 25 Waverly Place. It was with this move that our conversations were able to become daily, informal, and more personal than they had been. Sally’s office was right next to mine on the 6th floor.
I had the pleasure of looking in to see if she was busy as she often was, with very long meetings with individual students – from the law school and elsewhere – and many visiting scholars from abroad, especially visitors with an interest in Human Rights, Gender Rights, and international NGO activity. As an aside, might I say that Sally’s capacity to sit and listen was admirable, although I thought I could see her eyes dipping a bit at times. But her generosity to colleagues, visitors and her own students has been extraordinary.
As a member of the department, Sally has drawn many students to work with her as they came to recognize the significance and possibilities of socio-legal studies in their work. Many of them have benefited from her deep sympathy and personal support as they have gone on to establish their own careers.
Sally is supportive and steadfast. Once she agrees to support a student, it is 100 per cent, and she does so with deep compassion – and clear-eyed. I have very much enjoyed working with her on many of these committees, and feel absolute trust in her as a colleague. I enjoy teasing her about her unwavering expectation of others to be fair, just and thoughtful, since my own cultural style is a bit different. We have enjoyed these differences. When she became Associate Chair of Anthropology, she took on the position with a seriousness of purpose that is appropriate but came also to realize how complicated NYU can be. But what we both most appreciated was the collegiality of our colleagues, our own longstanding friendship, and our shared and at times divergent histories in Anthropology.
Sally was part of a generation ahead of me, and had the experience of an anthropological discipline that was not very welcoming to women. She was one of the many female entrants to the field who was also a mother (as several of our other colleagues were at the time); with a little work you can get her to tell you what it was like to be an anthropology student then and how she managed the gendered expectations of academia at the time.
She brought those experiences to her teaching and support for students. What I most admire is her view that every student has potential and should be encouraged to find their own way. I’ve often wondered if this resonates, from her Quaker background, with the idea of people finding their own “inner light.” I have been on many committees with her, and have appreciated her insights and comments.
Finally, just a word about a work ethic that is truly astonishing. How Sally managed to produce so much work, to travel so frequently, to give so many keynote lectures, and to always be present when we need her with never a complaint – is incredible. That she will no longer be my colleague in the office next door is a terrible loss, but the friendship is a treasure that endures—along with her remarkable career as an anthropologist. She is what Māori call a taonga, an enduring treasure.