My ASSA experience this year in Chicago was less hectic but no less enjoyable than conferences past, this one more focused on reconnecting with distant friends and colleagues and re-establishing ties than hearing or presenting research. I did not present a paper this year, and I went to fewer sessions than usual, but I still felt immersed in the conference experience in a way that felt comfortable and inspired future work. (More about the latter point toward the end of the post.)
I arrived at the Swissôtel in Chicago in the early afternoon, luckily before something happened that delayed shuttles from the airports that made a lot of conference attendants late to get in. After grabbing an early dinner and buying some provisions, I went to the opening plenary of the Association for Social Economics and met up with several of my longtime colleagues of the association, particularly Quentin Wodon, the incoming president, and this year's featured speaker, Kaushik Basu. Delivering his first scholarly talk since leaving the World Bank, Basu gave a fascinating talk on labor market discrimination and faced probing questions from a near-capacity audience in one of the ballrooms at the Swissôtel. I left before the reception started, so missed reconnecting with other ASE colleagues that evening, but would see them often over the next several days.
After a brisk walk (1°F) to get some breakfast, I attended the first regular meeting of the ASE program. I missed the next one to visit the book exhibits, meeting with editors at several presses to touch base on ongoing and future projects (or to confirm or set up meetings for later in the conference). In particular, my Oxford University Press editor Adam Swallow was very pleased with my progress on my handbook of ethics and economics, and later at the booth we took this snap to commemorate my co-edited book with Jennifer Baker, Economics and the Virtues, which barely missed being displayed at last year's conference.
After a quick lunch and coffee, I headed back to the Swissôtel and relaxed in my hotel room for a couple hours before the annual business meeting for the ASE, at which we met two of the new editors of the Review of Social Economy, and also heard incoming president-elect George DeMartino's plans for next year's ASE-ASSA program (soon to be announced). The evening ended at the annual Taylor & Francis editors' dinner, where I indulged in delicious Italian food with many old friends—always a fine time.
The second full day of the conference began with the ASE presidential breakfast, where our awards are given out, including the Ludwig Mai Service Award to my longtime friend and co-blogger, Jonathan Wight. The presidential address was delivered by outgoing president Giuseppe Fontana on the topic of financialization, and a wonderful breakfast was enjoyed by all (courtesy of program director Bob LeJeunesse, who is always careful to note humbly that "I didn't cook the food").
After the breakfast, Jonathan and I took some to catch up and make some plan to reinvigorate the Economics and Ethics blog, which has survived the last year or so due to his efforts alone. Before we knew it it was lunchtime, which meant it was time for another annual tradition, lunch with a longtime friend and editor (although we've never worked together). After lunch I attended a session of the International Network for Economic Method on ethics and economics at the Sheraton, after which I dashed back to the Swissôtel for the Review of Social Economy editorial board meeting.
The final day began with another annual tradition, breakfast with my Stanford University editor Margo Beth Fleming, during which we somehow managed not to discuss my follow-up to Kantian Ethics and Economics but did somehow find time to engage in intense sartorial debate. Full of pancakes and bacon, I rushed to the Forum for Social Economics editorial board meeting, but had to leave early to catch the shuttle to the airport.
At the end of last year's ASSA post, I wrote:
At the end of December I was completely exhausted, physically and emotionally, and seriously considered withdrawing from this meeting altogether. As you can guess, I'm glad I didn't. Not only was it a great meeting intellectually and professionally, but it was also a wonderful time socially—and for a classic introvert who dreads walking into the jam-packed hotel on the first day, and for an academic who has never felt like one, it was a surprise that I felt very much in my element throughout the three-and-a-half days.
Even if I wasn't that tired leading up to this year's meetings, I was certainly despondent, and I did nearly cancel the trip. And once again I am very glad I did not, for many of the same reasons, especially the great friendships I enjoy with my ASE members. Although I didn't attend as many sessions as in previous years, simply being in the intellectual atmosphere of the ASSA meetings did invigorate the academic side of me. I returned from Chicago with several pages of a legal pad filled with ideas for future projects, authored books as well as edited books for my two book series at Palgrave and Rowman & Littlefield International. Whereas before the meetings I was planning to focus almost exclusively on popular writing from here on out, I now think I will maintain my current fairly even balance between popular and scholarly work.
Of course, last year I also wrote, "Let's just hope that, come next December, I remember how much I enjoyed this ASSA when I fret and dither about attending." Someone please remind me to revisit this post later this year!