From Alice Walker to Audre Lorde to adrienne maree brown, scholars and activists have long acknowledged the power of joy as a form of healing and resistance. Images or stories of joy act to counter hegemonic narratives that stigmatize and dehumanize marginalized groups; however, joy and pleasure are largely missing from sociological discussions. Driven by the need to understand and address social inequality and social problems, many sociologists focus on negative outcomes (oppression, disparities in health, education, and income, violence, etc.). But joy and pleasure are equally important topics of inquiry, and shifting more attention to positive outcomes and social solutions is necessary to address social problems. Indeed, focusing too heavily on disparities and disadvantages can reinforce stereotypes and create false narratives of marginalized groups. 

Emerging research suggests that joy has multiple benefits for individuals and communities, including resilience, well-being, and community connection. Joy has been defined as an intense positive emotion resulting from a “just right fit between our identity and the moment we are experiencing” (Arnett 2022). Joy is, therefore, primarily a social phenomenon, and collective experiences of joy contribute to community mobilization and sustained action, which may lead to changes in policies, resources, and the broader cultural climate. In fact, in a recent article on transgender joy, shuster and Westbrook (2022) call for a joy revolution in Sociology. Essential to creating a better world is an understanding of the conditions in which joy and success are most likely to occur.

At the same time, many of us in the discipline are facing shrinking departments, fewer majors, and a smaller pool of research funding. We often find ourselves in a defensive stance, advocating for the need for a sociological perspective in policy, and justifying our need for resources in our institutions. How can we better articulate the joy of Sociology for our students and the broader public? How do we better promote the utility of sociological theories and methods for pursuing a just, authentic, and fulfilling life?

The 2024 program theme will center around shifting conversations to emphasize joy and pleasure. Potential topics include but are not limited to: 

  • the importance of joy and social connection for health and well-being
  • resistance and resilience against structural inequality
  • individual, community, or state level predictors of well-being, happiness, and contentment
  • creativity, public art, and community placemaking
  • experiences of joy in community organizing and mobilization
  • individual happiness vs. collective joy
  • the utility of sociology for improving community belonging and well-being
  • strategies for creating joy in the classroom
  • creativity and joy as a means for attracting and retaining students in the major
  • strategies to reclaim joy in our work as sociologists


The submission portal will open on or about September 5, 2023. The submission deadline is November 5, 2023.

We look forward to seeing you in Des Moines!

Jennifer Pearson, 2024 Program Chair and MSS President-Elect
Dana LaVergne, 2024 Student Director
Image is of the mural “Momentum” by artist Quintis Pinkston.