Department of Sociology at the University of Nevada

Former Faculty Members
Carl Backman (1923-2008)
Carl W. Backman, a long-time ASA fellow, died at his home in Reno, Nevada, on February 16, 2008. He was 84. Carl was born 1923 in Canandaigua, New York, on a family fishing trip. His father was a Swedish immigrant; his mother was of German-Irish descent. Raised in Buffalo, New York, he graduated from Oberlin College in Ohio. His college career was interrupted by service in the Army during World War II. Because of his high IQ scores, but in spite of his bad eyesight, he was assigned to intelligence. He fought in the Philippines, usually sneaking in ahead of major landings to do pre-invasion reconnaissance. When his unit was once instructed to capture Japanese soldiers, he realized that the enemy were young men just like him. This, and similar experiences, left him a life-long skeptic of war.

Following college, he earned a Ph.D. in sociology at Indiana University. After four years at the University of Arkansas, he joined the faculty of the University of Nevada, Reno in 1955, where he remained until the end of his life, only interrupted by a two-year stint as program director for Sociology and Social Psychology at the National Science Foundation in Washington, DC. At UNR he was department chair, director of the social psychology, and dean. Outside of UNR, he served as the editor of Sociometry (subsequently renamed Social Psychology Quarterly) and was the president of the Pacific Sociological Association, to name only a few honors.

Carl’s scholarly contributions were in social psychology, focusing mainly on interpersonal relations, the self and group processes. A sociologist by training and employment, he did not see social psychology as being “owned” by any academic discipline. Soon after his arrival at UNR, he teamed up with psychologist Paul Secord with whom he published in the best journals in sociology and psychology. In 1964 Secord and Backman achieved international recognition through their widely used textbook “Social Psychology.” Translated into more than twenty languages and once re-edited, the book was perhaps the most complete, but also the last effort to present social psychology as a coherent discipline equally shared between sociology and psychology. In part as an expression of their unitary vision of social psychology, in 1967 Carl Backman and Paul Secord helped establish the “Interdisciplinary Ph.D. Program in Social Psychology” at the University of Nevada—a program that continues to thrive to this day. Carl was also one of very few individuals who were ever named a fellow by both the American Sociological Association and the American Psychological Association.

Carl knew when it was important for a social scientist to take a stand. During the Sixties he was involved in fighting racism in Nevada. He took part in various protests on and off campus and refused to hold conferences in the state until discriminatory practices in housing and segregation in hotels and casinos were banned by law.

Carl had a great influence on his discipline, the university that he served, the department and the Ph.D. program that he helped build, as well as his many colleagues and students. A loving and loved family man, he is survived by his wife of 60 years, a sister, five children and nine grandchildren.