James Ennis, Longtime Associate Professor of Sociology, 62

An expert on social networks and social movements, he was a respected scholar

James G. Ennis, a longtime associate professor of sociology in the School of Arts and Sciences, died July 8 following a long illness. He was 62.

Ennis first came to Tufts in 1983 as an assistant professor, and was promoted to associate professor in 1987. His areas of expertise included social networks, sociological theory, research methods and social movements, and his scholarship appeared in journals such as the American Sociological Review, Social Forces and the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

James EnnisJames Ennis
He chaired the Department of Sociology and Anthropology from 1998 to 2005 and headed the American Sociological Association’s task force on revising areas of specialty in sociology from 2003 to 2005. He was also a member of the editorial board of the American Sociological Review from 2005 to 2008.

“Jim was a fount of ideas about American culture, and how social and professional networks form and evolve,” said James Glaser, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences. “He also absorbed responsibility, particularly when it came to important matters of faculty governance. This made him well known and well liked across the school. He still had much more to contribute, and the Tufts community is diminished by his passing.” 

Ennis received a B.A. cum laude in sociology and in psychology from Middlebury College in 1974, and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. He earned a Ph.D. in social psychology from Harvard University in 1980. Before coming to Tufts, he was an assistant professor of sociology at the State University of New York, Plattsburgh. Ennis was a visiting scholar in Harvard’s Department of Sociology and at the Center for the Study of Education and Culture, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris.

In addition to his teaching and research, Ennis was a Tisch College Faculty Fellow during the 2011-12 academic year and used it as an opportunity to explore the intersection between sociology and photography. “My father was an amateur photographer, so I got an early interest from him,” Ennis told a writer in 2011. “In high school I learned film and darkroom chemistry, and I did that for years, until everything went digital. Starting in college, I would go to protests, festivals, any kind of big public gathering, and take pictures.”

Ennis pursued his interest in photography throughout his life, and it often overlapped with his scholarship. “There’s an interesting overlap of the start of documentary photography and the work of people like Jacob Riis and the foundation of American sociology,” Ennis said in 2011. “They both came into prominence at around the same time, and they’re looking at the same topics, like immigration, cities and systems of power.” (View Ennis’ photography on Flickr.)

“Jim was truly a kind, engaging person,” said Pawan Dhingra, the current chair of the sociology department. “He stretched the boundaries of our curriculum with his interests in art, social networks, methods and theory. What made him unique was his uplifting spirit, even during his illness. His humor and generous style will be sorely missed. Most of all, he was a caring husband and father.”

Former assistant professor of sociology Ryan Centner, A98, said, “Jim was great to me both when I was a student and years later as a faculty colleague. He will be very much missed and always remembered.” Centner is now an assistant professor of urban geography at the London School of Economics.

Ennis is survived by his wife, Gloria Garfunkel, sons Noah and Sam, A13, and a brother.

Members of the Tufts community are invited to a graveside service at Beit Olam East Cemetery, 42 Concord Road, Wayland, Massachusetts, on Friday, July 10, at 11 a.m.

A commemoration of Ennis’ life will be held on Monday, Sept. 21 from noon to 2 p.m. at Tufts Hillel, with a light lunch served.

Taylor McNeil can be reached at taylor.mcneil@tufts.edu.

Back to Top