In Memoriam: James R. Beniger, 63
James R. Beniger, an award-winning communication and sociology professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism and Princeton University who authored a highly acclaimed study of the economic and technological origins of the information society, died after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. He was 63.
“Jim Beniger had the highest academic standards, along with the strongest caring for our students,” said communication professor emeritus A. Michael Noll, former dean of the USC Annenberg School. “He was always challenging them intellectually. The field of communication has lost a delightful human being and a provocative scholar taken far too soon.”
The Control Revolution: Technological and Economic Origins of the Information Society (Harvard University Press, 1986) is a classic of sociological and historical analysis with a long history of influence in a variety of social science fields.
Beniger’s study made a compelling case that the information age grew out of a crisis of control in transportation and manufacturing during the latter half of the 19th century rather than resulting as an incidental or secondary effect of the development of electronic communication technologies.
In 1986, the book received the Association of American Publishers Award for the most outstanding book in the social and behavioral sciences and the Phi Kappa Phi Faculty Recognition Award. It received a full-page review in the New York Times Book Review and the lead review in the special book review edition of Science, the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
The New York Times Book Review selected the 1989 soft cover edition as a “Notable Paperback of the Year.” In 2007, the book won the International Communication Association’s Fellows Book Award for “having stood the test of time.” The book also has been published in Italian and Chinese language editions.
Beniger’s first book, Trafficking in Drug Users: Professional Exchange Networks in the Control of Deviance, was selected by the American Sociological Association for its competitive Rose Monograph Series and published by Cambridge University Press in 1983.
Beniger graduated magna cum laude in history from Harvard College, where he was an editor of the Harvard Crimson. During college, Beniger was a freelance arts critic for the Boston Globe and a staff writer for the Wall Street Journal in Chicago, where he helped to cover the 1968 Democratic National Convention with a front-page story about President Lyndon B. Johnson on the opening day of the convention.
Following college, Beniger taught history, English and creative writing at the International College in Beirut, Lebanon, and at a secondary school in Cali, Colombia, work which led him to travel through some 40 countries on five continents. Before beginning graduate school, he served as the acting books and arts editor of the Minneapolis Star. He studied statistics and sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, graduating with a Ph.D. in sociology in 1978.
From 1986 to 1993, Beniger served as associate editor of Communication Research, where he was responsible for essays written by leading scholars from across the spectrum of the academy.
Peter Monge, his former colleague at USC Annenberg, noted, “For many readers, these essays were the crown jewel of the journal. They tackled challenging communication issues, offered perspicacious insights and were written with loving care in a form that has become almost extinct in the academy.”
In 1996, Beniger was elected the 53rd president of the American Association of Public Opinion Research some 20 years after he won the association’s Student Paper Award. “Jim’s deep involvement in [the association] spanned his academic career,” said Peter Miller, the association’s current president. “He was a charismatic figure who led the association into the digital age. We will miss him greatly.”
Beniger initiated and ran the association’s online bulletin board for many years and as a frequent contributor demonstrated the breadth of his concerns and the depth of his legendary wit.
He is survived by his wife Kay Ferdinandsen, director of Information Technology Policies and Services at USC, and daughters Ann and Katherine Beniger of Manhattan Beach; his mother Charlotte Beniger; and his sister Linda York.
In lieu of flowers, contributions in his memory may be sent to the Alzheimer’s Association at www.alz.org