Sociologist John Kitsuse, internment camp survivor, dies at 80

John I. Kitsuse, a second-generation Japanese American who was imprisoned in an internment camp during World War II and became a leading scholar in the field of sociology, died Thursday, November 27, at his home in Santa Cruz after suffering a stroke the day before. He was 80 years old.

Kitsuse, a professor emeritus of sociology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, was one of the premier theorists in the field of social problems and deviant behavior. He had a wide range of academic interests, including education, sexuality, and crime, but was primarily known for developing the theory of social construction, which explored how social problems come to be understood as social problems.

As a young Fulbright scholar, Kitsuse traveled to Japan 40 years ago, establishing professional affiliations that shaped much of his early work, said his friend and colleague Hiroshi Fukurai, associate professor of sociology at UCSC.

While in Japan, Kitsuse studied a method of prisoner rehabilitation called naikan that requires inmates to reflect on the shame their actions had brought to family members and loved ones, and introduced the method to American scholars. "That concept was very alien in the United States," said Fukurai.

Kitsuse later addressed a major social problem that confronted Japan in the 1980s as a byproduct of that country's "economic miracle." After being raised overseas, many children of Japanese business executives returned to Japan and struggled to readjust to a culture they'd never known, said Fukurai.

"John Kitsuse was, without a doubt, the most famous American sociologist in Japan, especially in the field of criminology, deviance, and social problems," said Fukurai, noting that Kitsuse's signature text, Constructing Social Problems, coauthored by Malcolm Spector, was translated into Japanese.

Kitsuse, who joined the UCSC faculty in 1974 and retired in 1991, served as president of the Society for the Study of Social Problems from 1978 to 1979. He was vice chair of the UCSC Academic Senate from 1979 to 1980 and was chair of sociology from 1985 to 1988 and for two quarters in 1980.

Kitsuse earned his bachelor's degree from Boston University and his master's and Ph.D. from UCLA. Before arriving at Santa Cruz, Kitsuse was affiliated with the University of Washington, San Diego State University, and Northwestern University.

Kitsuse is survived by his wife, Katherine Kitsuse; his son Edward; his daughter Alicia; and two grandsons, Nolan and Christopher.

A memorial service is planned for the spring. The family requests that donations in Kitsuse's memory be directed to the UCSC Sociology Department. Donations can be sent to: UC Santa Cruz Foundation--Kitsuse Memorial, Attn: John Leopold, Social Sciences I, 1156 High Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95064.