Remembering Bill DiFazio

Bill DiFazio, 1947 – 2020

The Marxist sociologist, William DiFazio, died March 10, 2020, at the age of 72 from complications related to diabetes. I met Bill in 1975 when we were both students at the CUNY Graduate Center. We remained friends for the next 45 years. 

Bill DiFazio wrote three books:

He hosted a popular radio show called  City Watch on WBAI from 2000-2016, where he interviewed community activists as well as radical intellectuals. There is a Wikipedia page for Bill, “William DeFazio.”

Bill contributed to a number of journals, including Social Text and Situations, where he served on the editorial board.  At the time of his death, he was writing a book to be called, Conversations in Diners: Ordinary People and The Crisis in Capitalism.

Bill DiFazio was a popular teacher at St. Johns in Queens, New York. He served as Chair of the Sociology Department at St. Johns for six years. He also volunteered at a food program run by St. Johns in Brooklyn for several years, where he did the fieldwork for, Ordinary Poverty.  Bill’s method of doing sociological research was called, “theoretical ethnography,” which differs from the standard type of ethnography done by most sociologists in the stress Bill placed on theoretical analysis. Both Longshoremen and Ordinary Poverty are clearly examples of theoretical ethnography. 

When Bill was a student at the CUNY Graduate Center, he studied with George Fischer, Mike Brown, Bill Kornblum, and Stanley Aronowitz. He participated in study groups that met in Mike Brown’s office for several years: beginning with Capital and then moving on to contemporary political economy. We went to parties at Bill’s apartment in Williamsburg. The justification for the parties was to celebrate someone’s Dissertation Defense, birthday, or life itself! Bill joined DSA before it was the popular thing to do. In the 1960s, he joined SDS, went to demonstrations against the Vietnam War, and gave his support to the Civil Rights movement – joining CORE and SNCC’s voting rights projects in the South. Bill was what Sartre called, an engaged intellectual. 

Bill DiFazio is survived by his wife, Susan Heller, a Brooklyn artist, and his daughter, Liegia DiFazio, an attorney in Atlanta. 

3 thoughts on “Remembering Bill DiFazio”

  1. Bill was a glorious person. Passionate, brilliant, humorous, encouraging and always deeply engaged. He was someone I liked and admired enormously.

    1. One of Bill’s articles appeared in your magazine, And Then. I know that Bill appreciated reading your fine magazine.

  2. Socialist and sociologist, William DiFazio was the “genuine article.” A true son of New York City working class, “Billy” hardly ever missed a demonstration for peace and social justice during the four decades I was his friend and colleague. His voice is sorely missed today.

    Bill’s study of the Brooklyn longshoremen is a sociological gem. Even from its beginning as his doctoral dissertation, it was a labor of love. One of the longshoremen who came to the hiring hall every day was his father. Most of the other men were people he knew or had been hearing about for years. Stanley Aronowitz had just come to the Graduate Center. I helped with the ethnography, Stanley with the theory, as Bill developed the approach he termed theoretical ethnography.

    Longshoremen is about the experience of dockers with a 1970s waterfront labor agreement called the Guaranteed Annual Income. Senior workers at the morning roll call could elect to take their pay but sit out the day, so that those with less seniority could get work. Of course, the agreement cost the dock owners money and had lots of vocal critics. They claimed the senior men would start finding additional income.

    Bill found that none of the men chose to work for pay. They had worked in the holds of ships most of their lives. They were going to get to know their grandchildren, having missed out on much of their own children’s childhoods. They were going to fish or garden or read the paper, or “drive the old lady around all day.”

    Bill didn’t just speak and write about socialism, he lived it to the end. Were he still with us, Bill would be working at the neighborhood food bank where he volunteered for decades.

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