Those who knew David Matza remember him as always being deep in thought. Matza, a campus professor emeritus of sociology until 1992, died March 14 at 87 years old.
Matza was a “pillar in the field of sociology and criminology,” according to Susan Takata, a former campus graduate student and the chair of the department of criminal justice at the University of Wisconsin – Parkside. Matza’s work mainly focused on deviance, or behavior that violates social norms, which he wrote two major books about — “Becoming Deviant” and “Delinquency and Drift.”
Richard Weisman, a former campus graduate student who worked with Matza on his dissertation, said Matza played a crucial role in questioning the view that criminals have drastically different behavior and values. Matza contested the idea that deviants should be considered a “separate category.”
“Rather than seeing them as antisocial, he saw them as an extension of the American dream,” said Troy Duster, a chancellor’s professor in the department of sociology and a colleague of Matza’s for more than 30 years. “They weren’t against the values of the American dream, they were simply a different variation of these values.”
Both Takata and Weisman remember Matza for his humble personality and enthusiasm in interacting with his students. Takata said Matza was a regular at sociology department volleyball games on Sunday mornings.
“He was a nationally and internationally renowned scholar, but I could talk to him as a peer even in my early 20s,” Weisman said.
Fred Block, another former campus graduate student who worked with Matza on his research, also remembered the “great conversations” he had with the professor in his office.
Block added that Matza was very knowledgeable about subjects outside of his field and that he followed politics closely. Matza was especially active in the movement against the Vietnam War during the 1960s.
“There was a lot of conflict between radical graduate students and some of the more centrist and conservative faculty, and he was one of the faculty that tried to bridge the gap,” Block said. “He worked with his colleagues to maintain an environment that was pluralistic.”
After retirement, Matza tried his hand at writing fiction, though none of his works were published. Weisman said, “A lot of academics don’t write very well, but he was someone who was very meticulous about the words he chose.”
Matza was also described as voluble, outgoing, quick-thinking and loyal. Takata added that his mind never seemed to stop working.
“I remember going to his office and him just looking out the window, and I remember thinking about how spacey he was,” Takata said. “But he was really just deep in thought.”
Both Block and Weisman recall the creativity and originality in his thinking.
“He was extremely bright — his mind worked very fast,” Block said. “He could often not talk as quickly as the thoughts were being formulated.”