About the Author
Roland Robertson, one of the world’s leading global sociologists, is largely responsible for the development of global studies, as well as cosmic studies. His particular specialities are religion, culture, and theory.
John Simpson contributed to the theoretical and comparative analysis of the resurgence of religion and ethno-nationalism on a global scale following the Iranian Revolution and the transformation of the Soviet Union in the late twentieth century.
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The Art and Science of Sociology
Essays in Honor of Edward A. Tiryakian
By Roland Robertson, John Simpson
Wimbledon Publishing CompanyCopyright © 2016 Roland Robertson and John Simpson
All rights reserved.
THE DYNAMO AND THE DIPLOMAT: TIRYAKIAN'S ROLE IN PRESERVING SOROKIN'S REPUTATION
The Protean Master and His Disciple
How was it that a scholar known and esteemed globally by readers from all walks of life, between the 1920s through his death in 1968, could have become by the early 1940s a source of embarrassment to his immediate colleagues at Harvard, unable or unwilling to form a "school" of acolytes and apparently destined to be forgotten posthumously? Moreover, how could it be that this man, demonstrably more creative, adventurous and productive than virtually anybody else in the guild of sociologists — which he himself had done so much to foster, first in Russia between 1919 and 1923, and then in the United States — had to wait until the eleventh hour of his professional life to be elected president of the American Sociological Association (ASA), an honor that many times had gone to far lesser scholars? One could believe that "cognitive dissonance" was invented as an analytic term just to illuminate this one man's life, so great was the gap between what he accomplished and how he was regarded by the most prominent practitioners of his craft during the last third of his life (see Nichols 1996 for concise details about this long-term battle). It is partly to address this puzzle that one man's scholarly labors and personal influence can be brought into play.
In a letter of February 27, 1963, Pitirim Sorokin (then 74 years old) wrote to Edward Ashod Tiryakian, 40 years his junior, to say he was "deeply touched by this superlative manifestation of your and [the] contributors' friendship to me." Sorokin was responding to the Festschrift in the former's honor, which Tiryakian had assembled over six long years of frustrating struggle. The "first copy today reached me. The volume [Sociological Theory, Values, and Sociocultural Change: Essays in Honor of Pitirim A. Sorokin] is excellent in all respects. Your preface and [Arthur K.] Davis's article extol my achievements beyond their merits. I ascribe this high estimate to the generosity of yours" (emphasis added). After detailing "several unexpected pleasant surprises" that had recently come his way concerning translations of his work ("some 42" of them), and various awards he had received in his 74th year, Sorokin adds an uncharacteristic postscript: "I would like to order 20 or 30 copies of your volume to distribute it among some of my personal friends. I wonder can you help me in obtaining some discount on these volumes from the publisher?" (Tiryakian Papers, Box 6, File 2; note: all of Sorokin's quoted material appears precisely as he wrote it, including obvious errors).
Born in 1889 with about enough cultural capital to fill a thimble, yet supplemented by boundless energy and ambitious intelligence, this poor, motherless son of a Russian icon peddler from the Koni Land backwater asks in 1963 for help in securing cheaper copies of a book that celebrates his own scholarly achievements. It cost $5.95 in its clothbound edition, the first paperback version appearing several years later. Given that today the book's price would be over $45, Sorokin's request for aid is understandable. Yet, it also epitomizes the durable relationship between his ever-patient and helpful former teaching assistant and the great sociologist himself, whose hunger for professional esteem was understandably substantial, in part because it had eluded him between approximately 1941 and 1963.
Anthony Giddens has reflected on the career of Norbert Elias, based on their having taught together at Leicester University in the early 1960s, recalling that Elias comported himself then as if he were a world-class thinker and theorist, even though no one else would have at that time viewed him as such. Of course, Elias's scholarly self-estimate proved exactly right by the time he approached his 80th birthday and The Civilizing Process (1978) finally became known worldwide. With Sorokin the reverse occurred: he was precociously gifted and recognized as such, even by his dangerous political adversary, Vladimir Lenin who, within one year of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia, had this to say: "Pravda today carries a remarkably interesting letter by Pitirim Sorokin [then 29 years old], to which the special attention of all Communists should be drawn. In this letter, which was originally published in Izvestia of the North Dvina Executive Committee, Pitirim Sorokin announces that he is leaving the right Socialist-Revolutionary party and relinquishing his seat in the Constituent Assembly. His motives are that he finds it difficult to provide effective political recipes, not only for others, but even for himself, and that therefore he 'is withdrawing completely from politics.'" This letter is worth mentioning, in the first place, because it is an extremely interesting "human document" (Lenin 1918/1974: 185).
As Sorokin explained in his autobiographies, despite holding a duly elected seat in the Constituent Assembly (having won over 90 percent of the vote in his province in the fall of 1917), he was summarily arrested by the "Cheka" on January 2, 1918, charged with the planned assassination of Lenin, and imprisoned to await execution. His experience as a political prisoner, packed as he was in a cell with dozens of others, some suffering from typhus, was terrifying and indeterminate, his cell mates being led away regularly at night for execution. Finally, on November 20, 1918, he published the letter to which Lenin referred, which helped win him a reprieve from the firing squad. He had earlier been told that his intellectual value to the new USSR might cause him to be spared, but his fate lay exclusively in Lenin's hands. The brutality of this experience shaped Sorokin's mature politics, as one might imagine it would, and the thrill of political labor enjoyed by the young man was redirected into apolitical scholarship — just as Lenin had hoped it would be. Sorokin already had won his undergraduate degree and a difficult master's in legal studies, requiring that he study 900 published items in only two years rather than the usual four. He was also almost ready to defend his doctoral dissertation, later published as System of Sociology. By regretfully setting aside a future in politics, Sorokin's contribution to scholarship in general, sociology in particular, was assured in a way that could not have been imagined when he served as Alexander Kerensky's secretary in 1917.
But, as he aged, the acclaim to which Sorokin was long accustomed significantly diminished, particularly among his sociological colleagues. And it was at this nadir in his professional reputation that he and Tiryakian were thrown together at Harvard, to the lasting benefit of both. Not unlike the case of Norbert Elias, who alone understood the importance of his early work, it was clear to Sorokin that his innovative ideas and writings in so many areas of sociology had developed earlier than anyone else's and were better than most who followed. He had begun producing seminal works very early, with his first book, at the age of 24, called Crime and Punishment, Service and Reward (published in 1913, in Russian; Elena Sorokin 1975: 9), appearing just prior to serving on the "executive committee of the All-Russian Peasant Soviet, 1917," and serving as "editor-in-chief of Vollia Naroda, newspaper at Petrograd, 1917" (as recorded in Sorokin's own short vita in the Tiryakian Papers). In 1922, after barely escaping political murder in the Soviet Union, he and Elena emigrated to Berlin, then Prague, and finally Minneapolis. In the United States, amid a pleasant familial setting, he wrote at a furious rate throughout the 1920s, producing The Sociology of Revolution (1925), Social Mobility (1927) and Contemporary Sociological Theories (1928), in addition to Principles of Rural-Urban Sociology with Carle Zimmerman (1929).
This torrent of fundamental works brought Sorokin to the attention of Abbott Lawrence Lowell, president of Harvard, and his colleagues, who had apparently been looking "for some twenty-five years" for a suitable scholar to start a sociology program — so claimed Sorokin in his second autobiography (Sorokin 1963: 238). Barry Johnston surprisingly noted that in fact Harvard had appointed E. E. Cummings's adored father, Edward Cummings, as "assistant professor of sociology" in 1893 but, based within the Economics Department, where in fact Sorokin also happily began his Harvard tenure in 1930 (Johnston 1995: 55–56, 290–92). Yet, despite the ballyhoo that accompanied announcement of Sorokin's mandate to found sociology proper at Harvard (as opposed to the outmoded "social ethics" program long on the books), Sorokin's lionization among sociologists ended when the fourth volume of his Social and Cultural Dynamics appeared in 1941. By then his methodology and scholarly posture did not match stylistic conventions of the time, and World War II distracted everyone from attention to his ponderous work of pessimistic social philosophy, the first three large volumes of which had appeared to widespread public notice four years earlier.
The about-face among American sociologists regarding Sorokin's work and reputation is well documented in a letter he wrote in August 1943 to Howard Paul Becker, coeditor of book reviews for The American Sociological Review (ASR), faithfully reproduced in a letter by Becker to Joseph Kirk Folsom, then editor in chief of ASR. Sorokin had registered his annoyance at a brief, unsigned review of his Socio-Cultural Causality, which had just appeared in the journal:
With a great deal of pleasure I read the anonymous contemp[t]uous note on my book for which note you, as editors, are responsible. The pleasurable reaction of mine is due to the following sociological uniformity: the more strongly my books have been damned by the reviewers of the Review (and previously by the [American Journal of Sociology (AJS)] the more important they have been shown to be. My Mobility was first damned contemptuously, but after the protest of Professor Cooley editors had to spank themselves and the book has been as vital as almost any book in recent sociology. The same is true of the Contemporary Sociological Theories (now translated into eight languages). Read Bain damned my Crisis to the bottom of hell (but he did not very strongly damn my Calamnity [sic] and it does not promise to be important as my other books). In spite of Bain the Crisis is now in the ninth printing and has a literature which in volume and complimentary tone (written by many first-class natural scientists, historians, economists, philosophers, and high dignitaries of statesmanship far exceeds the total and meager review- literature of the Bains, MacIvers, Lundbergs, and the whole gang of anonymous and non-anonymous "damners of Sorokin." So go on along the same line. I do not have any objections to and am sincerely glad of the damning by this whole group of ignoramuses, who, having no arguments, resort to the super-fascistic technique of dogmatic and smart damning. I regret only for the Review which in this way loses the last poor shreds of value and of a scientific spirit." (Sorokin 1968)
Referring to the likes of Read Bain, Robert MacIver, George Lundberg, Charles Horton Cooley et al., all of whom were widely esteemed by their colleagues, as "this whole group of ignoramuses" who "resort to the superfascistic technique of dogmatic and smart damning" — whatever exactly that might mean — did not win friends among his professional peers. In spring 1941 this outburst recapitulated a ferocious exchange between Sorokin and his former friend, Read Bain, then editor of ASR, over rejection of Sorokin's "Declaration of Independence of the Social Sciences," a curt and denunciative jeremiad about the failures of social science, mostly inspired by familiar themes from his earlier work (see Johnston 1995: 140–43).
According to Becker, Sorokin had apparently given "his express permission" to reproduce this querulous letter, as written, in a subsequent issue of ASR as part of a proposed statement outlining the journal's book-reviewing policies so that no ambiguity would linger among its readers or reviewers. Becker pointed out to editor Folsom that the coeditors of the book-review section of ASR routinely gave guidelines to its reviewers, but never adjusted the content or tone of submitted reviews if the reviewers chose to personalize their attacks on a book's author or otherwise deviate from the journal's suggested reviewing norms. Thus, the ASR did not owe Sorokin an apology or a second review of his book, despite his facetious protestation that he "enjoyed" negative reviews by his fellow sociologists, their taste in books being so awful that they nearly guaranteed his success with other readers.
Repeated exchanges like this between Sorokin and some of his colleagues, most notably his nemesis at Harvard, Talcott Parsons, created a gulf between him and them — one that did not even begin to close until he was elected president of ASA in 1964, the year after the Tiryakian Festschrift was finally published. Some of his friends and former students believed that Sorokin, a sentimentalist at heart, was thin-skinned when it came to attacks upon his work, no matter how principled or reasonable those attacks might be. It was this hypersensitivity to critique that ignited his fury and gave rise to what seemed barely controlled rage as expressed in print. Thus, Sorokin at 74 was genuinely grateful to his former teaching assistant for persisting in his long-term effort to gather papers into a book that would honor him, most of them written by first-class sociologists. Sorokin would be dead within five years, but this momentary appreciation from a stellar clutch of writers pleased him very much, as it seemed to vindicate his own self-perception as one of the most important sociologists of his time. Tiryakian thus had a lot to do with this revised view of Sorokin in the early to mid-1960s, the same wave of momentary enthusiasm which caused the ASA, between 1969 and 1980, to name its top scholarly honor the "Sorokin Award," funded by Ruth and Eli Lilly (Johnston 1995: 268).
Diplomatic Generosity Meets Heroic Self-Importance
As he has told the story many times, in the fall semester of 1953 young Harvard graduate student Tiryakian was called to the office of Gordon Allport's secretary, Eleanor Sprague, who apologetically informed him that Allport had assigned Tiryakian to serve as Pitirim Sorokin's teaching assistant. Tiryakian was assured that, as a reward for this putatively punishing duty, he would be reassigned in the spring term to George Homans (Tiryakian 1996: 15; see also 1988: 8; 1989: 1; 1999: 5–7). Homans was a blue-blooded American aristocrat known for his stringent scholarly demands and interpersonal formality, but he was apparently regarded as easier to deal with than was Sorokin. Tiryakian was 24 years old, a second-year graduate student in the "Social Relations" department at Harvard, when he met Sorokin, then 64. For decades the latter had been a famous social philosopher and sociologist known for his encyclopedic learning and impatient dismissal of those he viewed as inferior in their thought and research. He embodied what later became known as "the public intellectual," based in part on his multilingual cosmopolitanism and his willingness to take chances in the realm of social thought, where few of his colleagues dared to tread. Partly because of his intimidating posture and tremendous output, he had become a pariah in the department run by his former underling, Talcott Parsons, whom he had hired years before and had evaluated with lukewarm approval for tenure.
Excerpted from The Art and Science of Sociology by Roland Robertson, John Simpson. Copyright © 2016 Roland Robertson and John Simpson. Excerpted by permission of Wimbledon Publishing Company.
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Table of Contents
Introduction; 1. The Dynamo and the Diplomat: Tiryakian’s Role in Preserving Sorokin’s Reputation - Alan Sica; 2. Edward Tiryakian and Modernization Theory: A Very Special Relationship - Wolfgang Knöbl; 3. Developmental Path (Entwicklungsform): A Neglected Weberian Concept and its Usefulness in Civilizational Analysis of Islam - Saïd Amir Arjomand; 4. The Existential Sociology of Edward Tiryakian: Toward an Integrated Paradigm - Andrey Melnikov; 5. Comparative Reflections on Sociology and Conservatism: The Contributions of Edward A. Tiryakian - Bryan S. Turner; 6. Contemporary Changes in the Processes of Social Differentiation: Towards an Analytical Version of the Theory - Alfonso Pérez-Agote; 7. Considerations on Global Studies - Roland Robertson; 8. Honoring Edward Tiryakian as a Metasociologist: A Metaconceptual Analysis of Prosumption and Related Concepts - George Ritzer; 9. Dangerous Nouns of Process: Differentiation, Rationalization, Modernization - Hans Joas; 10. Modernization as Social Becoming (Ten Theses on Modernization) - Piotr Sztompka; 11. Religion and Evolution - John Simpson; 12. The “Axial Age” vs. Weber’s Comparative Sociology of the World Religions - John Torpey