“Even more absurd was a request from P. A. Sorokin.”

 

“There were other interesting ways in which intensity of feeling showed itself in irrational ways, showing how human good scholars can be.

“During my editorship of the ASR [American Sociological Review] the president of SSSP [The Society for the Study of Social Problems] sent in a proposed constitution for that organization, requesting that it be published in the ASR. Since the Review never had a policy of printing constitutions of other societies (or even that of the ASA!), the paper was returned. My reward was a denunciation in a Council meeting and a further drubbing in a letter to the president of ASA, with copies to various other leading sociologists.

“Even more absurd was a request from P.A. Sorokin, who demanded that I publish a statement accusing Talcott Parsons of plagiarism from Sorokin’s works. This was not the product of a reasonable mind; his principal argument was that Parsons had based a theory on the three elements of society, culture, and personality–an idea that was clearly in the public domain. On receiving a rejection, Sorokin responded with an angry letter, threatening to publish the statement elsewhere and to add that it had been refused by me, Editor of ASR. I terminated the correspondence by writing that if he did, he should add that the Editor had submitted the statement to every associate editor and that each one had recommended against printing it. I never learned if he attempted to publish it elsewhere.”

— “Recollections of a Half Century of Life in the ASA,” By Robert E. L. Faris, The American Sociologist, Vol. 16, No. 1 (February , 1981), pp. 51-52

— posted by Roger W. Smith

      August 2021

an interview with Don Martindale

 

Martindale and Mohan, ‘An Interview with Don Martindale’ – International Social Science Review’

 

Posted here as a PDF file:

Perspectives of a Contemporary Critical Realist: An Interview with Don Martindale

By Don Martindale and Raj P. Mohan

International Social Science Review

Vol. 58, No. 3 (summer 1983), pp. 142-154

Don Martindale was a professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota. Raj P. Mohan was a professor of sociology at Auburn University.

Martindale makes personal observations about and comparisons between sociologists such as Sorokin, Talcott Parsons, Robert Merton, and C. Wright Mills which some scholars may find interesting.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

     August 2021

Russell Middleton: from his “History of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison”

 

Middleton excerpts

 

Posted here as a Word document are fascinating excerpts pertaining to Sorokin from History of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison; Volume 1: Challenges, Ups, and Downs, 1874-2016 by Russell Middleton (Madison, Wisconsin: Anthropocene Press, 2001).

 

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email from Russell Middleton to Roger W. Smith

August 22, 2018

 

Dear Mr. Smith:

I am happy to give you my permission to cite and quote from my discussion of the relationship between E. A. Ross and Pitirim Sorokin. Ross strongly disagreed with Sorokin’s view of the Soviet leaders, but he was taken in by Soviet propaganda. Nevertheless, he had great respect for Sorokin as a scholar and played a major role in helping him land a job at the University of Minnesota and later as chair of the Sociology Dept. at Harvard.

When I was a graduate student at Minnesota in 1951 there was a joke circulating among the sociology graduate students that Sorokin had read every book in the library. I almost came to believe it when I was looking for some good French sociology texts to use in practice for my French reading exam (which was required for the PhD then). In the stacks I pulled down some very old issues of L’année Sociologique, the famous French journal of Durkheim, Mauss, etc. I was startled to see that Sorokin was the last (and only) person who had checked out the volume in all the years since Sorokin had taught there.

When I run across people who argue that Lenin was a decent leader, in contrast with Stalin, I tell them to go read Sorokin’s autobiography.

Best wishes,
Russell Middleton
Prof. Emeritus of Sociology
University of Wisconsin-Madison

 

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I wish to thank Professor Middleton for giving me permission to post these excepts from his book.

 

— posted by Roger W. Smith

     August 2021

a telling criticism

 

 

[C. Wright Mills’s] The Sociological Imagination … was a collection of literary essays–some brilliant, others pedestrian-that permitted the profession to engage in the sort of self-analysis that too few people in the sociological positivism of the 1950s were prepared to engage in. True enough Pitirim Sorokin made a similar effort [in his Fads and Foibles in Modern Sociology and Related Sciences], but it was so laden with moral judgments and psychological mysticism that it could not penetrate to the heart of the issues raised by the dominant tendencies toward empiricism. Sorokin in his own distinct way, like [Talcott] Parsons, became captive to generalizations that were so rich in tautology and platitudes that we forgot how often devoid they were in specific reference points. [italics added]

 

— Irving Louis Horowitz, “C. Wright Mills, 1916-1962: Bright Lights and Dark Shadows,” Contemporary Sociology, Vol. 41, No. 4 (July 2012), pg. 415

 

 

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What I would be inclined to say is that the late Irving Louis Hortwitz, a distinguished American sociologist, made an excellent point — in this article about C. Wright Mills — about Pitirim A. Sorokin’s shortcomings as a scholar and writer. True, it was only a passing remark.

Horowitz was a student of Mills at Columbia University and edited two posthumous collections of Mills’s work. Note that he also found fault with the writings of Sorokin’s nemesis Talcott Parsons!

 

 

— Roger W. Smith

   April 2019

Edward Tiryakian, “Brief Personal Recollection of Pitirim Sorokin”

 

 

Edward Tiryakian, “Brief Personal Recollection of Pitirim Sorokin”

 

 

At the start of my second year of graduate studies at Harvard University, I went to the office of the Director of Graduate Studies (who was then the noted psychologist Gordon Allport) to find out if I had been awarded a teaching fellowship. “yes!” answered his secretary, “I have good news and bad news for you.” She continued: “the good news is that you have indeed been given a teaching fellowship. The bad news is you will be assisting Professor Sorokin this fall.” This was in September 1953. After WWII, Pitirim Sorokin was relegated to teach only undergraduate studies, considered “out of date”, and except for a perfunctory single meeting with incoming students, he was studiously avoided by graduate students. We all knew about bad feelings between him and the Chairman of the new Department of Social Relations, Talcott Parsons.

To skip the details, after becoming his teaching fellow, I discovered what a great thinker and warm personality he was. Later on that semester, he invited my new bride and myself to visit him and his wife Elena at their Winchester home. This was a great honor for a graduate student. I still remember standing at his door nervously. The door opened with a smiling couple inside. Sorokin said, “Come in, come in and have a glass of champagne!”. He must have seen my perplexed look, and understood immediately, “Well, one must have the best of sensate culture!”. From then on until his death, we became close friends, and he appreciated the festschrift I organized in his honor when I was still an assistant professor at Princeton. That appeared in 1963 as “Sociological Theory, Values, and Sociocultural Change”, and I am delighted that 50 years later, it will be reissued by Transaction Publishers.

On a more sober note, if Sorokin felt bitter toward Parsons (who was also my thesis advisor, which put me in a difficult position), I think that besides some intellectual differences, there was a deep hurt involved. Sorokin had started the department of sociology in 1931, and attracted some of the brightest young minds in the profession, including Robert Merton (the best student he ever had, Sorokin told me once when I asked him). But before the end of the decade, they had moved from Sorokin to Parsons. Why?

Both were towering intellects, the best two theorists of the 20th century. As I reflect from personal contacts with both, Sorokin was brought up in the continental culture of the person with the encyclopedic knowledge gathered after prolonged study, and who lectures to a spell-bound audience. It is a privilege to hear him, but the audience is essentially a passive, appreciative audience. Parsons was trained in the American tradition of a seminar, where the intellectual leader interacts with students, giving them a sense of being proactive, not just reactive. That, I think, is why the top students in the department in the 1930s had “defected” and that caused pain to Sorokin and his bitterness to Parsons. In the presence of Sorokin, I felt I had very little to contribute that he did not already know; in the presence of Parsons, I felt that if I said something novel, that he had not thought about, that he would accept it willingly and try to incorporate it in his complex theoretical system. I have had my feet in both American and continental traditions, and so could appreciate being a student of both.