Mastering Ambivalence: Neil Smelser as a Sociologist of Synthesis

Jeffrey C. Alexander, Gary T. Marx and Christine L. Williams

in Self, Social Structure, and Beliefs

Published by University of California Press

Published in print September 2004 | ISBN: 9780520241367
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520937857 | DOI:
Mastering Ambivalence: Neil Smelser as a Sociologist of Synthesis

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Neil Smelser has been an extraordinary scholar, teacher, and organizational leader. Every participant in this volume proudly brands themselves as a “Smelser student”. The distinction of these contributions speaks directly of Smelser's power as a teacher. While his immensely impressive and varied performances as organizational leader may have been less known, they nevertheless speak equally of scholarly power exercised in a more political manner. His roles have been as an advisor to many University of California chancellors and presidents; referee to the nation's significant training and funding programs; and director of the Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences. Smelser expanded his areas of research to include psychology, sociology, economics, and history. Through his work with commissions and foundations and as a spokesperson for social science, he sought a greater public role for sociology and helped to foster the gradual infiltration of their methods and findings into other disciplines, practical settings, and popular culture. While the last thirty years have been marked by increasing fragmentation and endless specialization, by centrifugal conceptual forces and centripetal methodological rigor, Smelser continued to uphold generality and synthesis as worthy scientific goals. He maintained his commitment to the unification of divergent disciplinary perspectives and he became more dedicated to bridging various conceptual and methodological divides. This book honors Smelser as a man of ideas. It does so by exploring the sociological pathways that he has inspired others to take. In this introductory chapter, the focus is on Smelser's intellectual career. It highlights his most important contributions and concludes by returning to Smelser as a man and a teacher.

Keywords: Neil Smelser; social science; sociology; generality

Chapter.  5741 words. 

Subjects: Social Theory

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