Article

Talcott Parsons

Uta Gerhardt

in Sociology

ISBN: 9780199756384
Published online September 2016 | | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0177
Talcott Parsons

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Talcott Parsons (b. 1902–d. 1979) was born into the family of a New England Congregational clergyman. His father, Edward Smith Parsons (b. 1863–d. 1943), became the president of Marietta College in Ohio in 1902. As a student at Amherst College, Parsons had witnessed the president of the college, Alexander Meiklejohn, being unjustly accused of wrongdoing and had seen the inspiring intellectual atmosphere collapse there. Which in turn contributed to, in the early 1920s, his becoming an avowed leftist, one who was watched by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Through his studies at the London School of Economics and at Heidelberg University (1925–1927) he became a scholar in social science who applied his thinking to society and to the world around him, a lifelong disciple of Max Weber but also a man who became involved in the politics of the day frequently. He taught at Harvard from 1927 and served as a professor there from 1936 to his retirement, where he focused on social theory that is empirically based but has a methodological credo that reaches beyond empiricism. In the course of five decades, from the 1920s to the 1970s, he developed social theory when he revised his approach twice—the “structural functionalism” of his “middle” phase (early 1940s to early 1960s) garnered international recognition in the 1950s, but the early work and late oeuvre should be recognized as well. Starting in the 1960s and resonating well into the 21st century, critics judged his theory conservative, even abstract. Through the decades he continued to work on his systems theory—that he meant to expose one last time in the 1970s—the unfinished magnum opus, unpublished in his lifetime, explains American society as a societal community in the making. He died in Munich, Germany, on 8 May 1979, the day that marked the thirty-fourth anniversary of the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany, a date of special relevance to him in that he had helped to set up reeducation for postwar Germany after World War II.

Article.  13959 words. 

Subjects: Sociology ; Comparative and Historical Sociology ; Economic Sociology ; Gender and Sexuality ; Health, Illness, and Medicine ; Population and Demography ; Race and Ethnicity ; Social Movements and Social Change ; Social Stratification, Inequality, and Mobility ; Social Theory

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