Pitirim A. Sorokin



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Pitirim A. Sorokin

The Person

On February 27, 1917, the first day of the mass demonstrations that were to presage the Russian Revolution, an ardent young intellectual and rebel, who had twice been imprisoned by the Czarist authorities for his revolutionary ac- tivities, noted in his diary: "It has come at last. At two o'clock in the morning I hasten to set down the stirring events of this day. Because I did not feel too well and since lectures at the University had virtually ceased, I decided to stay at home and read the new work of Vilfredo Pareto, Trattato di Sociologia Generale." If the writer of this entry had written nothing else in his life, these sentences would stand as a classic example of the tortuous love affair between intellectuals and revolution, of the complicated tension between theory and Praxis. The writer was Pitirim A. Sorokin.

From Ikon Painter to Professional Revolutionary

Sorokin was born on January 21, 1889, in a remote village in northern Russia's Vologda Province, inhabited by a non-Russian people of Ugro-Finnish origin, the Komi. The area consisted mainly of primeval forest stretching for many hundreds of miles in all directions. The small villages of the Komi were like tiny islands in a huge and engulfing forest vastness. The Komi spoke their own language but almost all were fluent in Russian as well. Industrialization and urbanization had not yet come to their land, and they subsisted mainly by farming, supplemented by fishing, hunting, lumbering, and trapping. The Komi never knew the serfdom that had marked most of the rest of Russia for many generations. They managed their local affairs autonomously through village self-governments similar to the Russian mir or communal peasant com- munity. Land was held in common by the village; from time to time it was distributed and redistributed among individual families according to their needs and size. The houses of the village leaders and elders, of the priests, teachers doctors, storekeepers, and village policemen were more spacious and comfort- able than those of ordinary villagers, but otherwise the conditions of the in- habitants were nearly equal. Sorokin, the future analyst of social stratification had little to draw upon from childhood memories, except by way of contrast when he set upon this task many years later in a totally different environment, the state of Minnesota.

Sorokin was only three years old when his mother died--her funeral was the first conscious recollection etched in his mind. His father was of Russian origin, born in Veliki Ustyug, an ancient northern city that was a center of arts and crafts, where magnificent Halloween costumes were created. He had served his apprenticeship in one of the artisan guilds and had gained his diploma as "a master of golden, silver and ikon ornamental works and costumes." He subsequently moved to a Komi village and there married a young woman who bore him three sons--Vassily, Pitirim, and Prokopiy.

After the death of their mother, the two older boys, Vassily and Pitirim, lived with their father; the youngest lived with an aunt. At times their father presented the loving image of a conscientious, affectionate, and protective guardian who took great pride in his craftsmanship and his standing in the many villages through which he wandered in search of work. At other times, however, he was given to long sprees of drunkenness that often resulted in delirium tremens. During one of his drunken outbursts, depressed, violently irritated, and enraged at his sons, the father snatched a hammer and struck both brothers. As a result, Pitirim's upper lip was somewhat misshapen for many years. Deeply affected, the ten-year-old Pitirim and the fourteen-year-old Vassily left their father's house, never to return. They immediately decided to make use of their exposure to the father's craft and to start independent careers as itinerant craftsmen, moving from village to village in search of customers. They never met their father again and heard of his death about a year later.

Young though they were, the boys managed to get commissions for paint- ing and decorating churches, even a cathedral, gilding and silvering ikons and candelabras and making copper or gold ikon covers. Only sporadically did they attend various elementary schools. Nevertheless after a few years of this no- madic life, Pitirim, at the age of fourteen around Halloween time, secured a modest scholarship at the Khrenovo Teachers' Seminary. Travelling to the seminary by steamer and rail- road, the young country lad had for the first time an intimation of the charac- teristics of big cities and industrial regions. The world of peasant culture, of rural folkways, of religious custom and of semipagan folklore now lay behind him, never to be reentered except for short periods, but always to be retained in his imagination and memory. Though he was to go on to live in the rapidly evolving urban and industrial Gesellschaft of Russian, and later, American cities, his life work was shaped to a large extent by his formative years in the village Gemeinschaften of the Komi people of the northern forest.


The city people and their sons in the Khrenovo Seminary at first treated Sorokin as a yokel because he lacked urban polish and sophistication. While he suffered from their contempt, the youngster himself, still in his homespun clothes, was inclined to agree with their judgement of him. But it did not take him long to acquire urban ways and manners and to buy his first ready-made suit. He soon was the leader of his class, despite his previous nomadic life and his previous sporadic schooling. The seminary, which was run hy the Russian Orthodox Church, was concerned primarily with training teachers for the Church's elementary schools. But because it was located near sizable urban and industrial centers--and hence open to the winds of new doctrines--the school actually provided a quality of education more advanced than most other seminaries. Students and teachers freely interacted with townspeople, with the local intelligentsia, and with leaders of political opinions of all shades, from monarchists to Social Revolutionaries and Social Democrats. Immersing himself in the study of a variety of new books, journals, and newspapers that his newly won friends and acquaintances had thrust upon him, Sorokin soon shed his previous Orthodox religious and philosophical beliefs. The new ideas he was exposed to and his growing awareness of the miserable social and political con- ditions of Imperial Russia soon turned the peasant youth into an urban agnos- tic, a believer in scientific theories of evolution, and an active revolutionary. (The ferment created by the Russo-Japanese War of 1904 and the harbingers of the revolution of 1905 also contributed to this transformation.) Neverthe- less, because he still clung to his earlier belief in self-help and individualism, he was repelled by the Marxist determinism of Social Democracy; young Sorokin became instead an ardent member of the populist Social Revolutionary party. Though now an urbanite, he was still powerfully attracted by the Gemeinschaft populism of the Narodniki, whose gospel he was helping to spread among students and factory workers, as well as the peasants of the sur- rounding countryside.

On the eve of the school's Christmas vacation in 1906, Sorokin was sched- uled to address a group of workers and peasants. As he entered the meeting hall the police arrested him, escorted him to a horse-and-sleigh, and delivered him to a local prison. Prison treatment during the last years of the Czar's regime was no longer as harsh and inhuman as it had been in previous days. Prisons by now in fact became "graduate educational institutions" for revolutionaries, who gathered in interminable discussions of revolutionary theory and used their enforced leisure to read the works of Marx and Engels, of Kropotkin and Lavrov, of Tolstoi, Plekhanov and Lenin, as well as Darwin, Spencer, and other evolutionist and "progressive" thinkers. Sorokin probably learned more in prison than he could have absorbed in an entire semester's work at his Seminary.

Prison also afforded Sorokin his first acquaintance with common criminals and this led to his choice of criminology and penology as his area of specializa- tion during his later stay at St Petersburg University. In addition, Sorokin transmuted his lived experience into academic knowledge his first book, Crime and Punishment, Service and Reward, was published seven years after his first imprisonment.

Sorokin remained in prison four months before he was released. Though discharged from his school, he was received by most teachers and students as a hero of the revolution; yet stigmatized as a revolutionary, he could not be admitted to another school nor could he find any type of employment in the region. He therefore resolved to become an itinerant preacher spreading the revolutionary message, not unlike his earlier experience with painted ikons. Pitirim Sorokin, sought by the police for escaping from their supervision in his place of residence, disappeared, and an anonymous "Comrade Ivan" emerged as an organizer, speaker, and instructor among factory workers, students, and peasants throughout the Volga region. Most of the meetings he addressed and the demonstrations he led were peaceful affairs, but on one occasion, with a large group gathered together, Comrade Ivan, standing on a tree stump high above the crowd, fiercely denounced the regime. The meeting was broken up by the police with whips and sabers, which resulted in the deaths of two workers and a police officer and the wounding of several Cossacks, workers, and policemen. Thereafter, upon the urgings of his friends, Comrade Ivan retired to his aunt's house in the Komi village of Rymia, where he stayed for two months, helping with the farm work and visiting with boyhood friends. With no hope of continuing his education or of finding employment, Sorokin resolved in the fall of 1907 to make his way to St. Petersburg.

From Coser, 1977:477-480.

Student and Scholar at St. Petersburg

It was easier for Sorokin to decide to go to St. Petersburg than it was for him to get there. The cheapest fare by steamer to Vologda and from there by train to St. Petersburg was approximately sixteen rubles; Sorokin had but one. He increased his funds to some ten rubles by painting two peasant homes, which paid for third-class accommodations on the steamer. But in Vologda he learned that the train fare to St. Petersburg was eight rubles, five more than he possessed. He therefore decided to buy a ticket to a point not far from Vologda and to travel the rest of the way as a stowaway--the "rabbit" class, as it was then called in Russia. He was soon discovered, however, but fortunately by a kind and understanding conductor. Sorokin explained that he was travelling to the capital to pursue his education; the conductor, an older man endowed with the Russian respect for things of the spirit, allowed the young man to continue on the trip on condition that he would earn his fare by cleaning cars and lavatories and also assisting the engine-stoker. With the help of this Praxis, Sorokin was sped on in his search for theory; when he reached St. Petersburg he had an unexpended balance of fifty kopecks in his pocket.


Having managed to be hired by an upward-mobile employee of the central electric station as a tutor for his two boys (in exchange for room and meager board), Sorokin set out to gain admission to the University. This was by no means easy. Since he had been expelled from his seminary and had never even attended gymnasium, there was only one way to gain admittance. He would have to pass a stiff "examination of maturity" for all eight grades of gym- nasium and some additional materials required of "externs"--those who had not graduated from gymnasium. Largely ignorant of Latin and Greek, French and German, as well as mathematics, Sorokin could pass the examination only by attending one of the night schools that offered such training. When he learned that one of the teachers at a well-known night school was the first man from Komi to become a professor at the university, Sorokin presented himself at the professor's apartment and told the latter's astonished wife that he had just arrived from the Komi people and would like to see the Komi professor. K. F. Jakov, the man in question, not only arranged for Sorokin's free admis- sion to night school, but opened up his own house to him, introduced him to some of the leading intellectuals, and thus paved his entree to several philo- sophical, literary, and artistic circles in the university. The Komi professor also played a major role in the personal life of his student, for it was at one of Jakov's receptions that Sorokin met his future wife.

Through Jakov's recommendations, Sorokin soon obtained additional tutorial work that enabled him to earn a small wage while attending three semesters of night school. This school, as was the case with so many through- out Russia, was a hotbed of revolutionary ideas; Sorokin learned much in the give-and-take discussions among his like-minded peers--probably more than he did in the formal course of instruction.

After two years of study and extensive exposure to St. Petersburg's cultural offerings and intellectual stimulations, Sorokin returned to Veliki Ustyug, his father's hometown, to prepare for the final examination. The reason for this move was not so much to return to his roots (as current conceit has it); rather, he could live more cheaply with his uncle and aunt than was possible in the capital. In May 1909 he passed the examination with the grade of "excellent" in all subjects.

Back in St Petersburg, Sorokin first enrolled in the newly opened Psycho- Neurological Institute. A number of factors influenced his choice. First, the institute program was less rigid than that of the university; second, the univer sity offered no instruction in sociology whereas two renowned sociologists, M. M. Kovalevsky and E. de Roberts, taught at the institute; finally, the in- stitute's student body was largely of peasant and lower-class origin, who were more open to revolutionary ideas than students at the university. During his first year at the institute Sorokin attracted the attention of several of his instruc- tors and was considered one of the top students. However, since university, but not institute students were exempt from serving in the military, he had to leave the institute and enroll at the university in order to escape the draft. But throughout the next few years his ties to the institute remained so strong that he became secretary and assistant to his teacher M. M. Kovalevsky, and, in his first year of graduate work, he was appointed a lecturer in sociology at the institute.

Despite the fact that the university did not officially recognize sociology as a field for matriculation, the subject was taught in courses listed under law or economics, criminology or history. As most of these courses were given in the faculty of law and economics, Sorokin chose that department as his field of specialization and was exposed to the guidance of such internationally known scholars as M. I. Tugan-Baranovsky in economics and M. I. Rostovtzeff in the classics. Sorokin proved himself to be a brilliant student and managed, even as an undergraduate, to publish a number of studies in sociological, anthropologi- cal, and philosophical journals. His first substantial volume, the previously men- tioned Crime and Punishment, Service and Reward, was published in his junior year.


Though it seemed evident even in his early years at the university that he was destined for a brilliant academic career and soon would be accepted in the various circles of St. Petersburg's intelligentsia, Sorokin did not let his intel- lectual life interfere with his revolutionary activities. Indeed, his academic career was temporarily interrupted when the police raided his home to arrest him, but he happened to be away at the time. To escape the further attention of the police, Sorokin procured a false passport and the uniform of a student officer of the Military Medical Academy; he then went to the Riviera as a male nurse and companion to a fellow revolutionary who suffered from tuberculosis. These unusual circumstances allowed the young provincial from the northern forests to get his first glimpse of European upper-class culture. He even gambled at the Monte Carlo casino and won a few hundred francs. It may have been with those francs that he bought a copy of the recently published Soziologie by one Georg Simmel. After a few weeks, the student "disorders" at the university had abated, and the police relaxed its vigilance so that Sorokin could return to the capital and resume his studies.

Having escaped police arrest in 1911, Sorokin was not so lucky in 1913. He had written a pamphlet about the crimes and the misrule of the Romanov dynasty as a counterpoint to the tercentenary celebrations of that dynasty's reign. Thereupon he was betrayed by an agent provocateur and was arrested. The young revolutionary was placed in a relatively comfortable cell, had access to a good prison library, and simply continued his work. He also read a number of lighter volumes, among them Mark Twain's Life on the Mississippi. "It did not occur to me then," he later wrote in his autobiography, "that sometime in the future I would be living on the banks of this river [in Minneapolis]." But that time was not yet. Having no proof that Sorokin had in fact written the incriminating pamphlet and being hard pressed by many of Sorokin's profes- sors, the police soon released him so that he could again devote himself to his formal education.


In 1914 Sorokin graduated with a first-class diploma from the university and was immediately offered the position of a "person left at the university to prepare for a professorship." He gladly accepted the offer, especially since a fairly good stipend went with it. For the first time he was able to live in a style to which most of his peers had long been accustomed. The stipend was granted for a four-year period to allow him to prepare for the magister (master) degree and a position as a Privatdozent (lecturer). Since sociology was still not an approved discipline, Sorokin chose criminology and penology as his major subject and constitutional law as his minor.


The master's degree was much more highly regarded in Russia than in the United States. In fact, most academicians held only such a degree; but a very few outstanding professors wrote distinguished dissertations that earned them a Ph.D. The oral examination for the magister degree took three full days, a fourth day being devoted to a substantial essay on a topic assigned by the body of examiners. It usually took at least four years to prepare for this examination but after only two, Sorokin passed in late 1916. He was now entitled to become a Pritvatdozent at the university; in order to receive the degree of "magister of criminal law," however, he still had to submit a dissertation and to defend it in a rigorous dispute with all the official opponents appointed by the univer- sity, as well as with unofficial faculty opponents and public challengers. Sorokin had planned to submit his volume on Crime and Punishment, Service and Reward as his dissertation, and his professors had agreed tentatively to schedule the defense for some day in March of 1917. But the Revolution prevented this. After March 1917 all university life practically ceased for several years. Sorokin had to wait until April 1922 to defend two volumes of his System of Sociology as a dissertation for the degree of doctor of sociology.

From Coser, 1977:480-483.

The Revolution and After

During the war years Sorokin by no means ceased his opposition to the Czarist regime. Nevertheless, he agreed with the majority of his Social Revolu- tionary comrades, as well as such Social Democratic luminaries as G. Plekhanov, to support the war effort (if rather critically) and to oppose those on the Left who called for a speedy end to the war and a separate peace with Germany. Those on the internationalist Left now called him and his co-thinkers Social Patriots.

When the revolution broke out, most of the political leaders of whatever camp were caught by surprise. The Social Patriots greeted it with a high degree of ambivalence. They had hoped for it during many years of underground struggle, but were fearful that the revolutionary events would undermine Russia's ability to continue the war at the side of its Western allies. Moreover, many intellectuals who had long been enthusiastic for revolution in the abstract found themselves repelled by many features of the revolution in the concrete. Sorokin's diary of those days clearly exhibits his ambivalence. No question, he rejoiced at the fall of the old regime. Yet caught in the whirlpool of revolution- ary disorder, observing "unruly crowds" and "wildly firing men," witnessing manhunts for policemen, counterrevolutionaries, and informers, and learning of the massacres of officers, Sorokin could not suppress a deep repulsion about what he felt to be the rule of the mob in the streets of his beloved St Petersburg.

After the abdication of the Czar and the installation of a Provisional Gov- ernment, Sorokin engaged in a frantic round of activities. He agreed to become an editor of a new Social Revolutionary newspaper, only to discover that the editors were split between Social Patriots and Internationalists. Thus the paper would print an article on page one that was mercilessly savaged on page two. He went from meeting to meeting, from conference to conference, trying des- perately to hold the right wing of his party together. He helped organize an All-Russian Peasant Soviet to counterbalance the radical Workers' Soviet. It all seemed futile. He finally left for his northern homeland to try to convince the peasants there that support of the Provisional Government against its enemies on the Left was the only road to salvation. He then wrote in his diary "What a relief to leave the capital with its constantly moving crowds, its dis- order, dirt, and hysteria, and to be again in the tranquil places I love." Having come face to face with the revolution he had so ardently desired in the past, Sorokin had fast become thoroughly disillusioned. How beautiful it had looked during the Czar's reign and how ugly it had turned out to be. "I sometimes feel like a homeless dog," he jotted down in his diary.

The frantic round of activities continued after Sorokin returned to Petro- grad. He exhausted his energies in meeting after meeting, being alternately tired and weary, excited and alert. In the midst of it all, at the end of May, he married Elena Petrovna Baratinsky, a fellow student and botanist. After the church ceremony to which he had come from an important meeting, his new wife and some friends went to lunch, which could last no longer than half an hour, for the groom had to hurry off to another "cursed conference."

In July 1917, in the midst of new riots and with the Provisional Govern- ment now headed by Kerensky fighting for its life, Sorokin agreed to accept the post of Secretary to the Prime Minister. There was little he could do. The Bolsheviks were waiting in the wings and could not be stopped. In a few months they succeeded in overthrowing the Kerensky government and pro- claimed the Russian Soviet Republic. Sorokin and his friends continued a rear- guard fight in the shortlived constitutional assembly and elsewhere but they knew that their cause was lost. They now were counted among the "former people," not unlike the Czarist officials against whom they had battled for so many years.

During the Civil War and the period of starvation and exhaustion that followed, Sorokin, who had for a short period sat next to the seats of power, became one victim among many. Early in January 1918 he was arrested at the offices of the anti-Bolshevik newspaper which he was editing. Released after two months, Sorokin and his wife went to Moscow in hopes of revitalizing the coalition of anti-Bolshevist groups in that city. He helped to start another news- paper, only to see its presses smashed soon after the first copy had appeared. Soon after, he returned to the northern country, worked underground under an assumed name, and hoped that the Bolshevist regime could be defeated with the help of a British expeditionary force that had landed in Arkhangelsk. But the British provided only limited aid, and the antirevolutionary forces, after some initial successes, were thoroughly routed. Sorokin was now forced to wander from village to village, his life in jeopardy, his name on the Bolsheviks' "wanted" list as a counterrevolutionary. For several months he hid in the forest. Finally, he made his way back to his home town, where he found shelter with his family, but decided that a prolonged stay would endanger his kin. Sorokin went to the local office of the secret police, the Chekha, and gave him- self up. He was committed to the prison at Veliki Ustyug and fully expected to be executed any day. Instead he was released on December 12, 1918, on direct orders from Lenin himself.

A few days earlier, writing in Pravda, Lenin had announced a major change in the government's policy concerning the intelligentsia, arguing that it was important to gain the allegiance of the educated, especially those from the peasant strata who had now turned against the new regime after valiantly having fought against the Czar. The Communists should cease to persecute them, Lenin argued, and attempt to convert them into allies. It was in pursu- ance of that new directive that Sorokin was released and sent to Moscow. It turned out that one of his former students, now a Commissar, had pleaded with members of Lenin's cabinet who knew him well. They had agreed to talk to Lenin. Lenin was persuaded, wrote the Pravda article, revoked Sorokin's death sentence, and ordered his release. At the end of 1918 Sorokin returned to Petrograd University and resumed his academic duties. The days of his activist involvement were over.

Half-starved, and living under the most trying personal circumstances, Sorokin not only managed to give regular courses of lectures at the reopened university, but to launch a series of major writing projects. Besides two elemen- tary textbooks in law and in sociology, he finished the two substantial volumes of his System of Sociology. To get these volumes published required almost as much energy as writing them. The work could clearly not pass the strict Com- munist censorship. Some of Sorokin's friends in a publishing house and at two nationalized printing presses managed to print the more than 800 pages secretly. The censorship permission on the title page was forged, ten thousand copies of each volume were published--all of which were sold within two or three weeks. When the government learned of the publication, it ordered all copies confis- cated, but there was nothing left to confiscate. Shortly thereafter, Sorokin, who by then had been elected chairman of the newly founded department of sociol- ogy, submitted these illegally published volumes to the Juridical Faculty as his doctoral dissertation. After a typically extensive dispute, the faculty voted unani- mously to accept the work as meeting all university requirements, and on April 22, 1922, Sorokin finally acquired his Ph.D. degree. It had been a long and tor- tuous journey; even so, Sorokin received his degree when he was only thirty- three years old, an age at which many American students of sociology will not yet have received theirs.

Having published two volumes of the planned three volumes of his System, Sorokin decided to postpone the writing of the last volume in order to do a first-hand study of mass starvation in the famine districts of Samara and Saratov. The book setting down the results of this inquiry, The Influence of Hunger on Human Behavior, on Social Life and Social Organisation, was pub- lished in May 1922, but only after the censors had severely mutilated it, cutting away many paragraphs and some entire chapters. The book has recently been republished in an English edition edited by Sorokin's widow shortly before her death.

During 1922 a new wave of arrests of the non-Communist members of the intelligentsia hit Petrograd. Sorokin escaped by moving to Moscow, where he was less well known. When he learned that all those arrested were to be banished abroad, he voluntarily presented himself to the Chekha, and after the usual delays was given a passport. On September 23, 1922, he left Russia, never to return.

From Coser, 1977:483-486.

The First Years in America

After a year's sojourn in Czechoslovakia where he had been invited to stay at the request of President Masaryk, whom he knew well, Sorokin accepted the offer of two prominent American sociologists, Edward C, Hayes and Edward A Ross, to come to America to deliver a series of lectures on the Russian Revo- lution. Arriving in New York in October 1923, Sorokin first resolved to learn some English by attending lectures and meetings as well as various church services. Having gained a sufficient, though by no means full, command of the language, he gave his first lecture at Vassar College. In his early months in America, he also worked on his hook, The Sociology of Revolution and drafted major parts of his Leaves from a Russian Diary. Proceeding to the Uni- versities of Illinois and Wisconsin, he delivered a series of lectures on the Russian Revolution and related matters. Predictably, he encountered a great deal of opposition from younger academics who regarded him as a disgruntled political emigre who had forgotten nothing and learned nothing. Yet this op- position abated when a number of prominent sociologists, Cooley, Ross, and Giddings among them, came to his defense. Sorokin continued to lecture at various universities, and in 1924 he was invited by the head of the sociology department at Minnesota, F. S. Chapin, to teach a course during the summer session. This led to an offer of a visiting professorship for the next year at half the normal salary for full professors of the University. Soon after, he was given a full professorship, though still at a salary substantially below that given to his American colleagues. During his years at Minnesota, Sorokin trained a number of distinguished students, C. A. Anderson, Conrad Taeuber, T. Lynn Smith and O. D. Duncan (the elder) among others, who later made major contribu- tions, especially in rural sociology.

In the meantime, Sorokin's wife decided to continue her graduate work in botany and received her Ph.D. in 1925. The University's strict nepotism rules prevented her from receiving, a teaching position at the University, and so she accepted a professorship of botany at neighboring Hamlin University.

Sorokin's scientific output during his six years in Minnesota was truly amazing. The Sociology of Revolution was published in 1925. Social Mobility, the pioneering work on which all subsequent research in the area has depended heavily, followed in 1927. Only a year later his monumental critical survey, Contemporary Sociological Theories, appeared. Collaboration with C. C. Zimmerman, who was to become his life-long friend, produced Principles of Rural-Urban Sociology, in 1929, and three volumes of A Systematic Source- Book in Rural Sociology, with Zimmerman and C. J. Galpin as co-authors, were published in 1930-32. When one considers that Sorokin was still not fully conversant with the English language, that he faced all the usual diffi- culties of adjustment in all unfamiliar academic environment, his is an astonish- ng achievement.

These books established Sorokin's place in the forefront of American sociology, even though they received mixed reviews. Some reviewers harshly criticized them; others, including such leaders of the field as Cooley, Ross, Giddings, Chapin, and Sutherland, warmly praised them. As a result, Sorokin was offered professorial appointments by two major universities, which he declined. But when President Lowell invited him to accept the first chair of sociology at Harvard, he went to Cambridge where he taught from 1930 to 1955. He continued to direct his Research Center in Creative Altruism at the Uni- versity until his full retirement at the end of 1959 at the age of seventy.

From Coser, 1977:486-488.

The Harvard Years

It was during his Harvard years that Sorokin made some of his most sig- nificant and creative contributions to American sociology. When he first arrived at Harvard, a Department of Sociology did not yet exist, and Sorokin's chair was organizationally placed in the Department of Economics. But at the end of the first semester of the 1930-31 academic year, the administration finally approved a separate Department of Sociology and Sorokin became its chairman the next year. The man who had established the first Department of Sociology at Petrograd University in 1919-20 was given the opportunity to organize and guide Harvard's first such department a dozen years later.

Although relatively small, the department soon acquired considerable renown. Sorokin induced his Minnesota friend Carle Zimmerman to come as an associate professor and Talcott Parsons, who was teaching in the Department of Economics, became a sociology instructor. Special lectures or courses were offered by such eminent Harvard men as A. D. Nock in the sociology of re- ligion, Dean Roscoe Pound in the sociology of law, Sheldon Glueck in crimi- nology, and Gordon Allport in social psychology. Sorokin also brought a dis- tinguished array of outside lecturers, including W. I. Thomas, Howard P. Becker of Wisconsin and Leopold von Wiese of Cologne

Talcott Parsons, who was then working on his Theory of Social Action, had, next to Sorokin himself, the most powerful influence on the brilliant co- hort of graduate students who flocked to the department soon after its inception. Many of the men who were to assume a leading position in sociology after their graduation from Harvard--for example, Robert K. Merton and Wilbert Moore, Kingsley Davis and Robin Williams--were influenced by both Sorokin and Parsons, though the Parsonian influence proved to be more enduring. Others, such as N. Denood, E. A. Tiryakian, and R. Dufors, followed more closely in Sorokin's footsteps.

Sorokin was an unconventional teacher with a distinctive mode of presenta- tion and style of delivery. He never lost his pronounced Russian accent, and when he ascended the platform and began speaking some of his auditors felt that they were listening to a rousing church homily rather than a classroom lecture. His best-known course for undergraduates, Principles of Sociology (officially listed as Sociology A), was commonly called Sorokin A by the Harvard Crimson Confidential Guide.

One of Sorokin's students, Robert Bierstedt, has vividly described his way of teaching. He writes, "As a lecturer, Sorokin had no histrionic peer. A man of astonishing physical vigor he would mount huge attacks against the black- board, often breaking his chalk in the process. One of his classrooms had black- boards on three sides. At the end of the hour all three were normally covered with hieroglyphics, and clouds of chalk dust hovered in the air. If he was dramatic, he was also often melodramatic. For no American sociologist did he have a word of praise--always, in fact, the contrary. . . . His response to George Lundberg was typical. He arrived in class one morning waved one of Lundberg's recently published papers before us, and declaimed . . . 'Here is a paper by my friend Lundberg on a subject about which, unfortunately, he knows nothing! It is a disease with him! He was not born for this kind of work.' On another occasion [he said to me] 'John Dewey, John Dewey, John Dewey! I read a book by John Dewey. I read another book by John Dewey. I read a third book by John Dewey. Nothing in them.' "

Soon after coming to Harvard, Sorokin set to work on the four-volume treatise entitled Social and Cultural Dynamics, eventually published between 1937 and 1941. To accomplish this immense task, Sorokin enlisted a number of Russian emigre scholars, as well as some of his students, such as Robert K. Mer- ton and John H. Boldyreff, as collaborators. They did much of the spade work in gathering data, computing statistics, and consulting reference works. Har- vard assisted the work by a four-year grant amounting to roughly $10,000.

Sorokin was now at the pinnacle of his career but even his Harvard years were accompanied by considerable stress. Departmental chairmen at Harvard as elsewhere in America were by no means as powerful as were their counter- parts in Europe, and Sorokin probably still hankered after the European model. Though firmly ensconced in his position he did not succeed in dominating the Department. Highly respected, even admired, by many of his students, he was not singular in the influence he had over them. That role he was forced to share with Talcott Parsons, despite the fact that Parsons was initially a young instructor when Sorokin held the only full professorial chair. Parsons and Soro- kin shared a number of ideas, more particularly in regard to the central role of cultural symbols in the determination of social action, yet they never man- aged to reconcile their views. Their relations throughout the period could best be characterized as frigid competitive coexistence. It is fair to say that Sorokin indeed put Harvard's Department of Sociology on its feet, but he did not suc- ceed in giving it his own distinctive imprint.

Sorokin's cast of mind in those years was conservative, and it is conceivable that this factor was instrumental in his being appointed to the Harvard faculty during a period of deep social crisis and the consequent ascendancy of a variety of Marxian or non-Marxian radical ideas. Yet the man from the Komi people was a conservative of a peculiar kind. As a conservative libertarian, a Christian anarchist, he never lost his peasant distrust of the centralizing state, a distrust that was reinforcecl by his experiences during the Russian Revolution. Thus, Sorokin had little in common with his American counterparts. Arthur Davis, one of his students, tells a revealing anecdote. Davis had been arrested by the Boston police for handing out leaflets for a CIO union during an organizing drive. The magistrate let him off, but one of his professors warned him that the arrest might have jeopardized his scholarship. When the matter came to Sorokin's attention in his capacity as departmental chairman, he brushed it aside with the comment that he himself had been arrested six times, three times by the Czar and three times by the Bolsheviks . . . .

Sorokin never relished his administrative duties. He has reported that his requests to be relieved of them were twice turned down by the administration. Finally in 1942, having served for ten years, Sorokin's resignation as chairman was accepted. Soon after, the department was reorganized under Parsons' leadership and became the Department of Social Relations. From that point on, Sorokin played only a marginal role in the development of Harvard sociol- ogy. I remember coming to the Department's building in Emerson Hall in the early fifties, and, not finding Sorokin's office where I expected it (namely on the floor where most of the activities went on), was told that Sorokin (and Zimmerman) had their offices on an upper (desolate looking, as I recall) floor. Nor is it pleasant to note, on the other hand, that after the publication of Parsons' The Social System, Sorokin put under the door of the Department's offices a mimeographed statement in which he attempted to prove that the major ideas of this book had been anticipated in his own work.

Sorokin's alienation from the Department was at least partly compensated for by his establishment in the late forties of the Harvard Research Center in Creatitve Altruism. Sorokin had originally planned to carry on research in this field without financial assistance or a research staff. Quite unexpectedly he re- ceived a letter from Ely Lilly, head of a large drug company and a well-known philanthropist, expressing an interest in aiding Sorokin in this venture. There followed a grant of $20,000. After Sorokin had begun to publish some of the results of his investigations, Mr. Lilly said he would like to meet him. When Sorokin informed him that he had so far spent exactly $248 out of the $20,000 grant, Mr Lilly, with typical American impatience, queried, "Can't you put more steam into the business?" Sorokin agreed, and he received an additional grant of $l00,000 for five years, which underwrote the Center's expenses. I hesi- tate to say much about the value of the inquiries of the Center. Even though not all its results were as startling as the find that "altruistic persons live longer than egoistic individuals," I do feel that little of enduring merit resulted from its labors.

Sorokin's influence at Harvard had originally been strong. But what the British literary critic John Gross once said about his fellow critic F. R. Leavis seems also to have applied to Sorokin: "Good students welcomed him as an emancipator, and then found that they had to spend years to escape from his liberating influence." This was especially true, perhaps, after the publication of Social and Cultural Dynamics, when Sorokin's thought became increasingly rigid and dogmatic and when he largely veered in the direction of social proph- ecy and away from detached scholarly inquiry. Two of his works in the forties, Sociocu1tural Causality, Space, Time (1943)and Society, Cu1ture and Per- sonality (I947) still continued in the tradition of his earlier contributions, but the titles of other books published during and after the forties indicate his now prepotent inclination to serve as a prophet of doom and disaster: Crisis of Our Age (1941), Man and Society in Calamity (1942), Reconstruction of Humanity (1948), A1truistic Love (1950), Social Philosophies of an Age of Crisis (1950), Explorations in Altruistic Love and Behavior (1950), S.O.S. The Meaning of Our Crisis (1951), The Ways and Power of Love (1954), The American Sex Revolution (1957), and Power and Morality (I959). Whatever their value as tracts for the times or as prophetic indictments of the sins and errors of his contemporaries, they do not warrant analysis in a work devoted to sociological theory.

Only twice in those late years did Sorokin return to more strictly socio- logical concerns. His Fads and Foibles in Modern Sociology and Related Sciences(1956) was a fierce indictment of practically all of contemporary sociology in general and of most empirical and statistical inquiries in particular. Though it made many telling critical observations on misuses and abuses of empirical research methods, it was couched in so all-encompassing and global terms that it missed its mark. The book also laid itself open to the fairly obvious observation that it hardly behooved an author who had used statistical tech- niques throughout his work (and who had often used them in ways which seemed questionable to most statisticians) now to indict practically all contem- porary sociology as having succumbed to "quantophrellia," the madness of numbers. As a whole, the book proved an embarrassment even to Sorokin's most devoted former students.

A sequel to his renowned Contemporary Sociological Theories, entitled Sociological Theories of Today received a more favorable reception. Though replete with many poisoned barbs directed at most of his contemporaries and predecessors, it nevertheless showed Sorokin's capacity even in his old age, to deal in a serious manner with sociological ideas and theories that he personally rejected wholeheartedly.

Sorokin was never a man to underestimate his own merit. In fact, he oc- casionally was heard comparing his contributions to those of Aristotle. It is understandable, therefore, that he clearly suffered in his later years from the comparative neglect of his contemporaries. But he never lost confidence. The peasant lad from the Komi people had initially been rejected by the urban sophisticates of St. Petersburg and yet had come to surpass almost all of them; why should he now worry about being shunned by representatives of a decaying "Sensate" culture? Sorokin plodded on, literally cultivating his own garden. He was probably as proud of the awards he received from horticultural societies for his magnificent flower garden in suburban Winchester as he was of all the honors, including the presidency of the American Sociological Association, which his colleagues bestowed on him. His two sons, both scientists like their mother, and his extended range of friends and admirers throughout the world, saw to it that Sorokin in his declining years was surrounded by the love which, so he had reiterated again and again, makes the world go around. When the old fighter died on February 11, 1968, even those he had attacked with his sharp strikes and his pointed arrows agreed that he was one of a kind--a kind that doesn't seem to appear any more.

I shall never forget the gaunt old man standing erect on a platform in an ultra modern lecture hall at Brandeis University, exhorting his audience to turn away from the lures and snares of a "Sensate" culture, to recognize the errors of their way, and to return to the path of ideational righteousness. It was as close as I would ever come to understand what it might have been like to be ad- dressed by an itinerant preacher who had come out from the wild forest to instruct the erring flock of peasant sinners in the true ways of the Lord.

From Coser, 1977:488-492.

Pitirim A. Sorokin

The Work

Pitirim Sorokin's sociological theory is based on the well-known distinc- tion between social statics (structural sociology in his terminology) and social dynamics. But because his discussion of statics did not have a profound impact on subsequent sociological analyses, it will be treated here in cursory fashion. By contrast, his thoughts on social and cultural dynamics, which have proved to be more fruitful and original, will be dealt with at some length.

The Overall Doctrine

To Sorokin, the process of human interaction involves three essential ele- ments: human actors as subjects of interaction; meanings, values, and norms that guide human conduct; and material phenomena that are vehicles and con- ductors for meanings and values to be objectified and incorporated into a sequence of actions. Not unlike Max Weber, Sorokin (except during his early years as an apprentice sociologist) rejected any attempt to study human affairs without reference to norms, meanings, and values. "Stripped of their meaning- ful aspects," he writes, "all the phenomena of human interaction become merely biophysical phenomena and, as such, properly form the subject of the bio- physical sciences.''

Hence, in Sorokin's sociological thought the emphasis is on the importance of cultural factors, that is, of superorganic elements, as determinants of social conduct. To understand personalities as subjects of interaction, and society as the totality of interacting personalities, one must bear in mind that they rest on a foundation of culture--a culture that consists of the totality of meanings, norms, and values possessed by interacting persons and carried by material vehicles, such as ritual objects or works of art, which objectify and convey these meanings.

In analyzing components of social interaction, Sorokin distinguishes be- tween unorganized, organized, and disorganized forms. He discusses various types of legal and moral controls and speaks of solidary, antagonistic, and mixed systems of social interaction, as well as of familistic, compulsory, and mixed (contractual) types of social bonds. Having elaborated these different types of social interaction, Sorokin then proceeds to classify organized groups in terms of their functional and meaningful ties. Here he considers different de- grees of intensity of group interaction and the related closeness or slackness of ties between group members. Furthermore, he states that groups may be uni- bonded, that is, they may be based on one main value, (as is the case, for ex- ample, with religious, occupational, or kinship groups), or they may be held together by multiple bonds (as in the case of a nation or a social class). In ad- dition, he states that both unibonded and multibonded groups may be either open or closed.

It is not necessary to elaborate on these classifactory schemes because, by and large, they have remained fairly sterile both for Sorokin's own substantive work and for that of others. In pointed contrast, his theory of social change, as well as his theory of social mobility and social stratification, deserve careful attention.


From Coser, 1977:465-466.

A Panoramic View of Society and Culture

Sorokin's monumental Social and Cultural Dynamics, in which he at- tempted to develop a full explanatory scheme for social and cultural change (with supporting evidence based on detailed statistical investigations), must be taken as the major exhibit for assessing his view of social change. The work as a whole, as Louis Schneider has suggested, has a somewhat romantic cast: it presents a profusion of ideas and daring hypotheses, but lacks the poise, soberness, and careful marshalling of arguments that characterize the classical style. Such work is best approached by attention to its overall message and major contentions rather than by way of detailed criticism of particulars.

In this work, Sorokin attempts no less than a panoramic survey of the course of all human societies and cultures, supported by a series of general propositions to illuminate the historical variation in socio-cultural arrangements. He opposes any unilinear explanation of human evolution just as he opposes any approach that, as in the case of Spengler for example, conceives of the life cycle of cultures by way of quasi-biological analogies. Instead, he views socio- cultural phenomena as based on relatively coherent and integrated aggregates of cultural outlooks--which he calls mentalities--that impress their meanings on specific periods in the global history of humankind. What he is looking for, in his own words, is "the central principle [the reason] which permeates all the components" of a culture, "gives sense and significance to them, and in this way makes cosmos of a chaos of unintegrated fragments." He does not claim that any culture is ever fully integrated, and he is aware that it will always contain fragments that are not fully reconcilable. Still, he stresses that socio- cultural phenomena are not randomly distributed: rather, once analyzed from his specific angle of vision, they will reveal the operation of a few major pre- mises that mark their overall character.

There are, according to Sorokin, only three fundamental premises for con- ceiving and apprehending the nature of reality. Either reality is felt to be di- rectly accessible through the senses (Sensate Culture): or it is felt to be dis- closed only through a view that transcends the world of the senses and achieves a transcendent vision of the eternal, as in Platonic idealism (Ideational Cul- ture); or, finally, it takes an intermediate form (Idealistic Culture), which attempts to fuse and synthesize the other two in a dialectical balance between opposite principles.

Correspondingly, there are three irreducible forms of truth: sensory, spiri- tual, and rational. At various periods of history, one of the three basic premises achieves preeminence over the others and stamps its character on the main ways of thinking, feeling, or experiencing that distinguish an epoch. That is why the principal institutions of society (law, art, philosophy, science, and religion) exhibit at any particular time a consistent mental outlook that is the reflection of the predominance of one or the other of the three major cultural premises. During a Sensate period, for example science will be rigidly empirical in its methods and procedures, art will strive for realism rather than for the impart- ing of transcendent visions, and religion will tend to be more concerned with the quest for concrete moral experience than for the truth of faith or reason.

Having been persuaded by his survey of world history that all the varieties of cultural constellations that have appeared on the human scene can be effec- tively encompassed as subvarieties of the three major cultural mentalities, Sorokin proceeds to explain why all major social change must be recurrent. The ceaseless flux of history, so he contends, has characteristic rhythms that are far from being random or subject to the whims of the Gods. Any culture, deter- mined as it is by its major premises, follows a kind of inner necessity: it is sub- ject to its own peculiar destiny. But the predominance of one fundamental cultural mentality carries within itself its own demise through the exhaustion of its own premises. This is what Sorokin, rejecting any explanation of social change through external factors, has called the principle of immanent change . As cultural systems reach the zenith of their full flowering, they "become less and less capable of serving as an instrument of adaptation, as an experience for real satisfaction of the needs of its bearers, and as foundation for their social and cultural life." At this point, a cultural system, by driving to the limits the premises that gave it birth, exceeds the mark, distorts the portion of truth it once embodied through one-sided exaggeration, and prepares its own demise, thereby giving birth to a new cultural system. This dialectic, which bears strong resemblances to the Hegelian, is at the heart of Sorokin's principle of limits and purports to explain the rhythmic periodicity of all socio-cultural phenomena. For Sorokin, just as for Hegel, change implies the rise of a new life at the same time as it imparts dissolution.

The three major types of cultural mentalities, Sorokin contends, follow each other in reliable sequence. Sensate forms will be followed by Ideational , and they in turn by Idealistic forms of cultural integration. After this cycle has been completed, the recurrence of a new Sensate culture will initiate a new cycle. Since the days of the early Greeks and their Sensate culture, Western culture has completed two cycles of this sequence. We are now living at the end of a Sensate phase which has lasted for several hundred years. This stage is now overripe, it has reached its limits, and we live in the shadow of twilight among the debris of a disintegrating culture that is no longer able to give meaning and significance to our lives. Ideas once dominant and organizing no longer serve as guideposts, having fallen apart. We can already discern the first harbingers of a new Ideational integration sprouting like seeds beneath the snow. Ours is a world in which the center no longer holds and where even the best lack all conviction. But those who have the vision can have intimations of glad tidings of future redemption from the tyranny of the senses.

This is not the place to discuss the enormous statistical labors that went into establishing trends in the fluctuation of art forms, of philosophical, ethical, and legal norms and values, or of social relationships in ordinary times as well as during wars and revolutions--all of which are to be found in the first three volumes of Sorokin's magnum opus. They have been scrutinized by experts in these areas and have frequently been found to be wanting. One especially telling overall criticism was made long ago by Hans Speier, who has said that Soro- kin's study of history "is imbued with the spirit of the doctrine that he desires to refute," since the methods he uses to establish the impermanence of Sensate and empirical culture are in themselves extremely empirical. Sorokin would probably have answered that it is given to no man to step out of his time, that even an attempt to refute the preeminence of Sensate empiricism must still avail itself of the tools that his age and time put at his disposal. Nevertheless, Sorokin's "romantic" contribution will have to be judged in the future not by any isolated concrete result of his investigation, but by the fruitfulness of the theoretical leads he has imparted to succeeding scholars. Viewed in this light, at least some of these leads may well survive, even if a number of his general contentions will have been swept aside. Furthermore, even though he may have been wrong on many counts, some of Sorokin's anticipations, written in the 1930's indeed have a prophetic character. What he wrote then about the pos- sible destruction of humankind by the pushing of buttons or about the coming celebration of hard-core pornography shows an almost uncanny sense of things to come in the world of the 1970's.

At a time when sociologists, under the impact of the debate about modern- ization and underdevelopment, have again begun to discuss the principles underlying the dynamics of socio-cultural change, Sorokin's stress on immanent change, as distinct from externally induced change may have renewed signifi- cance. When scholars have increasingly wondered why the external impact of Western culture has had so widely differing results in many Third World na- tions, it might be well to assume Sorokin's angle of vision and to ask whether cultures in their Idealistic or Ideational phases might be more resistant to the importation of the Sensate cultures of the West than cultures, such as the Japanese or the Korean, that are already largely conditioned by Sensate sets of ideas. Why, for example, are modern methods of birth control readily acceptable in those countries while they have failed in India or Egypt? Could it be that they are "out of phase" in the latter, but not in the former, countries?

Turning to Sorokin's principle of limits, one again has the impression that if it were shorn of the somewhat dogmatic and grandiose manner in which it was first formulated, it could have interesting possibilities as a hypothesis. In fact, it has been one of the mainstays of Claude Levi-Strauss's method of analysis. Whether or not Levi-Strauss is familiar with Sorokin's work, the re- semblances are striking. For example, Levi-Strauss writes: ". . . In social un- dertakings mankind keeps manoeuvering within narrow limits. Social types are not isolated creations, wholly independent of each other, and each one an original entity, but rather the result of endless combinations, forever seeking to solve the same problems by manipulating the same fundamental elements."

As should already be apparent, Sorokin's overall view is closely tied to his sociology of knowledge, a field to which, it is generally agreed, he made signifi- cant contributions.

From Coser, 1977:466-469.

Sociology of Knowledge

Sorokin's sociology of knowledge rejects any attempt to root ideas in the existential conditions of thinkers and their audiences. This contrasts sharply with most other sociological attempts to understand the rise and fall of ideas in relation to social structures, and is specifically in opposition to the theories of Marx, Weber and Mannheim, which have been examined earlier in this book. Although Sorokin has occasionally indicated that such an endeavor may be worthwhile, he himself did not take this route. Instead, his sociology of knowl- edge attempts to establish connections between concrete philosophical, religious, artistic, and scientific thought and the overall cultural mentalities in which this thought appears and flourishes. As has already been discussed, he attempts to document, for example, that in Sensate periods, scientific ideas tend to be based exclusively on sense experience and empirical proof and validation, whereas in periods of Ideational ascendancy, empirical science fails to develop, being re- placed by varieties of Naturphilosophien that purport to attain intuitive insights into the nature of the universe.

Such attempts to link systems of ideas to supersystems and to drive every aspect of intellectual production from varying cultural mentalities, are open to the charge of tautological reasoning. As Merton has remarked, when Sorokin argues that "in a sensate society and culture the sensate system of truth based on the testimony of the organs of senses has to be dominant," he plainly argued in circles, "for sensate mentality has already been defined as one con- ceiving of reality as only that which is presented to the sense organs.' " Sorokin's answer to such charges has not been very convincing. But even if his overall idealistic and emanationist explanation seems open to serious objections, this is not to say that his sociology of knowledge has been sterile. One need only dig beneath some of his grandiose characterizations of cultures to be re- warded by significant and worthwhile sets of concrete ideas.

Take, for example, Sorokin's discussion of the question which cultural values penetrate and diffuse more easily when imported into an alien culture? In an effort to answer this question he does not simply refer to the overall compatibility of values between donor and recipient cultures, though he does this also; rather he points to the character of the human agents that first come into contact with the donor culture. "The kind of values," he says "that pene- trate first depends, primarily, upon the kinds of human agents that first come into contact with the other culture. If they are merchants . . . then various commercial commodities penetrate first; if they are missionaries . . . then the ideological values' penetrate first. If they are conquerors and soldiers, then partly material, partly non-material values penetrate simultaneously. If they are stu- dents of philosophy or social science then they bring back and spread the theories and ideologies they studied." This is a significant insight worth fur- ther elaboration, an insight, moreover, which points to the connection of ideas with the existential conditions of their carriers, and is hence not subject to the charge of tautology that must beset all emanationist theories in the sociology of knowledge.

Or consider Sorokin's first adumbration of a sociological theory of scientific discovery and technological invention, namely the idea that "any important new invention . . . or any important new discovery in the natural sciences . . . is the result of a long process, with a multitude of small discoveries made step by step, [so that] the really new element in any important invention or discovery is comparatively a very modest one." In this case, Sorokin, to be sure, does not refer to the existential basis of scientific thought, yet he departs from his programmatic endeavors to link specific ideas to their matrix in over- all cultural mentalities. He engaged, in fact, in an attempt to trace cumulative trends within scientific communities and to link specific innovators to the scientific tradition within which they operate.

Many of Sorokin's usable ideas in the sociology of knowledge do not come in his programmatic magnum opus but in a more modest companion volume, Sociocultural Causality, Space, Time, published a few years later. Here, in a manner reminiscent of Durkheim and his school, Sorokin shows that the way a specific culture conceives of causality, space, and time is not identical with natural science conceptions and must be understood in relation to the specific socio-cultural context. Also following the Durkheimians, he argues moreover that even the space of the geometricians, for example, is "greatly conditioned and stamped by the sociocultural traits of the respective society and culture. The very units of the geometric distance--such as 'foot,' 'yard,' 'meter,' 'sajen,' 'finger,' 'rod,' and so on--bear the imprint of these [socio-cultural] conditions.'' Sorokin shows further how, with the increase in communications between local societies and the wider world, parochial systems of thought recede before more universal representations of space." 'To the right of Jones's house, about twenty rods' serves the purpose for a village where everyone knows where Jones's house is situated. But for the whole human population, such a point of spatial refer- ence becomes indefinable and therefore unserviceable." The difference be- tween universalistic and particularistic codes of communication, which has been highlighted in our days by Basil Bernstein and other scholars, can al- ready be found in nuce in Sorokin's work.

It is worth noting Sorokin's observation that "the emergence of uniform . . . space of classical mechanics itself, with its system of reference, was con- ditioned by the sociocultural process of growth of cosmopolitan and interna- tional society and culture"; or his discussion of the fact that "when inter- course extends over many groups with different rhythms of sociocultural activities, and time indications, the concrete and local systems of sociocultural time cease to perform satisfactorily the functions of coordination and synchro- nization of their activities. Hence the urgent need to establish such a standard- ized system of time reckoning . . . as would serve equally all the groups as the uniform point of time reference for the coordination and synchronization of their activities." Here Sorokin succeeds in showing in convincing detail that notions such as time and space do not simply emanate from overall mentalities but are rooted in the concrete exigencies of human communities; that the~ are with apologies to Sorokin the emanist, existentially determined.

One further quotation will illustrate the great subtlety of Sorokin's socio- logical imagination. After having shown that in the modern world univer- sal time-reckoning has largely replaced the community-rooted parochial ways of dealing with time, Sorokin turns around and makes the acute observation that the older qualitative time measures have by no means been fully replaced by quantitative time. In line with the art historian Wilhelm Pinder and remi- niscent of what Mannheim called the "contemporaneity of the noncontempora- neous," Sorokin argues: "Within the same territorial aggregate composed of different religious, occupational, economic, national, and cultural groups, there are different rhythms and pulsations, and therefore different calendars and different conventions for the sociocultural time of these groups. . . Compare . . . a Harvard calendar with one operating, say, among factory workers. . . . The calendar of the Roman Catholics in Boston--in part, at least--is different from that of the Protestant Bostonians. . . . Side by side with quantitative time (which itself is in a degree a social convention), there exists a full-blooded sociocultural time, with all its 'earmarks': it is qualitative, it is not infinitely divisible . . . , it does not flow on evenly . . . ; it is determined by social con- ditions, and reflects the rhythms and pulsations of the social life of a given group . . .

One ventures to think that this set of observations provides leads for several Ph.D. dissertations, even though the great French Durkheimian Maurice Halbwachs, probably unaware of Sorokin's work, has elaborated some of these ideas in his seminal work The Social Framework of Memory and elsewhere. Despite the fact that his ambitious overall scheme, like all closed total systems of sociological thought, may be found wanting, it should be apparent by now that Sorokin was a major force, a major thinker. Or, as a whimsical button worn by some graduate students at a recent convention of the American Socio- logical Association put it, "Sorokin lives."

From Coser, 1977:469-472.

Social Stratification and Social Mobility

Sorokin holds a unique place in the study of social stratification and mo- bility. We owe to him the creation or definition of many of the terms that have become standard in this field. We also owe him a distinct vision of what the study of social mobility should be mainly concerned with, namely, the courses and consequences of demographic exchanges between groups, as distinct from the study of individuals who may move up or down or sideways in the social hierarchy.

Sorokin defined social mobility in its broadest sense as the shifting of people in social space. He was not, however, interested in movements of indi- viduals but in social metabolism, in the consequences of such movements for social groups differently located in the social structure.

"To find the position of a man or a social phenomenon in social space," Sorokin argued in the first place, "means to define his or its relations to other men or other social phenomena chosen as the point of reference.' " Methods appropriate for the study of mobility are somewhat reminiscent of the system of coordinates used for the location of an object in geometrical space. But the analytical task is not completed when one has established a person's relations to specific groups. What needs further exploration is "the relation of these groups to each other within a population, and the relation of this population to other populations." In other words, though the study of social mobility needs to concern itself with the movements of individuals, it also needs to pay close attention to the consequences of these movements for the social groups and the total structures that encompass these individual moves. Before considering social mobility we must know a good deal about the structure of stratification in which such movements occur.

Social stratification, to Sorokin, means "the differentiation of a given popu- lation into hierarchically superposed classes." Such stratification, he held, is a permanent characteristic of any organized social group. Stratification may be based on economic criteria--for example, when one focuses attention upon the differentials between the wealthy and the poor. But societies or groups are also politically stratified when their social ranks are hierarchically structured with respect to authority and power. If, however, the members of a society are dif- ferentiated into various occupational groups and some of these occupations are deemed more honorable than others, or if occupations are internally divided between those who give orders and those who receive orders, then we deal with occupational stratification. Though there may be other concrete forms of stratification, of central sociological importance are economic, political, and oc- cupational stratification.

Sociological investigation must proceed to pay attention to the height and the profile of stratification pyramids. Of how many layers is it composed? Is its profile steep, or does it slope gradually ?

Whether one studies economic, political, or occupational stratification, Sorokin contended, one must always be attentive to two distinct phenomena: the rise or decline of a group as a whole and the increase or decrease of strat- ification within a group. In the first case we deal with increases of wealth, power, or occupational standing of social groups, as when we talk of the de- cline of the aristocracy or the rise of the bourgeoisie; in the second, we are concerned with the increase or decrease of the height and steepness of the stratification pyramid in regard to wealth, power, or occupational prestige within groups--for example, when we say that the American Black population now has a higher stratification profile than it had at the turn of the century.

In contrast to evolutionary and "progressive' thought, and in tune with his overall view of the course of human history, Sorokin argued that no consistent trend toward either the heightening or the flattening of stratificational pyra- mids can be discerned. Instead, all that can be observed is ceaseless fluctuation. At times, differences between the poor and the rich may be reduced through the impact of equalitarian forces, but at other times inequalitarian tendencies will again assert themselves. Or at one point democratic participation will re- duce differences in political power, while at another aristocratic and dictatorial politics will successfully increase the height of the political pyramid. In similar ways, some groups decline and others rise in ceaseless fluctuation.

Exterior features of the architecture of social structures having been sketched, Sorokin proceeds to summarize their inner construction, to wit the character and disposition of the floors, the elevators, and the staircases that lead from one story to another; the ladders and accommodations for climbing up and going down from story to story. This brings him to the concrete details of his study of social mobility.

Social mobility is understood as the transition of people from one social position to another. There are two types of social mobility, horizontal and vertical. The first concerns movements from one social position to another situated on the same level, as in a movement from Baptist to Methodist affilia- tion, or from work as a foreman with Ford to similar work with Chrysler. The second refers to transitions of people from one social stratum to one higher or lower in the social scale, as in ascendant movements from rags to riches or in the downward mobility of inept children of able parents.

Both ascending and descending movements occur in two principal forms: the penetration of individuals of a lower stratum into an existing higher one, and the descent of individuals from a higher social position to one lower on the scale; or the collective ascent or descent of whole groups relative to other groups in the social pyramid. But--and this is what distinguished Sorokin's orientation from that of many contemporary students of stratification and mo- bility--his main focus was upon collective, not on individual phenomena. As he puts it, "The case of individual infiltration into an existing higher stratum or of individuals dropping from a higher social layer into a lower one are rela- tively common and comprehensible. They need no explanation. The second form of social ascending and descending, the rise and fall of groups, must be considered more carefully.

Groups and societies, according to Sorokin, may be distinguished according to their differences in the intensiveness and generality of social mobility. There may be stratified societies in which vertical mobility is virtually nil and others in which it is very frequent. We must therefore be careful to distinguish be- tween the height and profile of stratification, and the prevalence or absence of social mobility. In some highly stratified societies where the membranes be- tween strata are thin, social mobility is very high. In contrast other societies with various profiles and heights of stratification have hardly any stairs and elevators to allow members to pass from one floor to another, so that the strata are largely closed, rigidly separated, immobile, and virtually impenetrable. Assuming that there are no societies in which strata are absolutely closed and none where social mobility is absolutely free from obstacles, one must recognize that Sorokin's distinctions, even though stated too metaphorically, are of con- siderable heuristic value.

In regard to degrees of openness and closure, Sorokin holds to his usual position. No perpetual trend toward either increase or decrease of vertical mo- bility can be discerned in the course of human history; all that can be noticed are variations through geographical space and fluctuations in historical time.

Attempting to identify the channels of vertical mobility and the mecha- nisms of social selection and distribution of individuals within different social strata, Sorokin identifies the army, the church, the school, as well as political, professional, and economic organizations, as principal conduits of vertical social circulation. They are the "sieves" that sift individuals who claim access to dif- ferent social strata and positions. All these institutions are involved in social selection and distribution of the members of a society. They decide which people will climb and fall; they allocate individuals to various strata; they either open gates for the flow of individuals or create impediments to their movements.

Without minutely detailing the many ways in which Sorokin illustrates the operation of these institutions or the way in which he shows why at a given time certain stratification profiles have called for specific mechanisms of selec- tion, we should take note, however, of what he considers a "permanent and universal" basis for interoccupational stratification, namely: "The importance of an occupation for the survival and existence of a group as a whole." The occupations that are considered most consequential in a society, he states, are those that "are connected with the functions of organization and control of a group."

In considering the impact of actual rates of social mobility, as well as the ideology of social mobility, on modern societies, we find Sorokin offers a fresh approach in the light of current experience. Far from indulging in unalloyed enthusiasm about high degrees of social mobility, Sorokin, like Durkheim, was at pains to highlight its dysfunctional and its functional aspects. He stressed, among other things, the heavy price in mental strain, mental disease, cynicism, social isolation, and loneliness of individuals cut adrift from their social moor- ings. He also stressed the increase in tolerance and the facilitation of intellec- tual life (as a result of discoveries and inventions) that were likely to occur with more frequency in highly mobile societies

The analyst of social stratification, social mobility, and related matters can ignore Sorokin's work only at his or her expense. It still remains a veritable storehouse of ideas. Above all we need to take Sorokin's advice when he urges us to consider social mobility as a form of social exchange. Just as Levi-Strauss brought about a revolution in the study of kinship (stressing that marriage is to be seen as an exchange between elementary families), so Sorokin presents the innovative idea that social mobility does not primarily concern the placement of individuals but is to be understood as exchange between social groups. By fostering the circulation of individuals in social space, such exchange increases or decreases the specific weight and power of the groups and strata between which they move. This central idea, if more fully elaborated, could be the impetus for a great deal of research in social stratification.

From Coser, 1977:472-476.

The Social Philosophy

In a work on the history of sociological theories, Sorokin's "integralist" philosophy can be discussed only in a peripheral way, even though it un- doubtedly loomed very large among Sorokin's preoccupations, especially in the last third of his life.

All of Sorokin's tracts for the times that deal with his philosophy are im- bued with a pervasive distaste, one may even say hatred, for modern urban culture and all that it stands for. The Sensate world of the city jungle and the world of modernity as a whole are, to Sorokin, compounds of utter depravity, which he castigates in the accents of Old Testament prophets or Russian itiner- ant preachers. Consider the following lines from the final chapter of his auto- biography: ". . . In the human world around me the deadliest storm is raging. The very destiny of mankind is being weighed in the balance of life and death. The forces of the dying Sensate order are furiously destroying everything that stands in their way. In the name of 'God,' 'progress,' 'civilization,' commu- nism,' 'democracy,' 'freedom,' 'capitalism,' 'the dignity of man,' and other shib- boleths they are uprooting these very values, murdering millions of human beings, threatening man's very survival and tending to turn this beautiful planet into an 'abomination of desolation.' "

Sorokin's was an apocalyptic vision; he expected the fire next time. Yet, instilled as he was by a philosophy of history that rested on the notion of cyclical fluctuations in human affairs, he seems never to have doubted that the collapse of Western Sensate culture would be followed in its turn by a rebirth under different stars. It is this new Ideational culture that Sorokin sought to anticipate in his Integralist philosophy. In times to come, the present desert of love would he superseded by a harmonious civilization in which altruistic love--which he studied intensely in the last period of his life--would overcome the competitive strivings of Sensate mentalities; here people would again find a secure footing in revitalized communities of their fellows. Then "the supreme Trinity of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty, wrongly divorced from one another by Sensate mentality" will be reinstalled in "one harmonious whole." Men and women, now mired in the slough of despond, will again grow to truly hu- man stature. Sorokin fervently believed, that after the Goetterdaemmerung of the dying Sensate order, humankind would again enter into its true kingdom. Having "deliberately become a 'stranger' to the glittering vacuities, and short- lived 'successes' " of Sensate decay, having "alienated [himself] from its hollow values, sham-truths, and grandiose pretenses," Sorokin saw himself as another Moses who, even though he could not enter the promised land, was still able, owing to his cultural estrangement, to forecast its main features in his Integral- ist philosophy. Let him who has never dreamt of a redemptive Utopia of the future cast the first stone.

From Coser, 1977:476-477.

Pitirim Sorokin

Portions of Sorokin's original work: Social Mobility

From Pitirim Sorokin, Social and Cultural Mobility. New York: The Free Press, 1959.

1. Conception of Social Mobility and Its Forms


By social mobility is understood any transition of an individual or social object or value--anything that has been created or modified by human activity--from one social position to another. There are two principal types of social mobility, horizontal and vertical.. By horizontal social mobility or shifting, is meant the transition of an individual or social object from one social group to another situated on the same level. Transitions of individuals, as from the Baptist to the Methodist religious group, from one citizenship to another, from one family (as a husband or wife) to another by divorce and remarriage, from one factory to another in the same occupational status, are all instances of social mobility. So too are transitions of social objects, the radio, automobile, fashion, Communism, Darwin's theory, within the same social stratum, as from lowa to California, or from any one place to another. In all these cases, "shifting" may take place without any noticeable change of the social position of an individual or social object in the vertical direction. By vertical social mobility is meant the relations involved in a transition of an individual (or a social object) from one social stratum to another. According to the direction of the transition there are two types of vertical social mobility: ascending and descending, or social climbing and social sinking. According to the nature of the stratification, there are ascending and descending currents of economic, political, and occupational mobility, not to mention other less important types. The ascending currents exist in two principal forms: as an infiltration of the individuals of a lower stratum into an existing higher one; and as a creation of a new group by such individuals, and the insertion of such a group into a higher stratum instead of, or side by side with, the existing groups of this stratum.. Correspondingly, the descending current has also two principal forms: the first consists in a dropping of individuals from a higher social position into an existing lower one, without a degradation or disintegration of the higher group to which they belonged; the second is manifested in a degradation of a social group as a whole, in an abasement of its rank among other groups, or in its disintegration as a social unit.. The first case of "sinking" reminds one of an individual falling from a ship; the second of the sinking of the ship itself with all on board, or of the ship as a wreck breaking itself to pieces.

The cases of individual infiltration into an existing higher stratum or of individuals dropping from a higher social layer into a lower one are relatively common and comprehensible. They need no explanation. The second form of social ascending and descending, the rise and fall of groups, must be considered more carefully.

The following historical examples may serve to illustrate. The historians of India's caste-society tell us that the caste of the Brahmins did not always hold the position of indisputable superiority which it has held during the last two thousand years. In tlle remote past, the caste of the warriors and rulers, or the caste of the Kshatriyas, seems to have been not inferior to the caste of the Brahmins; and it appears that only after a long struggle did the latter become the highest caste. [1] If this hypothesis be true, then this elevation of the rank of the Brahmin caste as a whole through the ranks of other castes is an example of the second type of social ascent. The group as a whole being elevated, all its members, in corpore, through this very fact, are elevated also. Before the recognition of the Christian religion by Constantine the Great, the position of a Christian Bishop, or the Christian clergy, was not a high one among other social ranks of Roman society. In the next few centuries the Christian Church, as a whole, experienced an enormous elevation of social position and rank. Through this wholesale elevationl of the Christian Church, the members of the clergy, and especially the high Church dignitaries, were elevated to the highest ranks of medieval society. And, contrariwise, a decrease in the authority of the Christian Church during the last two centuries has led to a relative abasement of the social ranks of the high Church dignitaries within the ranks of the present society. The position of the Pope or a cardinal is still high, but undoubtedly it is lower than it was in the Middle Ages. [2] The group of the legists in France is another example. In the twelfth century, this group appeared in France, as a group, and began to grow rapidly in significance and rank. Very soon, in the form of the judicial aristocracy, it inserted itself into the place of the previously existiug nobility. In this way, its members were raised to a much higher social position. During the seventeenth, and especially the eighteenth centuries, the group, as a whole, began to "sink," and finally disappeared in the conflagration of the Revolution. A similar process took place in the elevation of the Communal Bourgeoisie in the Middle Ages, in the privileged Six Corps or the Guilda Mercatoria, and in the aristocracy of many royal courts. To have a high position at the court of the Romanoffs, Hapsburgs, or Hohenzollerns before the revolutions meant to have one of the highest social ranks in the corresponding countries. The "sinking" of the dynasties led to a "social sinking" of all ranks connected with them. The group of the Communists in Russia, before the Revolution, did not have any high rank socially recognized. During the Rwolution the group climbed an enormous social distance and occupied the highest strata in Russian society. As a result, all its members have been elevated en masse to the place occupied by the Czarist aristocracy. Similar cases are given in a purely economic stratification. Before the "oil" and "automobile" era, to be a prominent manufacturer in this field did not mean to be a captain of industry and finance. A great expansion of these industries has transformed them into some of the most important kinds of industry. Correspondingly, to be a leading manufacturer in these fields now means to be one of the most important leaders of industry and finance. These examples illustrate the second collective form of ascending and descending currents of social mobility.

The situation is summed up in the following scheme:


  (a) of individuals Horizontal Territorial, religious, political party, family, occupational and other horizontal shiftings without any noticeable change in vertical position    
SOCIAL MOBILITY       Individual infiltration  
  (b) of social objects Vertical   Creation and elevation of a whole group Economic, occupational, political,etc.
        Individual sinking  
        Sinking or disintegration of a whole group Economic, occupational, political, etc.


* The mobility of social objects and values and the horizontal mobility, in spite of the great importance of the problem, is not an object of this study.

2. Intensiveness or Velocity and Genera1ity of Vertical Social Mobility


From the quantitative point of view, a further distinction must be made between the intensiveness and the generality of tlle vertical mobility. By its intensiveness is meant the vertical social distance, or the number of strata--economic or occupational or political-- crossed by an individual in his upward or downward movement in a definite period of time. If, for instance, one individual in one year climbed from the position of a man with a yearly incolne of $500 to a position with an income of $50,000, while another man in the same period succeeded in increasing his income only from $500 to $1,000, in the first case the intensiveness of the economic climbing would be fifty times greater than in the second case. For a corresponding change, the intensiveness of the vertical mobility may be measured in the same way in the field ot the political and occupational stratifications. By the generality of the vertical mobility, is meant the number of individuals who have changed their social position in the vertical direction in a definite period of time. The absolute number of such individuals givcs the absolute generality of the vertical mobility in a given population; the proportion of such individuals to the total number of a given population gives the relative generality of the vertical mobility.

Finally, combining the data of intensiveness and relative generality of the vertical mobility in a definite field (e.g., in the economic), the aggregate index of the vertical economic mobility of a given society may be obtained. In this way a comparison of one society with another, or of the same society at different periods may be made, to find in which of them, or at what period, the aggregate mobility is greater. The same may be said about the aggregate index of the political and occupational vertical mobility.

3. Immobile and Mobile Types of Stratified Societies


On the basis of the above, it is easy to see that a social stratification of the same height and profile may have a different inner structure caused by the difference in the intensiveness and generality of the (horizontal and) vertical social mobility. Theoretically, there may be a stratified society in which the vertical social mobility is nil. This means that within it there is no ascending or descending, no circulation of its members; that every individual is forever attached to the social stratum in which he was bom; that the membranes or hymens which separate one stratum from another are absolutely impenetrable, and do not have any "holes" through which, nor any stairs and elevators with which, the dwellers of the different strata may pass from one floor to another. Such a type of stratification may be styled as absolutely closed, rigid, impenetrable, or immobile. The opposite theoretical type of the inner structure of the stratification of the same height and profile is that in which the vertical mobility is very intensive and general; here the membranes between the strata are very thin and have the largest holes to pass from one floor to another. Therefore, though the social building is as stratified as the immobile one, nevertheless, the dwellers of its different strata are continually challging; they do not stay a very long time in the same "social story," and with the help of the largest staircases and elevators are en masse moving "up and down." Such a type of social stratification may be styled open, plastic, penetrable, or mobile. Between these two extreme types there may be many middle or intermediary types of stratification.

Having indicated these types and the types of the vertical mobility, turn now to an analysis of the different kinds of societies and the same society at different times, from the standpoint of the vertical mobility and penetrability of their strata.

4. Democracy and Vertical Social Mobility


One of the most conspicuous characteristics of the so-called "democratic societies" is a more intensive vertical mobility compared with that of the non-democratic groups. In democratic societies the social position of an individual, at least theoretically, is not determined by his birth; all positions are open to everybody who can get them; there are no judicial or religious obstacles to climbing or going down. All this facilitates a "greater vertical mobility" (capillarity, according to the expression of Dumont) in such societies. This greater mobility is probably one of the causes of the belief that the social building of democratic societies is not stratified, or is less stratified, than that of autocratic societies. We have seen that this opinion is not warranted by the facts. Such a belief is a kind of mental aberration, due to many causes, and among them to the fact that the strata in democratic groups are more open, have more holes and "elevators" to go up and down. This produces the illusion that there are no strata, even though they exist.

In pointing out this considerable mobility of the democratic societies, a reservation must be made at the same time, for not always, and not in all "democratic" societies, is the vertical mobility greater than in the "autocratic" ones. [3] In some of the non-democratic groups mobility has been greater than in the democracies. This is not often seen because the "channels" and the methods of climbing and sinking in such societies are not "the elections," as in democracies, but other and somewhat different ones. While "elections" are conspicuous indications of mobility, its other outlets and channels are often overlooked Hence the impression of the stagnant and immobile character of all "non-electoral" societies. That this impression is far from being always true will be shown.


5. General Principles of Vertical Mobility



1. First Proposiiion.--There has scarcely been any society whose strata were absolutely closed, or in which vertical mobility in its three forms--economic, political and occupational--was not present.. That the strata of primitive tribes have been penetrable follows from the fact that within many of them there is no hereditary high position; their leaders often have been elected, their structures have been far from being quite rigid, and the personal qualities of an individual have played a decisive role in social ascent or descent. The nearest approach to an absolutely rigid society, without any vertical mobility, is the so-called caste-society. Its most conspicuous type exists in India. Here, indeed, vertical social mobility is very weak. But even here it has not been absolutely absent. Historical records show that in the past, when the caste-system had already been developed, it did happen that members of the highest Brahmin caste, or the king aud his fanlily, were overthrown or cast out for crimes. "Through a want of modesty many kings have perished, together with their belongings; through modesty even hermits in the forest have gained kingdoms. Through a want of humility Vena perished, likewise king Nahusha, Sudas, Sumukha and Nevi," etc. [4] On the other hand, the outcasts, after a suitable repentance, might be reinstated, or individuals bom in a lower social stratum might succeed in entering the Brahmin caste, the top of the social cone of India. "By humility Prithu and Manu gained sovereignty, Kubera the position of the Lord of wealth and the son of Gadhi, the rank of a Brahmana." [5] Because of the mixed intercaste marriages, it was possible slowly to climb or sink from caste to caste in several generations. Here are the juridical texts corroborating these statements. In Gautama we read: From a marriage of Brahmana and Kshatriya springs a Savarna, from a Brahmana and Vaisya a Nishada, from a Brahmana and Sudra a Parasava." In this way intercaste subdivision was appearing. But "In the seventh generation men obtain a change of caste either being raised to a higher or being degraded to a lower one." [6] "By the power of austerities and of the seed from which they sprang the mixed races obtain here among men more exalted or lower rank in successive birth." [7] Articles concerning the degradation and casting-out for the transgression of the caste rule are scattered throughout all the Sacred Books of India. [8] The existence of the process of social climbing is certainly vouched for, too. At least, in the period of Early Buddhism, we find "many cases of Brahmans and Princes doing manual work and manual occupations. Among the middle classes we find not a few instances revealing anything but castebound heredity and groove, to wit, parents discussing the best profession for their son--no reference being made to the father's trade." "Social divisions and economic occupations were very far from being coinciding." "Labor was largely hereditary, yet there was, withal, a mobility and initiative anything but rigid revealed in the exercise of it." Moreover, at different periods, "slave-born kings are known in history but tabooed in Law." "The spectacle of the low-born man in power was never a rarity in India." The case of Chandragupta, a low-born son of Mura who became the founder of the great dynasty of the Maurya and the creator of the great and powerful Maurya Empire (321 to 297 B.C.) is only one conspicuous example among many. [9]

For the last few decades we see a similar picture. The weak current of the vertical mobility has been active in different ways: "through enrolling in one of the more distinguished castes" by those who became wealthy and could obtain a sanction from the Brahmins; through creation of a new caste; through change of occupation; through intercaste marriages; through migration; and so on. [10] Quite recently a considerable role began to be played by education, and by political and religious factors.[11] It is evident, therefore, that, in spite of the fact that the caste-society of India is apparently the most conspicuous example of the most impenetrable and rigidly stratified body, nevertheless, even within it, the weak and slow currents of vertical mobility have been constantly present. If such is the case with the India caste-society, it is clear that in all other social bodies vertical mobility to this or that degree, must obviously be present. This statement is warranted by the facts. The histories of Greece, Rome, Egypt, [11] China, Medieval Europe, and so on show the existence of a vertical mobility much more intensive than that of the Indian caste-society. The absolutely rigid society is a myth which has never been realized in history.

2. The Second Proposition.--There has never existed a society in which vertical social mobility has been absolutely free and the trasition from one social stratum to another has had no resistance. This proposition is a mere corollary to the premises established ahove, that every organized society is a stratified body. If veritcal mobility were absolutely free, in the resultant society there woulb be no strata. It would remind us of a building having no floors separating one story from another. But all societies have been stratified. This means that within them there has been a kind of "sieve" which has sifted the individuals, allowing some to go up, keeping others in the lower strata, and contrariwise.

Only in periods of anarchy and great disorder, when the entire social structure is broken and where the social strata are considerably demolished, do we have anything reminding us of a chaotic and disorganized vertical mobility en masse. [13] But even in such periods, there are some hindrances to unlimited social mobility, partly in the form of the remnants of the "sieve" of the old regime, partly in the form of a rapidly growing "new sieve." After a short period, if such an anarchic society does not perish in anarchy, a modified "sieve" rapidly takes the place of the old one and, incidentally, becomes as tight as its predecessor. What is to be understood by the "sieve" will be explained further on. Here it is enough to say that it exists and functions in this or that form in any society. The proposition is so evident and in the future we shall indicate so many facts which warrant it, that there is no need to dwell on it longer here.

3. The Third Proposition.--The intensiveness, as well as the generality of the vertical social mobility, varies from society to society (fluctuation of mobility in space). This statement is quite evident also. It is enough to compare the Indian caste-society with the American society to see that. If the highest ranks in the political, or economic, or occupational cone of both societies are taken, it is seen that in India almost all these ranks are determined by birth, and there are very few "upstarts" who climbed to these positions from the lowest strata. Meanwhile, in the United States, among its captains of industry and finance, 38.8 per cent in the past and 19.6 per cent in the present generation started poor; 31.5 per cent among the deceased and 27.7 per cent among the living multimillionaires started their careers neither rich nor poor; [14] among the twenty-nine presidents of the United States 14, or 48.3 per cent, came from poor and humble families. [15] The differences in the generality of the vertical mobility of both countries are similar. In India a great majority of the occupational population inherit and keep throughout their lives the occupational status of their fathers; in the United States the majority of the population change their occupations at least once in a lifetime. The study of occupational shifting by Dr. Dublin has shown that among the policyholders of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company 58.5 per cent have changed their occupation between the moment of issuance of the policy and death. [16] My own study of the transmission of occupation from father to son among different groups of the American population has shown that among the present generation the shifting from occupation to occupation is high. The same may be said about the generality of the vertical economic mobility.

Furthermore, the differences in the intensity and generality of the vertical political mobility in different societies may he seen from the following figures which show what per cent among the monarchs and executives of the different countries were "newcomers" who climbed to this highest position from the lower social strata. (See following table.)




Western Roman Empire


Eastern Roman Empire








United States of America


Presidents of France and Germany



These figures may be taken as an approximate indication of the intensiveness and generality of the vertical political mobility from the bottom of the political structure to its top. The great variation of the figures is an indication of the great fluctuation of the political mobility from country to country.

4. The Fourth Proposition. --The intensiveness and the generality of the vertical mobility--the economic, the political and the occupational --fluctuate in the same society at different times. In the course of the history of a whole country, as well as of any social group, there are periods when the vertical mobility increases from the quantitative as well as from the qualitative viewpoint, and there are the periods when it decreases.

Though accurate statistical material to prove this proposition is very scarce and fragmentary, nevertheless, it seems to me that these data, together with different forms of historical testimony, are enough to make the proposition safe. . . .

5. The Fifth Proposition.--As far as the corresponding historical and other materials permit seeing, in the field of vertical mobility, in its three fundamental forms, there seems to be no definite perpetual trend toward either an increase or a decrease of the intensiveness and generality of mobility. This is proposed as valid for the history of a country, for that of a large social body, and, finally, for the history of mankind. . . .

It is evident that the tendency to social seclusion and rigidity in the later stages of development of many social bodies has been rather common. While not trying to claim for this tendency a permanent trend, it is mentioned only to oppose the alleged tendency of an increase of social mobility in the course of time.

What has been said seems to be enough to challenge the alleged trend theories.


1. The principal forms of social mobility of individuals and social objects are: horizontal and vertical. Vertical mobility exists in the form of ascending and descending currents. Both have two varieties: individual infiltration and collective ascent or descent of the whole group within the system of other groups.

2. According to the degree of the circulation, it is possible to discriminate between immobile and mobile types of society.

3. There scarcely has existed a society whose strata were absolutely closed.

4. There scarcely has existed a society where vertical mobility was absolutely free from obstacles.

5. The intensiveness and the generality of vertical mobility vary from group to group, from time to time (fluctuation in space and in time). In the history of a social body there is a rhythm of comparatively immobile and mobile periods.

6. In these fluctuations there seems to be no perpetual trend toward either an increase or decrease of vertical mobility.

7. Though the so-called democratic societies are often more mobile than autocratic ones, nevertheless, the rule is not general and has many exceptions.





1. See Bougle, C., "Remarques sur le regime des castes," pp. 53 et seq., The Cambridge History of India, pp. 92 et seq.

2. See Guizot, F., The History of Civilization, Vol. 1, pp. 50-54, New York, 1874.

3. This is natural because under the signboard "democracy" are usually put societies of the most different types. The same is true of "autocracy." Both terms are very vague and scientifically defective.

4. Laws of Manu, VII, 40-42; see also XI, 183-199.

5. Laws of Manu, VII, 42, XI, 187-199.

6. Guautama, Chap. IV, pp. 8-21.

7. Laws of Manu, X, 42; see also 5-56.

8. See also Lilly, W. S., India and Its Problems, pp. 200 et seq. London, 1922.

9. The Cambridge History of India, Vol. I, pp. 208ff., 223, 268-269, 288, 480, New York, 1922.

10. See The Imperial Gazetteer of India, Vol. I, pp. 311-331.

11. See Woodburne, A. S., Decline of Caste in India, in Case, C., Outlines of Introductory Sociology.

12. See Breasted, J. H., op. cit., pp. 120, 173, 289, 333, 360.

13. See Sorokin, P., Sociology of Revolution, Pt. III.

14. Sorokin, P., "American Millionaires and Multimillionaires,'' Journal of Social Forces, p. 638, May, 1925.

15. Sorokin, P., "The Monarchs and the Rulers," Journal of Social Forces, March, 1926.

16. Dublin, L. J., "Shifting of Occupations Among Wage Eamers," Monthly Labor Review, April, 1924.

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