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The Disobedient Generation: Social Theorists in the Sixties
The Disobedient Generation: Social Theorists in the Sixties

University of Chicago Press, 2006
336 pp., $90.00

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Bruce Kuklick

Restive Youths in Middle Age

Why is there social theory in the United States?

This book consists of 19 autobiographical statements of sociologists, all of whom have some claims to be considered as social theorists. Most were born between 1947 and 1950, and the events of the 1960s—civil rights and Vietnam—fundamentally shaped their growing up (1968 was a pivotal year for most of them). Many of the scholars hold prestigious chairs, and not just at major universities, but at the world's leading institutions of higher learning: Harvard, Stanford, Chicago, Berkeley, Yale. They are mainly U. S. nationals. Nonetheless, the editors have included some Europeans, most with close connections to the United States, at places like Oxford, Cambridge, and the Sorbonne. These academics are also heads of their departments of inquiry, presidents of their professional associations, and editors of leading journals in the field.

The basic idea is that these members of the professoriate had their later scholarship decisively influenced by the radical events of the 1960s, and that this scholarship has been in some way unconventional, "disobedient." For the editors this situation has made the work of the authors more penetrating than it otherwise would have been, or more penetrating than that of other scholars. And so the collection is to illuminate not merely the connection between the personal and the intellectual, but also perhaps to suggest the precondition of incisive academic writing. In any event the editors invite collective appraisals of the scholars, their work, and the role of the 1960s in developing social theory.

What is social theory anyway? This is not an easy question to answer. Maybe even a harder question: is it the same as sociological theory? All of those who have contributed to this volume teach in departments of sociology, but most of the academics have connections to the other social sciences and are often associated with centers for research that have wide-ranging agendas. The scholars themselves have admirably broad interests, from ...

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