Arthur Leonard Stinchcombe (1955)

Emeritus Profesor of Sociology, Northwestern University

Dear Michael, Putting your re-request for a bio together with an In Memoriam for Phil Selznick, my dissertation supervisor, has jacked up my guilt mechanism to a level that overcomes my embarrassment at tooting my own horn in as bio. The thing I have to guard against is that I think very well of myself, and when I talk about myself that comes through. But I had a lot of experience early in my career with people like Phil (whom I could never call "Phil") that I knew would apply higher standards on my work than I would. Fortunately some of it passed Phil's standards for coherence and sociological depth, and other people like James S. Coleman sometimes thought my treatment of the facts was at least workmanlike. The dissertation was a quantitative one, and I have tried to develop strategies to make quantitative research fit to deal with the sort of complexity of the facts that Coleman was nearly as good at as Clifford Geertz and Erving Goffman, my superiors in my own cohort. My attempt to formulate this task and some ways to approach the problem Coleman used to call "choosing the right oversimplification" is my last book, The Logic of Social Research--Charles Tilly criticized me for the singular "The." Even using them (or Tilly) as a yardstick shows the kind and degree of vanity that I have to guard myself against. Fortunately I have supervised enough dissertations that I never could have managed myself, sometimes by showing that I was dead wrong (as John Markoff  did on the rural revolution on France, by showing I had chosen the wrong dependent variable(s) to explain).

The big problem that I picked up from Phil's work was that of the tendency of formal law and formal organization to oversimplify, or otherwise distort, the complexity of the values that they were supposed to serve. One of the early attempts to study this problem by a strategic combination of ethnographic methods and qualitative components in interviews to guide the formulation of the problems that I could study quantitatively was "Creating Efficient Industrial Organizations". It had essentially no impact on sociology, except that I had the advantage of knowing all the things I found out, and the people that didn't read it didn't. My self-serving interpretation was that South American government-owned steel plant managers that I studied didn't what  a sociologist (rather than a successful steel plant manager)  to tell them how to make steel plant go, and American socialists weren't much interested in the problem of efficient socialist steel plants. In some ways, my most successful book in influencing sociology of organizations was the theory developed in that book, with the steel plants left out, "Information and Organizations".

Sometime during the early period I wrote a theory textbook from some of my lectures, in which setting the problem of building social theories within a positivist view of what "science" was about in a few pages generated almost all of the citations to my work, which people still quote me. In some sense, my sociological biography stopped 40 years ago with "Constructing Social Theories". But I have tried to expand on,those few pages, and the illustrations that accompanied them, in "Theoretical Methods in Social History", and returning to Phil's influence on the substance of formal organizations and laws, "When Formality Works".

I am now Emeritus at sociology at Northwestern, mainly involved in historical and comparative work, advising people around here, and sometimes elsewhere, if I can get them to give me copies of their papers or books to comment on. My own comparative research is on why provinces vary so much in their ability to govern and tax their localities while getting along with their empire or federal center, and arguing that the main variables explaining variations in strength and ability to cooperate with the central government are those describing the commercial flow out of the locality. I expect the market for this book will be more or less the same as the efficiency book and another book that essentially no one has read, on comparative slavery and emancipation in the Caribbean during the 18th and 19th centuries. My excuse for the commercial failure of this last book is that no one really wants to know how some kinds slavery were not as bad as some other kinds, and some kinds of  emancipations are almost as bad, at least for a while, as slavery was.

So in some sense my summary of my biography as a sociologist is suggested by the name of some British degrees, "upper second." I have however loved doing sociological research, seeing many of my students having learned from me  how to find out things I couldn't have found out. I should also mention that my wife, Carol A. Heimer, has made my work and my effects on others better than it was before. And admiring her and my children, as well as loving them, has been a main joy of my life. And may I be forgiven for liking some of my work better than others do.

Dissertation Title: 
Social Sources of Rebellion in a High School
Dissertation Book Title: 
Rebellion in a high school
Chicago, IL