David Plotke (1972)

Professor of Political Science - New School for Social Research

I first entered Sociology at Berkeley in 1972. From 1975 to 1980 I taught at community colleges, worked for a left-wing journal, and did other things. I returned in 1980 and finished my dissertation in 1985.

My first permanent job after graduation was in Political Science, at Yale. My second job was also in Political Science, at the New School for Social Research. That is where I am today. I was Chair of my Department for a long time and am able to focus more on research and writing.

My experience at UCB was very positive. I probably got better training about how to study politics and why in the Sociology program than I would have received in Political Science at the time. That's debatable, of course, and it is sad that the person with whom it would have been especially interesting to discuss this, Michael Rogin, is no longer with us.

The intellectual breadth, historical awareness, and theoretical ambition of the UCB Sociology program made it possible for me to leave Sociology credibly for Political Science. If most of Sociology were like the UC program, this might have been a pointless move. It was not easy to change disciplines right after graduate school, but it was the right move.

Since 1985 I have stayed close to the lines of inquiry I was pursuing as a graduate student, in American politics and political theory. I am now trying to finish a linked group of articles and book manuscripts on American politics in the 1960s and later.

As an institution, NSSR was deeply affected by the battles in the1980s and early 1990s that resulted in the end of Communism in most of the places it had existed. This happy outcome was of course not uncomplicated. I have had the opportunity to observe the process and its results, including efforts toward democracy, in a number of countries, via NSSR projects and related initiatives. This long engagement made me more of a comparativist than I had been before, and a better political theorist.

I think my UCB Sociology training remains invaluable in convincing me that it is a good idea to try to address interesting questions and problems without worrying too much about boundaries between disciplines and fields within them.

Dissertation Title: 
The Democratic Political Order, 1932-1972
Dissertation Book Title: 
Building a democratic political order : reshaping American liberalism in the 1930s and 1940s
Cambridge ; New York