Jeffrey Alexander (1978)

Professor of Sociology, Yale University

When I came to Berkeley in 1969, I was one of two or three students NOT given any financial assistance -- my academic record at Harvard was that bad! In fact, I was fortunate simply to have been admitted. My first two years at Berkeley revolved mainly around becoming a true Marxist intellectual, learning as much from Fred Block and the journal then called "Socialist Revolution" (later "Socialist Review") as from my courses. As my politics moved from revolutionary to democratic socialist (and eventually to left liberal), however, I became aware that I had, in fact, experienced several key intellectual episodes during those first years -- these were the courses from Neil Smelser, Robert Bellah, and Leo Lowenthal. I managed to corral all three to work with me on my grandiose dissertation, which became even more so in the four years after its completion, and have kept closely in touch with Smelser and Bellah ever since.

So, my Berkeley years were an intense education in high theory, starting from the culture of classical and New Left Marxism and moving from there into the classical and modern more strictly sociological domain. It was an experience that formed me, and removed me from "mainstream" sociology, for the rest of my academic life.

After leaving Berkeley, I spent 25 years as an assistant to full Professor at UCLA. I published lots of theory there, tried to start an intellectual movement or two, learned a great deal at the beginning from the microsociology that flourished there, and helped to build up, through my years of administration, one of our discipline's better, and certainly most balanced departments. Two years ago I moved to Yale, where I have reluctantly become a Chair once again, resuming institution building in a very interesting academic and disciplinary milieu.

In the more recent decades, the half life of the Berkeley "bomb" have continued to illuminate and charge my intellectual life. I've been trying to elaborate a cultural sociology, which has started off from Bellah's "symbolic realism," and I have been trying to develop a performative turn, which continues to be influenced by unyielding resistances to structural logics of Herbert Blumer, who was a kind of negative pole for me during my graduate student years. I have just completed editing a festschrift for Neil Smelser (with other Berkeley graduates, Christine Williams and Gary Marx). Neil and I worked closely together even over the last five years, developing at CASBS at Stanford, where he was Director, a collaborative theory of cultural trauma and collective identity.

So, "Berkeley" continues to be formative in my life, even as I have moved away from the notions of anti-capitalism and public intellectualism that formed my graduate life in the early 70s. There was a burning intensity to political, ethical, historical, and above all theoretical questions that made an indelible impression me, and that I hope continues to inform my work and intellectual identity today.

 

Dissertation Title: 
Theoretical Logic in Sociology
Dissertation Book Title: 
Theoretical logic in sociology
Berkeley