Randall Collins (1964)

Emeritus Professor of Sociology, University of Pennsylvania

I came to Berkeley in summer 1964. The previous year I'd been a grad student in psychology at Stanford; I was interested in personality and cognition but they assigned me to work in a rat lab, so I decided to switch to sociology across the Bay. Spring and summer 1964 were the time the civil rights movement hit the North. There had been big sit-in demonstrations and mass arrests in San Francisco to integrate hiring at auto row and the downtown hotels. At Berkeley I joined campus CORE, and through it met some Trotskyite "cadres" with whom I took part in various clandestine plottings. CORE, along with SNCC and a red-diaper-baby outfit called SLATE, were developing a plan to picket UCB in the fall to integrate their hiring.

UC beat us to the punch. We had the custom of setting up tables on the sidewalk at the Telegraph Ave. entrance to campus to drum up support for our sit-ins; the university (apparently under local pressure) tried to force us off the sidewalk. In response we took the offensive and set up our tables in front of Sproul Hall, and waited to get arrested.  I was in the group of 20 or so at the tables when the campus police brought in a patrol car to arrest one of us, who was not registered as a student that term. It was a big tactical error, because we'd been doing non-violent sit-ins all summer, and we spontaneously sat down to block the wheels and trapped the car.  The rest is history -- big crowds gathered, various people started getting up on top of the car to make speeches (thereby making a reputation with the media as if they were the 'leaders' of the movement), the fraternity boys came down in the middle of the night to try to break up our demo; next day the Oakland police showed up in  menacing formation, revving their motorcycle engines like a bunch of Hell's Angels, whereupon a last minute agreement was reached. And so on. I was on the coordinating council of the FSM, the coalition of campus organizations that came out of that confrontation; went to innumerable rallys; got arrested inthe Sproul Hall sit-in; in the next few years, got heavily involved in the anti-war movement. Then when the non-violent movement got hijacked by the more violent and doctrinaire wing, I gravitated, like many others, into the psychedelic wing of the counterculture, got interested in Asian religions and psychotherapy groups. Good choice, I think; some of those who stuck with the political trajectory disappeared into Weatherman and a whiff of dynamite.

Through all this, somehow I managed to go to classes, soaking in the influence of a very inspiring group of sociologists:  among the most impressive to me personally were Blumer, Goffman, Philip Selznick, and Leo Lowenthal.  I worked as an R.A. for Joseph Ben-David, then visiting from the Hebrew University, and got launched on a series of publications in the sociology of science; this early work, decades later, culminated in my 1998 historical-comparative book  The Sociology of Philosophies.   I was in a group of graduate students putting together a reader in comparative political sociology, franchised out by Reinhard Bendix as editor; writing up the theoretical  chapter for the volume launched me on a path of developing a left-wing version of Weber as a multi-dimensional theory of social conflict. Putting together Weberian conflict theory with the radical micro-sociology inspired by Goffman, led to my 1975 book  Conflict Sociology;  systematizing the micro-macro connection led to subsequent work including my 2004 book Interaction Ritual Chains. I did my dissertation under Harold Wilensky, analyzing comparative organizational data to show that rising educational requirements for employment were not due to technologically-driven demand for skills, but to changing standards of cultural respectability; this later became my 1979 book The Credential Society.

I left Berkeley in 1968 and received my PhD the following year. My career has taken me to Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison, UCSD, Univ. of Virginia, UCR, and Univ. of Pennsylvania, with visiting stints at Chicago, Harvard, and Cambridge, and at various universities and institutes in Europe, China, and Japan. Taking my own argument against educational credentialism seriously, I dropped out of the academic world for a while in the late 70s and early 80s, published a novel,  The Case of the Philosophers' Ring, and did a lot of free-lance writing. My intellectual trajectory was laid down by the time I left Berkeley; the rest has been largely extensions.  I'm still working on it; my next book is a radically micro-sociological theory of Violent Conflict.

Dissertation Title: 
Education and Employment: Some Determinants of Requirements for Hiring in Various Types of Organizations
Dissertation Book Title: 
The Credential society : an historical sociology of education and stratification
New York