I returned to graduate sociology at Berkeley after five years working in factories where I had been a total failure at revolutionizing the working class. I say return because I spent one semester in 1951 in the department. Then I had absolutely no interest in sociology, because as a communist (Stalinist variety) I had all the answers already and I was in school only for a deferment to keep me out of the Korean War. Reinhard Bendix was not at all impressed with my term paper arguing that Soviet workers were not alienated because they owned the means of production. So that in early 1956 I was afraid that C grade would prevent my getting back into the department. I asked my friend Tom Shibutani if he could help, and maybe he did.
Shibutani had been my main M.A. advisor at Chicago for a 1950 thesis on the social psychology of personal names. But because of my years as a worker and a communist I was now more interested in industrial and social psychology. It was almost as if the new chair, Herbert Blumer, had built a department tailor-made to my needs, which was to make sense of my experiences, and to answer questions about the politics of the working class (Selig Perlman), the similarities and differences between socialism, communism, and capitalism (Schumpeter), why revolutionary parties and movements ossify (Michels), and the appeal, for someone like myself, of ideologies and utopias (Mannheim). Not only did I have great teachers like Kornhauser, Lipset, Selmick, and Bendix (whom I never dared ask if he remembered me), but we had a fantastic cohort, as other bio writers have attested to. My best pal was the late Bob Alford, who had worked at International Harvester with me: other recent local proletarians included machinist Lloyd Street and railroad switchman John Spier, and from Detroit's auto plants, Bill Friedland. At the Institute for Industrial Relations, where I TA?d for Marty Lipset, we had a chess rivalry that included fellow grad students Amitai Etzioni, Guenther Roth, Pat McGillivray.--perhaps the most erudite and knowledgeable of all of us -- and Fred Goldner; a few years later my friends in grad school became Bill and Dorothy Smith. (Dorothy's bio is available, but not Bill's, who after a series of teaching jobs, including one at the University of Pittsburgh, gave it all up to become a plumber before dying from cancer in 1986.)
The comradeship and solidarity in graduate school was unbelievable---I've not yet mentioned Harry Nishio, Ernest Landauer, Art Stinchcombe, Gayle Ness, Walt Phillips, my good friend Ken Walker, and dozens of others I learned from-- in fact it was so good that I wasn't prepared for what I would meet when I began teaching. First at S. F. State, then at Chicago, finally at UCB, my fellow assistant professors were almost the opposite of my grad school peers: closed off, ultra-competitive, or perhaps just afraid that you'd steal their ideas.
My dissertation on factory workers was informed by my industrial experiences, but didn't draw directly on them. But Alienation and Freedom made my career. It got me a job at Chicago which permitted me to be hired back at UCB---the first Ph.D. to return since Ken Bock. It also got me tenure at Berkeley. I am indebted to Selznick, who made me rewrite a draft on the sociology of industries into a more theoretical version.
During the year that I did my M.A. at Chicago Blumer had been like a father figure for me. Though mostly from a distance as I sat in his seminars and marveled at everything about the man. That 15 years later the secretaries at Berkeley would be mixing up our mail is something I never would have dreamed of. It was great to see the Blumer renaissance in the 1960s, for after a period when he had been marginalized, the New Left grad students took to his theories and he gained a new following. But it was too late for Shibutani, who like Blumer himself, was not really respected by the very political and industrial sociologists who were my mentors, and who had been -- most unfairly in my view -- denied tenure.
Sometimes I've regretted that I only stayed one year at S.F. State, because I loved San Francisco, and also, in large part because of pressure from my second wife who hated Chicago, I left my alma mater after only one year. Another regret is that I flitted around in terms of research and writing, from workers to the sociology of death to Black-white relations. Each time I changed fields I had to learn a whole new literature. I would have had a less "disorderly career" (Wilensky) had I just stayed in the area of work, and then as I got inspired by the civil rights movement, studied race relations in the context of the factory.
Had I stayed in Chicago, where the department and the city was much more conservative than Berkeley, it's quite likely that neither my sociological writing nor my personal politics, would have become as radical as they did in the late 60s. I would probably have stayed in Freudian psychoanalysis rather than going through those four years of primal therapy in the '70s, an experience that was life transforming. It led to four years of no writing or research, followed by the decision to work on experiential projects (like Black Lives, White Lives) rather than theoretical ones. And it was the motivation for a change in my teaching style from the lecture format to discussion and an emphasis on personal experience. I am proud of the fact that I was one of the first to offer a course on men's lives, which I taught from 1975 through 1995.
Retiring in 1993 was my best career move ever. Even though teaching got easier over the years, it was never natural for me in the way writing is. As a retiree at UCB you get a cheap parking permit and all the time you want to write. Like Bennett Berger, my writing is 90% non-sociological these days and 90% unpublished. Exceptions are a collection of essays on race (Still the Big News, Temple 2002) and an anthology of men 's writing on the death and lives of mother (Our Mothers' Spirits, Harper Perennial, 1995). I'm quite excited about my current project, a memoir of growing up in Chicago in the 1930s and 40s that is part social history, part family history and coming of age story, with a lot of baseball (the Chicago Cubs) thrown in.