A Portrait of a Sociological Pioneer Years in the Making
Larry Nichols, professor of sociology at West Virginia University, has been awarded the History of Sociology Section of the American Sociological Association’s Distinguished Scholarly Publication Award for his achievement in the history of sociology.
Nichols’ submission, an article on Russian-American sociologist Pitirim Sorokin published in the December 2012 issue of The American Sociologist, emphasizes the scholar’s influence on modern psychology and sociology.
“He tried, interestingly, to create the field of altruism in sociology—the study of love, and particularly unconditional and unselfish love.”—Larry Nichols
“For doing that, he was largely marginalized. He argued it was—if anything—more important to study love than to study hate or to study crime or to study war,” Nichols said.Despite being on his own from the age of ten and very irregular schooling, Sorokin distinguished himself as a scholar at a young age and was among the founding figures of sociology in Russia, serving as the chairman of the first sociology department in Russia.
He also was very active in politics, was elected to the national assembly, and was a member of the short-lived Alexander Kerensky government of 1917 that followed the overthrow of the last Tsar, Nicholas II, and preceded the coup by the Bolsheviks.
During the period of the Russian Civil War, he was sentenced to death but granted a reprieve by Vladimir Lenin, the main leader of the Communist Revolution.
Nichols said he studied years of Russian language and culture and was able to translate much of Pitirim Sorokin’s literature to better understand the person he was, and that made winning the award even more rewarding. “It took me decades to learn enough to write that article,” he said. “It’s an affirmation of the value of your work.”
The American Sociological Association is divided into groups of sociologists who are members and share an interest in a particular area. Nichols’ award-winning contribution to the history of sociology section was selected from among six entries, three of which were books.
He said his award was recognition of the caliber of the WVU Department of Sociology and Anthropology, and of what a revolutionary subject he found in Sorokin.
Sorokin came to the United States in 1924, and, after six years of distinguished scholarly publications, was appointed the first full professor of sociology at Harvard in 1930.
He chaired Harvard’s newly created Department of Sociology from 1931 through 1944, and served as president of the American Sociological Association in 1965.
Throughout his career, Nichols said, Sorokin pursued the role of “pioneer” and he helped to create several fields within sociology, including the sociology of revolution, social mobility, rural-urban sociology, the sociology of culture, and the sociology of altruism.
In recent years, there has been a significant Sorokin revival in Russia and in the recently created Komi Republic. He is the mostly widely translated sociologist of the twentieth century.
“I think he’s the greatest scholar we’ve ever had, by far,” Nichols said. “He was popular for the general public but was scholarly as well.” Nichols had the opportunity to speak with one of Sorokin’s sons, who gave him a quote about Pitirim Sorokin he said he will never forget. “The younger son, Sergei Sorokin, said to me one time—and this is a beautiful quote—‘Father was nothing if not bold.’”
Nichols accepted his award at the American Sociological Association Conference in New York City in August.
“Hate begets hate, violence engenders violence, hypocrisy is answered by hypocrisy, war generates war, and love creates love.”—Pitirim Sorokin (1954), The Ways and Power of Love