Alexander, Jeffrey C(harles) 1947-
ALEXANDER, Jeffrey C(harles) 1947-
PERSONAL: Born May 30, 1947, in Milwaukee, WI; son of Frederick Charles and Esther Lea (Schlossman) Alexander; children: Aaron, Benjamin. Education: Harvard College, B.A., 1969; University of California—Berkeley, Ph.D., 1978. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Jewish. Hobbies and other interests: Photography, tennis, skiing.
CAREER: Sociologist, educator, and writer. University of California—Berkeley, lecturer, 1974-76; University of California—Los Angeles, assistant professor, 1976-81, full professor, 1981-2001, chair, sociology department, 1989-92, professor emeritus, beginning 2001; Yale University, professor of sociology, 2001—. University of Bordeaux, France, visiting professor, 1994; Institute for Advanced Studies, Vienna, Austria, visiting professor, 1995.
MEMBER: American Sociological Association, International Sociological Association (founder and co-chair, research Committee on sociological theory, 1990-94), Sociological Research Association.
AWARDS, HONORS: Guggenheim fellow, 1979-80; Ford Foundation, Travel and Study fellow, 1980; Institute for Advanced Studies, Princeton University, fellow, 1985-86; Swedish Colloquium for Advanced Study in the Social Sciences, 1992, 1996; Center for the Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University, fellow, 1998-99.
Theoretical Logic in Sociology, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1982.
Structure and Meaning: Relinking Classical Sociology, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1989.
Fin de Siecle Social Theory: Relativism, Reduction, and the Problem of Reason, Verso (New York, NY), 1995.
The Meanings of a Social Life: A Cultural Sociology, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2003.
Neofunctionalism, Sage Publications (Beverly Hills, CA), 1985.
The Micro-Macro Link, University of California Press (Berkeley, CA), 1987.
Durkheimian Sociology: Cultural Studies, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 1988.
(With Seven Seidman) Culture and Society: Contemporary Debates, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY) 1990.
(With Paul Colomy) Differentiation Theory and SocialChange: Comparative and Historical Perspectives, Columbia University Press (New York, NY), 1990.
(With Piotr Sztompka) Rethinking Progress: Movements, Forces, and Ideas at the End of the 20th Century, Unwin Hyman (Boston, MA), 1990.
(With Raymond Boudon and Mohamed Cherkaoui) The Classical Tradition in Sociology: The American Tradition, Sage Publications (Thousand Oaks, CA), 1997.
Neofunctionalism and After, Blackwell Publishers (Malden, MA), 1998.
Real Civil Societies: Dilemmas of Institutionalization, Sage Publications (Thousand Oaks, CA), 1998.
Mainstream and Critical Social Theory: Classical,Modern, and Contemporary, Sage Publications (Thousand Oaks, CA), 2001.
(With Philip Smith) The Cambridge Companion toDurkheim, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor to books, including Media, Audience, and Social Structure, edited by Sandra J. Ball-Rokeach and Muriel G. Cantor, Sage Publications (Newbury Park, CA), 1986.
SIDELIGHTS: American sociologist Jeffrey C. Alexander specializes in the fields of cultural sociology, civil society, and social theory. A contributor to World of Sociology noted that Alexander describes his work as "post-Durkheimian" in his approach to sociology and sociological theory. His theories link sociology with literature, political science, and philosophy. For example, Diversity and Its Discontents: Cultural Conflict and Common Ground in Contemporary American Society, edited with Neil J. Smelser, examines the American "culture wars" of the late twentieth century. Cultural conflict, Alexander maintains, has always been a part of American society, though it has become more extreme in recent years. This cultural conflict has resulted in significant changes in areas such as family structure, sexual expression, urban lifestyles, and immigration patterns.
Joseph F. Healey, reviewing Diversity and Its Discontents in the Journal of American Ethnic History, wondered if traditional U.S. values have been "swamped by diversity and moral relativism," and whether U.S. society is in peril of disintegrating at the dawn of the twenty-first century. With Diversity and Its Discontents, "Neil Smelser and Jeffrey Alexander have edited a collection of original essays that addresses these questions thoughtfully and provocatively," Healey wrote.
In an overview essay summarizing the numerous issues surrounding diversity and unity in the United States, "Smelser and Alexander argue that the legitimacy of American core values is under attack as never before," Healey observed. Even as the political right asserts that America has lost its traditional values, the political left "agrees with this assessment but celebrates the demise of the oppressive and narrow moral codes of the past," Healey noted. But Smelser and Alexander still feel as though "a broad common culture and consensus on values remains."
The scholars contributing to the book further expand on Smelser and Alexander's views, covering topics such as assimilation experiences of immigrants, new forms and adaptions to diversity in U.S. society, and global perspectives on diversity and related issues.
"This volume is an important contribution to the current discourse on diversity," Healey remarked. "It presents social science at its best: fact-based, careful, and critical scholarship aimed at some of the most significant problems of modern life."
In Real Civil Societies: Dilemmas of Institutionalization, Social Forces reviewer Thomas Janoski noted that "Alexander asks the right questions about civil society: What are the problems in establishing and maintaining civil societies as they actually exist?" The volume, edited by Alexander, addresses topics such as uncivil hierarchies that constrain civil society; dichotomies of motives, social relationships, and institutions; and the many-faceted bases of civil society. Although Janoski remarked that he did not believe the book offers "reasonable theoretical answers" to Alexander's questions on civil society, "Nonetheless, this shorter step of examining civil society as a complex variable in different societies is clearly going in the right direction toward 'real' theorizing about civil society."
Fin de Siecle Social Theory: Relativism, Reduction, and the Problem of Reason is Alexander's "response to recent development in sociological (and social) theorizing," wrote Michele Lamont in American Journal of Sociology. "In this book, the author tackles everything 'post' and improved (including things modern, 'anti,' and 'neo')." At least half of the book is taken up by Alexander's detailed critique on the work of Pierre Bourdieu. "This is true, genuine, feisty, polemical Alexander, and he takes no prisoners," Lamont observed. "Put very simply," wrote Derek Layder in Sociology, "Alexander attacks Bourdieu for producing a failed synthesis which does not recover the actor or the meaningful nature of her world because it does not successfully shake off the influence of the schools of thought from which Bourdieu sought to extricate himself. Thus, Alexander argues that Bourdieu's synthesis is marred by residual imprints of behaviorism, structuralism, and orthodox Marxism." Lamont identified a number of weaknesses in Alexander's critique of Bourdieu, including the fact that Alexander "does not pay sufficient heed to available theoretical critiques and should have been more specific concerning the originality (and limits) of his contribution." However, Lamont concluded that "Alexander's essay can be an important stimulus because, just as Bourdieu's writings have done for so many readers over the past 20 years, it helps fore-ground questions that have remained muted and unseen to this day."
The purpose of Differentiation Theory and Social Change: Comparative and Historical Perspectives, edited by Alexander and Paul Colomy, is "to restore differentiation theory to the high position on the sociological agenda which it enjoyed in the late 1950s and early 1960s," explained Roland Robertson in Sociology. Topics covered by contributors to the book include political differentiation in post-Civil War United States, differentiation of the solidary public, and social constitutionalism. Alexander himself "outlines a general theory of the mass news media in society and also provides a stimulating discussion of the relative autonomy of ethnic solidarity which is particularly relevant to the contemporary debate about polyethnicity and multiculturalism."
Despite some flaws in the book, especially "exceedingly little discussion of the history, or the genealogy, of the concept of differentiation," Robertson concluded that Differentiation Theory and Social Change "is an interesting and rather important collection, not least because quite a lot of the fifteen chapters involve the systematic weaving together of theory and [U. S.] history"
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Acta Sociologica, April, 1997, Heine Andersen, review of Fin de Siecle Social Theory: Relativism, Reduction, and the Problem of Reason, pp. 107-108.
American Journal of Sociology, November, 1988, R. Stephen Warner, review of Theoretical Logic in Sociology, Volume 4:, The Modern Reconstruction of Classical Thought: Talcott Parsons, p. 644; September, 1989, Toby E. Huff, review of The Micro-Macro Link, p. 456; March, 1990, Dennis H. Wrong, review of Durkheimian Sociology: Cultural Studies, p. 1358; January, 1998, Michele Lamont, review of Fin de Siecle Social Theory: Relativism, Reduction, and the Problem of Reason, p. 1068.
Annals of the American Academy of Political andSocial Science, March, 1983, review of Theoretical Logic in Sociology, pp. 234-235.
British Journal of Sociology, March, 1989, Mike Gane, review of Durkheimian Sociology: Cultural Studies, pp. 166-167; June, 1989, John Holmwood, review of Action and Its Environments: Toward aNew Synthesis, p. 347; December, 1992, Brian Longhurst, review of Culture and Society: Contemporary Debates, p. 681.
Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology, February, 1990, Harold Fallding, review of Twenty Lectures: Sociological Theory since World War II, p. 125.
Contemporary Sociology, January, 1988, Bryan S. Turner, review of Twenty Lectures: Sociological Theory since World War II, pp. 117-118; September, 1988, George Ritzer, review of The Micro-Macro Link, p. 703; May, 1990, Gianfranco Poggi, review of Action and Its Environments: Toward a New Synthesis, pp. 476-477; July, 1990, Jonathan H. Turner, review of Durkheimian Sociology: Cultural Studies, pp. 630-631; July, 1991, Harold J. Bershady, review of Differentiation Theory and Social Change: Comparative and Historical Perspectives, p. 635; January, 1999, Ruth A. Wallace, review of Neofunctionalism and After, pp. 115-116; January, 2000, Krishan Kumar, review of Real Civil Societies: Dilemmas of Institutionalization, pp. 271-272; March, 2002, Philip E. Devine, review of Diversity and Its Discontents: Cultural Conflict and Common Ground in Contemporary American Society, pp. 200-201.
Journal of American Ethnic History, winter, 2001, Joseph F. Healey, review of Diversity and Its Discontents: Cultural Conflict and Common Ground in Contemporary American Society, p. 122.
Journal of Politics, February, 2001, Margaret Seyford Hrezo, review of Diversity and Its Discontents: Cultural Conflict and Common Ground in Contemporary American Society, p. 310.
Law & Society Review, November, 1991, Roger Cotterrell, review of Durkheimian Sociology: Cultural Studies, pp. 923-945.
Social Forces, June, 1988, Lawrence E. Hazelrigg, review of Twenty Lectures: Sociological Theory since World War II, p. 1122; March, 1990, Douglas D. Heckathorn, review of The Micro-Macro Link, p. 940; David E. Woolwine, review of Durkheimian Sociology: Cultural Studies, pp. 1006-1007; March, 1991, Thomas J. Fararo, review of Differentiation Theory and Social Change: Comparative and Historical Perspectives, pp. 920-921; June, 2000, Thomas Janoski, review of Real Civil Societies: Dilemmas of Institutionalization, p. 575.
Social Science Quarterly, June, 1989, James F. Short, review of Action and Its Environments: Toward a New Synthesis, pp. 540-541.
Sociological Inquiry, summer, 1991, Brad Bullock, review of Differentiation Theory and Social Change: Comparative and Historical Perspectives, p. 397; Donald McQuarie, review of Structure and Meaning: Relinking Classical Sociology, p. 412.
Sociological Review, November, 1989, Stiepan G. Mestrovic, review of Durkheimian Sociology: Cultural Studies, p. 798.
Sociology, August, 1991, Roland Robertson, review of Differentiation Theory and Social Change: Comparative and Historical Perspectives, p. 526; August, 1996, Derek Layder, review of Fin de Siecle Social Theory: Relativism, Reduction, and the Problem of Reason, p. 601.*
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