Coser, Lewis A.

views updated


COSER, LEWIS A. (Ludwig Cohen ; 1913–2003), U.S. sociologist. Born in Berlin, Coser left Germany in 1933 and went to France. In 1941 he immigrated to the United States, where during the war he worked for American government agencies. He taught at the University of Chicago (1948–50) and in 1951 was appointed professor at Brandeis University, where he founded the sociology department, and in 1968 at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, New York. Along with Irving *Howe and others, he founded the socialist magazine Dissent and was its co-editor for many years. Coser served as president of the Society for the Study of Social Problems (1967–68), the American Sociological Association (1975), and the Eastern Sociological Society (1983). He retired to Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1987, where he was professor emeritus, first at Boston College and then at Boston University.

Coser was a leading proponent of conflict theory, as contrasted to equilibrium theory. Although he prided himself on separating his political and sociological thinking, he was critical of modern American sociology's abandonment of social criticism.

His best-known work is The Functions of Social Conflict (1956), which was listed in a 1997 Contemporary Sociology review as one of the best-selling sociology books of the century. Among Coser's other publications in political sociology and sociological theory are The American Communist Party: A Critical History, 1919–1957, with I. Howe and J. Jacobson (1957); Sociological Theory, with Bernard Rosenberg (19672); Sociology through Literature (1963); a symposium on Simmel (1965); Continuities in the Study of Social Conflict (1967); Menof Ideas: A Sociologist's View (1970); Masters of Sociological Thought (1977); The New Conservatives: A Critique from the Left (with I. Howe, 1977); The Pleasures of Sociology (1980); Books: The Culture and Commerce of Publishing (1982); Refugee Scholars in America: Their Impact and Their Experiences (1984); and A Handful of Thistles: Collected Papers in Moral Conviction (1988).

[Pearl J. Lieff /

Ruth Beloff (2nd ed.)]