miércoles, 31 de enero de 2007

G.T. Marx: Seymour Martin Lipset as a Mentor

Hola, me enviaron este artículo de homenaje a Seymour Martin Lipset, vale la pena leerlo, de Gary Marx. Muy útil para saber en qué consiste ser un buen maestro, y cómo los estudiantes deben aprovechar un buen mentor. Saludos.

G.T. Marx: Travels With Marty: Seymour Martin Lipset as a Mentor*
*American Sociologist, forthcoming.

Related articles on careers and the profession are at www.garymarx.net


Marty was very proud and supportive of his students. He must have gone through reams of stationary continuing to write on their behalf over his lifetime. In a reversal, it was very satisfying for me play a role in his receipt of the unconscionably delayed (because of gender politics) ASA Career of Distinguished Scholarship Award. He also is distinguished by being the only sociologist or political scientist to have had PhD students named Gary Marx and Gary Marks. The latter at the University of North Carolina even co-edited a Festschrift, in which no doubt to avoid confusing the reader, I was not invited to participate.

A multitude of empirical indicators establishes Marty's place among the predeminent social scientists of the last half century. Rather than comment on the gift of his substantive work and its impacts (of which I know only a small part) I will briefly mention the gifts, both direct and indirect, Marty offered as a partial role model to this aspiring sociologist. These were formative for many of the 37 moral imperatives I have suggested for aspiring sociologists (The American Sociologist Spring 1997).

1) In the beginning there are the questions. Marty had the vision, courage (chutspa?) and ability to frame big enduring socially and theoretically meaningful questions (across societies and history) pursued throughout his career. He started with empiricalvariation (both what is and isn't or what might have been or might still become). This required historical and comparative international material and following the questions not the method. While emphasizing the middle range, it also made room for broader questions.

In staying with a few questions throughout his life, he reflected one end of a continuum of consistent, against changing, research concerns over a career. His abiding interest in democracy, stratification and America encompassed most of what he did. This offers the advantage of direction, continuity, knowledge accumulation across generations of researchers, the ability to revise and change the answers and ever more material (which when it is as good as Marty’s) means an ever greater contribution. This is a case where more is better.

He shows how important one’s personal situation can be in defining research questions. For example, the atypical persistence of democracy in his father’s printer’s union, being the upwardly mobile child of immigrants and a U.S. citizen in Canada stimulated his intellectual inquiry.

I am grateful to Marty for the gift of curiosity and the model and tools for converting themes in one’s personal life into researchable topics. Many of the topics I have studied such as around the ironies and complexities of social control reflect my personal Janus- (and more) headed experiences with authority. My interest in mass movements similarly reflects ambivalence and awareness of both their promise and their danger.

Marty’s interest in right wing extremism and in issues of Jewish identity and mobility led me to approach my own identity in a new way. Previously, being Jewish in the relatively tolerant, diverse environment of Los Angeles, was not something I thought (or worried) much about. It was subjectively neither liability nor asset (accept in certain social situations involving the opposite sex) and was much less important than my identity as a privileged middle class California male jock boy scout (I couldn‘t be a choir boy). But seeing Marty define the atypicality of the American Jewish experience as a topic for research changed that. In conjunction with what I was learning about anti-Semitism and from Erving Goffman about the presentation of self, the ironies of the American Jewish experience became of great interest and not something simply to be taken for granted. My interest has always been more academic than participatory (eating the fruit of the social construction of knowledge tree does not help sustain pretty illusions, even if it inspires one to analyze them).

However there is a practical side too. I worked a bit with Earl Raab, one of Marty’s co-authors, who also had a real job in San Francisco with the Jewish Community Relations Board. Earl was not only a scholar but he applied his knowledge to help improve inter-group relations. Yet they too serve who only offer data, clarify the issues and analyze. Research could not only aid in understanding, it could be useful. This suggested there was hope for those who out of liberal guilt or self-interest, wanted to be relevant and part of the solution, but who were not temperamentally suited for a life of action. This leads to the next gift.

2) Two cheers for science. Marty shared the Enlightenment faith in a positivist social science that could provide answers and be used for social betterment. Yet he was no mindless empiricist. The questions he raised required attending to the empirical record and cross-observer-analysis and commentary, but they were never fully answered by empirical inquiry, no matter how systematic.

Marty was like a pointillist painter rather than a laboratory scientist. Hejudiciously selected among the wealth of possible empirical details to offer larger understandings and develop arguments -not unlike a trial attorney. This required a polymorphous, pack rat methodology --taking whatever seemed useful from Aristotle to the evening news to the latest case study or quantitative analysis.

He suggested that we apply the logic of the multivariate approach to historical data in the form of thought-experiments, trying to account for differences by identifying key variables that separate otherwise equivalent cases. While we can’t (and shouldn’t pretend to) ever match the precision of physical science, we can benefit from aspects of its logic. The left’s emphasis on structure and the right’s on culture as explanations offered a false choice.

The integrative and synthetic total goes beyond the individual components chosen for inclusion. Given the sweep of his questions, the limits of our methods, subjectivity in method and fact selection and the complexity and dynamics of causation in historical events, such grand pictures are always subject to debate. Much of Marty’s work will endure because of the breadth and timelessness of the questions and answers which are so clearly expressed and organized around clear arguments (e.g., the link between democracy and economic development and the importance of a large middle class and a vigorous associational life). Some of the writing reads like a conversation with the author.

Mannheim's sociology of knowledge paradox can be noted, but not escaped. Yet standards of evidence and logic, however imperfect, are needed to take us beyond conclusions based only on social location, tradition, power or passion. Marty’s approach helped to order the empirical cacophony, provoked thought, blazed trails and inspired a vast amount of research.

3) Multiple roles in their appropriate places. Related to the above point, Marty was acutely aware of the difference and tensions (but also the links) between scholarship and activism and of the legitimacy and importance of scholarship for those who desire change. This made it easier to deal with the pleasures of reading and thinking about big issues, as against the internal and external pressure of being on the barricades. I have written about this tension in an edited book on muckraking sociology and an article on dirty data.

4) What makes Marty run? Lipset had an insatiable curiosity, and unbounded enthusiasm for understanding politics and social life and a bigger-than-life (or a big as it gets) need for achievement and capacity for hard work. In spite of his religion, his productivity gives new meaning to the Protestant Ethic. Being around someone so prolific, who also (in the days before the internet) made sure through sending out a large numbers of reprints that others kept up with his work set a standard to aspire to. While some residual norms of an aristocratic professoriate remained, one needed aggressive street hustle as well.

5) The virtues of talk. Marty had a hot, Talmudic, New York gift for animated, energized, erudite, discursive, free associational conversation, if often in the form of an encyclopedic monologue or a self-interrogatory soliloquy. This style informed and dazzled listeners, especially the youthful student more accustomed to a laidback cool Southern California conversational style. I now take it as a complement that many people assume I grew up in New York.

Greek tragedy reminds us that strengths can sometimes be weaknesses, that what helps can also hinder, depending on the context and point of view. Maximizing productivity and an intense need to succeed can lead to rushing into print too quickly, repetition and cutting corners and can make it hard to have a well rounded life. An instrumental orientation to others (even when there is ample reciprocity and generosity as in Marty’s case) will not please everyone. The admirable focus on a topic over a lifetime can lead the jealous to say, “there is nothing new here” or “yes, it’s a good book, it should be it’s the third time it has been written”.

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