Conversations with History: Institute of International Studies, UC Berkeley

 See the
Conversations with History Blog

See a webcast of this interview:

Intellectual Odyssey: Conversation with Neil Smelser, University Professor Emeritus of Sociology, University of California, Berkeley; fomer Director the Center for Advanced Studies in the Behaviorial Sciences; December 6, 2005, by Harry Kreisler

This interview is part of the Institute's "Conversations with History" series, and uses Internet technology to share with the public Berkeley's distinction as a global forum for ideas.

Welcome to a Conversation with History. I'm Harry Kreisler of the Institute of International Studies. Our guest today is Neil Smelser, who is University Professor Emeritus of Sociology at UC Berkeley and former Director of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford. book coverHe is a former president of the American Sociological Association, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, and a fellow of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences. He's the author of fourteen books, including The Theory of Collective Behavior. His most recent book is The Social Edges of Psychoanalysis, published by UC Press, and his forthcoming book is called The Social Sciences and the Understanding of Terrorism, to be published by the National Academy of Sciences.

  1. Background ... influence of parents ... education ... Harvard ... Rhodes Scholar ... Society of Fellows ... career choices
  2. Being a Sociologist ... interest in intersection of industry, family, and education ... capacity to objectify ... creativity ... evolution of sociology
  3. Being a Psychoanalyist ... exposure and training ... skills and temperament required ... focus on the individual ... objectification ... tension in interdisciplinary work ... the Center for Advanced Study in the Behaviorial Sciences
  4. Ambivalence ... influences from psychoanalysis and sociology ... weakness of rational choice emphasis on univalent ... recurring theme in his work
  5. Cultural Trauma ... similar to psychological trauma ... unsettling event for a society ... need to remember and re-experience ... subject to comparative analysis ... contested definition ... the problem of evil ... recurrence of social and cultural structures ... work on ideologies of social movements relevant for understanding terrorism
  6. Terrorism ... drawing on relevant insights of the social sciences ... a problem that's here to stay ... inadequacy of our response ... moralistic and instrumental ... advocates a policy of discouragement ... need to combine containment and deterrence ... virtue of restraint ... importance of consciousness raising concerning structures in play ... application of knowledge ... importance of criticism and responsibility

© Copyright 2005, Regents of the University of California

Site questions: Email iis_webmgr at