Sociology and Anthropology Monday: Nathan Glazer

Dropped on:May 13, 2014
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Nathan Glazer (1923- ) is professor emeritus at Harvard University. Born in New York City and raised in the Bronx, he attended CCNY (entering the freshman class in February 1940) and was a “member” of Alcove One where the anti-Stalinist left tended to congregate to debate the issues of the day. He was also a member of Avukah, the student Zionist organization, and edited its journal. Through these contacts he came to know and for a time worked with Zellig Harris, a linguist at the University of Pennsylvania, who later moved to Israel. Harris introduced him to Eric Fromm who acquainted him with members of the Institut für Sozialforschung, the Frankfurt School, who had fled Germany and established a base at Columbia University on Morningside Heights. He worked for a few months with Max Horkheimer and through Fromm and Leo Löwenthal met David Riesman with whom he collaborated on the classic work of 1950s sociology, The Lonely Crowd. Through Daniel Bell he came to the work at the office of the Contemporary Jewish Record which then became Commentary, published by the American Jewish Committee. His doctoral dissertation was published as a book entitled The Social Basis of American Communism in 1961.

Glazer’s most famous work, however, was in the field of race and ethnicity and increasingly became the focus of his work in sociology. His first significant book in this field, Beyond the Melting Pot, published in 1963, was co-authored with Daniel Moynihan, another sociologist, who went on to become a U.S. senator. Based on empirical data relating to five groups in New York City, African-Americans, Puerto Ricans, Jews, Irish-Americans and Italian-Americans, the main thesis argued that minority groups would not disappear as the term ‘melting pot’, coined by Israel Zangwill at the beginning of the 20th century, suggested, but that they would find their own way toward social mobility and maintain the integrity of their religious and ethnic identifications, each becoming American in their own way, using their own mobility ladders of which there were many in pluralistic America. Family patterns and constellations were seen as highly significant in terms of the advancement of these various communities inter-generationally.

But with the eruptions of violence in the American cities in 1967-68 and the unresolved issues of poverty and its intersection with race, along with inter-racial and inter-ethnic tensions, the picture painted in Beyond the Melting Pot, became somewhat outdated. In 1997 Glazer published a kind of Beyond the Melting Pot redux with his We are All Multiculturalists Now. In this work, Glazer recognized the reasons for and the inevitability of the rise of multiculturalism. This related to the failure to include the African-American community and to a lesser extent, the Spanish-speaking communities, within the upward mobility lattices, so successfully used by groups of ethnic immigrants in the past (and in the case of Asians in present times).

In the 1960s Glazer joined his erstwhile comrades, Irving Kristol and Daniel Bell, in a new journal, The Public Interest, which was not so much a conservative publication as it was dedicated to the practical problems of American society at the empirical and policy levels. (Both Bell and Glazer later distanced themselves from the neo-conservative movement that Kristol had founded).

Nathan Glazer has also published more recently on architecture, a long-standing field of his interest and he continues to be interested in the history of the New York intellectuals, many of whom were his close friends and colleagues. A documentary DVD, Arguing the World, was released several years ago that traced the careers and intellectual and political development of Glazer, Daniel Bell, Irving Howe and Irving Kristol.


Nathan Glazer. “My Life in Sociology.” Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 38: 1-16.

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