Sociology Monday: Daniel Bell (1919-2011)

Dropped on:April 29, 2014
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Daniel Bell (1919-2011)

Daniel Bell was one of the most influential sociologists and public intellectuals in the post-war era. His most famous works include The End of Ideology(related to the Cold War) in which he argued that the imperative of the new, post-war economy narrowed the field of ideology so that real ideological and political choices would be significantly attenuated by the technological imperatives of the new organization of production; The Coming of Post-Industrial Society in which he discussed the impact of the shift from industrial societies in which the production of goods is the dominant activity to post-industrialism which is largely based on the training for and delivery of services by the application of science and technology in the most advanced economies in the last quarter of the 20th century; and The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism in which he posited a trend according to which the very material successes of capitalist economies give rise to cultural processes which are not consonant with the exigencies of production and the market, indeed may operate to impede or inhibit its functioning. This might be understood as a variant of Marx’s theory of the contradiction between productive forces and production relations or a further extension of Weber’s thesis at the end of the Protestant Ethic but Bell supports his arguments by an appeal to the contemporary data. More recently a collection of his most important essays was published under the title The Winding Passage. This work chronicles his various contributions to social science over the decades.

Bell was part of a young group of students at the Alcove One in the CCNY cafeteria in the later thirties and early forties who were all anti-Stalinist socialists or anarchists of one stripe or another and who went on to make enormous contributions to the social sciences and humanities in post-war America. Bell went on to teach sociology at several of the most prestigious universities in the United States including the University of Chicago, Columbia and Harvard where he was also professor emeritus. Bell was also a leading public intellectual and a journalist, having been the managing editor of The New Leader, a contributor to Commentaryand having served as aco-editor of The Public Interest along with his old friend and Alcove One fellow participant, Irving Kristol. This collaboration with Kristol led some to identify Bell as a neo-conservative but he took issue with this designation in a short piece which appeared inThe Economist on the occasion of Irving Kristol’s passing. Bell’s self-referential statement, which he was fond of repeating, was that he was a socialist in economics, a liberal in politics and a conservative in matters of culture. Bell was featured along with Nathan Glazer, Irving Howe and Irving Kristol in a documentary DVD entitled Arguing the World which followed these four public intellectuals from their collegial days at CCNY through the vicissitudes of their later intellectual and political development.


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