Pitirim Sorokin was a sociologist, academic, political activist, and well-known opponent of communism who was of Russian and American descent. Sorokin, a Russian peasant who was born into the Komi community, showed an early proclivity for political action. At the age of 14, he participated in coordinated opposition movements against the czar. But as his ties to the government and the Bolsheviks (led by Lenin) frayed, he was forced into exile after a series of arrests. As a result, he and his family relocated to the United States where he worked as a professor at various colleges, wrote an unusual amount of scholarly material, and created his groundbreaking research on social cycles. He was eventually elected the president of the “International Institute of Sociology” and the “American Sociological Association,” as well as invited to help establish the sociology department at Harvard University (where he formed a notoriously contentious friendship with his colleague and eminent American sociologist, Talcott Parsons). One of his kids rose to prominence as a physicist on his own.
Early Youth & Life
On February 2, 1889, Pitirim Alexandrovich Sorokin was born to peasant parents in Turya, a hamlet in the Vologda Governate of the former Russian Empire. Yarensk uyezd is where Turya is located. Alexander, his father, was a skilled craftsman with a focus on metal and silver work. Vasily, the older of his two siblings, and Prokopy (younger).
After his mother passed away in 1894, Alexander was left to search for work as an artisan while traveling from village to village with the infant Pitirim and his brother Vasily. Prokopy was currently residing with his relative. When Pitirim was eleven, the two brothers were left to fend for themselves due to their father’s abusive and alcoholism-prone habits.
He was able to support himself by working as a clerk and an artisan, but ultimately, he was able to attend the “Saint Petersburg Imperial University,” where he obtained a graduate degree in criminology and rose to the position of professor, thanks to a series of competitive scholarships.
During his tenure at the Psycho-Neurological Institute and the University of St. Petersburg, Sorokin was greatly influenced by Pavlov and his contemporaries. Through his work in criminology, he ultimately investigated sociology after first investigating ethics, psychology, history, and law (among other things).
Career of Pitirim Sorokin
As he advanced in Russian academia, Sorokin became heavily engaged in anti-communist groups. He was a member of the Socialist Revolutionary Party during the historic “Russian Revolution” of 1917 and subsequently backed the “White Movement” (which united all non-communist forces in Russia and opposed the “Bolsheviks” or “Reds” in the “Russian Civil War”). Additionally, he was appointed Alexander Kerensky’s personal assistant, who was also the head of the Russian Constituent Assembly. During this time, Sorokin was made editor-in-chief of the official newspaper “The Will of the People.”
He continued to be a vocal critic of the communist program in Russia, getting arrested at least six times. During one of his prisons stays, he was given a death sentence, but Lenin personally intervened to get him freed after six weeks in the hopes of winning him over to the communist cause.
He went back to the University of St. Petersburg, where he joined the department of sociology’s original members. He was detained once more in 1922, though, and sent into exile by the Leninist regime.
Before he gained widespread acclaim in American academic circles, he published “Leaves of a Russian Diary” (1924), a memoir that offered in-depth insights into the fall of the Russian monarchy and the following rise of the “Bolsheviks.” He later appended an addendum to the book called “The Thirty Years After” years later, in 1950.
After a year of being undocumented in Europe, he was able to immigrate to the USA, where he was given the opportunity to work at the sociology department of the University of Minnesota under F. Stuart Chapin, where he remained an instructor until 1930. Sorokin trained some of the top experts in the field in America with a primary emphasis on rural sociology (including Conrad Taeuber and C.A. Anderson).
In Minnesota, he wrote six books in six years, four of which—especially “Social Mobility”—went on to redefine sociology in the United States and elsewhere. These are some of his best-known writings (1927).
Abbott Lawrence Lowell, the then-president of Harvard University, was made aware of Sorokin’s trailblazing work and personally asked him to start a new department of sociology at the university to replace its department of social ethics. Famous sociology researcher Jessie Bernard later observed that this position gave sociologists in the US “academic respectability.”
He continued to work at Harvard for the following three decades, establishing the school as a social powerhouse and creating a cutting-edge school of sociology that still dominates the discipline today. During this time at Harvard, he created his most important work, the four-volume “Social and Cultural Dynamics” (1937–41), which covered 2500 years of human history. Sorokin was especially interested in probing the tenets of conflict and social change.
Later, he developed an interest in charity and, in 1949, founded the “Harvard Center for Creative Altruism.” His work studying the lives of contemporary US altruists and Christian saints frequently drew jeers and earned him the label of “ludicrous eccentric.”
The Bedminister Press reprint of “Social and Cultural Dynamics” (1962) and the tributes by Philip J. Allen (“Pitirim Sorokin In Review”) and Edward A. Tiryakian (“Sociological Theory, Values, and Sociocultural Change”) in 1963 helped him gain widespread acceptance despite being shunned by his peers during the 1940s and the 1960s.
With the largest margin and the first successful write-in vote in the history of the organization, he was chosen “President of the American Sociological Association” in 1963 as a result of resounding public support. The same year, his memoir, “A Long Journey,” was released.
Bigger Productions of Pitirim Sorokin
Some of Sorokin’s earliest publications at the University of Minnesota include “Social Migration” (1927), “Contemporary Sociological Theories” (1928), and “Principles of Rural-Urban Sociology,” among others (1929).
His four-volume work on “Social and Cultural Dynamics” (1937–1941) is frequently regarded as his best work.
His five-dimensional love theory is explained in his 1954 book, “The Ways and Strength of Love.”
Recognition & Accomplishments
After being chosen as the “President of the American Sociological Association” in 1963 following a historic vote, he first served as the “International Institute of Sociology’s” president from 1936 to 1963.
Individual Existence of Pitirim Sorokin
Before relocating to the US, Sorokin and Elena Baratynskaya lived in Prague for a year after their 1917 marriage. Peter, a physicist, and inventor of the laser (born in 1931), and Sergei were the couple’s two offspring (born in 1933).
In 1930, he was granted naturalization as an American.
On February 10, 1968, he passed away in Winchester, Massachusetts, at the age of 79.
Estimated net worth
The estimated net worth of Pitirim Sorokin is about $10 million.
At the age of 24, he was named co-editor of the Russian magazine “New Ideas in Sociology.”
He allegedly preferred the monarchy’s prisons because of their superior cleanliness, friendlier staff, and availability of books after spending time in both communist and monarchy-run prisons.
Once, Sorokin referred to communism as “the parasite of man.” He received the same treatment from Lenin, who described him as “typical of the most obstinate section of the Russian intelligentsia.”
He produced over 400 papers, and 37 books, at least seven of which were written in Russian.