There is no question that Sorokin was a sociological giant, one whose pioneer studies The Sociology of Revolution, Social Mobility, Contemporary Sociological Theories, and of course, Social and Cultural Dynamics, to name just the most obvious provided basic frames for major sociological fields. But although an academic professor, he was also a prophet, one who felt his responsibility to decry certain conditions and behavior patterns of modernity, to warn of their consequences, and to seek or prepare us to go beyond the normative crisis of late modernity". (Edward A. Tiryakian)




by Vincent Jeffries

In his 2004 Presidential Address to the American Sociological Association Michael Burawoy (2005) advocated the importance of public sociology. Since that time the idea of public sociology has attracted unprecedented interest and debate on a global scale. Sociologists in the United States have authored over 100 journal articles on this topic. Public sociology has also attracted attention in journals in a score of countries, including Russia, China, and Iran. Additionally, books with collections of essays dealing with public sociology from both critical and positive perspectives have been published in the United States, Russia, and other countries (Burawoy 2009). Often overlooked in the focus of attention on the idea of public sociology is the holistic model of sociological practice that is formulated by Burawoy (Burawoy 2005). From this perspective the discipline of sociology can be viewed as consisting of four forms of practice: professional, consisting of theoretical traditions and empirical research; critical, the evaluation of the discipline in terms of its focus, directions, and moral orientations; policy, the formulation and implementation of means to reach specified ends; public, communication and dialogue with various publics regarding sociological knowledge and understandings. These forms of practice are regarded as an interdependent system, in which "each type of sociology derives energy, meaning, and imagination from its connection to the others" (Burawoy 2005:15). A more analytically powerful and creative sociology will emanate from this close association of the four forms of practice. This paper will explore how selected aspects of the social thought of Pitirim Sorokin can be understood within this four sociology model. This consideration is intended to demonstrate the scope and power of Sorokin's system of thought. It is also intended to demonstrate the importance of Burawoy's holistic sociology as the mechanism through which sociology can advance as a science and as a contributor to the general welfare.


Pitirim Sorokin is the most published and widely translated sociologist in the history of the discipline. Throughout his scholarly career his works varied across the forms of practice in their emphasis (Johnston 1995; Nichols 1999). Some of his writings, such as his system of sociology (Sorokin 1947) and his study of sociocultural change (1957a) are classics of professional sociology. Others are traditional public sociology. Examples include his diagnosis of the crisis of the contemporary era (1941), of basic sociocultural trends (1964b), and of the means to effective reconstruction (1948). All of these writings are intended to be assessible to a wide audience in the general population. In other instances, both professional works (1954) and public sociology writings (1948) contain a heavy policy emphasis that finds its critical foundation in Sorokin's integralist philosophy (Sorokin 1957b). Thus his system of sociology represents an exemplar of the synergistic integration of the forms of practice. The analysis of Sorokin's work begins with his integral ontology and epistemology then links this foundation to his critical sociology. From this basis, three general substantive areas of Sorokin's work are briefly considered: The study and analysis of culture, social structure in respect to stratification, and altruism. In each case, the interplay and contribution of the different forms of sociology are considered. This serves to illustrate the holistic model in which the outcome is greater scholarly attainment through the systemic utilization of different forms of practice.


Sorokin's system of sociology derives from his integral philosophy and method (Ford, 1963; Johnston 1995, 1998; Nichols 2009). From this perspective reality consists of empirical-sensory, rational-meaningful, and supersensory-superrational aspects. The corresponding epistemology thus combines faith, including both intuition and the religious idea of revealed truth, reason, and the senses into a harmonious system (Sorokin 1957a:679-697, 1663:372-400, 1964a:226-237). Sorokin (1948) describes this tripartite epistemology as follows:

The empirical aspect of the Infinite Manifold should be investigated primarily by empirical science through sensory observation in all its forms (experimenata, clinical, etc.). Its rational aspects should be studied by means of the rational disciplines of logic, mathematics, and the like. Its supersensory and metarational aspect is to be apprehended through the superconscious, superrational intuition of charismatic religious prophets and ethical seers, of great thinkers like Plato, of great artists like Beethoven and Shakespeare. (PP.111-112).

Although uncommon in today's social science, systems of truth of this type are shown by quantitative analysis to have appeared in Western civilization almost as frequently as alternative systems, including that of empiricism (Sorokin 1957a:254-256). In different time periods and cultural contexts integralism has been the dominant system of truth, and has assumed diverse religious and philosophical orientations. The Russian tradition of Intuitivism is one of these variants of integralism (Nichols 2006). An integral perspective encourages the incorporation of ideas from religion and philosophy within the frame of reference of sociology. Such ideas can serve as value premises, concepts, or variables in research endeavors (Jeffries 1999). Sorokin (1948) describes this aspect of integralism and its social outcome as follows:

...religion enters into harmonious cooperation with science, logic, and philosophy without sacrificing any of its intuitive truth revealed through the superconscious of its seers, prophets, and charismatic leaders. On the other hand, in its turn it supplements science, logic, and philosophy through its system of ultimate reality - values. In this way religion, logic, science unite to form a single harmonious team dedicated to the discovery of the perennial values and to the proper shaping of man's mind and conduct. (P.158)

This ontological and epistemological base of Sorokin's professional sociology leads directly to the orientation of his critical sociology. It anchors his critical perspective in the philosophical and religious wisdom of the ages in terms of the nature of the good, and its absence.


Critical sociology serves both as the "conscience" of sociology by identifying problems, and as the source of "moral vision" that posits a future good (Burawoy 2005:10,16). In Sorokin's system of sociology his critical perspective plays a crucial role both in interpreting existing sociocultural conditions and in proposing more desirable alternatives. The foundation of Sorokin's critical perspective is his integral philosophy. Its central values are expressed at a highly abstract and universal level by Sorokin (1957b) in the following quote:

Among all the meaningful values of the superorganic world there is the supreme integral value-the veritable summum bonum. It is the indivisible unity of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. Though each member of this supreme Trinity has a distinct individuality, all three are inseparable from one another...These greatest values are not only inseparable from one another, but they are transformable into one another...Each newly discovered truth contributes also to the values of beauty and goodness. Each act of unselfish creative love (goodness) enriches the realms of truth and beauty; and each masterpiece of beauty morally enobles and mentally enlightens the members of the human universe.... For these reasons, the main historical mission of mankind consists in an unbounded creation, accumulation, refinement, and actualization of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness in the nature of man himself, in man's mind and behavior, in man's superorganic universe and beyond it, and in man's relationships to all human beings, to all living creatures, and to the total cosmos. ... Any important achievement in this supreme mission represents a real progress of man and of the human universe. (P.184)

These general values can be specified in a manner that they can become both value premises in critical sociology and concepts and variables in theoretical perspectives and research programs (Jeffries 1999). Sorokins professional sociology provides the basis for this conceptual specification. In this context the most fundamental and universal subject matter of sociology is personality, society, and culture (Sorokin 1947:63-64). Love, viewed as the essence of goodness (Sorokin 1957b:184), can be conceptualized at both the level of personality and of society. Personal goodness is equated with altruistic love, that love that involves the giving of aid, self-sacrifice, duty, and service to others (Sorokin, 1954a:47-79). Love at the societal level is conceptualized as solidarity at the interactional level and familistic relationships at the level of social relationships (Sorokin 1954:13). The emphasis on love is embedded in the integral perspective by a common principle of the world religions:

There is no need to argue that love is the heart and soul of ethical goodness itself and of all great religions. Their central command has always been love of God and of neighbor" (Sorokin 1954:79).


Sorokin's analysis of culture (1957a) is based on an extensive quantitative and qualitative investigation of the culture of Western Civilization from about 580 BC to 1925 AD. Data on cultural and social factors are classified and tabulated by time periods ranging from 20 to 100 years. Various compartments of culture such as the system of truth and knowledge, art, scientific inventions and discoveries, categories of philosophical thought, and ethics are studied. All cultures hold in common definitions pertaining to the nature of reality, the needs and ends to be satisfied, the extent of their satisfaction, and the method of satisfaction. On the basis of different definitions of these common questions that arise from the basic nature of human life and existence, three types of integrated culture are identified: ideational, idealistic, and sensate. An ideational culture defines the essential nature of reality as spiritual and transcendental, centered on some conception of God or the Ultimate Reality. Needs and ends are of the same nature, the extent of their satisfaction is maximum, and the method of satisfaction is primarily modification of the self. Sensate culture is a polar opposite. The nature of reality to which individuals must adjust is viewed as physical and material, the needs and ends are the same, the extent of their satisfaction is the maximum, and the method of satisfaction is modification of the environment, either through changing it or taking from it. An idealistic culture is an integrated synthesis of these two polar types, with ideational ideas being foundational. No culture is completely integrated, so these culture types are appropriately interpreted as ideal types. However, all cultures can be placed somewhere on the continuum between the polar ideal types of ideational and sensate. The total and absolute reality that actually exists is empirical-sensory, rational-meaningful, and supersensory-superrational. Therefore, each of these culture types comprehends and provides for only a part of the total reality. Each is thus partly true and partly false. When any one becomes too dominant, it becomes increasingly false. As a culture becomes false, it becomes inadequate as a design for living. Individual lives become impoverished because basic needs of human nature are not adequately addressed. Social life likewise becomes problematic and deficient in various areas. This is the situation with the prevailing sensate culture (1941). The system of truth is characterized by a degree of skepticism and relativism that prevent agreement on accepted standards that differentiate between truth and falsehood. Furthermore, scientific practice has become separated from the search for goodness. In ethics, utilitarianism, expediency, hedonism, relativism, and a lack of transcendental justification have produced an ineffective ethical system. It can neither control behavior nor motivate the persuit of the good. Advanced sensate art emphasizes superficiality, violence, and sensuality and tends to be antisocial and antimoral. The sensate idea of liberty is that each individual should be able to do as they wish and have whatever they want. All of these cultural factors combine to produce a situation in which interpersonal, intergroup, and international antagonisms and conflict are bound to be frequent and severe (Sorokin 1941, 1947:119-131). This inability of the declining sensate culture to provide a satisfactory design for living in the current historical era is described by Sorokin (1941):

We are living and acting at one of the epoch-making turning points of human history, when one fundamental form of culture and society - sensate - is declining and a different form is emerging. The crisis is also extraordinary in the sense that, like its predecessors, it is marked by an extraordinary explosion of wars, revolutions, anarchy, and bloodshed; by social, moral, economic, political, and intellectual chaos; by a resurgence of revolting cruelty and animality, and a temporary destruction of the great and small values of mankind; by misery and suffering on the part of millions. (P.22)

A new culture must be created. Formulating an end for policy sociology, Sorokin (1948) describes the nature of this culture:

The major premise of sensate culture must be replaced by the broader, deeper, richer, and more valid premise that the true reality and value is an infinite manifold possessing not only sensory but also supersensory, rational, and superrational aspects, all harmoniously reflecting its infinity.... such a premise is incomparably more adequate than the purely sensate premise of our present culture. A culture built upon such a premise effectively mitigates the ferocity of the struggle for a greater share of material values, because material values occupy in it only a limited place and not the highest one. A large proportion of human aspirations tend to be channeled in the direction of the rational or the superrational perennial values of the kingdom of God, of fuller truth, nobler goodness, and sublimer beauty. The very nature of these values is impersonal and universal, altruistic and ennobling. As these values are infinite and inexhaustible, the quest for them does not lead to egoistic conflicts. (P. 107)


Sorokin's professional sociology presents an extensive analysis of stratification in both its static and dynamic aspects (Sorokin 1947:256-295, 1959). The essence of social stratification is identified as unequal distribution. It is reflected in the existence of hierarchly superposed strata that are characterized by social inequality with respect to factors such as rights and privileges, advantages and disadvantages, and power and influence. Stratification is a universal feature of social organization (Sorokin 1959:11-19). Stratification takes many forms. It may consist of formally organized strata which exhibit all the characteristics of an organized group, or of less organized "as if" strata that are identified by similarity of position, life experiences, and attitudes and behavior. Stratification systems may be unibonded in the sense they are based on one complex of meanings, values, and norms, such as race, age, or sex. Alternatively, they may be multibonded, such as class stratification that is based on bonds of occupation, economic position, and the bond of occupying the same social stratum. Stratification is both intragroup and intergroup. The latter form may be of groups of the same type, or groups of different types (Sorokin 1947:256-295).

Vertical social mobility involves movement from one stratum to another. It can be ascending or descending, individual or group. All stratification systems are characterized by mobility, though the amount may vary considerably. Mobility takes place through the channels of circulation, constituted by major institutional spheres such as the military, political, economic, educational, religious, and professional. Within these channels circulation there are testing mechanisms. These consist of the standards that either prevent upward movement or allow it to occur. Testing mechanisms vary greatly in their characteristics. They can include such factors as hereditary, moral, or social characteristics. They also may include various tests of performance, such as educational, occupational or achievements of various sorts. The adequacy of these testing mechanisms is crucial to societal welfare, because they have great influence on whether or not individuals are placed according to their talents and capabilities (Sorokin 1959:182-211).

Sorokin's critical sociology of stratification builds on this professional framework and focuses on the abuses of power (Sorokin and Lunden 1959). Those in ruling positions in the state and in political, business, labor and other organizations are of crucial importance because of the great concentration of power in this era. Historical analysis shows that such elites are more criminal and submoral then the general population. Both social selection and the activities associated with positions of elite power contribute to this difference. Coercive measures and propaganda of powerholders contribute to the misuse of power, as does a lack of value consensus and uniformity of public opinion. All of these factors contribute to a situation in which the elite powerholders of this era are seldom able to prevent intergroup conflict or manifest creativity. Sorokin and Lunden's (1959) policy sociology contributes an analysis of various means to reduce the misuse of power. Power tends to corrupt. Therefore a major policy orientation is to reduce the power of powerholders through legislation and persuasion. Both channels of circulation and testing mechanisms must be changed to produce more ethical and creative elites. Elites should be selected more from both scientific and religious channels. Other policy orientations include the greater use of scientific knowledge in formulating government policies and and the application of an ethic of love and mutual aid to guide both the selection and actions of powerholders. Through these means a new social and political order can be created and maintained.


Both the knowledge and understanding gained by professional sociology and the value perspective of critical integralism suggest the most fundamental response to the crisis created by the decline of sensate culture and the aduses of power that characterize this historical era is an increase in altruistic love. How this is to be done is the central question of Sorokin's policy sociology. The strategy for reconstruction rests on a professional foundation: The reality that sociology studies is personality, society, and culture (Sorokin. 1947:63-64). The nature of this tripartite reality is such that "none of these phenomena can be properly investigated without considering the other members of the trinity" (Sorokin 1947:64). This fundamental assumption means that reconstruction toward greater altruism must involve all three parts of this "inseparable trinity" (1948:95). A less comprehensive approach is "doomed to failure" (Sorokin 1948:95). In this regard Sorokin (1948) maintains:

If we desire to eliminate war and to establish a harmonious world order, we must pay the fullest price for this value: we must transform in a creatively altruistic direction all human beings, all social institutions, and the entire culture of mankind in all its main compartments, including science, religion, law and ethics, the fine arts, economics, and politics. Otherwise all attempts are doomed to be abortive and to prove harmful rather than beneficial (PP. 95-96)

This change moves progressively from micro to macro levels, beginning with each individual. Culture fundamentally emerges from the actions of individuals. Reconstruction thus depends on the necessary condition that each individual makes the effort to transform himself or herself to become more altruistic (Sorokin 1948:233-234). Sorokin (1948) contends this deliberate effort at self-transformation is the foundation of more micro changes: can carry on this self-education in thousands of specific actions, beginning with minor good deeds and ending with the acts of exceptional unselfishness. If most persons would even slightly improve themselves in this way, the sum total of social life would be ameliorated vastly more than through political campaigns, legislation, wars and revolutions, lockouts and strikes, and pressure reforms. (PP. 233-234)

Considerable attention is devoted to how individuals can undertake the effort to become more altruistic in Sorokin's major work on altruism (1954:287-377). Techniques of altruistic self- transformation that individuals can undertake include the practice of good deeds, the formulation of a self-conception centered on altruism, altruistic prayer, the regular examination of conscience, and affiliation with groups that are altruistic and the avoidance of those that practice contrasting values. Moving beyond the level of individual self-transformation Sorokin (1948) formulates a policy sociology for progressing to meso then macro levels of social organization and culture.

The second and third lines of attack consist in a well planned modification of our culture and social institutions through the concerted actions of individuals united in groups, which, in turn, are merged in larger federations or associations. At the present time the tasks are twofold: first, to increase our knowledge and wisdom and to invent better, more efficient techniques for fructifying our culture and institutions and rendering human beings more noble and altruistic; second, through this increased knowledge and these perfected techniques to draw up more adequate plans for the total process of transformation, to diffuse and propogate them, and to convince ever-larger sections of humanity of the urgency, feasibility, and adequacy of the proposed reconstruction. (PP. 234-235)


Two central ideas can be derived from this paper. Both have implications for the project of improving the validity of sociology as a science and increasing its contributions to human welfare. First, the paper has demonstrated the importance of the holistic model of sociology developed by Burawoy (2005). Some of the ways in which Sorokin's system of thought gains coherence, direction, scope, and power of interpretation through the relationship between the different forms of sociology have been identified.

For example, the diversity and analytical precision of Sorokin's professional sociology structures and gives meaning to the other three forms of sociology. It specifies the content of his critical sociology of goodness, is the basis of the scope and strategic direction of his policy sociology, and confers validity on his public sociology calling for individual involvement in reconstruction toward greater love and solidarity. Sorokin's critical sociology is foundational to the other three types, defining areas of investigation and ultimate ends for both professional and policy sociology. Policy sociology also directs some of the content of the professional, specifies the means to reach ultimate ends, and provides practical guidelines to individual action toward those ends. These three forms converge to give relevance to public sociologies. They do this by conferring scientific authority, formulating and justifying ultimate ends, and detailing the means individuals can use to contribute to reaching them. A basis of relevance is thereby formed for meaningful dialogue with both general and specific publics.

It is important to note in this regard that the holistic model of sociological practice is applicable for use with diverse theoretical approaches and research topics. The general relationships between the forms of practice observed in Sorokin's theory transcend theoretical and methodological traditions. The adoption of this model as a standard of excellence for a variety of sociological endeavors gives great promise to the unity of the discipline and to its ability to produce knowledge amd understanding that can benefit human welfare.

A paper of this length cannot begin to adequately convey the comprehensive nature and excellence of Sorokin's system of sociology. However, the paper does provide some insight into its structure, and how seemingly disparate orientations to the practice of sociology can actually positively reinforce each other and point to common directions and themes of analysis. His thought provides an extensive professional base of concepts, typologies and theoretical elaboration in diverse areas. Sorokin's integralism shapes this professional base by providing a robust critical sociology. This critical perspective calls for a reexamination of fundamental ontological and epistemological assumptions. It also unites religious, philosophical, and sociological thought to provide the basis of a sociological tradition that directs practice to the study of ultimate values and the requirements for their realization. In conclusion, both Burawoy's holistic model of sociological practice and Sorokin's social thought have great potential to move sociology to greater excellence. Sorokin (1954) describes the importance of sociology and social science to personal, social, and cultural reconstruction in the following statement:

The existing knowledge of the causal consequences of various human actions is very meager. For the purposes of making numerous actions of love adequate, it needs to be greatly increased. This enrichment of knowledge can be accomplished only through the cognizing activity of our rational mind. In these and similar ways, an effortful concentration of conscious, scientific thought on these problems can surely decrease interhuman antagonisms and enormously promote creative and moral enoblement of the human species. Through mobilization of the best scientific brains available, these results can be obtained within a comparatively short period of a few decades. The governments, the foundations, the private philanthropists can hardly make better use of their resources than by the investment of their funds for this sort of scientific research. (PP. 479-480)

Both the holistic disciplinary model and the integral system of sociology transcend particularistic modes of practice and traditions of thought and provide a framework of ideas with wide applicability. Because of this commonly held universality they each have in their own unique way great potential. They can unite sociologists of diverse orientations into a community of scholars seeking knowledge and understanding for the betterment of human lives and the welfare of society.


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Vincent Jeffries, California State University, Northridge