04 February 2022
Pitirim Sorokin - the Father of Modern Sociology
On February 4th 1889, Russian-American sociologist and political activist Pitirim Sorokin was born.
“At the end of September, 1929 […] a letter from President Lowell of Harvard reached me. In his kind letter this distinguished educator informed me that Harvard decided to establish, for the first time in its history, a chair of sociology, and that their unanimous choice of a scholar for that chair was myself,” – wrote Pitirim Sorokin in his autobiography 30 years later.
The first professor of sociology at Harvard, one of the most grandiose academic minds of the 20th century, the creator of groundbreaking sociological theories, Pitirim Sorokin was born in a small Komi village of Turya in northern Russia. The Komi, or Zyrian people, comprised his social and cultural environment for the first ten years of his life. Remembering his childhood years and the splendor natural surroundings, he felt lucky to have had an opportunity to live in “this elemental realm of nature” and remarked that he would not have traded it for the “most civilized environment in the finest residential district of the finest city in the world”.
His mother was a Komi peasant girl and his father was a Russian from Veliky Ustyug, a craftsman of golden, silver and icon ornamental work. Pitirim Sorokin grew up up in a community of farmers, hunters and fishermen who never knew slavery or serfdom and held their land in common possession. Komi were always free and managed their local affairs autonomously, through self-government and collective activities. As a young boy, he naturally absorbed the “spirit of independence, self-reliance and mutual aid” that would be the core of his beliefs and moral precepts. He also admitted that the Komi had a “vigorous esthetic culture”. Fairy-tales, legends, myths, folksongs, pageants, village festivals, dances, and colorful rites attending birth, death, marriage, and other events of human life – all this was part of his childhood world and clearly shaped his esthetic tastes for the rest of his life.
With good reason Pitirim Sorokin can be called a self-made man. His entire biography is the embodiment of the American dream. He reached the highest heights in science, which he aspired to from a young age. When at the age of 18 he arrived in Saint-Petersburg, he sought help from his fellow countryman – philosopher and ethnographer Professor Kallistrat Zhakov who was also Komi. With his support Sorokin was enrolled for a school course, then entered the university and started his career as researcher. Sorokin’s revolutionary spirit led him to politics, then to a dangerous conflict with the new Bolshevik government, then immigration.
Pitirim Sorokin gives the full account of his life in his self-biography A Long Journey. His life was indeed an amazing journey in pursuit of social ideals. Sorokin remained an idealist throughout his life. He wanted to change the world first by revolution, then by science and enlightenment. Not everything that he prophesied has come true, but his theories contributed to the formation of the core of modern sociology.
Sorokin Pitirim A. (1889-1968). A Long Journey : the autobiography of Pitirim A. Sorokin / Pitirim A. Sorokin. - New Haven : College and University Press, . - 327 Ñ€.
A Long Journey
Autobiography of a renowned Russian-American sociologist and political activist of Komi-Zyryan decent