Pitirim Sorokin

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Pitirim Alexandrovich Sorokin
Pitirim Sorokin.jpg
Sorokin, 1934
Native name Питирим Александрович Сорокин
Born 4 February [O.S. 21 January] 1889
Turiya village, Vologda Governorate
Died 11 February 1968(1968-02-11) (aged 79)
Winchester, Massachusetts
Nationality Russian
Fields sociology
Alma mater Saint Petersburg State University
Spouse Elena Petrovna Sorokina (née Baratynskaya) (1894–1975)

Pitirim Alexandrovich Sorokin (/səˈrkɪn, sɔː-/;[1] Russian: Питири́м Алекса́ндрович Соро́кин, 4 February [O.S. 21 January] 1889,[2] Turiya village, Vologda Governorate – 11 February 1968, Winchester, Massachusetts) was a Russian American sociologist born in modern-day Komi Republic of Russia. An academic and political activist, he emigrated from the Soviet Union to the United States in 1923. In 1930, at the age of 40, Sorokin was personally requested by the president of Harvard University to accept a position there. At Harvard, he founded the Department of Sociology.[3] He was a vocal critic of his colleague Talcott Parsons.[4] Sorokin was an ardent opponent of Communism, which he regarded as a "pest of man." He is best known for his contributions to the social cycle theory.


Pitirim Sorokin was born to a Russian father and Komi mother in the small village of Turja (then in the Yarensk uyezd in the Vologda Governorate, Russian Empire, now Knyazhpogostsky District, Komi Republic, Russia). In the early 1900s, supporting himself as an artisan and clerk, Sorokin attended the Saint Petersburg Imperial University where he earned his graduate degree in criminology and became professor.[5] Sorokin was an anti-communist, during the Russian Revolution he was was a member of the Socialist Revolutionary Party. This was also the time he met and married Dr. Helen Baratynskaya, with whom he would later have two sons. During the Russian Revolution, Sorokin was a secretary to Prime Minister Alexander Kerensky who was a leader in the Russian Constituent Assembly. After the October Revolution, Sorokin continued to fight communist leaders, and was arrested by the new regime several times before he was eventually condemned to death by Lenin himself. After six weeks in prison, he was set free and went back to teaching at the University of St. Petersburg. In 1918, he went on to become the founder of the sociology department at the University of St. Petersburg. In 1922, Sorokin was again arrested and this time exiled by the Soviet Government. He emigrated in 1923 to the United States and was naturalized in 1930.[5] Sorokin was professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota (1924–30) and at Harvard University (1930–59).


Before his achievements as a professor in the United States, he published his 1924 Leaves of a Russian Diary, by (E.P. Dutton & Co.), giving a daily, and sometimes hourly account of the Russian Revolution which actually first started in February 1917 where he was in the forefront of creating a provisionary government, only to see it unravel and lose power to the Bolsheviks in October 1917. In 1950, Sorokin published an addendum to the book called The Thirty Years After. It is a personal and brutally honest account of the revolution and of his exile.

Sorokin's academic writings are extensive; he wrote 37 books and more than 400 articles.[5] His controversial theories of social process and the historical typology of cultures are expounded in Social and Cultural Dynamics (4 vol., 1937–41; rev. and abridged ed. 1957) and many other works. Sorokin was also interested in social stratification, the history of sociological theory, and altruistic behavior.

Sorokin's work addressed three major theories: social differentiation, social stratification and social conflict. The theory of social differentiation describes three types of societal relationships. The first is familistic, which is the type that we would generally strive for. It is the relationship that has the most solidarity, the values of everyone involved are considered, and there is a great deal of interaction.

Social stratification refers to the fact that all societies are hierarchically divided, with upper and lower strata and unequal distribution of wealth, power, and influence across strata. There is always some mobility between these strata. People or groups may move up or down the hierarchy, acquiring or losing their power and influence.

Social conflict refers to Sorokin’s theory of war. Whether internal to a nation or international, peace is based on similarity of values among the people of a nation or between different nations. War has a destructive phase, when values are destroyed, and a declining phase, when some of values are restored. Sorokin thought that the number of wars would decrease with increased solidarity and decreased antagonism. If a society’s values stressed altruism instead of egoism, the incidence of war would diminish.

In his Social and Cultural Dynamics, his magnum opus, Sorokin classified societies according to their 'cultural mentality', which can be "ideational" (reality is spiritual), "sensate" (reality is material), or "idealistic" (a synthesis of the two). He suggested that major civilizations evolve from an ideational to an idealistic, and eventually to a sensate mentality. Each of these phases of cultural development not only seeks to describe the nature of reality, but also stipulates the nature of human needs and goals to be satisfied, the extent to which they should be satisfied, and the methods of satisfaction. Sorokin has interpreted the contemporary Western civilization as a sensate civilization, dedicated to technological progress and prophesied its fall into decadence and the emergence of a new ideational or idealistic era. In Fads and foibles, he criticizes Lewis Terman's Genetic Studies of Genius research, showing that his selected group of children with high IQs did about as well as a random group of children selected from similar family backgrounds would have done.[5][6]

Sorokin died in Winchester, Massachusetts, in 1968. A Russian Orthodox service was held at home for the family, followed by an eclectic service at the Memorial Church of Harvard University.[7]

Sorokin's papers are currently held by the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Canada, where they are available to the public. In March 2009 the Sorokin Research Center was established at the facilities of Syktyvkar State University in the Republic of Komi for the purpose of research and publication of archive materials, mainly from the collection at the University of Saskatchewan. The first research project “Selected Correspondence of Pitirim Sorokin: Scientist from Komi on The Service of Humanity” (in Russian) has been drafted and will be in printed in the Fall of 2009 in Russia.[6] [8]


In English or English translation

See also


  1. "Sorokin". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
  2. Sorokin, Pitirim (1992). Дальняя дорога: автобиография [Long journey: autobiography] (in Russian). Moscow: Terra. p. 9.CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Jeffries, Vincent. "Sorokin, Pitirim," Encyclopedia of Social Theory. California: Sage Publications.
  4. In "Fads and Foibles," Sorokin accuses Parsons of borrowing his work without acknowledgement.
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Allen Phillip, J. (1963). Pitirim A. Sorokin in Review. Durham N.C. Duke University Press
  6. 6.0 6.1 Gladwell, Malcolm (2008). Outliers. New York. p. 90. ISBN 978-0-316-03669-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Sergei P. Sorokin, "Life With Pitirim Sorokin: A Younger Son's Perspective".
  8. "Sorokin Research Center (Russia, Komi Republic, Syktyvkar)" (in Russian). Sorokin Research Center. Retrieved 2009-09-11.CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • Bierstedt, Robert (1959). The Making of Society. An Outline of Sociology. New York: Modern Library.
  • Coser, Lewis A. (1977). Masters of Sociological Thought. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
  • Cuzzort, R. P. and King, E. W. (1995). Twentieth-Century Social Thought. New York, NY: Harcourt Brace College Publishers.
  • Doykov, Yuri. Pitirim Sorokin. The Man Out of Season. Biography (in Russian).
    • Vol. 1 (Archangelsk, 2008 – 432 pages)
    • Vol. 2 (Archangelsk, 2009 – 488 pages)
  • Doykov, Yuri (2009). Pitirim Sorokin in Prage. Archangelsk. – 146 pages (in Russian).
  • Doykov, Yuri (2009). Pitirim Sorokin. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Archangelsk. – 184 pages (in Russian).
  • Ford, Joseph B., Michel P. Richard, and Palmer C. Talbutt (1996). Sorokin & Civilization.. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers.
  • Gambescia, Carlo (2002). Invito alla Lettura di Sorokin. Rome, Italy: Edizioni Settimo Sigillo.
  • Johnston, B.V (1995). Pitirim A. Sorokin an Intellectual Biography . Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas.
  • Nieli, Russell (2006). "Critic of the Sensate Culture: Rediscovering the Genius of Pitirim Sorokin" (PDF). The Political Science Reviewer. Intercollegiate Studies Institute. 35: 264–379.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Matter, Joseph Allen (1974). Love, Altruism, and World Crisis. The Challenge of Pitirim Sorokin. Chicago: Nelson-Hall.
  • Speier, Hans (1961). "The Sociological Ideas of Pitirim Alexandrovich Sorokin: 'Integralist' Sociology". An Introduction to the History of Sociology. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. pp. 884–901.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Tiryakian, Edward A. (1963). Sociological Theory, Values, and Sociocultural Change. New York: The Free Press of Glencoe.

External links