Sociology at the University of Illinois
at Urbana-Champaign Celebrated
by Jan Nederveen Pieterse, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Last September, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Sociology Department celebrated its centennial. One hundred years ago the Department of Sociology was formed with Edward Carey Hayes—who played an important role in the formation of American sociology—as the first chair. He was an organizing member of the American Sociological Society and was elected its eleventh president.
A list of initial courses shows topics that are still relevant today and some that have lost favor in current academia. These include the Social Problems of the Rural Community (Hayes) in 1911; Social Evolution (Hayes) and Charities (Sutherland) in 1919; Social Factors in Personality (Abel) in 1928; Social Progress and Social Values (Odum) in 1935. In addition, sociology luminaries Hans Gerth and Florian Znaniecki co-taught a course on European Sociological Thought in 1939. Gerth taught at Illinois from 1938-41, and Znaniecki worked here from 1939 until his death in 1958. Five faculty members who taught at Illinois served, either during their terms here or later, as presidents of the American Sociological Association (starting with Hayes in 1921 and Howard Odum in 1930 to Barbara Reskin in 2002).
Tim Liao, the current Head of the Department, chaired the centennial celebration. Clark McPhail presented an engaging recent history of the department and an alumni panel shared their memories of times past. Keynote speakers were Jeffrey Alexander, Yale University, and Giovanni Arrighi, Johns Hopkins University.
Looking back at the past hundred years of sociology, Alexander discussed a theme related to his most recent book, The Civil Sphere. His speech focused on differences between European and American sociology and how they explain what binds societies together and how social orders can be structured in a fair way. Power and selfinterest are crucial, but they aren’t enough; ethical and emotional convictions are necessary as well. In his analysis, European sociology tends to view society from the top down whereas American sociology looks at society from the bottom up.
Looking forward to the next hundred years, Arrighi spoke of the long-term rise of Asia and themes related to his 2007 book, Adam Smith in Beijing. He argues that China emerges as the winner in the war on terror. What sets China apart in his view is not cheap labor or labor exploitation because those are found in many places, nor the large role of the state, which China shares with other developmental states. It is rather the role of small- and medium-size companies that drive China’s development, building on the role of the township village enterprises (TVEs). In passing, Arrighi also praised American higher education and noted that a major difference between U.S. higher education and that of Europe’s is, in short, graduate students—in greater numbers and densities, made possible by better job prospects in the American higher education system.