Comment

 When morality and knowledge
 don't supersede each other

 Nasrin Pourhamrang

 In reviewing the intellectual activities and the life events of "Neil Smelser", the Professor Emeritus of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley, a few points appealed to me a great deal. First of all, there's an enormous amount of scientific and research activities which were never delayed since his youth days up to now that he is spending his retirement. His life was always suffused with endeavor, study and research and this behavioral method is an objective and insightful model for all the students who are in favor of scientific activities.

The second point is the attitudes of Prof. Smelser in reviewing the events of his scientific life and explicating his academic activities. In browsing his reflective odyssey, Smelser never complains about anything and doesn't talk of deficiencies, problems and pressures. Maybe the reader may get this feeling that Smelser has been competing in a one-competitor marathon, while we all know well that it hasn't been so. Life in the scientific environments and acquiring new abilities and thriving growingly has its own difficulties, while Smelser seems to be someone who is not at all interested in retelling the difficulties and complications. Even it seems that he doesn't pay the least attention to these problems and his scientific objectives are so exalted and sublime that the difficulties won't be seen or appear very diminutive and all of these maybe stem from the positive demeanor which I want to propose as the third note.

In the interviews which I conducted with the old colleagues and students of Prof. Smelser, all of them emphasized on his positive decency, deportment and sense of philanthropy. Even those colleagues who were reflectively at odds with him underscored his friendly manners. When I talked to Prof. Bob Blauner, a former colleague of Neil Smelser in the University of California, Berkeley and asked him that what features of Smelser attracted him the most, he answered that Smelser had "a congenial personality, friendly and smiling a lot."

In my own interview with him, I realized the same things. Perhaps it can be said that in the reflective odyssey of Smelser, morality and knowledge never superseded each other and moved forward shoulder by shoulder.

In these behavioral demeanors, one should take into consideration his scientific education along with his personality traits and family background. Smelser's involvement in different majors and acquiring diverse insights helped him to have a versatile and multilateral understanding in facing different issues and phenomena. A profound and multilateral understanding can lead to congeniality and philanthropy and this may be the same understanding that Max Weber calls "verstehen."

Having in mind these behavioral and moral traits, Smelser connects the contradictory affairs with each other in his scientific theories and insights. While paying attention to grand theories, he does not neglect middle range theories. While being considered a functionalist influenced by Parsons, he does not remain under his umbrella and dedicates his thoughts to the issue of contradiction.

Although he is very much interested in economic sciences and carries out many studies in this field, he avoids economic determinism. His interest in history and psychoanalysis indicates that he believes in the impact of other areas in the formation of social events and phenomena. He even does not resort to the merely cultural explications, as some of the sociologists excessively emphasize on the cultural components. Smelser also values social interactions a great deal, and that's why he shuns structural determinism.

In theorization, Smelser maintains his multilateral insights. In his most important theory which is the theory of value-added, the factors which can lead to a social movement are explained in the following terms:

1-      Structural conduciveness is the analysis of structural environment in the emergence of social phenomena.

2-      Strain takes into consideration personal motives for joining the movements and leading the groups

3-      Crystallization of a generalized belief posits that what is right and what is wrong and what can be done to improve the situation.

4-      Precipitating factors leads to the sense of urgency in individuals for being involved and engaged in communal behaviors. Precipitating factors create legitimizing foundations for communal behaviors.

5-      Mobilization amplifies the political aspect of communal behavior.

6-      Social control is exerted by the power-holding authorities to put a lid on the social movements and sometimes can lead to an increase in the amplitude of the protests.

The exploratory model of Smelser which he calls value-added, increases the ability of social analysts in explicating the social events.

Interdisciplinary study has enriched the personal life of Smelser and he could thereby grow and open up new horizons in his life. The results of these new horizons are the enjoyment which he gained and this enjoyment added to his power in the continuation of his scholarly activities.

In enumerating the problems and perils which threaten the modern world, he points to the destruction of environment, global warming and proliferation of nuclear weapons which can seriously jeopardize the human's life on the earth. He, however, doesn't believe that sociologists can help solve these problems; rather, they can help with the enlightenment of the public and get united with the peace and environmental movements to assist the progress of peace and survival.

After a long time of making efforts in scientific and managerial areas, he recommends the students and researchers of sociology to "work above all toward patient establishment of democratic institutions that foster free thought and free expression." and adds that "More particularly, join the struggle to secure the existence of Politically independent and autonomous universities, which constitute the most fundamental conditions for the professional pursuit of knowledge."