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Book Collaboration, Reputation, and Ethics in American Academic Life: HANS H. GERTH AND C. WRIGHT MILLS


Collaboration, Reputation, and Ethics in American Academic Life: HANS H. GERTH AND C. WRIGHT MILLS

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    Available in PDF - DJVU Format | Collaboration, Reputation, and Ethics in American Academic Life: HANS H. GERTH AND C. WRIGHT MILLS.pdf | Language: ENGLISH
    Guy Oakes(Author),Arthur J Vidich(Author)

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The meteoric rise of the sociologist C. Wright Mills from a brash and ambitious graduate student to a leading figure in the American intellectual establishment was launched by his collaboration with Hans Gerth on two seminal works on Max Weber. The story of their thirteen-year partnership reveals a relationship of Shakespearean complexity in which respect, trust, generosity, and perhaps even love did not exclude envy, resentment, deceit, and betrayal. Gerth, a German emigre, was several years Mills' senior and his mentor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. What began as a graduate student editing and polishing a professor's rough translations evolved into a publishing partnership pairing Gerth's scholarly expertise with Mills' savvy and skill at organizing and negotiating.Their publication of "From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology" in 1946 marked a sea change in American sociology by making key Weberian texts available to social scientists working in the English language. Their second project, "Character and Social Structure", demonstrated how Weber's theories could be put into practice.In the course of exploring the history of the Gerth-Mills association, Guy Oakes and Arthur J. Vidich consider themes central to questions of academic ethics, including how the distribution of knowledge and power in collaboration shapes the social production of authorship, academic reputation, and intellectual authority; how the dynamics of collaboration play into the competition over credit for scientific and scholarly work; and how concealment, secrecy, and deception contribute to the building of academic reputation. Thus, the historic partnership of Gerth and Mills serves as a point of departure for a sustained discussion of essential issues in the ethics and politics of academic life.

"A model of historical scholarship... This is a valuable reading, for it takes us into the back stage regions of the academy, and shows us just how ugly things can be." - Norman K. Denzin, International Journal of Politics, Culture, and Society "A penetrating insight into American academic life... This is an absorbing thriller; it is also a study of characters, by no means minor; there are few other personalities whose impact on contemporary social sciences has been greater." -- Zygmunt Bauman, The Times Literary Supplement

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Review Text

  • By Barron Laycock on December 8, 2000

    What is most illuminating about this gossip-ridden compendium of neo-conservative arguments against the brilliant collaboration of famed sociologist C. Wright Mills ("White Collar", "The Sociological Imagination", "The Power Elite") with his long-time friend and fellow University of Wisconsin graduate student Hans Gerth is the fact that it is an obvious attempt to discredit the now famous work of these two scholars. The two collaborated to successfully translate for the American academic and intellectual community many of the heretofore-unavailable works of famed German sociologist Max Weber. In what one of my former professors would refer to as the "carbuncle theory" of history, these two authors attempt to discredit Mills and Gerth by engaging in a vicious (and totally uncalled for) smearing of their admittedly difficult and sometimes stridently competitive combined efforts.As with the famous carbuncle theory, which was a notorious attempt by conservative turn of the century scholars to explain away Marx's brilliant observations regarding the way in which social forces act as the motive force of history as simple dyspepsia due to his chronic affliction with carbuncles. Of course, the professor's point is that, in the last analysis, Marx's theories must be judged based on their rational and intellectual merits, not on some silly emotional attempt to discredit the author without considering the weight of his or her intellectual argument. So, too, here, we must keep in mind that however messy and unpleasant the process, the fruit of intellectual labors must be judged based on their results rather than on the personalities or character flaws of the individuals involved. Sad to say, it appears that these two authors are all too willing to sully their own academic reputations by engaging in such gossip mongering.Another reviewer admits to shock and surprise regarding the ways in which petty egos and aggressive careerism affect the ways in which the gentlemen in question behave. Might I suggest he read James D. Watson's own surprising autobiographical accounting for similar shortcomings, personal ambition, and pettiness among the several Nobel laureates who jointly discovered the helical nature of DNA in "The Double Helix"? Perhaps it is time for such naïve people to grow up and recognize the fact that the stuff of science and research is often a messy and unpleasant business, and not at all the stiff, pristine, disinterested, and sanitized search for truth that appears monthly within the carefully arranged type-set pages of "Scientific American" magazine. Noted scientific luminaries like Albert Einstein admitted as much in their own memoirs, and perhaps the reading public should realize that anything as worthwhile as meaningful scientific research doesn't necessarily emanate from people who always chew with their mouths closed. Bad people may in fact do brilliant science, and it matters not a rattler's damn whether we like these people or not.Therefore, regardless of what these two sociologists say in their shameless attempt to rake over the ashes of the dead in this mean-spirited effort to make their own academic reputation here, the fact remains that both C. Wright Mills and Hans Gerth published widely recognized and acclaimed works during their very fruitful careers, and the efforts they made to collaborate on "From Max Weber", "Character and Social Structure", and other tomes has stood the test of time, and are all still in active use. Moreover, there is a new resurgence of interest in C. Wright Mills work in particular, and one suspects that the two authors writing this book are attempting to capitalize on his newly resurgent cache (witness the new publication of his collected letters) in order to make their own bones and to sell some books of their own. I do not recommend this book. It is a pathetic and singularly unscientific attempt to discredit some of sociology's most prolific and productive authors by deliberately sullying their characters and personal reputations.

  • By Howard Aldrich on August 29, 2001

    As Oakes and Vidich state in their introduction, this book is an anaylsis of the ethics of academic career management. It is NOT a study of how scholars' career choices are affected by the historical conjuncture in which they find themselves, nor is it meant as an assessment of either Gerth's or Mills' contributions to sociological scholarship. Instead, we get an analysis "built close to the ground it covers." In nearly exhaustive detail, the authors paint a devastating picture of one man -- Gerth -- whose undisciplined brilliance left him nearly totally dependent for his academic achievements on another man -- Mills -- who proved to be totally and ruthlessly pragmatic in his own career choices. Although Oakes and Vidich claim not to be taking sides, Gerth comes across as a tragic, bungling, and ultimately self-destructive emigre who was no match for Mills' amibitions to become a "big shot." Mills himself used that telling phrase to describe the people he admired and whose tactics he copied.Who should read this book?: Graduate students who've not yet made up their mind about going into an academic career, as well as junior faculty whose sensibilities have been jarred by their dawning recognition that "success" is not going to be solely a function of their "talent." Oakes and Vidich's own assessment of what a reader can learn from the book is summed up in their last sentence: "The path to a successful scientific career is traced by the fine line between overweening ambition that inspires doubts about honesty and a diffidence or restraint that disqualifies its possessor from participation in the contest for priority." They make their case very well in this engrossing portrait of the relationship between Hans Gerth and C. Wright Mills.

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