the day alvin gouldner punched a guy


Strange but true: Alvin Gouldner, author of The Coming Crisis of Western Sociology, attacked Laud Humphreys, author of The Tearoom Trade. The story? When Humphreys was a graduate student at Washington University in Missouri, he mocked Gouldner in public, which provoked the attack. According to a recent Inside Higher Education article about Humphreys:

Humphreys may have been the author of a sarcastic poster that portrayed Gouldner as an example of the species “Inter Alios Platonicus, or Silver-Tongued High-Priestly Bird.” (Everyone in the department would have caught the reference to Gouldner’s recent book Enter Plato: Classical Greece and the Origins of Social Theory.) Reproduced as an appendix to the biography, the poster is satirical if not exactly witty: “Given to nesting in high places, this raptorial bird may soar to great heights before diving to feed on carrion…. He chews on thoughts only when personalities are not available. While devouring his prey, his song is said to be quite eloquent.”

The target of this caricature was not amused. Gouldner tracked Humphreys down in the graduate student offices, punched him in the face, then kicked him when he fell down. The matter came to national attention in a New York Times article headlined “Sociology Professor Accused of Beating Student.”

So the next time a senior colleague criticizes your work, be glad that’s *all* he’s done!

Written by fabiorojas

September 24, 2007 at 12:39 am

7 Responses

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  1. My understanding is that this and _The Tearoom Trade_ were a large part of what led to the end of the sociology department at Wash U.



    September 24, 2007 at 12:58 am

  2. I didn’t know that. Is there a good source that one could read about the demise of Washinton (MO) sociology?


    Fabio Rojas

    September 24, 2007 at 1:01 am

  3. Yeah this is a pretty well-known event, right? I was told about it as an undergrad, to liven up a lecture on Patterns of Industrial Bureaucracy.



    September 24, 2007 at 2:30 am

  4. Have not run into outright violence in academics. But, at the recent Academy of Management in August I organized a symposium session on (broadly) “philosophy of science and org theory” and as one of our presenters (a sr scholar) was wrapping his presentation up, someone from the audience loudly spoke out and told the senior scholar to “shut up and sit down, you don’t know what you’re talking about, you’re wasting our time, just sit down!!” – twas one of the odder moments I have experienced. I tried to tap-dance and smooth things over by referencing how matters of philosophy obviously can be heated, but, the outburst was the most un-civilized academic attacks (was not based on the arguments at all) I have seen.



    September 24, 2007 at 4:17 am

  5. once had to chase a student out of my office because he was flipping out about his personal problems with his father and simultaneously threatening us



    September 24, 2007 at 1:49 pm

  6. I only criticize the work of seniors that are frail, smaller and weaker than I am (so don’t mess with Mark Chaves!).



    September 24, 2007 at 9:44 pm

  7. As a grad student in Sociology at WU at the time I can add a little. The note posted by Laud (on his office door) also included an attack on Gouldner’s manhood, using the modifier “flaccid”. That contributed more to the conflict than the criticism of “Plato”. This was especially the case since Laud was an aggressive homosexual sometimes engaged in hustling others in the dept.

    The demise of the dept. (which did not happen for several years) had more to do with other things than Gouldner and Humphreys. The story is long, but 8 senior faculty left the dept. in 69-70, going to Harvard, Boston U., Rutgers, U. Ariz., Vanderbilt, Cornell, NYU, etc.



    September 11, 2009 at 2:04 pm

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