best sociology dissertations ever?

Marginal Revolution had a thread on all time great dissertations. In sociology, I’d nominate the following:

  • Theda Skocpol’s dissertation, which was a first draft of the seminal States and Revolutions
  • Erving Goffman’s dissertation on face work.

Nominate your own best soc dissertations in the comments.

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Written by fabiorojas

May 23, 2014 at 12:09 am

Posted in fabio, sociology

12 Responses

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  1. Phillip Selznick, published as TVA and the Grass Roots, (in Sociology)
    and Herbert Simon, published as Administrative Behavior (in Political Science)
    are two dissertations that transformed organization theory.

    Simon’s dissertation was the basis for his Nobel Prize in Economics.


    William Ocasio

    May 23, 2014 at 3:21 am

  2. Andy Abbott got his Ph.D. in 1982. The System of Professions came out in 1988. Does anyone know how much the thing developed over those six years? The dissertation is on ProQuest but I’ve never bothered to read it. Likewise, there were five years between Roger Gould’s degree and Insurgent Identities. How heavily were these classics rewritten?


    Curious grad student

    May 23, 2014 at 5:33 am

  3. Abbott’s dissertation focuses more on the history of psychiatry and is not in a direct sense an early draft of System. I think Gould’s work was very much from the dissertation. I never spoke with Roger about the sequence of publication, but my general impression is that the articles had priority, thus the lag.



    May 23, 2014 at 5:37 am

  4. Another nominee: Ron Burt’s dissertation laid out structural holes.



    May 23, 2014 at 5:38 am

  5. Granovetter’s Changing Jobs: Channels of Mobility Information in a Suburban Population was the basis for Getting a Job.

    Whyte’s Street Corner Society inspired lots and lots of urban ethnography.



    May 23, 2014 at 7:11 am

  6. Alvin Gouldner’s Patterns of Industrial Bureaucracy, the classic study of bureaucracy in a gypsum mine, was adapted from his dissertation.

    Gouldner came from the same Merton shop as Selznick. The number of brilliant PhDs who came out of there and who went on to have big influences on organizational theory is pretty staggering: Lipset, Coleman, Blau, and Rose Coser. All of them went on to write books/major articles from their dissertations.


    brayden king

    May 23, 2014 at 1:17 pm

  7. I have an unconventional nomination as I suppose we could all tick off our favorite famous sociologists and then declare their dissertations to be excellent (of course, they are.) This is not “the best ever”, but a very ambitious and interesting one, though one that unfortunately took a very long time to complete and had some methodological difficulties:

    Mark Mizruchi had a student named Blyden Potts that took a decade and a half to finish this this:

    It’s a network-structure theory of inequality that Potts sought to demonstrate through a very detailed survey of a small town. He aimed at getting the entire population for his study and lived there for several years. The dissertation combined some mixed methods with some computational stuff that was difficult to do at that time (mid/early 90s). Perhaps with some tech advances / data from FB, that dissertation could be more feasible. Nonetheless, I think the scope and the attempt to demonstrate a somewhat novel theory is very interesting.


  8. As an aside, I’d be interested in learning about great dissertations that weren’t turned into books, something along the lines of what Zach just posted.


    Chris M

    May 23, 2014 at 3:22 pm

  9. In response to Chris M., while I’ve never read it (and I doubt many people have) Frank Sampson’s “Crisis in a Cloister” (Cornell, 1969) was never published but now his data set is a classic in network analysis.



    May 23, 2014 at 4:18 pm

  10. paul starr’s dissertation was most of social transformation of american medicine which later won the pulitzer.



    May 23, 2014 at 6:01 pm

  11. ultimately it was written under Political Science, but Habermas’ Structural Transformations has been quite important to Sociology of Media and Political Sociology debates


    chris eberhardt

    May 24, 2014 at 2:40 am

  12. Frank Bonilla. Student Movements in Chile. Harvard University. 1959. Supervised by Talcott Parsons, Barrington Moore and a young Thomas Pettigrew (If I recall correctly). Said (look up the book review on JSTOR) to be the most quoted PhD dissertation on Latin America through the 1960s. Later came out as a book. Frank Bonilla taught at MIT and Stanford before being convinced by the Ford Foundation and others to join CUNY to start the Center for Puerto Rican Studies…



    May 24, 2014 at 9:03 am

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