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Sociology Speaker Series: Dr. Neil McLaughlin

Sociology Speaker Series: Dr. Neil McLaughlin

Big Books and Celebrity Intellectuals: How Erich Fromm’s public sociology helped create the 1960s and why his radical activism did not lead to the change he wanted

Jan 14, 2022

This month's Sociology Speaker Series features Dr. Neil McLaughlin on "Big Books and Celebrity Intellectuals: How Erich Fromm’s public sociology helped create the 1960s and why his radical activism did not lead to the change he wanted". 

When: Thursday, January 27th, 12:30-1:30pm

Where: Zoom, please register here.  

After briefly telling the story of how my book Erich Fromm and Global Public Sociology (Bristol University Press, 2021) came to be written and outlining what it tries to accomplish, this talk will draw on Chapter 5 to discuss the sociological contradictions often faced by famous and activist intellectuals.  Meyer and Rohlinger’s Social Problems article “Big Books and Social Movements: A Myth of Ideas and Social Change” (2012) rightly argued that grassroot activists and social movement organizations (SMOs), not best-selling books like Betty Friedan’s The Feminist Mystique (1963) and Michael Harrington’s The Other America (1963), created the protests and social change of the 1960s. This important article, however, underplays the recruitment value and framing influence of books like Fromm’s The Sane Society (1955) and Marx’s Concept of Man (1962) and sidesteps the important political work that activist and celebrity intellectuals often do in movements.  We will talk about how Fromm’s humanistic socialism shaped the culture of the New Left but also why his activist work on nuclear disarmament, human rights with Amnesty International,  American socialist party involvement and failed efforts at helping elect anti-Vietnam war as US president produced less results than he wished. The sociological factors operating when intellectuals became activists should be considered by today’s budding public sociologists and all this suggests new areas for social movement research.