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Collaboration, Reputation, and Ethics in American Academic Life: Hans H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills
Published in Paperback by Univ of Illinois Pr (Pro Ref) (1999)
Authors: Guy Oakes and Arthur J. Vidich
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Scandalous Treatment Of Two Academic Superstars!
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.

An illuminating study of intellectual ethics
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.

An Eye Opener
Many of Max Weber's early English translations were created through the joint efforts of H.H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills. When the secrecy, paranoia, and intrigues surrounding their work are carefully examined,it is revealed that two of sociology's notable minds are shown to have all too common shortcomings. Essential reading for those concerned with the ethincs of scholarhship,the work may also be an eye opener for those engaged in collaborative academic research and writing. When one

considers the effort and intellectual rigor requiredto produce important scholarship, and the paltry sums and ego wars typically involved in academic publishing, this book inadvertently gives newmeaning to the notion of a lumpenprofessoriate: a professionally insecure band of academics and their apprentices who diligently toil in a garden of the mind that is sadly overrun with the weeds and detritus of a university system increasingly dominated by a careerist tone--and which can sport a commercial logic and a backbiting spirit that the denizens of Wall Street might envy.

This study serves as a warning to scholars presently working to establish themselves in an academic career and to their keepers, as well: all that glitters,indeed, may not be worth the candle if it distorts the collective norms of scholarly inquiry to the point where they become warped and corroded by the potential of winning a bit of praise from "the marketplace". The danger imnplied throughout the book is that lesserlights may not have the academic gifts of Gerth and Mills--thus anticipating the current academic scene.

Oakes and Vidich are insightful and thorough, but some comparative data would strengthen their argument. Too bad that none are provided. Were Mills and Gerth more similar to,or significantly different from, others in like-situated cohorts of American students and emigre scholars from the Nazi era? If they were different, why? If there was a pattern,why not explore its significance? Such a curious and devastating omission is quite ironic, given the extensive treatment of CHARACTER and SOCIAL STRUCTURE--the thrust of which champions Mills's quest to identify the structural determinants of personal troubles. That Oakes and Vidich are so steeped in biographical specifics that they should stress the individual trees of idiosyncracy (which are located in the PERSONALITY) and ignore the structural forest of the academy, strikes me as odd, at best, for a sociological work,and as being overly psychological, at worst.

Without an interpretive structural framework it is simply impossible to know whether Gerth and Mills were merely examples of STRANGE FOLKS, i.e., wayward individuals, ofifthe issues touched by their distinctively opposed, yet mutually reinforcing, academic styles suggest the emergence of an uncomfortable order of social fact that may come to dominate the modern academy. That two Weberian scholars should miss this is

unfortunate. otr

Bürgerliche Intelligenz um 1800 [i.e. achtzehnhundert] : zur Soziologie d. dt. Frühliberalismus
Published in Unknown Binding by Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht ()
Author: Hans Heinrich Gerth
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Max Weber : da Heidelberg al Midwest
Published in Unknown Binding by FrancoAngeli ()
Author: Hans Heinrich Gerth
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