Lewis A. Coser

Lewis A. Coser

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Lewis Coser was an American sociologist. The 66th president of the American Sociological Association in 1975.

Born in Berlin
Berlin is the capital city of Germany and is one of the 16 states of Germany. With a population of 3.45 million people, Berlin is Germany's largest city. It is the second most populous city proper and the seventh most populous urban area in the European Union...

 as Ludwig Cohen, Coser was the first sociologist to try to bring together structural functionalism
Structural functionalism
Structural functionalism is a broad perspective in sociology and anthropology which sets out to interpret society as a structure with interrelated parts. Functionalism addresses society as a whole in terms of the function of its constituent elements; namely norms, customs, traditions and institutions...

 and conflict theory
Conflict theory
Conflict theories are perspectives in social science that emphasize the social, political or material inequality of a social group, that critique the broad socio-political system, or that otherwise detract from structural functionalism and ideological conservativism...

; his work was focused on finding the functions of social conflict
Social conflict
Social conflict is the struggle for agency or power in society.Social conflict or group conflict occurs when two or more actors oppose each other in social interaction,reciprocally exerting social power in an effort to attain scarce or incompatible goals and prevent the opponent from attaining them...

. Coser argued - with Georg Simmel
Georg Simmel
Georg Simmel was a major German sociologist, philosopher, and critic.Simmel was one of the first generation of German sociologists: his neo-Kantian approach laid the foundations for sociological antipositivism, asking 'What is society?' in a direct allusion to Kant's question 'What is nature?',...

 - that conflict might serve to solidify a loosely structured group. In a society
A society, or a human society, is a group of people related to each other through persistent relations, or a large social grouping sharing the same geographical or virtual territory, subject to the same political authority and dominant cultural expectations...

 that seems to be disintegrating, conflict with another society, inter-group conflict, may restore the integrative core. For example, the cohesiveness of Israeli Jews might be attributed to the long-standing conflict with the Arab
Arab people, also known as Arabs , are a panethnicity primarily living in the Arab world, which is located in Western Asia and North Africa. They are identified as such on one or more of genealogical, linguistic, or cultural grounds, with tribal affiliations, and intra-tribal relationships playing...

s. Conflict with one group may also serve to produce cohesion by leading to a series of alliances with other groups.

Conflicts within a society, intra-group conflict, can bring some ordinarily isolated individuals into an active role. The protest over the Vietnam War
Vietnam War
The Vietnam War was a Cold War-era military conflict that occurred in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1 November 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. This war followed the First Indochina War and was fought between North Vietnam, supported by its communist allies, and the government of...

 motivated many young people to take vigorous roles in American political life for the first time.

Conflicts also serve a communication function. Prior to conflict, groups may be unsure of their adversary’s position, but as a result of conflict, positions and boundaries between groups often become clarified, leaving individuals better able to decide on a proper course of action in relation to their adversary.

Much like status consistency, conflicts along the same cleavages intensify the severity of the conflict. Cross-cutting cleavages tend to dissipate the severity of the conflict. For example, the coincidence of economic and political disenfranchisement among Palestinians in the West Bank
West Bank
The West Bank ) of the Jordan River is the landlocked geographical eastern part of the Palestinian territories located in Western Asia. To the west, north, and south, the West Bank shares borders with the state of Israel. To the east, across the Jordan River, lies the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan...

 intensify their conflict with Israeli Jews. In contrast, the non-coincidence of economic and political disenfranchisement among Quebecer
French-speaking Quebecer
French-speaking Quebecers are francophone residents of the Canadian province of Quebec....

s reduces somewhat the severity of their conflict with English Canada, especially with the rising prosperity of the French Canadian
French Canadian
French Canadian or Francophone Canadian, , generally refers to the descendents of French colonists who arrived in New France in the 17th and 18th centuries...

 new middle class operating in the public sector and corporate world.

Coser first taught at the University of Chicago
University of Chicago
The University of Chicago is a private research university in Chicago, Illinois, USA. It was founded by the American Baptist Education Society with a donation from oil magnate and philanthropist John D. Rockefeller and incorporated in 1890...

 and the University of California. He then founded the sociology department at Brandeis University
Brandeis University
Brandeis University is an American private research university with a liberal arts focus. It is located in the southwestern corner of Waltham, Massachusetts, nine miles west of Boston. The University has an enrollment of approximately 3,200 undergraduate and 2,100 graduate students. In 2011, it...

 and taught there for 15 years before joining the sociology department of the State University of New York at Stony Brook
State University of New York at Stony Brook
The State University of New York at Stony Brook, also known as Stony Brook University, is a public research university located in Stony Brook, New York, on the North Shore of Long Island, about east of Manhattan....


A eulogy at Carlo Tresca
Carlo Tresca
Carlo Tresca was an Italian-born American newspaper editor, orator, and labor organizer who was a leader of the Industrial Workers of the World during the decade of the 1910s. Tresca is remembered as a leading public opponent of fascism, stalinism, and Mafia infiltration of the trade union movement...

's memorial service in 1943 was delivered by Angelica Balabanoff
Angelica Balabanoff
Angelica Balabanoff was a Jewish-Italian communist and social democratic activist.-Revolutionary activities:...

, the socialist activist and former Bolshevik. According to Coser's account of the funeral, "I was sitting near a burly Irish policeman who clearly didn't understand a word of Balabanoff's fierce Italian oratory. But at her climax he burst into tears."

In 1954, with Irving Howe
Irving Howe
Irving Howe was an American literary and social critic and a prominent figure of the Democratic Socialists of America.-Life and career:...

, Coser established the radical journal, Dissent
Dissent (magazine)
Dissent is a quarterly magazine focusing on politics and culture edited by Michael Walzer and Michael Kazin. The magazine is published for the Foundation for the Study of Independent Social Ideas, Inc by the University of Pennsylvania Press....

He was on the political left Upon his death in 2003, the author of his obituary in that magazine suggested that Coser "always felt himself a marginal man. He was Jewish and non-Jewish; an American and a European; a hardheaded social analyst, committed to rigorous honesty in judgment and deed, and a passionate advocate; a leftist and a critic of the left; a defender of the underdog and something of an elite intellectual mandarin."


  • The Functions of Social Conflict, 1956
  • The American Communist Party (with Irving Howe),1957.
  • Sociological Theory, 1964
  • Men of ideas, 1965
  • Political Sociology, 1967
  • Continuities in the Study of Social Conflict, 1967
  • A Handful of Thistles: Collected Papers in Moral Conviction, 1968.
  • Sociological Theory (with Bernard Rosenberg), 1969.
  • Masters of Sociological Thought, 1970
  • The Seventies: Problems and Proposals (with Irving Howe), 1972.
  • Greedy Institutions, 1974
  • The Idea of Social Structure, Papers in Honor of R. K. Merton
    Robert K. Merton
    Robert King Merton was a distinguished American sociologist. He spent most of his career teaching at Columbia University, where he attained the rank of University Professor...

    , 1975
  • The Uses of Controversy in Sociology, 1976
  • Refugee Scholars in America, 1984
  • Conflict and Consensus, 1984
  • Voices of Dissent (with Maurice Halbwachs), 1992.
  • The New Conservatives: A Critique from the Left (with Irving Howe), 1999

External links