is an American sociologist
Sociology is the study of society. It is a social science—a term with which it is sometimes synonymous—which uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge about human social activity...
and political scientist
Political Science is a social science discipline concerned with the study of the state, government and politics. Aristotle defined it as the study of the state. It deals extensively with the theory and practice of politics, and the analysis of political systems and political behavior...
at Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...
. She served from 2005 to 2007 as Dean
In academic administration, a dean is a person with significant authority over a specific academic unit, or over a specific area of concern, or both...
of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences is the academic unit responsible for many post-baccalaureate degree programs offered through the Faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University...
. She is influential in sociology as an advocate of the historical-institutional
Historical institutionalism is a social science method that uses institutions in order to find sequences of social, political, economic behavior and change across time...
Comparative sociology generally refers to sociological analysis that involves comparison of social processes between nation-states, or across different types of society ....
approaches, and well-known in political science for her "state autonomy theory". Skocpol has written widely for both popular and academic audiences.
In 2007, Skocpol was awarded the Johan Skytte Prize in Political Science
The Johan Skytte Prize in Political Science was established in 1995 by the Johan Skytte Foundation at Uppsala University. The foundation itself goes back to the donation in 1622 from Johan Skytte , politician and chancellor of the university, which established the Skyttean professorship of...
, one of the world's most prestigious prizes in political science. In 2002-3, Skocpol was president of the American Political Science Association
The American Political Science Association is a professional association of political science students and scholars in the United States. Founded in 1903, it publishes three academic journals...
Skocpol was born in Detroit, Michigan
Detroit is the major city among the primary cultural, financial, and transportation centers in the Metro Detroit area, a region of 5.2 million people. As the seat of Wayne County, the city of Detroit is the largest city in the U.S. state of Michigan and serves as a major port on the Detroit River...
and completed her undergraduate education at Michigan State University
Michigan State University is a public research university in East Lansing, Michigan, USA. Founded in 1855, it was the pioneer land-grant institution and served as a model for future land-grant colleges in the United States under the 1862 Morrill Act.MSU pioneered the studies of packaging,...
A Bachelor of Arts , from the Latin artium baccalaureus, is a bachelor's degree awarded for an undergraduate course or program in either the liberal arts, the sciences, or both...
, 1969). She went on to Harvard (Ph.D.
A Ph.D. is a Doctor of Philosophy, an academic degree.Ph.D. may also refer to:* Ph.D. , a 1980s British group*Piled Higher and Deeper, a web comic strip*PhD: Phantasy Degree, a Korean comic series* PhD Docbook renderer, an XML renderer...
, 1976), where she studied with Barrington Moore Jr.
Barrington Moore Jr. was an American political sociologist. He is famous for his Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Lord and Peasant in the Making of the Modern World , a comparative study of modernization in Britain, France, the United States, China, Japan and India, and a...
In 1979, she published States and Social Revolutions
States and Social Revolutions: A Comparative Analysis of France, Russia and China is a 1979 book by political scientist and sociologist Theda Skocpol, published by Cambridge University Press and explaining the causes of revolutions through the structural functionalism sociological paradigm...
, a comparative analysis of social revolutions in Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...
, and China
Chinese civilization may refer to:* China for more general discussion of the country.* Chinese culture* Greater China, the transnational community of ethnic Chinese.* History of China* Sinosphere, the area historically affected by Chinese culture...
. Some of her subsequent work focused on methodology and theory, including the co-edited volume Bringing the State Back In
, which heralded a new focus by social scientists on the state
A state is an organized political community, living under a government. States may be sovereign and may enjoy a monopoly on the legal initiation of force and are not dependent on, or subject to any other power or state. Many states are federated states which participate in a federal union...
as an agent of social and political change.
In the early 1980s, she publicly alleged that Harvard had denied her tenure (1980) because she was a woman, a charge which was found to be justified by an internal review committee in 1981, by which point she was teaching at the 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...
. In 1985, Harvard offered her a tenured position (its first ever for a female sociologist), which she accepted.
In more recent years, her work has focused specifically on the United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...
, including the award-winning Protecting Soldiers and Mothers
, a historical analysis of the American welfare state
A welfare state is a "concept of government in which the state plays a key role in the protection and promotion of the economic and social well-being of its citizens. It is based on the principles of equality of opportunity, equitable distribution of wealth, and public responsibility for those...
. She has also focused on civic engagement
Civic engagement or civic participation has been defined as "Individual and collective actions designed to identify and address issues of public concern."-Forms:...
, spearheading research charting the history of voluntary associations over the last two centuries. Her 2003 work, Diminished Democracy
, seeks to explain the decline of American civic participation in recent decades. In this area, she has differed strongly with her Harvard colleague Robert Putnam
Robert David Putnam is a political scientist and professor of public policy at the Harvard University John F. Kennedy School of Government. He is also visiting professor and director of the Manchester Graduate Summer Programme in Social Change, University of Manchester...
and other social capital
Social capital is a sociological concept, which refers to connections within and between social networks. The concept of social capital highlights the value of social relations and the role of cooperation and confidence to get collective or economic results. The term social capital is frequently...
theorists, in highlighting the role of institutional changes (include state policies) in shaping civic life.
Skocpol obtained her PhD from Harvard in 1975, and currently works there as the Professor of Government and Sociology, studying social policy and civic engagement in the U.S. She acted as Dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences from 2005 - 2007 and as Director of the Center for American Political Studies from 2000-2006. She served as President of both the Social Science History Association and the American Political Science Association, and was recognized in 2007 for her "visionary analysis of the significance of the state for revolutions, welfare, and political trust, pursued with theoretical depth and empirical evidence" with the Johan Skytte Prize. She was given the Woodrow Wilson Award in 1993 for the best book in political science. Today, according to her profile on the Harvard Kennedy School website, she studies “inequality in American society, women and public policy, and the development of voluntary associations in U.S. history to elucidate recent transformations within the American polity.”
Her works and opinions have been associated with the structuralist school. As one example, she argues that social revolutions can best be explained given their relation with specific structures of agricultural societies and their respective states. She gives equal importance to the role of international forces, especially their influence on state and social structures of a given society. Such an approach differs greatly from more "behaviorist" ones, which tend to emphasize the role of "revolutionary populations" "revolutionary psychology" and/or "revolutionary consciousness" as determinant factors of revolutionary processes.
State autonomy Theory
Before she wrote Protecting Soldiers and Mothers
, Skocpol astounded the political science community with her State Autonomy Theory. It was the idea that nations could have potential for autonomous operations and that this potential was ignored by scientists focused on society-centric studies. She considers the idea that parties are more important in America than the government, and that class dominance plays heavily into American politics.
Skocpol has political views that may be considered to be of the left in the United States, discussing them occasionally in her blog. She feels strongly that Republicans block reasonable Democratic legislation, to which Democrats capitulate with compromises. She feels that the public is not aware enough of political goings on, despite its importance for economic growth and job creation. In her words, “REPUBLICANS ARE SABOTAGING NATIONAL ECONOMIC RECOVERY. AND PREVENTING JOB GROWTH, JUST FOR POLITICAL ADVANTAGE.” She encourages patience in the Democratic party and firmer decision making in the House and Senate.
States and Social Revolutions
Skocpol’s most famous book, States and Social Revolutions (1979), discusses how most theories account only for direct action in bringing about revolutions. Social Revolutions are fast-paced foundational transformations of society's state and class structures. She includes the structure involved in creating a revolutionary situation that can lead to a social revolution - one that changes civic institutions and government once the administration and military branches collapse.
According to Skocpol, there are two stages to social revolutions: a crisis of state and the emergence of a dominant class to take advantage of a revolutionary situation. The crisis of state emerges from poor economy, natural disaster, food shortage, or security concerns. Leaders of the revolution also have to face these constraints, and their handling of them effects how well they re-establish the state.
Skocpol uses Marxism’s class struggle to assert that the main causes of social unrest are state social structures, international competitive pressures, international demonstrations, and class relations.
Critics suggest that Skocpol ignores the role of individuals and ideology and uses varied comparative methodological strategies.
Diminished Democracy discusses the changes in US public involvement and its recent concerning decline. Skocpol talks about how to reverse it in explaining how the US became a civic nation, the organizers of that movement, management of civic organizations, changes in them, the harmful effects of that change, and how to recreate a sense of citizenship. Since fewer and fewer Americans join voluntary groups that meet frequently, there have been a proliferation of nonprofit groups lead by elites who can interact with the government, but not the people. Skocpol provokes the reader with the idea that civic involvement will one day become another job rather than a civilian responsibility.
Protecting Soldiers and Mothers
In this book, Skocpol considers increased benefits for Civil War veterans and their families resulting from competitive party politics, as well as greater actions taken in women's movements. Soldiers and mothers benefited from social spending, labor regulations, and health education through reformative women's clubs across the nation. Simultaneously, Skocpol refutes her claim that theorists had ignored states' independent power in her state autonomy theory, explaining "my state-centered theoretical frame of reference had evolved into a fully 'polity-centered approach,' meaning that social movements, coalitions of pressure groups, and political parties must be given their due in understanding power in America." She explains how clubs and associations fill the vacuum left by fewer bureaucracies and an official church throughout the country, offering a case study in how women succeeded in gaining labor rights, pensions, minimum wage, and subsidized natal health clinics. Further, Skocpol points out that women were able to overcome class disparity to achieve these goals, working at a national level, influencing representatives with books, TV, magazines, and meetings.
- A Critical Review of Barrington Moore’s Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy. Politics and Society, 4(1), pp. 1-34
- States and Social Revolutions: A Comparative Analysis of France, Russia, and China, Cambridge University Press (New York), 1979.
- Protecting Soldiers and Mothers: The Political Origins of Social Policy in the United States, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press (Cambridge), 1992.
- Social Revolutions in the Modern World, Cambridge University Press (New York), 1994.
- State and Party in America's New Deal (with Kenneth Finegold), University of Wisconsin Press (Madison), 1995.
- Social Policy in the United States: Future Possibilities in Historical Perspective, Princeton University Press (Princeton), 1995.
- Boomerang: Clinton's Health Security Effort and the Turn Against Government in U.S. Politics, Norton (New York), 1996, new edition with new afterword published as Boomerang: Health Care Reform and the Turn against Government, 1997.
- The Missing Middle: Working Families and the Future of American Social Policy, Norton, 2000.
- Diminished Democracy: From Membership to Management in American Civic Life, University of Oklahoma Press, 2003.
- What a Mighty Power We Can Be: African American Fraternal Groups and the Struggle for Racial Equality, (with Ariane Liazos & Marshall Ganz
Marshall Ganz is a lecturer in public policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. He worked on the staff of the United Farm Workers for sixteen years before becoming a trainer and organizer for political campaigns, unions and nonprofit groups...
) Princeton University Press, 2006.
- Marxist Inquiries: Studies of Labor, Class, and States (with Michael Burawoy), University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1982.
- Vision and Method in Historical Sociology, Cambridge University Press, 1984.
- Bringing the State Back In (with Peter B. Evans and Dietrich Rueschemeyer), Cambridge University Press, 1985.
- The Politics of Social Policy in the United States (with Margaret Weir and Ann Shola Orloff), Princeton University Press, 1988.
- American Society and Politics: Institutional, Historical, and Theoretical Perspectives (with John L. Campbell), McGraw-Hill (New York), 1995.
- States, Social Knowledge, and the Origins of Modern Social Policies (with Dietrich Rueschemeyer), Princeton University Press, 1996.
- The New Majority: Toward a Popular Progressive Politics (with Stan Greenberg
Stanley Bernard Greenberg is a leading Democratic pollster and political strategist who has advised the campaigns of Bill Clinton, Al Gore, and John Kerry, as well as hundreds of other candidates and organizations in the United States and around the world, including the former Bundeskanzler ...
), Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1997.
- Democracy, Revolution, and History (with George Ross, Tony Smith, and Judith Eisenberg Vichniac), Cornell University Press (Ithaca, NY), 1998.
- Civic Engagement in American Democracy (with Morris P. Fiorina
Morris P. Fiorina is an American political scientist and co-author of the book Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America with Jeremy C. Pope , and with the help of the research assistant Samuel J Abrams.-Biography:...
), Brookings Institute Press (Washington, DC)/Russell Sage Foundation (New York City), 1999.