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Randall Collins, Ph.D. (born 1941 in Knoxville, Tennessee) is an American sociologist who is a Sociology professor at the University of Pennsylvania as well as a member of the Advisory Editors Council of the Social Evolution & History journal. He is a leading contemporary social theorist whose areas of expertise include the macro-historical sociology of political and economic change; micro-sociology, including face-to-face interaction; and the sociology of intellectuals and social conflict. He is considered to be one of the leading non-Marxist conflict theorists in the United States.
Collins spent a good deal of his early years in Europe where his father was part of the military intelligence during WWII and also a member of the state department. Collins attended a New England prep school, afterward studying at Harvard and University of California Berkeley, where he encountered the work of Herbert Blumer and Erving Goffman who were both professors at Berkeley at the time. He completed his Ph.D. in 1969 and has taught at numerous universities such as University of Virginia, the Universities of California Riverside and San Diego. He is a visiting professor at Chicago, Harvard, and Cambridge, as well as various schools in Europe, Japan and China. He currently teaches at the University of Pennsylvania.
Collins is a social scientist who views theory as essential to understanding the world. He says "The essence of science is precisely theory...a generalized and coherent body of ideas, which explain the range of variations in the empirical world in terms of general principles". This is Collins' way of examining the social world, emphasizing the role and interaction of larger social structures.
Collins argues sex, smoking, and social stratification and much else in our social lives are driven by a common force: interaction rituals. Interaction Ritual Chains is a major work of sociological theory that attempts to develop a "radical microsociology." It proposes that successful rituals create symbols of group membership and pump up individuals with emotional energy, while failed rituals drain emotional energy. Each person flows from situation to situation, drawn to those interactions where their cultural capital gives them the best emotional energy payoff. Thinking, too, can be explained by the internalization of conversations within the flow of situations; individual selves are thoroughly and continually social, constructed from the outside in.
Collins has also argued that violent confrontation goes against human physiological hardwiring. It is the exception, not the rule—regardless of the underlying conditions or motivations. This is in opposition to explanations by social scientists that violence is easy under certain conditions, like poverty, racial or ideological hatreds, or family pathologies.
- Randall Collins' blog The Sociological Eye