Randall Collins

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Randall Collins
Born (1941-07-29) July 29, 1941 (age 77)
Alma materUniversity of California, Berkeley
Stanford University
Harvard University
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of Pennsylvania
InfluencesMax Weber · Émile Durkheim · Erving Goffman · Marcel Mauss · W. Lloyd Warner · Mary Douglas

Randall Collins (born July 29, 1941) is an American sociologist who has been influential in both his teaching and writing. He has taught in many notable universities around the world and his academic works have been translated into various languages.[1] Collins is currently Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. 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.[2] He is considered to be one of the leading non-Marxist conflict theorists in the United States, and served as the president of the American Sociological Association from 2010 to 2011.[3][4]

Early life and education[edit]

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, he completed a Bachelor of Arts at Harvard University where he was taught by notable sociologist Talcott Parsons. He later went on to gain a Masters in psychology from Stanford (1964) [5] and a PhD in sociology at University of California, Berkeley (1969).[6] Although he did not agree with Parsons' theorizing that was often thought to be socially conservative, he respected the prestige of being a theorist and emulated this in his later years. Collins wanted to study personality and human cognition but, was assigned to work in a rat lab, which made him realize he would rather study sociology.[7]

He continued his graduate education at the University of California Berkeley, completing a master's degree in sociology in 1965 and a PhD in 1969. During his time at Berkeley, Collins was involved with campus protests, the Free Speech Movement, and the anti-war movement. On December 3, 1964, Collins was arrested during a stand in for the Free Speech Movement along with over 600 of his peers.[8]

While at Berkeley, Collins encountered many influential sociologists of his day. He worked with Joseph Ben-David, an Israeli sociologist visiting from Hebrew University, on the sociology of science, which ultimately lead to Collins' publication The Sociology of Philosophies decades later. Collins was introduced to Weberian conflict theory through Reinhard Bendix, a leading Max Weber scholar. Of his early career, Collins would later say "I was part of the generation of young sociologists who broke with functionalist theory and moved toward conflict theory."[9] He later wrote a chapter for Bendix's work State and Society. This work enabled Collins to later combine this theory with Erving Goffman's microsociology, which resulted in Collins' publication Conflict Sociology in 1975 and later, Interaction Ritual Chains in 2004. Goffman was also one of Collins' professors during his time at Berkely. Collins' dissertation advisor was organizational and industrial sociologist Harold Wilensky. It was titled Education and Employment: Some Determinants of Requirements for Hiring in Various Types of Organizations, and it was later published in 1979 as The Credential society: a historical sociology of education and stratification. While at Berkeley Collins also worked with Herbert Blumer, Philip Selznick, and Leo Lowenthal.


Collins' first position in academia was at his alma mater, University of California Berkeley followed by many other universities including the University of Wisconsin-Madison, followed by the University of California - San Diego, the University of Virginia, and then University of California-Riverside, finally arriving at his current position at the University of Pennsylvania.[10] He took intermittent breaks from academia, as a novelist, and as a freelance scholar. He has also been a visiting professor at Chicago, Harvard, and Cambridge, as well as various schools in Europe, Japan, and China.[11] Collins has published almost one hundred articles since finishing his undergraduate education. He has also written and contributed to several books with a range of topics such as the discovery of society to the sociology of marriage and family life.[10]

In honor of Collins' retirement from the field, the University of Pennsylvania hosted "Social Interaction and Theory: A Conference in Honor of Professor Randall Collins." Leading scholars in sociology contributed talks, including Elijah Anderson, Paul DiMaggio, David R. Gibson, Michèle Lamont, Jonathan Turner, and Viviana Zelizer.[12]


Collins is an 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.[13] He has devoted much of his career and research to study society, how is it created and destroyed through emotional behaviors of human beings. Collins believes that the simplest explanation for radical behavior and actions is emotion.[11] Emotional energy, Collins says, is the "amount of emotional power that flows through one's actions" and does not refer to one specific emotion. Collins also emphasizes the significance of people coming together and the influence this has on behavior.[14]

Collins argues sex, smoking, and social stratification and much else in our social lives are driven by a common force: interaction rituals. His 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. The theory of interaction ritual chains is inspired by Emile Durkheim's theory of ritual, laid forward in his book The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, by the conflict theory of Max Weber, and by the microsociology of Erving Goffman. It has itself inspired various domains across the social sciences, including Management Studies,[15] Creative Tourism,[16], International Relations,[17] and Jeffrey C. Alexander's Cultural Pragmatics.[18] Numerous empirical studies have likewise employed Interaction Ritual Theory, for instance to explore how specific institutions maintain themselves,[19] how websites use interaction ritual chains to form the identity of its users,[20] or how diplomats establish exchange programmes to invite foreign elites into their countries.[17]

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.

Selected bibliography[edit]

Journal articles[edit]

  • Collins, Randall (March 2013). "Entering and leaving the tunnel of violence: Micro-sociological dynamics of emotional entrainment in violent interactions". Current Sociology, special issue: Violence and Society. Sage. 61 (2): 132–151. doi:10.1177/0011392112456500.


  • 1975 - Conflict Sociology: Toward an Explanatory Science
  • 1979 - The Credential Society: An Historical Sociology of Education and Stratification
  • 1986 - Weberian Sociological Theory
  • 1988 - Theoretical Sociology
  • 1992 - Sociological Insight: An Introduction to Non-Obvious Sociology 2nd ed.
  • 1994 - Four Sociological Traditions
  • 1998 - The Sociology of Philosophies
  • 1999 - Macro-History
  • 2004 - Interaction Ritual Chains
  • 2008 - Violence: A Microsociological Theory
  • 2015 - Napoleon Never Slept (with Maren McConnell)

Fiction writing[edit]

Early in his academic career, Collins left academia on several occasions to write fiction. One of his novels is The Case of the Philosopher's Ring, featuring Sherlock Holmes.[21]


  1. ^ "Randall Collins". American Sociological Association. 2012-11-09. Retrieved 2016-10-15.
  2. ^ Collins, Randall. "UPenn Almanac, Vol. 51". Retrieved April 12, 2005.
  3. ^ Hurn, Christopher J. The Limits and Possibilities of Schooling.
  4. ^ "Past Presidents, American Sociological Association". Retrieved December 10, 2015.
  5. ^ http://web.sas.upenn.edu/socialinteraction16/about-professor-collins/
  6. ^ http://www.asanet.org/about-asa/asa-story/asa-history/past-asa-officers/past-asa-presidents/randall-collins
  7. ^ "Randall Alfred Collins (1964) | UC Berkeley Sociology Department". sociology.berkeley.edu. Retrieved 2016-04-07.
  8. ^ "THE FREE SPEECH MOVEMENT". texts.cdlib.org. Retrieved 2016-04-07.
  9. ^ "In conversation with American Sociological Association President: Randall Collins". Canadian Review of Sociology. February 1, 2010.
  10. ^ a b "Randall Collins" (PDF). www.ssc.wisc.edu/sscc. University of Wisconsin- Madison. October 10, 2016. Retrieved October 17, 2016.
  11. ^ a b Allan, Kenneth (2006). Contemporary Social and Sociological Theory. Pine Forest Press. pp. 95–116.
  12. ^ "Social Interaction and Theory | A Conference in Honor of Professor Randall Collins". web.sas.upenn.edu. Retrieved 2016-04-07.
  13. ^ Allan, Kenneth (2006). Contemporary Social & Sociological Theory. ISBN 978-1412913621.
  14. ^ Allan, Kenneth (2006). Contemporary Social and Sociological Theory. Thousand Oaks, Ca: Pine Forest Press. p. 99. amount of emotional power that flows through one's actions
  15. ^ Miller, Toyah L.; Grimes, Matthew G.; McMullen, Jeffrey S.; Vogus, Timothy J. (2012). "Venturing for Others with Heart and Head: How Compassion Encourages Social Entrepreneurship". Academy of Management Review. 37 (4). doi:10.5465/amr.2010.0456. ISSN 1930-3807.
  16. ^ Richards, Greg (2011). "Creativity and tourism: The State of the Art". Annals of Tourism Research. 38 (4): 1225–1253. doi:10.1016/j.annals.2011.07.008. ISSN 0160-7383.
  17. ^ a b Pacher, Andreas (2018). "The ritual creation of political symbols: International exchanges in public diplomacy". The British Journal of Politics and International Relations. 20 (4): 880–897. doi:10.1177/1369148118786043. ISSN 1467-856X.
  18. ^ Alexander, Jeffrey C. (2004). "Cultural Pragmatics: Social Performance Between Ritual and Strategy". Sociological Theory. 42 (4): 527–573. doi:10.1111/j.0735-2751.2004.00233.x. ISSN 1467-9558.
  19. ^ Dacin, M. Tina; Munir, Kamal; Tracey, Paul (2017). "Formal Dining at Cambridge Colleges: Linking Ritual Performance and Institutional Maintenance". Academy of Management Review. 53 (6). doi:10.5465/amj.2010.57318388. ISSN 1930-3807.
  20. ^ Maloney, Patricia (2012). "Online Networks and Emotional Energy: How pro-anorexic websites use interaction ritual chains to (re)form identity". Information, Communication & Society. 16 (1). doi:10.1080/1369118X.2012.659197. ISSN 1468-4462.
  21. ^ "Randall Collins Papers, Social Science Computing Cooperative: Supporting Statistical Analysis for Research" (PDF). ssc.wisc.edu. Department of Sociology, University of Wisconsin–Madison.

External links[edit]

Other Resources[edit]

Contemporary Social and Sociological Theory, Visualizing Social Works by Kenneth Allan