Todd Gitlin

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Todd Gitlin
Todd Gitlin by David Shankbone crop.jpg
Todd Gitlin in 2007
Born (1943-01-06) January 6, 1943 (age 73)[1]
New York City
Nationality USA
Alma mater Bronx High School of Science
Harvard College (A.B., Mathematics)
University of Michigan (M.A., Political Science)
University of California, Berkeley (Ph.D., Sociology)
Occupation sociologist, author, professor
Known for Students for a Democratic Society
Spouse(s) Laurel Ann Cook (m. 3-Nov-1995)
Parent(s) Max M. Gitlin
Dorothy Renik
Awards Bosch Berlin Prize in Public Policy
Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin

Todd Gitlin (born 1943) is an American sociologist, political writer, novelist, and cultural commentator. He has written widely on the mass media, politics, intellectual life and the arts, for both popular and scholarly publications.

New Left activist[edit]

Gitlin became a political activist in 1960, when he joined a Harvard group called Tocsin, against nuclear weapons. He went on to become vice-chairman and then chairman of the group. He helped organize a national demonstration in Washington, February 16-17, 1962 against the arms race and nuclear testing. In 1963 and 1964, Gitlin was president of Students for a Democratic Society. He helped organize the first[citation needed] national demonstration against the Vietnam War, held in Washington, D. C., on April 17, 1965, with 25,000 participants, as well as the first civil disobedience directed against American corporate support for the apartheid regime in South Africa - a sit-in at the Manhattan headquarters of Chase Manhattan Bank on March 19, 1965.[2] In 1968-69, he was an editor at and a contributor to the San Francisco Express-Times, an underground newspaper, and wrote regularly for underground papers via Liberation News Service. In the mid-1980s, he was a leader of Berkeley's Faculty for Full Divestment and president of Harvard-Radcliffe Alumni/-ae Against Apartheid. In 2013, he became involved in the alumni wing of the Divest Harvard[3] movement, seeking the university's exit from fossil fuel corporations. He has also been active in a Columbia faculty group supporting such divestment. He actively opposes the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement targeted at Israel.

Academic career[edit]

Gitlin graduated as valedictorian of the Bronx High School of Science, one of New York City's elite public high schools. Enrolling at Harvard College, he graduated with an A.B. degree in mathematics. After his leadership in SDS, he earned graduate degrees from the University of Michigan (political science) and the University of California, Berkeley (sociology).

After teaching part-time 1970-77 at the New College of San Jose State University and the Community Studies program at the University of California, Santa Cruz, he served for 16 years as professor of sociology and director of the mass communications program at UC Berkeley, then for 7 years as a professor of culture, journalism and sociology at New York University. Since 2002 he has been a professor of journalism and sociology, and since 2006 also chair of the Ph.D. program in Communications at Columbia University, where he also teaches the Core course Contemporary Western Civilization as well as an American studies course on The Sixties.[4] He actively opposed both the Gulf War of 1991 and the Iraq war of 2003. During 1994-95, he held the chair in American Civilization at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris. He has been a resident at the Bellagio Study Center in Italy and the Djerassi Foundation in Woodside, California, a fellow at the Media Studies Center, and a visiting professor at Yale University, the University of Oslo, and the University of Toronto. From April - May 2011, Gitlin was the recipient of the Bosch Berlin Prize in Public Policy and Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin.

Public intellectual[edit]

He has written 16 books and hundreds of articles in dozens of publications, including The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Ha'aretz, Columbia Journalism Review, Tablet Magazine, The New Republic, Mother Jones, "Salon," and many more. He has been a columnist for the San Francisco Examiner and the New York Observer, and a frequent contributor to TPMcafe and The New Republic online, as well as the Chronicle of Higher Education. In 2016 he is writing regularly on media and the political campaign for He is on the editorial board of Dissent. He has been co-chair of the San Francisco branch of PEN American Center, a member of the board of directors of Greenpeace, and an early editor of openDemocracy. He has given hundreds of lectures at public occasions and universities in many countries.

In his early writings on media, especially The Whole World Is Watching, he called attention to the ideological framing of the New Left and other social movements, the vexed relations of leadership and celebrity, and the impact of coverage on the movements themselves. He was the first sociologist to apply Erving Goffman's concept of "frame" to news analysis, and to show Antonio Gramsci's "hegemony" at work in a detailed analysis of intellectual production. In Inside Prime Time, he analyzed the workings of the television entertainment industry of the early 1980s, discerning the implicit procedures that guide network executives and other television "players" to make their decisions. In The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage, a memoir and analysis combined, he developed a sense of the tensions between expressive and strategic politics. In The Twilight of Common Dreams he asked why the groups that constitute the American left so often turn to infighting rather than solidarity. In Media Unlimited, he turned to the unceasing flow of the media torrent, the problems of attention and distraction, and the emotional payoffs of media experience (which he called "disposable emotions") in our time. In Occupy Nation: The Roots, the Spirit, and the Promise of Occupy Wall Street, he distinguished between "inner" and "outer" movements, analyzing their respective strengths and weaknesses.

In The Whole World Is Watching: Mass Media in the Making and Unmaking of the New Left, The Sixties, The Twilight of Common Dreams: Why America Is Wracked with Culture Wars, Letters to a Young Activist, and The Intellectuals and the Flag, Gitlin became a prominent critic of the tactics and rhetoric of the Left as well as the Right. Supporting active, strategically focused nonviolent movements, he emphasizes what he sees as the need in American politics to form coalitions between disparate movements, which must compromise ideological purity to gain and sustain power. During the George W. Bush administration, he argued that the Republican party managed to accomplish this with a coalition of what he called two "major components - the low-tax, love-business, hate-government enthusiasts and the God-save-us moral crusaders" but that the Democratic Party has often been unable to accomplish a pragmatic coalition between its "roughly eight" constituencies, which he identifies as "labor, African Americans, Hispanics, feminists, gays, environmentalists, members of the helping professions (teachers, social workers, nurses), and the militantly liberal, especially antiwar denizens of avant-garde cultural zones such as university towns, the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and so on." (from The Bulldozer and the Big Tent, pp. 18–19).

In The Chosen Peoples: America, Israel, and the Ordeals of Divine Election, he and Liel Leibovitz traced parallel themes in the history of the Jews and the Americans through history down to the present.


He has published three novels: The Murder of Albert Einstein (1992), Sacrifice (1999), and "Undying" (2011). "Sacrifice" won the Harold U. Ribald Award for the best fiction on Jewish themes. His most recent novel, The Opposition, will be published in 2017. It follows a group of 1960s activists through the decade.


~ from Varieties of Patriotic Experience
~ from "Paraphrasing the '60s" Los Angeles Times, January 27, 2007


Essays and Journalism[edit]


  1. ^ "Bio: Todd Gitlin", NNDB
  2. ^ Sale, Kirkpatrick, SDS (New York: Random House, 1973), pp. 153–54.
  3. ^
  4. ^ "CULPA - Todd Gitlin". Retrieved 2016-01-20. 

External links[edit]