Harvard’s Department of Social Relations made history in the 1950s and 1960s as the most ambitious program in social science in the United States. Dedicated to a synthesis of sociology, anthropology, psychology, and other disciplines, the scope of its ambitions were matched only by the scope of its failures. Patrick Schmidt’s new volume Harvard’s Quixotic Pursuit of a New Science: The Rise and Fall of the Department of Social Relations (Rowman and Littlefield, 2022) documents the history of SocRel, as it was called, in intimate detail. It paints a colourful and carefully researched picture of the personalities and events that are central to the department’s story, ranging from the austere theoretician Talcott Parsons to the hallucinogen-ingesting Ram Dass.
In this episode, Patrick talks to host Alex Golub about SocRel as well as the wider context of the Cold War academy in which it was situated.
Alex Golub is associate professor of anthropology, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.
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