Howard P. Becker
Howard Paul Becker

(1899-12-09)December 9, 1899
DiedJune 8, 1960(1960-06-08) (aged 60)
Academic background
Alma mater
ThesisIonia and Athens Studies in Secularization[1] (1930)
Doctoral advisorRobert E. Park
Academic work
InstitutionsUniversity of Wisconsin–Madison
Doctoral studentsC. Wright Mills[2]
Notable worksMan in Reciprocity (1956)

Howard Paul Becker (December 9, 1899 – June 8, 1960) was a longtime professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.


Becker was born in New York in 1899, the son of Charles Becker, a New York police officer, and Letitia (nee Stenson), of Ontario.[3] His parents divorced six years after his birth. His mother married again, to Becker's brother Paul. His father Charles Becker later married twice more. He was prosecuted in New York for the 1912 murder of a gambler, found guilty, and executed in 1915.

Howard P. Becker was brought up by his mother and stepfather in Reno and Winnemucca, Nevada, where he attended local schools. He earned his undergraduate degree at Northwestern University, and completed a master's and doctorate in sociology at the University of Chicago.

Becker became a full professor of sociology at University of Wisconsin-Madison. Among his interests was exploring what he called "constructed types" of sacred and secular societies.[4]

He is perhaps best remembered as the author of the book Man in Reciprocity: Introductory Lectures on Culture, Society and Personality (1956). This was an edited series of radio lectures on introductory sociology, a novel approach at the time. He was praised for a style described as "urbane, witty, and literate", and also for his interdisciplinary approach drawing from concepts in sociology, social psychology, and anthropology.[5] His book was also described as presenting a "coherent view of sociology" in a "vigorous and idiosyncratic manner".[4]

Among graduate students whom Becker advised was C. Wright Mills, when he was completing his doctoral thesis at Wisconsin-Madison. Mills later said that he was not happy with Becker's role in the thesis defense. He outright refused to rework his dissertation in lines with criticism from his committee.[6]

At the time of his death, Becker had just been elected President of the American Sociological Association. His presidential address, entitled "Normative Reactions to Normlessness", was delivered by his son, historian Christopher Bennett Becker.

Becker died on June 8, 1960, of a cerebral thrombosis.[7]



  1. ^ Becker, Howard Paul (1930). Ionia and Athens Studies in Secularization (PhD thesis). Chicago: University of Chicago. OCLC 28264817.
  2. ^ Mills, C. Wright (2000). Mills, Kathryn; Mills, Pamela (eds.). C. Wright Mills: Letters and Autobiographical Writings. Berkeley, California: University of California Press. p. 139. ISBN 978-0-520-21106-3.
  3. ^ "Howard Paul Becker, President 1960",, American Sociological Association, March 24, 2005, retrieved February 23, 2016
  4. ^ a b Evan, William M. (January 1957). "Book Reviews (4)". American Journal of Sociology. 62 (4): 444. doi:10.1086/222072.
  5. ^ Gittler, Joseph B. (1 October 1958). "Review: Man in Reciprocity". Social Forces. 37 (1): 83. doi:10.2307/2573788. JSTOR 2573788.
  6. ^ Kerr, Keith. (2009) Postmodern Cowboy: C. Wright Mills and the New 21st Century Sociology. Boulder, CO: Paradigm, p.50.
  7. ^ "News and Announcements: Howard Becker (1899–1960)", American Sociological Review, American Sociological Association, 25 (5): 735–749, October 1960, JSTOR 2090149