Pitirim Sorokin
Питирим Сорокин
Sorokin in 1917
Born4 February [O.S. 23 January] 1889
Died10 February 1968(1968-02-10) (aged 79)
Alma materSaint Petersburg Imperial University
SpouseElena Petrovna Sorokina (née Baratynskaya) (1894–1975)
ChildrenPeter Sorokin, Sergei Sorokin
Awards55th President of American Sociological Association
Scientific career
Doctoral studentsRobert K. Merton
The picture of the book cover for one of Sorokin's more famous works

Pitirim Alexandrovich Sorokin (/səˈrkɪn, sɔː-/;[1] Russian: Питири́м Алекса́ндрович Соро́кин; 4 February [O.S. 23 January] 1889 – 10 February 1968) was a Russian American sociologist and political activist, who contributed to the social cycle theory.


Pitirim Alexandrovich Sorokin was born on 4 February [O.S. 23 January] 1889, in Turya, a small village in Yarensky Uyezd, Vologda Governorate, Russian Empire (now Knyazhpogostsky District, Komi Republic, Russia), the second son to a Russian father and Komi mother. Sorokin's father, Alexander Prokopievich Sorokin, was from Veliky Ustyug and a traveling craftsman specializing in gold and silver. At the same time, while his mother, Pelageya Vasilievna, was a native of Zheshart and belonged to a peasant family. Vasily, his elder brother, was born in 1885, and his younger brother, Prokopy, was born in 1893. Sorokin's mother died on March 7, 1894, in the village of Kokvitsa. After her death Sorokin and his elder brother Vasily stayed with their father, traveling with him through the towns searching for work. At the same time, Prokopy was taken in by his aunt, Anisya Vasilievna Rimsky. The latter lived with her husband, Vasily Ivanovich, in the village of Rimia. Sorokin's childhood, spent among the Komi, was complicated, but enriched by a religious and moral education. The moral qualities (such as piety, a firm belief in good and love) cultivated in him at that time would yield their fruits in his subsequent work (his amitology and call to overcome the crisis of modernity).

Pitirim and his older brother's father developed alcoholism. Because of this, their father had severe anxiety and panic attacks to the point where he was physically abusive to his sons. After a brutal beating that left a scar on Pitirim's upper lip, Pitirim, at the age of eleven, along with his older brother, decided that he wanted to be independent and no longer under their father's care.[2]

In the early 1900s, supporting himself as an artisan and clerk, Sorokin attended the Saint Petersburg Imperial University in Saint Petersburg, where he earned his graduate degree in criminology and became a professor.[3]

Sorokin was an anti-communist. During the Russian Revolution he was a member of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, a deputy of the Russian Constituent Assembly,[4] a supporter of the White movement, and a secretary to Prime Minister Alexander Kerensky. After the October Revolution, Sorokin continued to fight communist leaders and was arrested by the new regime several times before he was eventually condemned to death. After six weeks in prison, Sorokin was released and went back to teaching at the University of Saint Petersburg, becoming the founder of the sociology department at the university.[3] As he had been a leader among the Democrats leading up to the Russian Revolution, he was sought by Vladimir Lenin's forces after Lenin consolidated his power.[5]

Accounts of Sorokin's activities in 1922 differ; he may have been arrested and exiled by the Soviet government,[3] or he may have spent months in hiding before escaping the country.[5] After leaving Russia, he emigrated to the United States,[3] where he became a naturalized citizen in 1930.[5] Sorokin was personally requested to accept a Harvard University position, founding the Department of Sociology and becoming a vocal critic of his colleague, Talcott Parsons.[6][7]

Sorokin was an ardent opponent of communism, which he regarded as a "pest of man". People viewed him as a leader, but some viewed him as an outcast which can be reason to why he was exiled. At the time people were not understanding of his ideas that would promote emancipation and change, and these theories he provided were not always well accepted.[8]

Sorokin was a sociology professor at the University of Minnesota from 1924 to 1929 when he accepted an offer of a position by the president of Harvard University to join the Harvard faculty, where he continued to work until 1959. One of his students was writer Myra Page.[9]


In 1910, young Sorokin was shaken to the core by the death of the great Russian writer Leo Tolstoy. In the article "LN Tolstoy as a philosopher" (1912) he carried out a reconstruction of the religious and moral teaching of Tolstoy, which he regarded as the philosophical representation of a harmonious and logical system (Sorokin, 1912: 80–97). Tolstoy's teaching exceeded the habitual bounds of traditional philosophy and flowered into a certain kind of moral philosophy, which attracted Sorokin immensely. He marked out the structure of Tolstoy's teaching by grounding it in ‘the tradition of four great philosophical problems: the essence of the world; the nature of ego; the problem of cognition and the issue of values’ (Johnston et al., 1994: 31). According to Tolstoy, God is the basis of our existence and love is the way to God. Sorokin formulated the main principles forming the foundation of Tolstoy's Christian ethics: the principle of love, the principle of non-violent resistance to evil and the principle of not doing evil. He adhered to these principles for the whole of his life, which is demonstrated in the course of this article.[citation needed]

Works and interests

Before his achievements as a professor in the United States, he published his 1924 Leaves of a Russian Diary by (E.P. Dutton & Co.), giving a daily, and sometimes hourly account of the Russian Revolution. He first started in February 1917 where he was in the forefront of creating a provisionary government, only to see it unravel and lose power to the Bolsheviks in October 1917. In 1950, Sorokin published an addendum to the book called The Thirty Years After. It is a personal and brutally honest account of the revolution and his exile.

Sorokin's academic writings are extensive; he wrote 37 books and more than 400 articles.[3] His controversial theories of social process and the historical typology of cultures are expounded in Social and Cultural Dynamics (4 vol., 1937–41; rev. and abridged ed. 1957) and many other works. Sorokin was also interested in social stratification, the history of sociological theory, and altruistic behavior.

Sorokin's work follows a pattern throughout time from an early period of miscellaneous writings, sociocultural dynamics and social criticism, and then altruism. He believed that altruism had a lot of scientific support for it. After going to Harvard in 1930, Sorokin found his calling and began his famous study of world civilization which led to the work for which he is best known, Social and Cultural Dynamics. This work set the tone for the condemnation of our Sensate culture which is prominent in all of Sorokin's writings since 1937. This condemnation is part of the reason he was always challenged because people were not ready and acceptive of the idea of change and nobody was willing to take responsibility for their actions. Sorokin's extensive study convinced him that our civilization is overly materialistic, disorganized, and in imminent danger of collapse. He spent the next dozen years in warning the public of the danger and seeking a way out and a way to change society.[10]

One of his works, Russia and the United States (1944) is considered wartime propaganda for the peace. Sorokin argues that American and Russian culture have so much in common that these two nations, destined to be the leading postwar power centers, will have a secure basis for friendship. Both nations exemplify unity in diversity. Their cultures favor breadth of outlook, cosmopolitanism, and a healthy self-esteem tempered with tolerance of other societies.[10]

His works are timeless due to the fact they were able to open up new fields of study and make way for more innovative ways of thinking. His works covered a wide variety of topics from rural sociology, war, revolution, social mobility, and social change. He stayed true to his works though and part of the reason he was able to fight for so much change and reform was his commitment to his religion. He was of Komi descent and they were considered some of the most hardworking and religious people in Europe.[8]

He was one of the signatories of the agreement to convene a convention for drafting a world constitution.[11][12] As a result, for the first time in human history, a World Constituent Assembly convened to draft and adopt the Constitution for the Federation of Earth.[13]

Social differentiation, social stratification, and social conflict

Sorokin's work addressed three significant theories: social differentiation, social stratification, and social conflict. The idea of social differentiation describes three types of societal relationships. The first is familistic, which is the type that we would generally strive for. It is the relationship that has the most solidarity, the values of everyone involved are considered, and there is a great deal of interaction.

Social stratification refers to the fact that all societies are hierarchically divided, with upper and lower strata and unequal distribution of wealth, power, and influence across strata. There is always some mobility between these strata. People or groups may move up or down the hierarchy, acquiring or losing their power and influence.

Social conflict refers to Sorokin's theory of war. Whether internal to a nation or international, peace is based on the similarity of values among a country or between different nations. War has a destructive phase when values are destroyed and a declining phase, when some of the values are restored. Sorokin thought that the number of wars would decrease with increased solidarity and decreased antagonism. If a society's values stressed altruism instead of egoism, the incidence of war would diminish.

Three principal types of culture integration

Sorokin's magnum opus is regarded by many to be Social and Cultural Dynamics. He classifies societies according to their 'cultural mentality'. This can be "ideational" (reality is spiritual and immaterial), "sensate" (truth is material and all things are in flux), or "idealistic" (a synthesis of the two).[10]

He suggested that significant civilizations evolve from a conceptual to an idealistic, and eventually to a sensate mentality. Each of these phases of cultural development not only seeks to describe the nature of reality, but also stipulates the nature of human needs and goals to be satisfied, the extent to which they should be satisfied, and the methods of satisfaction. Sorokin has interpreted the contemporary Western civilization as a sensate civilization, dedicated to technological progress and prophesied its fall into decadence and the emergence of a new ideational or idealistic era. In Fads and Foibles, he criticizes Lewis Terman's Genetic Studies of Genius research, showing that his selected group of children with high IQs did about as well as a random group of children selected from similar family backgrounds would have done.[3][14]

Five dimensions of love

According to Pitirim A. Sorokin, a pioneer of balanced research in altruism, the energy of love has at least five dimensions: Intensity, Extensity, Duration, Purity and the Adequacy of its manifestation in objective actions, in relation to its inner purpose. In intensity, love ranges between zero and the highest possible point, arbitrarily denoted as infinity. In extensity, love ranges from the zero point of love of oneself only, up to the love of all mankind, all living creatures, and the whole universe. In duration, love may range from the shortest possible moment to years or throughout the whole life of an individual or of a group. In purity, love ranges from the love motivated by love alone – without the taint of a ‘soiling motive’ of utility, pleasure, advantage, or profit, down to the ‘soiled love’ where love is but a means to a utilitarian or hedonistic or other end, where love is only the thinnest trickle in a muddy current of selfish aspirations and purposes. In the adequacy of love, it is based upon the expectation of each person to show love, be nice and understand the consequences of one's actions.[15]

In his work on love, "Altruistic Love", Sorokin hopes to make the first steps toward discovering what kinds of people are likely to become saintly or neighborly, and eventually to lay the groundwork for producing more people that fit this profile for the betterment of society. He did this by studying the lives of saints, neighbors and other people based upon their sex, gender, race and socioeconomic status.[10]


Sorokin was heavily involved in politics, his interests being in issues concerning the legitimacy of power, Russia's representative democracy, and how it connects to the country's national question regarding its democratic structure. He believed that after the fall of communism, a new version of Russia would arise. He also believed that pushing Russia out of its crisis would encourage the world to utilize altruistic love, a vital part of his research.[citation needed]

Sorokin also created the Center for the Study of Creative Altruism in Harvard, and there he developed and proposed his ideas about the ethics of love and social solidarity. With this program, he was able to express how we can save humanity through altruistic actions made out of love.[citation needed]

Involvement with other sociologists

With the financial assistance of Eli Lilly, a friend of Sorokin who was a pharmaceutical heir, he was able to do further research in creative altruism. From this research, he gained much popularity and was well respected by other sociologists and sociology. He was referred to as the "founder of the sociology of altruism". Thus, he was allowed to create "The Harvard Research Center in Creative Altruism" in 1949 and had two instructors under him, Alfredo Gotsky and Talcott Parsons.[16]

Although Sorokin and Parsons worked together as colleagues, Sorokin heavily criticized Parsons' works due to having opposing views. Sorokin disapproved of America's ways of civilization and felt as if it was in decline, creating tension between Sorokin and Parsons (Parsons being an American sociologist while Sorokin was Russian). The rift between them was put to the test when Harvard University and the American sociology community favored Parsons views, and Sorokin's administrative position in Harvard was seized.[16][17]

Sorokin's research also focused on rural society, making him more approachable and referable by other moral conservatives. This initiated his collaboration with Carle Zimmerman, and together they expanded on the perspective of rural-urban sociology. They believed that the rural way of life was established from the following characteristics: a conservative and traditional family, an economy based on manual labor or from a family and home business and their connection to it, whether it be sociologically, demographically, or economically.[16]

American Sociological Association

Pitirim A. Sorokin served as the 55th President of the American Sociological Association. His presidential status did not come easily, as many of his peers found his election to be long overdue. Sorokin in 1952 lost the election to Florian Znaniecki, and was not given the customary second nomination. In 1963 after the influence from his former students and other high rank sociologists, he became the first write in nominated sociologist to be elected as president with 65% of the vote.[18]

One of Sorokin's popular works was his presidential address, which was titled "Sociology of Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow". In this address Sorokin talked a lot about sociologies' transformation from discovery to investigation. A lot of sociologists at the time are beginning to refine older theories and works, while adapting to growth in society. Sorokin himself worked to verify the methods of preceding sociologists, while taking a look into the future of sociology and in what aspects it could grow and be influenced. He acknowledged how sociology was now viewed as meaningful and a "realm of reality". Some influences of sociology Sorokin looked at was cultural systems, social systems, and individuals who create, realize and exchange.[19]

Major impacts on influential figures

Sorokin impacted the historian Allan Carlson. He agreed with Sorokin and his disapproval of communism. Carlson also considered himself pro-family and agreed with Sorokin's views on how a family's most ideal environment is living in intimate, small village-like towns.[16]

Sorokin also impacted the forty-eighth vice president, Michael Pence, who quoted him while defending his failed House Resolution, the Marriage Protection Amendment in 2006, when there were same-sex marriage debates. Pence stated, "Marriage matters according to the researchers. Harvard sociologist Pitirim Sorokin found that throughout history, the societal collapse was always brought about following the advent of the deterioration of marriage and family”.[16]

Sorokin wrote president John F. Kennedy in 1961 when the United States were at a peak level of friction with Russia. In his letter, Sorokin expressed himself as knowledgeable in interacting with communist leaders. He also attempted to call for no war, as he believed none of the underlying issues would be solved until "mutual relationships be replaced by real friendly relationships". He also calls for Kennedy to refer to his sociological work "Mutual Convergence of the United States and the U.S.S.R. to the Mixed Sociocultural type" to help his decision on war and what to do with the relationship between the United States and Russia.[20]

Image of Pitirim Sorokin and his wife along with his two sons in 1934.

Personal life and death

Sorokin married Dr. Helen Baratynskaya, with whom he had two sons, Peter and Sergey. His son, Peter P. Sorokin, co-invented the dye laser.

Sorokin suffered from a severe illness, and after struggling for two years, he died on 10 February 1968, aged 79, in Winchester, Massachusetts.[21] A Russian Orthodox service was held at home for the family, followed by an eclectic service at the Memorial Church of Harvard University.[22]

The University of Saskatchewan currently holds Sorokin's papers in Saskatoon, Canada, where they are available to the public. In March 2009, the Sorokin Research Center was established at Syktyvkar State University facilities in Syktyvkar, Republic of Komi, for the purpose of research and publication of archive materials, mainly from the collection at the University of Saskatchewan. The first research project, "Selected Correspondence of Pitirim Sorokin: Scientist from Komi on The Service of Humanity" (in Russian), has been drafted and will be in print in the fall of 2009 in Russia.[14][23]

Major works

In English or English translation

See also


  1. ^ "Sorokin". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
  2. ^ "Pitirim Aleksandrovich Sorokin". American Sociological Association. 2009-06-08. Retrieved 2019-10-10.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Allen Phillip, J. (1963). Pitirim A. Sorokin in Review. Durham N.C. Duke University Press
  4. ^ V.I. Lenin, "The Valuable Admissions of Pitirim Sorokin", 21 November 1918.
  5. ^ a b c Sorokin, Pitirim (1992). Дальняя дорога: автобиография [Long journey: autobiography] (in Russian). Moscow: Terra. p. 9.
  6. ^ Jeffries, Vincent. "Sorokin, Pitirim," Encyclopedia of Social Theory. California: Sage Publications.
  7. ^ In "Fads and Foibles," Sorokin accuses Parsons of borrowing his work without acknowledgement.
  8. ^ a b Johnston, Barry V. (1996-06-01). "Pitirim A. Sorokin (1889-1968): Pioneer and Pariah". International Sociology. 11 (2): 229–238. doi:10.1177/026858096011002005. ISSN 0268-5809. S2CID 144813413.
  9. ^ Page, Myra; Baker, Christina Looper (1996). In a Generous Spirit: A First-Person Biography of Myra Page. University of Illinois Press. p. 67. ISBN 978-0-252-06543-9. Retrieved 4 August 2018.
  10. ^ a b c d Simpson, Richard. "Pitirim Sorokin and His Sociology" (PDF). Social Forces.
  11. ^ "Letters from Thane Read asking Helen Keller to sign the World Constitution for world peace. 1961". Helen Keller Archive. American Foundation for the Blind. Retrieved 2023-07-01.
  12. ^ "Letter from World Constitution Coordinating Committee to Helen, enclosing current materials". Helen Keller Archive. American Foundation for the Blind. Retrieved 2023-07-03.
  13. ^ "Preparing earth constitution | Global Strategies & Solutions | The Encyclopedia of World Problems". The Encyclopedia of World Problems | Union of International Associations (UIA). Retrieved 2023-07-15.
  14. ^ a b Gladwell, Malcolm (2008). Outliers. New York. p. 90. ISBN 978-0-316-03669-6.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  15. ^ "The Five Dimensions of Love". www.FilosofiaEsoterica.com (in European Portuguese). 2019-03-27. Retrieved 2021-10-24.
  16. ^ a b c d e Uzlaner, Dmitry; Stoeckl, Kristina (May 2018). "The legacy of Pitirim Sorokin in the transnational alliances of moral conservatives". Journal of Classical Sociology. 18 (2): 133–153. doi:10.1177/1468795x17740734. S2CID 148940943.
  17. ^ Wuthnow, Robert (September 1993). "Altruism and Sociological Theory". Social Service Review. 67 (3): 344–357. doi:10.1086/603994. S2CID 145772945.
  18. ^ "Pitirim Aleksandrovich Sorokin". American Sociological Association. 2009-06-08. Retrieved 2021-10-19.
  19. ^ Sorokin, Pitirim A. (1965). "Sociology of Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow". American Sociological Review. 30 (6): 833–843. doi:10.2307/2090963. ISSN 0003-1224. JSTOR 2090963. PMID 5846305.
  20. ^ Smith, Roger W. (2020-03-03). "Sorokin letter to President Kennedy". Pitirim Alexandrovich Sorokin. Retrieved 2021-10-19.
  21. ^ Ponomareva, Inna (November 2011). "Pitirim A Sorokin: The interconnection between his life and scientific work". International Sociology. 26 (6): 878–904. doi:10.1177/0268580910394003. S2CID 143210241.
  22. ^ Sergei P. Sorokin, "Life With Pitirim Sorokin: A Younger Son's Perspective".
  23. ^ "Sorokin Research Center (Russia, Komi Republic, Syktyvkar)" (in Russian). Sorokin Research Center. Retrieved 2009-09-11.
  24. ^ WorldCat item record
  25. ^ WorldCat item record
  26. ^ worldCat item record