Pitirim Alexandrovich Sorokin
Питирим Александрович Сорокин
Sorokin in 1917
Born21 January [O.S. ] 1889
Died10 February 1968(1968-02-10) (aged 79)
Alma materSaint Petersburg Imperial University
Spouse(s)Elena Petrovna Sorokina (née Baratynskaya) (1894–1975)
Scientific career
Doctoral studentsRobert K. Merton

Pitirim Alexandrovich Sorokin (/səˈrkɪn, sɔː-/;[1] Russian: Питири́м Алекса́ндрович Соро́кин, 21 January [O.S. ] 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 21 January [O.S. ] 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 sub- sequent 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][3]

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.[4]

Sorokin was an anti-communist. During the Russian Revolution was a member of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, 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 St. Petersburg, becoming the founder of the sociology department at the university.[4] As he had been a leader among the Democrats leading up to the Russian Revolution, he was sought by 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,[4] or he may have spent months in hiding before escaping the country.[5] After leaving Russia, he emigrated to the United States,[4] 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," and was a deputy of the Russian Constituent Assembly.

Sorokin was a sociology professor at the University of Minnesota from 1924 to 1940 when he accepted an offer of a position by the president of Harvard University, where he continued to work until 1959. One of his students was writer Myra Page.[8]


In 1910 young Sorokin was shaken to the core by the death of the great Russian writer LN 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.

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.[4] 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.

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

In his Social and Cultural Dynamics, his magnum opus, Sorokin classified societies according to their 'cultural mentality', which can be "ideational" (reality is spiritual), "sensate" (truth is material), or "idealistic" (a synthesis of the two).

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.[4][9]


Sorokin was heavily involved in politics; his interests being on the issues with the legitimacy of power, Russia's representative democracy, and how it connected to the country's national question regarding its democratic structure. He believed that after the fall of communism, a new form 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.[2]

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.[2]

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.[10]

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.[10][11]

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.[10]

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.[10]

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”.[10]

Image of Pitirim Sorokin and his wife along with his two sons in 1934.
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.[12] A Russian Orthodox service was held at home for the family, followed by an eclectic service at the Memorial Church of Harvard University.[13]

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.[9][14]

Major works

In English or English translation

See also


  1. ^ "Sorokin". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
  2. ^ a b c "Сорокин, Питирим Александрович", Википедия (in Russian), 2019-10-09, retrieved 2019-10-10
  3. ^ "Pitirim Aleksandrovich Sorokin". American Sociological Association. 2009-06-08. Retrieved 2019-10-10.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Allen Phillip, J. (1963). Pitirim A. Sorokin in Review. Durham N.C. Duke University Press
  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. ^ 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.
  9. ^ a b Gladwell, Malcolm (2008). Outliers. New York. p. 90. ISBN 978-0-316-03669-6.
  10. ^ 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.
  11. ^ Wuthnow, Robert (September 1993). "Altruism and Sociological Theory". Social Service Review. 67 (3): 344–357. doi:10.1086/603994. S2CID 145772945.
  12. ^ 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.
  13. ^ Sergei P. Sorokin, "Life With Pitirim Sorokin: A Younger Son's Perspective".
  14. ^ "Sorokin Research Center (Russia, Komi Republic, Syktyvkar)" (in Russian). Sorokin Research Center. Retrieved 2009-09-11.
  15. ^ WorldCat item record
  16. ^ WorldCat item record
  17. ^ worldCat item record