Randall Collins

American sociologist

Randall Collins (born July 29, 1941) is an American sociologist.



The Sociology of Philosophies (1998)

  • There is no thinking except as aftermath or preparation of communication.
    • p. 2
  • Thinking would not be possible at all if we were not social; we would have no words, no abstract ideas, and no energy for anything outside of immediate sensuality.
    • p. 7
  • Truth” is the reigning sacred object of the scholarly community, as “art” is for literary/artistic communities; these are simultaneously their highest cognitive and moral categories, the locus of highest value, by which all else is judged.
    • p. 19
  • Individuals who participate in interaction rituals are filled with emotional energy, in proportion to the intensity of the interaction. Durkheim called this energy “moral force,” the flow of enthusiasm that allows individuals in the throes of ritual participation to carry out heroic acts of fervor or self-sacrifice. I would emphasize another result of group-generated emotional energy: it charges up individuals like an electric battery, giving them a corresponding degree of enthusiasm toward ritually created symbolic goals when they are out of the presence of the group. Much of what we consider individual personality consists of the extent to which persons carry the energy of intense interaction rituals; at the high end, such persons are charismatic; a little less intensely, they are forceful leaders and the stars of sociability; modest charges of emotional energy make passive individuals; and those whose interaction ritual participation is meager and unsuccessful are withdrawn and depressed.
    • p. 23
  • Intellectual life hinges on face-to-face situations because interaction rituals can take place only on this level. Intellectual sacred objects can be created and sustained only if there are ceremonial gatherings to worship them. This is what lectures, conferences, discussions, and debates do: they gather the intellectual community, focus members’ attention on a common object uniquely their own, and build up distinctive emotions around those objects.
    • p. 26
  • The key intellectual event is a lecture or a formal debate, a period of time when one individual holds the floor to deliver a sustained argument on a particular topic. This is different from the give-and-take of sociable conversations, which typically cannot reach any complex or abstract level because the focus shifts too often. Intellectuals giving their attention for half an hour or more to one viewpoint, developed as a unified stream of discourse, are thereby elevating the topic into a larger, more encompassing sacred object than the little fragmentary tokens of ordinary sociable ties.
    • p. 26
  • What we call structure is a shorthand way of describing repetitive patterns, encounters that people keep coming back to, a recycling of rituals. This larger structure has the feel of externality; it seems thing-like, compulsory, resistant to change. This sense of constraint arises in part because the major institutions as repetitive networks are based on their distinctive interaction rituals, which have generated emotional commitments to their identifying symbols. It is characteristic of these intensely produced membership symbols that people reify them, treat them as things, as “sacred objects” in Durkheim’s sense. Organizations, states, as well as positions and roles within them, are sacred objects in just this sense: reified patterns of real-life interaction, cognitively raised above the level of the merely enacted, and treated as if they were self-subsistent entities to which individuals must conform. This symbolic social structuring of the world extends even to physical objects by making them into property appropriated under the sanction of social groups.
    • pp. 28-29
  • An India driven by conflicts goes counter to the image prevalent not only among Westerners but among Indian thinkers themselves. We have been taught to think of India as essentially static, even “timeless,” under a perennial otherworldly mysticism. The image had to be created. It came about through a series of events: the destruction of medieval Buddhism, which had anchored the first great round of debates; the tactic of archaizing one’s own tradition to elevate its prestige over that of factional rivals; and the predominance, in the centuries since 1500, of popular devotional cults of an anti-intellectual bent at just the time when Hindu scholars were in a syncretizing and scholasticizing mode in defense against alien conquerors.
    • p. 177
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