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  • Theodore Caplow (1920-2015)In memoriam
  • Simon Langlois (bio) and Olivier Zunz (bio)

This is with sadness that The Tocqueville Review marks the death of Tocqueville Society founder Theodore Caplow in Charlottesville, VA, on July 4, 2015 at the age of 95.

Ted created the Tocqueville Society in the fall of 1977. He was then the Commonwealth Professor of Sociology at the University of Virginia. He had developed a deep interest in the French tradition of social research while holding visiting appointments first at the University of Bordeaux and then at the Sorbonne (the latter in 1968), and he was in frequent correspondence with such leading figures of French social science as Jean Stoetzel and Raymond Aron. His idea was to create “a scholarly society for the encouragement of cooperation and intellectual exchanges between Anglophone and Francophone social scientists.” The society issued for a couple of years a modest Bulletin that soon became more ambitious and was renamed The Tocqueville Review/La Revue Tocqueville under Jesse Pitts’s editorship.

Ted’s career and personality were truly remarkable with achievements at a young age sustained throughout a rich life. After growing up in Brooklyn, Ted graduated from the University of Chicago at age 18. He moved on to graduate school in sociology at the University of Minnesota but interrupted his studies to enlist in the US Army during World War II. Wounded in combat in the Philippines, he was awarded a purple heart. [End Page 13]

Minnesota kept Ted on its faculty after he completed his Ph.D. in 1946 and promoted him to full professor in 1954 at age 34. Ted then accepted an appointment at Columbia University in 1961 and became part of an immense network of social research soon to be embroiled in the great ideological battles of the late 1960s. He left Columbia for a seemingly quieter University of Virginia in 1970 only to find the American South in the midst of vast social change-- finally busy dismantling Jim Crow. At Virginia, Ted singlehandedly created its sociology department (previously shared with anthropology) at this moment of great thirst for social knowledge, and he influenced its directions for the rest of his tenure.

Ted was always at work to make sense of social trends comparatively in the great tradition of Tocqueville. A restless mind, he developed ideas and insisted on testing them with empirical work. His record of publications is dazzling in breadth and scope. Ted first established his reputation with The Sociology of Work (1954), a theme he returned to with Managing an Organization (1983). As a theorist, he wrote the influential Two Against One: Coalition in Triads (1968), a formal theory of social life. He wrote on topics as diverse as The Academic Market Place, with Reece J. McGee (1958) and the decline of human services with Perverse Incentives: The Neglect of Social Technology in the Public Sector (1994).

The greater reading public took notice of Ted’s work when he replicated the study of a typical American small town known as the sociological classic Middletown (Muncie, Indiana). Robert and Helen Lynd had studied it first in the midst of 1920s prosperity and then again in 1935 to measure the impact of the Depression and New Deal. Ted had encountered Lynd as an undergraduate. Later he was proud of having inherited his office when he joined the Columbia faculty. But it is from Virginia that Ted launched his own series of Middletown studies in 1977, the very same year he founded the Tocqueville Society.

He and a team of researchers (principally Howard Bahr and Bruce Chadwick) and students revisited Muncie. Resulted two widely-read books, Middletown Families: Fifty Years of Change and Continuity (1982) and All Faithful People: Change and Continuity in Middletown’s Religion (1983) and fifty different articles on family, religion, culture, and social stratification, insisting on the persistence of family life and [End Page 14] religious practice in American life. Ted partly replicated the survey again in 1999.

Ted also co-founded, in 1987, with Henri Mendras (a dear friend from Paris and the second editor of The Tocqueville Review) and Wolfgang Glatzer (Goethe-University, Frankfurt), an international research group dedicated to the...


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