Neil Smelser

Three Ideas Determine the Structure of All Major American Institutions from Universities to Health Care Legislation -- Individualism, Equality of Opportunity and Democracy


Neil Joseph Smelser (born July 22, 1930, Kahoka, Missouri)


Is an emeritus professor of sociology at the University of California, Berkeley. He was an active researcher from 1958 to 1994. His research has been on collective behavior, sociological theory, economic sociology, sociology of education, social change, and comparative methods. Among many lifetime achievements, Smelser " laid the foundations for economic sociology.


Education and career


He received his undergraduate degree from Harvard University in 1952 in the Department of Social Relations.[3] From 1952-54, he was a Rhodes scholar at Oxford University where he studied economics, philosophy, and politics and was award a B.A.. During his first year of graduate school at the age of 24, he co-authored Economy and Society with Talcott Parsons, first published in 1956. He earned his Ph.D in sociology from Harvard in 1958, and was a junior fellow of the Society of Fellows. He was given tenure a year after graduating from Harvard and joining Berkeley.[2] and, at the age of 31, he was the youngest editor of the American Sociological Review in 1961, just 3 years after coming to Berkeley.

He was the fifth director of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences from 1994-2001. He retired in 1994 and is now an emeritus professor.




His value added theory (or strain theory) argued that six elements were necessary for a particular kind of collective behaviour to emerge:

Structural conduciveness - things that make or allow certain behaviors possible (e.g. spatial proximity)
Structural strain - something (inequality, injustice) must strain society
Generalized belief - explanation; participants have to come to an understanding of what the problem is
Precipitating factors - spark to ignite the flame
Mobilization for action - people need to become organized
Failure of social control - how the authorities react (or don't)



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