Mobility And Status

Mobility And Status

SOCIAL MOBILITY IN INDUSTRIAL SOCIETY, by Seymour Lipset and Reinhard Bendix. University of California Press. 1959.

Thanks mainly to the foundations, the empirical study of social stratification and mobility has expanded enormously in the past decade. Research teams have been commissioned, thousands upon thousands of IBM cards punched, vast amounts of data accumulated. What has been lacking is a figure of real distinction to draw together these disparate, often trivial materials into a new synthesis. Seymour Lipset and Reinhard Bendix’s Social Mobility in Industrial Society is an attempt at such a synthesis.

The stature of Bendix and Lipset has been steadily growing. Lipset’s Agrarian Socialism and Union Democracy, Bendix’s Work and Authority in Industry, joint products like Class, Status and Power and numerous essays in professional journals: these have been refreshing exceptions to the general tendency of American sociologists to devote more and more attention to progressively less significant problems.

The more pity, then, that their most recent work, despite many excellences, is disappointing. Part of the difficulty is stylistic. Bendix and Lipset have written well in the past, but here are 294 pages of almost unvaried gray. The mode of argumentation is supremely academic. Each point is cautiously qualified—at times, the exasperated reader may feel, qualified into limbo.

The real problem, however, is not one of form but of substance. Long sections of this work are full of rich and subtle analysis. It contains outstanding discussion of the social origins of the American business elite, social mobility in a metropolitan community (Oakland, California), and other topics. But these virtues are not enough to rescue the book from its unfortunate thesis.