In Memoriam

Michael Holquist (1935-2016)

Yale Univerity (CCS Senior Fellow)

In memoriam: J. Michael Holquist, scholar of Slavic language and literature, Yale University Office of Public Affairs

Comments by Jeffrey Alexander and Philip Smith, June 2016:

Michael Holquist was a scholar who made noted contributions to Slavic studies, literary criticism and the history of structuralism. Those were his fields of original research. His contribution to cultural sociology takes a different form. Arguably without Holquist we would not have Bakhtin. Or only some of him.

Bakhtin had been exiled to Kazakhstan in the 1930s and was only rehabilitated by the Soviet establishment in the 1960s. He died in 1975. He could easily have been forgotten or become a figure of only historical interest or regional influence. It was Holquist’s work as an explicator, translator and apologist that did the most to bring Bakhtin to the attention of the Anglophone world. He was an early adopter. For example his translation of four essays entitled “The Dialogic Imagination” was published only six years after Bakhtin’s death. It is now an established classic with 26,000 citations on Google Scholar.

Today Bakhtin is a pivotal figure in the humanities and in cultural theory. His influence also extends to empirical cultural sociology. His work provides essential tools for understanding the complexity and dynamism of meaning and communication in social life. The chances are that any scholars in our discipline citing Bakhtin and making use of his concepts such as ‘speech genres’; ‘center and periphery’; ‘centrifugal and centripetal’; ‘heteroglossia’ and ‘the dialogical’ are doing so with reference to Holquist’s work, not to the original Russian texts. They are probably also including quotations from Holquist’s translations.

For Holquist, Bakhtin was not just a singular thinker but represented the virtues of a larger school of thought – Slavic structuralism – about which he also evangelized. Most particularly, Michael championed Roman Jakobson, whom he lauded for providing a welcome antidote to Saussure. Indeed, Jacobson was much more interested than the Swiss founder of semiotics in the diachronic, in the historical variations and social effects of the relation between signifier and signified, an interest that blossomed into Jacobson’s model of communications after he emigrated from Europe and become a linguistics professor at MIT, facing pragmatism full blast. Jacobson’s attention to the differentiation between sender, message, and receiver adumbrated the analytical separation of the elements of performance conceptualized by cultural pragmatics fifty years later. Still, Michael was only half right. Jacobson was one of Saussure’s greatest fans. Not only did he introduce structural semiotics into the Slavic world, but he developed, even more fully than Saussure, the idea he called “binarism,” the notion that language and meaning are structured in tense opposition. Jakobson’s analytic style, which like that of his disciple Levi-Strauss tended at times towards a quasi-mathematical formalism, also puts him in the Saussure’s camp. In many ways he was a different kind of thinker from the more fluid and ‘literary’ Bakhtin.

In bringing Bakhtin, Jakobson and other thinkers to our attention and in providing translations as well as detailed exegeses and critique Holquist has left a legacy that will continue to inspire creative work in this and future generations. There is too little appreciation in academic life for the roles of the talent scout, translator, apostle and enthusiast. These tasks require scholarly judgment and deep theoretical skills. When it came to the Slavic structuralists Michael Holquist was just the man for the job.


Geoffrey Hartman (1929-2016)

Yale Univerity (CCS Senior Fellow)

Born in Frankfurt, Germany in 1929, Geoffrey Hartman was placed on a Kindertransport to England in 1939. He spent the war years on the estate of James Rothschild in Waddeston with nineteen other boys. Reunited with his mother in the United States in 1945, he attended Queens College and earned his Ph.D. at Yale where he taught for almost forty years before retiring as Sterling Professor of English and Comparative Literature. Professor Hartman became acquainted with the Holocaust Survivors Film Project through his wife’s participation and recognized the research and educational value of the testimonies. With the support of Yale’s president, A. Bartlett Giamatti, almost 200 testimonies were deposited at the Sterling Memorial Library in 1981. As faculty advisor and project director to the Fortunoff Video Archive, Professor Hartman was actively involved in its growth and wrote extensively about the Archive and its work.


Robert N. Bellah

University of California at Berkeley (CCS Senior Fellow)

Jeffrey Alexander’s Comments on the Passing of Robert Bellah

Robert Neelly Bellah was an American sociologist and educator, who for 30 years served as professor of sociology at the University of California at Berkeley. His books on the sociology of religion, including Beyond Belief: Essays on Religion in a Post-Traditional World (1970), The Broken Covenant (1975), Habits of the Heart (1985), and The Good Society (1991), have shaped the discipline. In 1985, Habits of the Heart won The Los Angeles Times Book Prize for “Current Interest” and, in 1986, was a Jury Nominee for the Pulitzer Prize in General Non-fiction. In 2000, he was awarded the National Humanities Medal by President Clinton.


David E. Apter (1924-2010)

Yale University (CCS Senior Fellow)

In Memoriam: David Apter, Expert on the Birth of Developing Nations, Yale University Office of Public Affairs

New York Times obituary


Shmuel N. Eisenstadt (1923-2010)

Hebrew University of Jerusalem (CCS Senior Fellow)

Obituary by Jeffrey Alexander and Bernhard Giesen from the American Sociological Association Newsletter Footnotes


Mary Douglas (1921-2007)

University College of London (CCS Senior Fellow)

Dame Mary Douglas was a British anthropologist, known for her writings on human culture and symbolism. Her area was social anthropology; she was considered a follower of Durkheim and a proponent of structuralist analysis, with a strong interest in comparative religion.

New York Times obituary


Clifford Geertz (1926–2006)

Institute for Advanced Study (CCS Senior Fellow)

Clifford Geertz conducted extensive ethnographical research in Southeast Asia and North Africa. He also contributed to social and cultural theory and was influential in turning anthropology toward a concern with the frames of meaning within which various peoples live out their lives. He worked on religion, most particularly Islam, on bazaar trade, on economic development, on traditional political structures, and on village and family life. His latest work involved the general question of ethnic diversity and its implications in the modern world.

Comprehensive website on Clifford Geertz

New York Times obituary