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Professor Emeritus and Prominent Scholar Philip Selznick Dies at 91

Philip Selznick
Philip Selznick

By Andrew Cohen

Philip Selznick, professor emeritus of law and sociology at UC Berkeley and a renowned expert in the sociology of both law and organizations, died on Saturday, June 12. He was 91.

A founder of the institutional perspective in organization theory, Selznick developed a new scholarly approach which combined traditional jurisprudence elements concerning the aims and nature of law with social science understandings of organizational dynamics and constraints.

"The Berkeley community lost one of its post-war academic giants," says Berkeley Law professor and close colleague David Lieberman, who adds that Selznick "helped shape the theory and sociology of organizations and transform the social study of law."

The author of nine frequently republished books, Selznick was hired by UC Berkeley’s sociology department in 1952. From 1961–1972, he served as founding director for the Center for the Study of Law and Society, which became a top think tank and international scholarly destination for interdisciplinary research on law and legal practices.

Selznick joined the Berkeley Law faculty in 1977, and in 1978 became founding chair of its Jurisprudence and Social Policy (JSP) Program—the first and for many years the only Ph.D. program based in a major U.S. law school. The program maintains a graduate fellowship program named in his honor, and each year two to three admitted students receive special funding support as "Selznick Fellows."

Lauren Edelman, associate dean of the JSP Program and a professor of law and sociology, says Selznick's emphasized law as "a realm of moral values that necessarily shape the character of private as well as public governance. His legacy is even greater because he, along with former dean Sanford Kadish, created the JSP Program and undergraduate Legal Studies major, which have been emulated by major universities all over the globe."

More information about Selznick's life is available here.