Philip Selznick Memorial Page



Philip Selznick 1919-2010

Professor of Law and Sociology 1952-1984
Founder of the Center for the Study of Law and Society 1961
Co-Founder of the Jurisprudence and Society Policy Program 1978


The death of Philip Selznick on June 12, 2010, at age 91, took from us a scholarly giant, who helped shape the sociology of organizations and transform the social study of law.  Selznick enriched the Berkeley community for over half a century.  He arrived in 1952 as an assistant professor in the Sociology Department; the unit he would later chair during the turbulent period of the Free Speech Movement.  From 1961-72, he served as Founding Director of Berkeley’s Center for the Study of Law and Society, which soon became a international destination for interdisciplinary research.  He joined the Law faculty in 1977 and was the Founding Chair of Berkeley Law’s doctoral program in Jurisprudence and Social Policy.  He remained active long after his 1984 retirement and received numerous lifetime achievement awards and academic honors.

Selznick completed a Columbia University Ph.D. in 1947, following wartime military service.  The 1949 publication of TVA and the Grass Roots launched his academic career.  The book, along with The Organizational Weapon (1952) and Leadership in Administration (1957), established him as an authority in the theory and sociology of organizations.  Selznick himself later characterized such investigations as “preoccupied with the conditions and processes that frustrate ideals or, instead, give them life and hope.”  This distinctive concern with ideals increasingly led Selznick to the social investigation of law.  He developed an approach – embodied in such works as Law, Society and Industrial Justice (1969) and Law and Society in Transition (1978) – that ambitiously combined elements of traditional jurisprudence concerning the nature of law with social science understandings of organizational dynamics and constraints.  In 1992 Selznick published the work he considered his magnum opus, The Moral Commonwealth: Social Theory and the Promise of Community.  The monumental synthesis expanded and recast much of his previous investigations of law and organizations.  His 2002 The Communitarian Persuasion elaborated further on the connections between this research and leading debates in liberal political philosophy.  His last book, A Humanist Science (2008), published at the age of 89, offered a final statement of the methodological values that guided his distinguished contributions. (David Lieberman, Jefferson E Peyser Professor of Law)


Materials: Tributes, Interviews, Videos, Transcripts

In January 2002 the Center for the Study of Law and Society invited Roger Cotterrell, a leading figure in the sociology of law, to Berkeley from Queen Mary, University of London, to conduct an oral history of Philip Selznick. Transcripts of the interviews are archived in the Bancroft Library’s Regional Oral History Office (ROHO).

Excerpts of these interviews, selected by Jiri Priban, were published as “Selznick Interviewed: Philip Selznick in Conversation with Roger Cotterrell,” in the Journal of Law and Society, Volume 31, Number 3, September 2004, pp. 291-317.

Martin Krygier’s intellectual biography of Selznick, Philip Selznick: Ideals in the World  was published by Stanford University Press in April 2012. Krygier conducted a series of structured interviews with Selznick in January 2002. Eight of these were videotaped and are available here. Krygier is Gordon Samuels Professor of Law and Social Theory at the University of New South Wales and Adjunct Professor, Regulatory Institutions Network (RegNet), Australian National University.

A much earlier videotaped interview from October 1987 by then sociology graduate students Jeff Manza, Nadine Julius and Veljko Vujacic is available in the Sociology Department’s Berkeley Faculty Live!! Series, here.

On January 20th 2011, a Memorial Service took place at the Bancroft Hotel in Berkeley. Associate Dean Lauren Edelman moderated. Dean Christopher Edley greeted the assembled colleagues, family and friends. Speakers included, Martin Krygier, Neil Smelser, Philippe Nonet, Kenneth Winston, Robert A. Kagan, Lloyd Burton, Sanford H. Kadish and Doris R. Fine, with music by Leighton Fong.  Their remarks plus tributes by friends and colleagues were gathered into a memorial book that is available in its entirety here.

On November 4, 2011, the seminar room at 2240 Piedmont Avenue was dedicated as the Philip Selznick Seminar Room, during the closing reception of the Center for the Study of Law and Society’s 50th Anniversary Conference.  Photographs of the event can be viewed on the CSLS main page.

On September 11, 2012, Martin Krygier presented a lecture on Selznick’s thought in the Justice Talks Series at the University of New South Wales Law School. The videotaped lecture, entitled “Humanist  Science as a Vocation: What it is, why we need more of it, and why we get less,” is available here.