Howard Becker

Chercheur associéCentre d'étude des mouvements sociaux

► Sociologue

► Membre associé du CEMS

♦ A lire le portrait de Howar Becker dans The New Yorker : Adam Gopnik, « The Outside Game : How the Sociologist Howard Becker Studies the Conventions of the Unconventional », The New Yorker, January 12, 2015.

Publications : quelques livres

♦ Thinking Together: An E-Mail Exchange and All That Jazz

An electronic book of the email correspondence of musicians and sociologists Howard Becker and Rob Faulkner during the years they were writing their book for the University of Chicago Press called Do You Know. . .? The Jazz Repertoire in Action.

The e-book is published by The Annenberg Press and available from Amazon, the Apple Store, and other places that handle e-books.

A paper version of the exchange is published by and available at Questions Théoriques (of course, without the links to almost 300 songs Howie and Rob mention that are included in the electronic version).

♦ What About Mozart? What About Murder?

Many people think the object of sociological research and theorizing is to simplify our understanding of social life by finding the underlying laws that govern its operation. I think, contrariwise, that the object is to find out the nature of, and make a place in our thinking for, everything that observably contributes to producing the results I’m interested in. Each chapter uses specific cases, mostly work I’ve done and reported on in the past, which exemplify one or another way of doing that and explaining how I did it. The specific cases have an interest of their own, but the emphasis is on what’s to be learned from them about this way of working, and how to do it fruitfully.

♦ Tricks of the Trade

Most books on research methods advise you to state your problem clearly, and then pick the best available method for investigating it. Tricks of the Trade, taking a different approach, advises you to continually revise your problem and your way of investigating it as the research continues. It describes a large number of “tricks” that help you do that more or less painlessly.

♦ Outsiders

Outsiders is the clearest, if not quite the earliest, statement of the “labeling” approach to the study of deviance, the idea that deviance is not a quality of a bad person but the result of someone defining someone’s activity as bad. The idea is illustrated in two chapters on musicians and two on marihuana smoking.

Art Worlds

Art Worlds says that art works do not result from the activity of a single artist, but from the coordinated work of a network of cooperating specialists: people who make musical instruments or oil paints or theatrical costumes as well as musicians and composers, painters, and actors, playwrights and directors. And that they manage to do that successfully because they share some ideas and conventions about how the work should be done.

Telling About Society

Social scientists share the work of telling about society with playwrights, novelists, photographers, statisticians, cartographers, and ordinary people, all of whom have some ideas on the subject to express from time to time. Telling About Society explores what’s common to all these endeavors and how they vary depending on the nature of the social organization the telling takes place in. It suggests the surprising conclusion that every way of telling these stories is perfect—for someone in some situation, although never for all people everywhere.

Writing for Social Scientists

Down-home advice on how to avoid the problems of writing that plague students, professors, and everyone who wants to tell what their research has taught them about society. Plenty of advice, plenty of illuminating stories, all designed to make writing more fun and less of a pain. (Some people tell me that just putting the book under their pillow at night cured all their problems, but I don’t believe them.) This new edition brings the chapter on computers up-to-the-minute and comments on length on new developments in academic life that have made writing problems worse than they used to be.

Art From Start to Finish

A handful of specialists from a variety of fields—everything from music to economics—met to discuss the question of when, if ever, is an art work finished. Surprisingly, they agreed that’s it more fruitful to think of art works as continually changing—whether from physical deterioration, editorial changes, differing interpretations, or audiences with new ideas, all of which make the art work something different than it had been. I collaborated with Robert R. Faulkner and Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett to turn the results of our discussion into what I think is a lively and provocative book.

Paroles et musique

This book presents French translations of a number of my papers about art and related subjects. And there’s a special bonus—a CD of me playing the piano in duets with bass player Benoit Cancoin (you can’t get this CD anywhere else!) And yes, that’s me in the porkpie hat on the picture on the cover!

Propos sur l’art

More essays on art and related matters in French translation.

Un sociologue en liberté: Lecture d’Howard S. Becker (by Alain Pessin)

Un sociologue en liberté: Lecture d’Howard S. Becker is the only full-length analysis of my ideas about a lot of things, done by a French sociologist who knew my work better than I do. Unfortunately for all of us, Alain Pessin died too young, although he left behind a substantial body of work.

L’art du terrain: Mélanges offerts à Howard S. Becker (edited by Alain Blanc and Alain Pessin)

In the United States we call a collection of papers written by scholars to honor one of their own a “festschrift.” In France, it’s called a “mélanges,” and this one was organized for me by two good friends in France. If I say so myself, the papers are pretty interesting, and are by some of the really good sociologists working in France now.

Boys in White

Boys in White reports on a major field study of students at the University of Kansas Medical Center, circa the late 1950s. It’s very detailed and may be somewhat out of date. But people who keep in touch with these things tell me that, for all the minor cosmetic changes in medical education, things are pretty much the same. I don’t know myself. The book introduced the idea of a “perspective” as a technical term referring to the mixture of shared ideas and actions that characterized what we and others called “student culture.” It also made a determined effort to make all the evidence that field work produces available to the reader.

Making the Grade

My colleagues and I continued our exploration of student culture in this overly ambitious study of the home campus of the University of Kansas in Lawrence. We had fun, learned a lot, and developed the idea of the “grade point average perspective,” emphasizing the way everything that students wanted out of their college experience had to be purchased with the currency of academic grades. Whether it was entrance into a professional or graduate school, important positions in campus organizations, or even desirable dates, it all had to be paid for with good grades. That surprised a lot of people, and surprised us too, but that’s the way it was. And, despite all the talk of “grade inflation,” the way it continues to be.

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