Alvin Ward Gouldner was born in New York on July 29, 1920. He died on December 15, 1980. Gouldner was a professor of sociology, and also wrote numerous books on the subject.
His first university post was at Washington University in St. Louis, from 1959 to 1967. This was followed by a position at the University of Buffalo from 1967 to 1972. Between 1972 and 1986, Gouldner taught sociology at the University of Amsterdam. He became president of the Study of Social Problems in 1962. From 1967, he held the title of Max Weber Professor of Sociology at Washington University.
Gouldner published a number of books on aspects of sociology. These include The Coming Crisis of Western Sociology (1970 & 1971), Notes on Technology and the Moral Order (1962), Studies in Leadership; Leadership and Democratic Action (1950), For Sociology: Renewal and Critique in Sociology Today (1973), and Wildcat Strike; A Study in Worker-Management Relations (1965). Other major works written by Gouldner are Patterns of Industrial Bureaucracy (1954), Anti-Minotaur: The Myth of Value-Free Society (1964), Enter Plato (1967), The Dialectics of Ideology and Technology (1976), The Future of Intellectuals and The Rise of the New Class (1979), The Two Marxisms (1980) and Against Fragmentation (1984).
Patterns of Industrial Bureaucracy is considered an important early work. Here, Gouldner begins to write within the context of the existing field of sociology; however, he utilizes principles of the critical intellectual form. This is more acutely evident in his later work, Anti-Minotaur: The Myth of Value-Free Society. He posits the theory that sociology cannot be objective. He states further that Max Weber had not intended to state anything of that nature. Gouldner was not the first sociologist to suggest that an objective knowledge of society is unlikely. Adorno's Negative Dialectics does the same.
The Coming Crisis of Western Sociology is the book that has garnered much attention. Gouldner puts forward the argument that sociology must reject the notion of proposing objective truths. Rather, he submits that sociology and knowledge in general are more likely to be subjective, and that the context of the times is pertinent. Many schools of sociology used the book as an analytical tool to assess their own theory and methods.
Gouldner proceeded to use his works to present a critique of modern society, and to theorize about the nature of the intellectual. He claimed that critical subjective thought was more important than subjective thought. Ideology, he said, was wont to offer false ideas and was more often manipulatively used by the ruling elite.
Gouldner's books are now out of print. His theories may only be seen in book form in research libraries or on the Internet. Study of his theories is now challenging, and it raises the question of the sustainability of his literature and ideas. Some critics state that perhaps Gouldner is a figure of the past, rather than a sociological author of current relevance. His theoretical work was influenced by the radical student movements of the 1960s. The possibility has been suggested that perhaps the times changed and there was a fundamental ideological shift in the 1980s, at the time he died.
Themes relating to his work include his view on the myth of a value-free society; politics of the mind; observation on systematic theory; reciprocity and autonomy in functional theory; and the norm of reciprocity. Romanticism and classicism, the deep structures in social sciences, and comments on history and class form part of his field of study.
Gouldner's interest in reflexive sociology, and the problem he saw regarding the role of the intellectual, is consolidated in his significant commentary in Against Fragmentation: The Origins of Marxism and the Sociology of the Intellectual. He states: "I believe that one of the central tasks of social theory in our time is to attempt to rethink the position of theory's own group involvements and to re-examine the conditions, social and organizational theories committed to the understanding of the social totality."