Conducted by Lara Kreps

     (Randall Collins was the Chairperson of the Sociology
Department at the  University
of California, Riverside. The following interview was conducted on
May 20, 1992.)

1. Which sociological tradition do you find yourself most in
alignment with?

Randall Collins:  Conflict Theory.

2. Which sociological tradition do you find yourself disagreeing

Randall Collins:  Functionalism.  

3. Name some sociologists that you admire?  Why?

Randall Collins:  Weber (the greatest comparative sociologist); 
Durkheim (for analyzing the fundamental mechanism of social
solidarity, morality, and symbolism); Mead (social theory of mind);
Goffman (ritual in everyday life).  

4. What do you feel has been your greatest contribution to

Randall Collins:  Systematic development of conflict theory.

5. As you know, sociology is still in its infancy as a science.
What fields in sociology do you think hold the most

Randall Collins:  Social networks, formal organizations, micro-
interaction and emotion, social movements, political and economic

6. What fields in sociology do you think hold the least promise?

Randall Collins:  Sociobiology.

7. In the 1990's and into the 21st century, what are some of the
key problems that sociologists must confront in further
establishing their discipline?

Randall Collins:  Sociology tends to confuse empirical description
with more general analytical processes.  The latter is the subject
of theories which can be used to analyze new materials. 
Theoretical understanding of some topics has become quite good, but
our theories have become extremely complicated, involving multiple
causes and feedbacks.  Together with the high degree of
specialization within sociology, this complicatedness tends to bury
our best ideas in a literature that very few people understand very
well.  All advanced sciences have this kind of complicatedness, but
they also have general legitimation which gives people the
confidence that they can find the relevant specialist who can give
a technically competent answer to their problems.  Sociology lacks
this legitimation, both with the public and with the academic
world, and for that matter even among different specialties within
sociology.  The only way we will get out of this difficulty is if
various specialized fields of sociology can make contributions to
practical problems that demonstrate their payoff, even if most
people don't follow the technical details of how the specialists
arrived at it.  

8. What advice would you give to a student entering a career in

Randall Collins:  Don't get confused by all the competing
approaches in sociology.  Concentrate on the lines of theory which
offer explanations, giving the conditions under which variations
occur, i.e.  when this happens rather than that.  Theories which do
this are conflict theory on the macro level; organizational and
network theories on the meso level; on the micro level, interaction
ritual theory and some aspects of rational choice theory, as well
as the sociology of emotions.  Concentrate on integration what you
know into a coherent body of explanations.    

9. In teaching students the subjects of sociology, what are some
of the major misconceptions about individuals and society
that you would like to clear up?

Randall Collins:  The notion that individuals do things just
because they want to; the notion that calling something a "culture"
explains why people actually behave in a particular way; the
assumption that describing social patterns in terms of good guys
and bad guys is an explanation of what happens.

10. Sociology books are not generally popular and a number of
them become outdated just shortly after they are published.
If you had to choose four or five sociology related works
(books or articles) which would they be?

Randall Collins:  I presume this question refers to recently
published books:  Jack Goldstone,  Revolution and Rebellion in the
Early Modern World; Charles Tilly, Coercion, Capital and European
States; Immanuel Wallerstein, The Modern World System, Vol. III;
Thomas Scheff, Microsociology; Janet Chafetz, Gender Equity:  an
Integrated Theory of Stability and Change; Jonathan Turner, A
Theory of Social Interaction.

11. If you where stranded on a desert island which books would
you take (does not need to be a sociology book)?

Randall Collins:  James Joyce, Ulysses; Andrea Malraux, The Voices
of Silence; Weber, Economy and Society

12. If you were to interview yourself, what question would you
most like to answer? (A question that hasn't been asked
prior)  Ask that question now and answer it, if you like?

Randall Collins:  No comment.

13. Why did you choose sociology?

Randall Collins:  I was in the graduate program in psychology at
Stanford in the early 1960's, when I discovered in the library that
sociological research was much more interesting than the narrowly
focussed experiments we were doing in psychology.  Sociology gets
out of the laboratory and in the larger world; furthermore, it
struck me (mainly by reading G.H. Mead and Goffman) that sociology,
by focussing on social interactions and their effects upon the
individual, could answer many of psychology's questions better than
psychology could itself.  Sociology of course also has the larger
level of organizations, social stratification, and macro political
and economic structures.  I switched from Stanford to Berkeley,
just in time for the core sit-ins and the Free Speech Movement.  I
have never regretted the switch.  

14. Generally, which topics or issues regarding sociology spark
your interest the most?

Randall Collins:  On the micro level, the sociology of emotions
(because the fundamental processes of interaction are emotional,
and cognitions are selectively built upon them); on the meso level,
the chains of interactions with make up network structures and the
repetitive patterns of organizations and social stratification; on
the macro level, long-term change in the power of the state and the
structure of the economy. 

15. What topics or issues have you written the most about?  Why?

Randall Collins:  (a) Interaction ritual chains (as a way of
explaining the link between the individual and the stratified
networks that surround him/her); (b) Inflation of educational
credentials (the most important dynamic of stratification in
contemporary societies, and a process which undermines most efforts
towards greater equality); (c) Sexual stratification (i.e.
understanding gender not merely as an economic or cultural pattern,
but as a conflict involving sex and violence); (d) Geopolitical
theory of the state (the military conditions in the world system
which are the ultimate determinants of revolutions); (e) Most
recently, I have been working primarily on the sociology of
intellectual creativity, explaining the patters of intellectual
change over long periods of history in both European and Asian
civilizations.  As an intellectual, I like to understand the
processes that make my own community do what it does.