BETWEEN: SUZANNE KELLER
                     (PRINCETON UNIVERSITY)

                        DEBRA L. GARCIA
                  (MOUNT SAN ANTONIO COLLEGE)

Suzanne Keller was born in Vienna, Austria.  She came to the U.S.
in 1939, and became a naturalized citizen in 1944.  Keller received
her A.B at Hunter College in 1948.  In 1950 she received her M.A.,
and in 1953 her Ph.D., both from Columbia University.    Her major
books are: Beyond the Ruling Class(1963), and An Urban
Neighborhood(1968). Her major articles are:  The American Dream of
Community:  An Unfinished Agenda, and The Future Role of Women. 
She has been a professor at Princeton University since 1968.

GARCIA:  Which sociological tradition do you find yourself most in
alignment with?

KELLER:  I find it hard to pigeon hook myself but I lean to the
more humanistic, historically grounded, theoretically-focused type
of inquiry in which the questions--grounded in context and theory--
are more important than the answers, because they direct the search
for answers.

GARCIA:  Which sociological tradition do you find yourself
disagreeing with?

KELLER:  I am least drawn to the most extreme empiricist approaches
in which the data tail wags the dog; in which, that is, there is
too little regard for social context, historic origins, or cultural
texture, and in which facts are accumulated as if they spoke for

GARCIA:  Name some sociologists that you admire?  Why?

KELLER?  Durkheim has always appealed to me for the power of his
mind, the clarity of his reasoning, and his depth of thought about
the nature of society.  Max Weber is dazzling in a quite different
way--a great sense of history and several immense and bold
hypothesis.  Mannhiem is somewhat neglected now but his is the most
astute sociological diagnosis of the ideological crisis of the
century and I appreciate his efforts at planning and prophecy. 
There are many others I admire for particular contributions,
including my teachers, Paul F. Lazarfeld and Robert K. Merton.

GARCIA:  What do you feel has been your greatest contribution to

KELLER:  My own contribution strikes me as rather modest efforts to
edge the fields of elite analysis and of community study forward an
inch or two.

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

KELLER:  I am not sure that the promise of sociology lies in
particular fields or topical areas.  I would rather put my emphasis
on how these areas are conceptualized, how problems are formulated,
and how inquiry is organized and its results made cumulative. 
Sociology is a form of collective self-knowledge and thus belongs
to Socrates' dictum:  know thyself.  Indeed, sociology is one of
those fields you can live without only if you are unaware of its
existence.  But get even a little glimpse of its possibilities and
the world is never quite the same.
As for specific fields I would propose a sustained, long term,
broadly based and multifaceted analysis of the rise and fall of
societal leadership.

GARCIA:  What fields in sociology do you think hold the least

KELLER:  Again, it is not so much specific areas of inquiry as
there conceptualization and modes of procedure that most concerns
me.  I would discourage work bereft of social theory and historic
depth in place of which is a kind of mechanical, a historical,
facticity.  In particular, I deplore the lack of direct contact
with the "real" world one wants to fathom sociologically. In place
of field work and immersion in the environments slated for study
there are too many secondary analyses of data gathered for quite
different primary purposes.  In another context I have called this
armchair empiricism akin to thee armchair theorizing in sociology
characteristic of earlier centuries.

GARCIA:  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?

KELLER:  One of the key problems of the discipline is a tendency to
prematurity in several respects: a too ready tendency to leap to a
theory, often by simply coining new terms, without having done the
hard labor that should precede this. Here I heed my own teachers
always to respect the dialectical connection between theory and
research.  Intellectual advance does not come quickly especially in
such a complex field as human behavior and social institutions. 
Only sustained, systematic explorations of well-
defined sociological questions in a diversity of settings can hope
to advance the sociological agenda.

GARCIA:  What advice would you give to a student entering a career
in sociology?

KELLER:  I would advise beginning students not to enter into the
field unless they were deeply drawn to it.  They should have a
passion for the sociological perspective because the main rewards
for "professing" sociology are still mainly intrinsic.

Sociology was born in crisis, the crisis of faith, belief, and
social order which distinguished modernity, secularism and
industrialism from their medieval precursors.  It was a crisis of
dislocation that is still with us, and sociology is thus both a
response to an attempt to define and pinpoint a special set of 
social conditions--a way of trying to make sense of a world in

And just as it is difficult for individuals to face the truth about
themselves, so societies find it threatening to look at
the reality of their social and economic arrangements, their
illusions and denials.  Hence sociologists, wedded to dispassion-
ate scrutiny, and are not always welcome messengers.  

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

KELLER:  In teaching students sociology I would emphasize the fact-
-easy to state but difficult to comprehend--that self and society
are twin born and must therefore be studied jointly.  To do so, it
is necessary to penetrate beneath the surface and the appearances
of things to get to the deeper forces that structure individual and
collective life.  

I would want students to understand the significance of the social
"definition of the situation" that affects virtually every aspect
of social life and often creates the very problems that they would
wish to eliminate.  

In this endeavor, the ancient maxim, "know thyself" must be raised
to a collective precept.  To know ourselves as aggregates and to
comprehend the institutions and ideologies that govern us is an
essential aim.  

I would also hope to wean them away from the typical tendency to
reductionism and encourage them to develop a respect for complexity
and dialectic.  

Not to be ignored, especially for beginning students, is the desire
to preserve a concern for social justice and service to humanity
and thus never to forget that knowledge should be used for human
betterment.  Such passions move the young, in 
particular, as they confront the inequities and injustices of their
society and have not yet resigned themselves to their
I also expect sociology to serve the students in their future lives
as citizens, workers, consumers, and participants in their
communities.  Most will not become professional sociologists but
will work in other fields--business, law, publishing, social work,
criminal justice, politics, medical care, urban design, and tv or
print journalism.  The field should help them to develop a broad
perspective on social change and continuity and sensitize them in
their dealings with diverse groups and individuals in the emerging
global society.  

GARCIA:  Why did you choose sociology?

KELLER:  I think sociology  chose me.  I took my first course in
sociology in my senior year as a pre-med major with a strong
passion for literature.  The course truly shook me up--it was an
encounter of profound recognition and the impact was instantan-
eous and permanent.  I changed my goals and direction, applied to
Columbia and flowed along from there.  

GARCIA:  In your book, Beyond the Ruling Class, you refer to "The
Big Three Colleges", Harvard, Yale, and Princeton.  Do you 
consider yourself an elite because you are now a professor at

KELLER:  Elite universities play an important role in the education
of U.S. elites not only substantively in the nature of what is
taught but also by their contribution to credentialism, that is the
certification of the value of the learner.  One does not feel elite
at an elite university but one does become aware that more doors
are open to one from Princeton them from Podunk.
There is also the fact that Princeton or Harvard graduates are
likely to make their mark in the world and one is thus close to the
pulse of worldly success or notability.  One does not think of this
except on occasion but it does surface from time to time.

GARCIA:  In your book published in 1963, you wrote "..it is the
destiny of elites to decline whether they fail or succeed."  Do you
think that the elites since then have continued to decline,
stayed the same, or increased?  Why?

KELLER:  In Beyond the Ruling Class I was intent on utilizing and
expanding elite theories for the contemporary era with a view to
discerning an evolutionary course.  In the grand historic view, 
the rise and fall of nations, empires, aristocracies, and dynasties
is generally tied to the rise and fall of elites.  That grand
historic course is generally visible only after the fact 
and thirty years is too short a period to see the process in full
view.  Moreover, when one is in the midst of dynamic developments
one lacks the needed distance to see them whole.
     Having said all that, I think the current period of crisis and
change is eroding the effectiveness, morality, and stability of
existing "strategic elites".  These leading minorities entrusted
with the guardianship of the social order amidst national and
international transformations seem to be floundering as much as the
citizenry.  The ensuing erosion of public confidence as well as the
corruption at the top and the agonizing reappraisals following the
Savings and Loan crisis, BCCI, Irangate, and kindred malfeasances
has prompted many agonizing reappraisals of the responsibilities of
power and age-old issues of unwarranted privilege and prerogatives. 
All this attests to the sense of uncertainty and moral drift of our
time and the leadership vacuum
that exemplifies these.