Coleman, James S.

(1926-95)
A much honoured American sociologist, prolific author and co-author of numerous monographs and scholarly papers (some 28 books and more than 300 articles), who was for much of his professional life associated with the University of Chicago. He served as President of the American Sociological Association in 1991-2.
Coleman was unusual among sociologists of his generation, especially in America, in that he was equally at home conducting empirical research and constructing formal theory. His range of interests was truly remarkable. Major themes in his work include the following: the social organization of education, adolescence , and youth (The Adolescent Society, 1961, Youth: Transition to Adulthood, 1973, Becoming Adult in a Changing Society, 1985); the role of families, communities, and religious institutions in education, and the idea of social capital (Equality of Educational Opportunity-the so-called Coleman Report -1966, High School Achievement, 1982, Public and Private High Schools, 1987); the social theory of simulation games, collective decision-making, and collective action (on which he wrote several influential articles); mathematical sociology , in particular stochastic processes, models of purposive action, and market models (Introduction to Mathematical Sociology, 1964, The Mathematics of Collective Action, 1973); and theories of rational action (Foundations of Social Theory, 1990). In addition, he was a co-author of Union Democracy (1956), a classic of political sociology; a leading exponent of applied sociology committed to policy research in the social sciences; and wrote monographs on (among other things) Community Conflict (1957) and Medical Innovation (1966) which he described as being more or less ‘single-shot activities’ rather than recurring themes in his work.
Coleman's lasting contributions to sociology will be many and varied-although his most recent theoretical work has yet to attain its full impact.
His research on adolescence demonstrated the importance of informal social systems ( peer-group subcultures and rewards) among the young, especially where these were at odds with the values and rewards institutionalized by educationalists within schools. (Some students worked hard to gain prestige among their classmates by actively avoiding high grades for their work.) The Coleman Report and associated investigations into educational achievement demonstrated the importance of non-school factors for children's cognitive development. The Report concluded that family and other influences outside school explain most of the apparent school effects in attainment. Both bodies of work were controversial and questioned at the time-although both have stood the test of time and their major conclusions are now widely accepted.
Coleman's excursion into simulation games and learning behaviour led to the establishment of what became known as the Academic Games Programme (or Hopkins Games Project), a diverse set of research activities which sought to analyse the role of games in the socialization process, especially in schools. Although much of this work concentrated on the potential of games for understanding different aspects of the learning process, Coleman was also led by his findings to the construction of formal sociological theory, in much the same way as a physical scientist might use the experimental method for the same purpose. Games were devised which simulated (for example) a national presidential campaign-and the results were then used to inform Coleman's writings about collective decision-making in the legislative process.
In the field of public policy, his most important work probably lay in his clarification and analysis of the concept of equality of opportunity , and its implications for schooling. His work on youth and adolescence was also an important early illustration of the power of sociology as a basis for policy-making. Here, as elsewhere in his work, Coleman often challenged conventional wisdoms and generated not only academic controversy but also fierce public debate.
It is probably too soon to judge the lasting influence of hismagnum opus on The Foundations of Social Theory. Many admirers have already hailed the work as a ‘foundation effort’ within sociology, to be placed on a par with earlier attempts by Durkheim and Parsons, who also sought to provide a unifying theoretical and methodological basis for the discipline. Others question whether rational-choice theory -the broad umbrella under which Coleman constructed his models and explanations-can provide a satisfactory solution to the long-standing sociological concern of solving the problem of social order by explaining how individually rational actions systematically generate regularities in macro-level outcomes.
There is an excellent Festschrift offering a wide-ranging assessment of Coleman's contributions to sociology-Jon Clark (ed.), James S. Coleman-and which is made especially interesting by the fact that it contains several pieces by Coleman himself, reflecting on the significance of his work, penned shortly before his death.

Dictionary of sociology. 2013.

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  • James Coleman (sociologue) — Pour les articles homonymes, voir Coleman. James S. Coleman est un sociologue américain né le 12 mai 1926 dans l Indiana et mort le 25 mars 1995 à Chicago. Coleman a été formé à l école de Lazarsfeld. Il est depuis les années… …   Wikipédia en Français

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