Measuring the fog of his prose

Talcott Parsons

Some sociologists looooooooooove long words. And some love to poke sharp sticks at their serpentine-tongued fellows. Harvard sociologist Talcott Parsons (1902-1979) was one of the profession’s biggest, most favourite, piñatas.

Three years after Parsons composed his final few hundred thousand words, Hugh P Whitt and James C Creech, sociologists at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, wrote a shortish monograph paying tribute to their late colleague. It begins with three quietly gleeful statements:

“Sociologists have often been criticised for their inability to make themselves understood. Talcott Parsons, in particular, has been singled out for his alleged incomprehensibility. As a consequence, his name has achieved legendary stature for more than his theoretical contributions.” …

So begins this week’s Improbable Research column in The Guardian.

BONUS (that will make sense when you have read the column itself): Charles Wright Mills’s 4-paragraph-long summary of “all that is intelligible” in one of Talcott Parsons’ mammoth books.