tearoom trade?

A few quick questions on this famous sociological study:

1.) I heard that Alvin Gouldner beat up Laud Humphreys. But I’ve heard two stories: (a) Gouldner was mad about Humphrey’s dissertation, or (b) Gouldner was mad about a poster that Humphreys had put up around the department about him that made fun of him as a bird. Anyone know the truth? [update: here is the NYTimes piece on this, from 1968: 77178200]

2.) I have heard that Humphreys’ assertion that he used  license plates to track down participants was in fact a lie. He knew many of these guys more closely than he let on, and he used the license plate story as a cover for this. Anyone know the truth?

3.) I heard that Humphreys was not granted a PhD from Washington University and that his dissertation caused half the department to leave and was the root of why that university no longer has a department. Truth?

I’m filling in for a colleague this afternoon on ethics and research. The syllabus has Humphreys on it (and a great piece by Geertz, “Life Among the Anthros“. Re-reading Humphreys brought back these rumors. So I’m just curious.

6 thoughts on “tearoom trade?”

  1. Okay. So actually did some sleuthing and found that letest is absolutely right.

    According to Inside Higher Ed:

    He made rapid progress as a student (starting fieldwork for his dissertation in 1966 and writing it within two years) but seems to have developed an antagonistic relationship with Alvin Gouldner, a prominent social theorist then in his department.

    Humphreys may have been the author of a sarcastic poster that portrayed Gouldner as an example of the species “Inter Alios Platonicus, or Silver-Tongued High-Priestly Bird.” (Everyone in the department would have caught the reference to Gouldner’s recent book Enter Plato: Classical Greece and the Origins of Social Theory.) Reproduced as an appendix to the biography, the poster is satirical if not exactly witty: “Given to nesting in high places, this raptorial bird may soar to great heights before diving to feed on carrion…. He chews on thoughts only when personalities are not available. While devouring his prey, his song is said to be quite eloquent.”

    The target of this caricature was not amused. Gouldner tracked Humphreys down in the graduate student offices, punched him in the face, then kicked him when he fell down. The matter came to national attention in a New York Times article headlined “Sociology Professor Accused of Beating Student.”

    The incident had nothing to do with the research Humphreys was doing for Tearoom Trade, but it certainly did not hurt in cultivating a certain notoriety…

    Thanks to orgtheory are, of course, due!

    2.) I found no evidence that the license plate explanation was a lie.

    3.) The PhD was granted. But it caused a big fight in the department.


  2. Wow! High drama! I did not know about all this. I can’t help but feel a little jealous of the passion these guys clearly felt. Is that a pollyanna reading of this situation? I don’t know.

    I myself tend to get rather passionate about sociology because, in my opinion, it’s a framework through which you interpret the world and there are few things that are more important than that. Only some people in my immediate vicinity personalize it on the same level as me, though. Most people seem to just think of it as one more thing that they are learning, like the answer to 2+2. No big deal. But I can’t fathom that. I’m with Humphreys. Let’s get rowdy! :)


  3. For those interested in the closing of the Washington university department, there is an entire issue of The American Sociologist dedicated to the question. See:

    The American Sociologist, Volume 20, Number 4 / December, 1989

    It’s very interesting. It also seems that a member of the department published some research on St. Louis elites that suggested a trustee or two was involved in some shady business dealings, which did not endear them to the University leadership, who already had the axe poised for some time. That’s more murmurs than fact that I can establish. But it appears to contribute.


  4. I’m curious about the veracity of the license plate method of getting information. Is it believable that Humphreys was able to convince police to provide him with the information on license plates? Was there a bribe involved? It sounds like a story that, if not exactly false, might be omitting key (possibly further incriminating) details.


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