David Riesman (September 22, 1909 – May 10, 2002) was a sociologist, educator, and best-selling commentator on American society.


Born to a wealthy German Jewish family, he attended
Harvard College Harvard College is the undergraduate Undergraduate education is education conducted after secondary education and prior to postgraduate education. It typically includes all postsecondary programs up to the level of a bachelor's degree A b ...
, where he graduated in 1931 with a degree in biochemistry. He attended
Harvard Law School Harvard Law School (HLS) is the law school A law school (also known as a law centre or college of law) is an institution specializing in legal education Legal education is the education of individuals in the principles, practices, and ...
, where he was a member of the ''
Harvard Law Review The ''Harvard Law Review'' is a law review A law review (or law journal) is a scholarly journal or publication that focuses on a wide array of legal issues. A law review is a type of legal periodical. Typically, the law students initiate the p ...
''. Riesman clerked for Supreme Court Justice
Louis Brandeis Louis Dembitz Brandeis (; November 13, 1856 – October 5, 1941) was an American lawyer and associate justice Associate justice or associate judge is the title for a member of a judicial panel who is not the chief justice The chief jus ...
between 1935 and 1936. He also taught at what is now the
University at Buffalo Law School Founded in 1887, the University at Buffalo School of Law (also known as UB Law, State University of New York at Buffalo Law School, or SUNY Buffalo Law School) is a graduate professional school at the University at Buffalo. It is the State Univer ...
and at the
University of Chicago The University of Chicago (UChicago) is a private Private or privates may refer to: Music * "In Private "In Private" was the third single in a row to be a charting success for United Kingdom, British singer Dusty Springfield, after an abse ...
. He worked for Sperry Gyroscope company during the war. After a fellowship at Yale to write ''The Lonely Crowd,'' he returned to Chicago. In 1958, he became a university professor at Harvard. Intellectually he was influenced most by
Erich Fromm Erich Seligmann Fromm (; ; March 23, 1900 – March 18, 1980) was a German social psychologist Social psychology is the scientific study of how the thoughts, feelings, and behavior Behavior (American English) or behaviour (Britis ...

Erich Fromm
, as well as Carl Friedrich,
Hannah Arendt Hannah Arendt (, also , ; 14 October 1906 – 4 December 1975) was a German-born American political theorist. Her many books and articles have had a lasting influence on political theory and philosophy. Arendt is widely considered one of ...
, Leo Löwenthal,
Robert K. Merton Robert King Merton (born Meyer Robert Schkolnick; 4 July 1910 – 23 February 2003) was an American sociologist who is considered a founding father of modern sociology Sociology is the study of society, human social behaviour, patterns o ...
Paul Lazarsfeld Paul Felix Lazarsfeld (February 13, 1901August 30, 1976) was an Austrian-American sociologist. The founder of Columbia University Columbia University (also known as Columbia, and officially as Columbia University in the City of New York) is ...
Paul Goodman Paul Goodman (1911–1972) was an American author and public intellectual An intellectual is a person who engages in critical thinking, research, and Human self-reflection, reflection to advance discussions of academic subjects. This oft ...
, Martha Wolfenstein, and Nathan Leites. He read widely in
Karl Marx Karl Heinrich Marx (; 5 May 1818 – 14 March 1883) was a German philosopher A philosopher is someone who practices philosophy Philosophy (from , ) is the study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about reason, M ...

Karl Marx
Sigmund Freud Sigmund Freud ( , ; born Sigismund Schlomo Freud; 6 May 1856 – 23 September 1939) was an Austrian neurologist Neurology (from el, νεῦρον (neûron), "string, nerve" and the suffix -logia, "study of") is a branch of medicine M ...

Sigmund Freud

''The Lonely Crowd''

Horowitz says '' The Lonely Crowd: A Study of the Changing American Character'', in 1950
quickly became the nation’s most influential and widely read mid-century work of social and cultural criticism. It catapulted its author to the cover of ''Time'' magazine in 1954, making Riesman the first social scientist so honored.... Riesman offered a nuanced and complicated portrait of the nation’s middle and upper-middle classes.... Riesman pictured a nation in the midst of a shift from a society based on production to one fundamentally shaped by the market orientation of a consumer culture. He explored how people used consumer goods to communicate with one another.
The book is largely a study of modern conformity, which postulates the existence of the "inner-directed" and "other-directed" personalities. Riesman argued that the character of post-
World War II World War II or the Second World War, often abbreviated as WWII or WW2, was a global war A world war is "a war War is an intense armed conflict between states State may refer to: Arts, entertainment, and media Literatur ...
American society impels individuals to "other-directedness," the preeminent example being modern
suburbia The Swedish suburbs of Husby/Kista/Akalla are built according to the typical city planning of the Million Programme. A suburb (or suburban area or suburbia) is a Mixed-use development, mixed-use or residential area, existing either as part of ...

, where individuals seek their neighbors' approval and fear being outcast from their community. That lifestyle has a coercive effect, which compels people to abandon "inner-direction" of their lives, and it induces them to take on the goals, ideology, likes, and dislikes of their community. This creates a tightly grouped crowd of people that is yet incapable of fulfilling each other's desires. The book is considered a landmark study of American character. Riesman was a major public intellectual as well as a sociologist and represented an early example of what sociologists now call "
public sociology Public sociology is a subfield of the wider sociological discipline that emphasizes expanding the disciplinary boundaries of sociology in order to engage with non-academic audiences. It is perhaps best understood as a ''style'' of sociology rather ...
"."Neil McLaughlin, ''Critical Theory Meets America'' (2001).

American higher education

In addition to his many other publications, Riesman was also a noted commentator on American higher education, publishing, with his seminal work, ''The Academic Revolution'', which was co-written with
Christopher Jencks Christopher Sandy Jencks (born October 22, 1936, Baltimore Baltimore ( , locally: ) is the most populous city in the U.S. state of Maryland, as well as the 30th most populous city in the United States, with an estimated population of 593,490 ...
. In it, Riesman sums up his position by stating, "If this book has any single message it is that the academic profession increasingly determines the character of undergraduate education in America." Riesman highlights the effects of the "logic of the research university," which focuses upon strict disciplinary research. That both sets the goals of the research university and produces its future professors. Riesman noted that the logic isolated any patterns of resistance that might challenge the university's primary purpose as disciplinary research, dashing their chances of success.


Further reading

* Galbo, Joseph. "From the lonely crowd to the cultural contradictions of capitalism and beyond: The shifting ground of liberal narratives", ''Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences'', Winter 2004, Vol. 40 Issue 1, pp. 47–76 * Geary, Daniel. "Children of ''The Lonely Crowd'': David Riesman, the Young Radicals, and the Splitting of Liberalism in the 1960s", ''Modern Intellectual History'', November, 2013, Vol. 10, Issue 3, pp. 603–633 * Horowitz, Daniel. "David Riesman: From Law to Social Criticism". ''Buff. L. Rev.'' 58 (2010): 1005
* Kerr, Keith, Harden, B. Garrick and Marcus Aldredge. 2015. ''David Riesman's Unpublished Writings and Continuing Legacy,'' Ashgate. UK. * Lee, Raymond M. "David Riesman and the sociology of the interview." ''Sociological Quarterly'' (2008) 49#2 pp. 285–307. * McLaughlin, Neil. "Critical theory meets America: Riesman, Fromm, and the lonely crowd". ''American Sociologist'' (2001) 32#1 pp. 5–26

External links

Guide to the David Riesman Papers 1947-1982
at th
University of Chicago Special Collections
{{DEFAULTSORT:Riesman, David 1909 births 2002 deaths Anti-consumerists 20th-century American lawyers American people of German-Jewish descent Harvard Law School alumni Law clerks of the Supreme Court of the United States University at Buffalo faculty University of Chicago faculty Harvard University faculty Columbia University alumni William Penn Charter School alumni Harvard College alumni