T.B. [Thomas] Bottomore

Thomas Bottomore
by Jennifer Platt, University of Sussex, England

Born: 1920 Died: 1992
Nationality:  British

Education
B.Sc.(Soc.), London School of Economics, University of London, 1943
M.Sc. Econ. [1], London School of Economics,  1950.  (Thesis title, ‘Recent theories of social progress’; supervisor, Morris Ginsberg.)

Posts held
1943-47, military service (Staff Captain, General Headquarters, India, 1945-1946; 1946-47, based in Vienna to work on such topics as Austrian economic statistics)
[dates?]  Research assistant, LSE Social Mobility project (resulting in Glass 1954).
1951-52, Rockefeller Fellowship at the University of Paris, conducting research on the French higher civil service.[2]
Assistant Lecturer (1952), Lecturer (1955), Reader (1959), London School of Economics
Professor, Simon Fraser University, Canada 1965-68
Professor, University of Sussex, England, 1968-85.

ISA participation, main roles:
1953-59  Executive Secretary, and Editor, Current Sociology, 1957-62.
1970-74  Vice-President,
1974-78  President.

Participation in other associations          
British Sociological Association  (President, 1969-71).
International Society for Socialist Studies[3]

ISA and intellectual career
Bottomore always had strong political interests, though his political activity was mainly on the intellectual front.  As a young man he was briefly a member of the Communist Party, and for the rest of his life was politically committed to socialism.  He identified himself as a Marxist, though a critical one who rejected some sectarian positions; he evaluated some parts of Marx’s work much more highly than others, and was particularly attracted to the approach of the Austro-Marxists.  His time in Paris, participating in French discussions, was important in deepening his knowledge, and led to his co-editorship of a selection of Marx’s writings (Bottomore and Rubel 1956) which drew attention to some lesser-known aspects of Marx’s thought and aroused considerable interest.[4] 

Zygmunt Bauman said in his contribution to the festschrift for Bottomore:

‘What Coser, Mills and Bottomore saw clearly was that, given the direction the academic adaptation of social science had taken, the resuscitation of sociological tradition and the return to the orientations and the concerns of the classics were progressive steps and revolutionary tasks... Tom Bottomore’s personal role in this seminal revival of sociological tradition cannot be exaggerated... The Marxism of Tom Bottomore is relentlessly and uncompromisingly orthodox.  In it, Karl Marx remains the foremost and the ultimate authority... being Marxist is not for Bottomore a matter of the party badge, group affiliation or salon-operated fashion...’  (Outhwaite and Mulkay 1987: 2-3.)

This evaluation draws attention to his important contribution in the translation of important and neglected works, and in writing and editing works which diffused knowledge more widely.  Among his influential early works were, in addition to his textbook, two books of a high intellectual standard though written for a student audience: Classes in Modern Society (1955) and Elites and Society (1964).  His 1969 book on radical thought in North America, much in tune with the temper of the time, was the fruit of his years in Canada.

As a graduate student at LSE, Bottomore was working with Morris Ginsberg and David Glass, who were both heavily involved in the founding period of the ISA; Ginsberg was one of its two first Vice-Presidents, and Glass played a key role in the one original Research committee, while their colleague T. H. Marshall (later himself president of ISA) played several roles in UNESCO, so Bottomore must have heard a lot about it.  His research time in Paris also meant that he met French sociologists with leading roles in ISA, including Georges Friedmann (President 1956-9), Raymond Aron (Vice-President 1966-70) and AlainTouraine (Vice-President 1974-8).  As a result he offered a paper at the first World Congress[5], as well as later ones, as well as participating in the research group on stratification[6], and made numbers of foreign sociological contacts. 

When the LSE gained funds which made more office accommodation available, it was able to offer to house the second secretariat, and Bottomore agreed to take on the task of Executive Secretary; the good French and German that he had acquired through war service and research in Paris, plus his experience in India, were additional qualifications for the job.[7]  It was for a UNESCO  commission to ISA that he wrote his well-known introductory textbook Sociology (1962), designed to provide an introduction suitable for Indian students; he had visited India again for sociological purposes before that, and met many Indian sociologists.  (Some of what he learned there is shown in the paper he gave at a 1961 conference on ‘Sociology in Asia’ organised by the BSA (Bottomore 1962)). 

It was in his term that the idea of having a formal presidential address was [re]introduced – minutes treat the idea as a novelty - although a rather short time slot was allocated to it.  It is clear from committee minutes that his address was to be on the history of the ISA, in a year when it reached a significant anniversary; that topic is obviously related to his administrative work rather than to his intellectual interests. 

No text of the address has been located - and the fact that his diary (now lodged with his other papers at LSE) makes no reference to it suggests that it was not very important to him; in his interview with Jonassohn, he calls it a ‘mini-presidential address’, and it sounds more directed to ISA-specific concerns.  Luckily von Alemann (1978), in a general article on the World Congress, provides a short summary. Apparently Bottomore sketched the quantitative growth of the ISA and sociology, and saw it as becoming increasingly a discipline without frontiers, in which there are many different theoretical perspectives such as Marxism, functionalism, positivism, structuralism, which may coexist without claiming priority over each other; none of them can claim priority as dominant, and there is no one strand of development.  The rationalisation of social life could, he suggested, be addressed in many ways.

References, other sources of information, related work

  • von Alemann, Heine (1978) ‘Kongressausberichte’, Kőlner Zeitschrift fǖr Soziologie und Sozialpsychologie 30: 806-814.
  • T. B. Bottomore  (1955)  Classes in Modern Society (1955)
  • T. B. Bottomore (1962)  ‘Sociology in India’, British Journal of Sociology13: 98-106
  • Bottomore, T. B. (1962, 1971, 1987), Sociology: A Guide to Problems and Literature
  • Bottomore, T. B. (1964)  Elites and Society
  • Bottomore, T. B. (1969)  Critics of Society: Radical Thought in North America
  • Bottomore, T. B. and Maximilien Rubel (1956), Selected Writings on Sociology and Social Philosophy,
  • D. N. Dhanagare (1993) ‘Remembering Tom Bottomore’, Economic and Political Weekly, Nov. 27: 2581-3
    Glass, D. V. ed. (1954), Social Mobility in Britain.
  • Outhwaite, William and Michael Mulkay eds. (1987), Social Theory and Social Criticism: essays for Tom Bottomore.
  • Rinde, Erik and SteinRokkan eds. (1951), First International Working Conference on Social Stratification and Social Mobility, mimeo, ISA (ISA/SSM/Conf.1/8).
  • Taylor, Brian and William Outhwaite (1989), ‘Interview with Tom Bottomore’, Theory, Culture and Society 6: 385-402.

Web site
None found.  His papers are available in the London School of Economics archives.

Presidential address
Given, but no text available.  See, however, von Alemann
(1978)
.

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[1] He took an M.Sc. rather than a PhD because formally he was transferring from Economics, which meant that he would have to take a qualifying exam, and Ginsberg thought that would be a waste of time.

[2] He had originally planned to hold this grant in the US, but ran up against visa problems as a former member of the Communist Party and so changed to France.

[3] I have not found out much about this body, but it appears to have been founded in the mid-fifties – before the CPSU’s 20th - Congress denunciation of \Stalin’s crimes - as a result of an initiative by G.D.H. Cole to create a body of socialists without party or state ties; Stuart Hall, a leading figure in what shortly became the New Left, was involved, as were others in Oxford.  It seems not to have lasted very long.

[4]  For more detail about his views on Marxism, see Taylor and Outhwaite 1989.

[5]  ‘Sociology and international relations: a methodological note.’

[6]  The report on its first conference (Rinde and Rokkan 1951) lists his work on stratification in voluntary associations , which appeared in Glass 1954, among relevant forthcoming publications.

[7]  This paragraph draws on an unpublished interview by Kurt Jonassohn, kindly shared with me. Thanks to William Outhwaite for also providing some information.