Kenneth Tucker

Monday, March 5, 2012 - 09:52

Kenneth H. Tucker
Meribeth E. Cameron Faculty Award for Scholarship

A student in Ken Tucker’s hugely popular Sociology 223 course, Development of Social Thought, nicely explains Ken’s remarkable achievement as teacher and conveyor of high-level concepts in his field: “Great teacher, explains theories very well, puts relevant examples in the course to keep class entertained and aware.”

Of course, such a distillation, however wonderfully succinct, hardly does justice to the impressive range and scope of Ken’s career. Ken is perhaps the leading transmitter and interpreter of social theory of his generation, a cohort of cultural-historical sociologists who came of age in the wake of the heady social movements of the 1960s, and who subsequently became fascinated by the rich discursive scenes around “theory,” its “genealogies,” and its limits. In his 22 years at Mount Holyoke (Ken arrived on campus in 1990, after studying from the mid-70s through the mid-80s at UC Berkeley), Ken Tucker has achieved a stunning record of scholarship, impressive in its range, notable for its clarity of expression, above all important in its historicizing powers. Ken’s ability to explain the sociological present in all its myriad complexity through a comprehensive and lucid understanding of previous social movements and theorists is quite amazing.

Ken nicely summarizes his own “method” as a sociologist of what he terms “reflexive modernity” this way: “It emphasizes the experiential and the situated, always changing temporal character of social life.” Beginning with French Revolutionary Syndicalism and the Public Sphere (1996) to Anthony Giddens and Modern Social Theory (1998), Classical Social Theory: A Contemporary Approach (2002) (which has emerged as the key text for both advanced college students and graduate students in the field) to, most recently, Workers of the World, Enjoy! Aesthetic Politics from Revolutionary Syndicalism to the Global Justice Movement (2010), Ken Tucker has—by consensus among his peers in the academy—become our foremost historian of social theory as well as a master teacher-interpreter of his subject. “I think that he should teach teachers how to teach,” observes a shrewd student in Sociology 333 (Contemporary Social Theory). She’s already sussed out Ken’s primary, indeed indispensible intellectual role. As a reviewer notes of his Giddens book, “Tucker’s mastery and deft handling of the key theorists as well as his exceptionally clear writing and thinking style impart liveliness, a sense of immediacy, and relevance usually lacking in theory texts.”

Perhaps the key word is “relevance.” In his most recent work on aesthetic politics and revolutionary movements, Ken Tucker seeks to situate the present in light of the hopes, dreams, and yes, the disillusionments of the past, exploring, via a rich interdisciplinary methodology, the historical conditions of previous social movements and their continuing impact on the present.

Over the past generation our own students, and students around the country, have listened attentively to Ken Tucker’s teaching on the meanings of social life and absorbed his theoretically inflected modes of analysis. “This course really opened my mind to the society and its structure,” reflects a first-year student in Sociology 123, Ken’s Introduction to Sociology. “It explained some of the questions I had about the way we live. I am really happy I got into this class.” Mount Holyoke, too, is really happy to have Ken Tucker among us. For his stunning achievement as a scholar of cultural and social theory and his ability to open our students’ minds, we award him the 2012 Meribeth E. Cameron Prize for Scholarship.

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