Solon Simmons

Solon Simmons

Solon Simmons is an Associate Professor of Conflict Analysis and Resolution who specializes in American Politics. Solon is a Sociologist, with a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin and an undergraduate degree in the History of Science from the University of Chicago. He has published in several top journals in Sociology and Political Science, including Berkeley’s The Forum, Social Forces, The Sociology of Religion, the Annual Review of Public Administration, and the SSRC web forum in addition to several additional articles and chapters on politics and social attitudes, social stratification and educational inequality.

His research is focused on the role of ideas, ideologies and intellectuals in public confrontations, formal politics and violent conflict. In pursuit of these interests he has organized his thinking into three major streams. First is the project on the social and political attitudes of professors, which he has developed with his colleague Neil Gross of British Columbia. This is a nationally recognized project that has produced widespread scholarly and media attention, a set of publications dedicated to the project and a forthcoming book called Professors and Their Politics, which is currently under advanced contract at Johns Hopkins University Press to be released in the fall of 2011. One of the surveys produced to explore this area of town and gown conflict has been called the best designed survey in the field. The project was the focus of several features in Harvard magazine, made the front page of the New York Times and was noted as new and notable by the Sociological journal Contexts. Although the project is well developed, its fruits are only now starting to ripen. With the new volume, Gross and Simmons have ambitions to reinvigorate “a new political sociology of higher education,” which has atrophied after many years of quiescence. In this enterprise special attention will be paid to why universities are politicized in the way that they are and what the consequences of such politicization might be.

Second, Solon is also an innovator in conflict theory for the fast emerging field of Conflict Resolution and has explored the role of psychological microfoundations of cultural and group conflicts through the vehicle of the concept of basic human needs. Thinking of needs not as psychological placeholders, but rather as categories through which people develop commitments to deeper ideas, Simmons has attempted to bring the best thinking from the field of moral psychology in concert with that from cultural sociology. He has already published an opening statement on this theme in his chapter “Generativity-based Conflict: Maturing microfoundations for conflict theory” and his more theoretically ambitious “Burtonian Challenge” article about the nature of basic human needs in conflict is currently under review. He is also working on an article with more direct application to conflict practitioners called “What are basic human needs and how should conflict resolvers use them?”

His final area of interest builds on his interest in long-term political change in general and the specific role of shifting conceptions about class and socio-economic status in politics. Building on the findings from his dissertation work, Solon is currently drafting a book called Bureaucrats, Bigwigs, or Bigots: Meet the Press and the three faces of the liberal tradition in the American Century. In this multi-year project, Solon has developed a data-base of all of the episodes of the public affairs program Meet the Press and is tracing the development of ideological and discursive change from the programs early days as a radio program to its current and widely recognized form. Focusing attention more on how many are arguing about what as opposed to who is struggling against whom, Solon shows how the struggle for American identity has produced a new ideological sorting of left and right into anti-supremacist and anti-statist theoretical traditions, while leaving a gap in the formerly leftist territory of anti-capitalist and anti-elitist politics of mid-century. The implications for political conflict in the United States and around the world is profound and in this book I argue that one can follow the development of these ideas in the symbolic and theatrical struggles to provide content in what Jeffrey Alexander calls the Civil Sphere. Not limiting his interests to conversations internal to the academy, Solon is an active public intellectual with an international profile. He has has made scores of appearances on radio, television and print media on issues of politics and group conflict, from his native United States, to Canada, Sweden to the Middle East to China and Portugal. His work has been cited and quoted on most of the major national news outlets, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, Good Morning America, National Public Radio and Meet the Press itself.