Lewis A. Coser

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Lewis Alfred Coser (27 November 1913–8 July 2003) was a politically active sociologist who grappled with the social role of intellectuals in influential books, articles and speeches. Dr. Coser wrote or edited two dozen books; his doctoral dissertation became the book ''The Functions of Social Conflict,'' a mainstay of post-World War II sociology.

Born in Berlin as Ludwig Cohen, Coser was the first sociologist to try to bring together structural functionalism and conflict theory; his work was focused on finding the functions of social conflict. Coser argued - with Georg Simmel - that conflict might serve to solidify a loosely structured group. In a society that seems to be disintegrating, conflict with another society, inter-group conflict, may restore the integrative core.

Conflicts also serve a communication function. Prior to conflict, groups may be unsure of their adversary’s position, but as a result of conflict, positions and boundaries between groups often become clarified, leaving individuals better able to decide on a proper course of action in relation to their adversary.

He sought to separate his leftist inclinations from his academic sociology. In 1954, with Irving Howe, he created the radical journal Dissent as he was editing a book of sociological theory.

He taught at the General College of the University of Chicago and the University of California. He founded the sociology department at Brandeis University and taught there for 15 years before joining the sociology department of the State University of New York at Stony Brook.

His interest in how intellectuals interact with real-world economic and power concerns was apparent in his 1966 book, ''Men of Ideas: A Sociologist's View,'' which amounted to a historical analysis of what has come to be called a public intellectual. Lewis S. Feuer in The New York Times Book Review called the book ''engaging, provocative.''

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