Elizabeth Hartung

Interview completed: 04/17/2015

So, maybe to start off biographically: how did you first hear about anarchism and what was that experience like? How did that encounter go for you? What did you think of it initially?

I believe that I first came across and read about anarchism, when I was looking at feminist theory, anarcho-feminism. And from there, there was a great, great bookstore where I was getting my doctorate, and you could just go in and browse the stacks. And one of the books that I picked up, almost by happenstance was Peter Kropotkin’s Conquest of Bread. I read the book, loved it. And I think it was through that early entrance in social justice, social justice theory, was my first exposure to anarchist theory.

Kropotkin’s is an example of someone who is pretty sociological, but he doesn’t use the term at all! Given your background in sociology, what kind of things do you think are the most compatible? Where do you see overlaps between those two philosophies, those two traditions?

I think in terms of looking at the research in stratification. In studying inequality, I’ve always been very interested how people in small groups and communities are able to get along. As someone who is repelled by hierarchy, earlier in my life, I did some work with a feminist collective. I think that was the draw, in large part. As I moved on in my career, in stratification, taught feminist theory; that for me was the nexus. It’s the next-step, beyond other more conventional forms of explaining inequality. I’m afraid I’m not being very conversant here at all. Like I said, it’s been a long, long time…

To think about the question of inequality, sociologists have a very particular approach to inequality and anarchists have one as well. In what ways do you think, even though they may focus on inequality and stratification, are there different tacts that they take, approaches, or what kinds of ways are they similar in their orientations toward inequality and stratification?

Well, I think there’s a boundless optimism to anarchism and primitive communism that people… that the nature of human beings and the base of what we are is good and cooperative. That premise…I deeply, deeply, still, even in this advanced moment in my life, I still deeply want to believe that, that when given a choice, people will make the choice that will benefit the group. Experience teaches me otherwise [laughs].

So, in the stratification class that I taught for a number of years, we looked at some of the intentional communities of the Hutterites. I think it’s a dynamite example of communism! I think it’s harder to find examples of anarchism in action.

Maybe this is an impossible question in some ways, but do you think that anarchism has contributed anything to sociology? In a historical sense or ideological sense… is there any sort of influence that you’ve seen?

Oh, absolutely! When you go to the roots of American sociology, Nineteenth Century, early Twentieth Century, figures in American anarchism like Emma Goldman, the whole settlement house movement with Jane Addams, there are a number of people who we would now call public sociologists or social justice practitioners who could have also been called anarchists. So, I think certainly, from that practitioner point of view.

That’s interesting. Usually when we think of sociologists and anarchists, we usually think about men. We often don’t remember that there’s active participation of women in those movements. Those really strong women—Jane Addams was a central force in Chicago, with all this amazing stuff that she was involved in, as a sociologist, but also as an activist to the point that social workers try prying her away from us all the time into their canon as opposed to ours.

If those are some of the things that anarchists have contributed to sociology, what things (maybe in a more future or prognosticating sense) could anarchists be contributing to sociology, but sociologists haven’t yet picked up on, or haven’t appreciated that anarchists have developed or done?

I haven’t even read my article in probably 25 years! I think things move in cycles in disciplines. And one of the hardest things that the sociologist who studies anarchism has to overcome is this simplistic idea that anarchism means no rule at all, no organization. Again, I keep coming back to public sociology, and a tradition of activism. There are many, many ways to activism, and there are many, many ways to be an activist. And anarchism is one of those paths, one of those ways. Going forward with the dire and critical issues that we face. Also, I’ve given a lot of thought lately to the future of sociology. What is sociology going to be ten, fifteen, twenty, or twenty-five years from now? The whole canon of knowledge and what we consider to be sociological is being up-ended. And it’s a fascinating time.

I used to… and I often spoke about the shift to the Industrial Age and how difficult that must have been. But, we’re living in such a shift and it is difficult. It’s difficult to realize that the knowledge that you’ve spent a lifetime accumulating can now be curated and be passed around the web at will. It’s just a very different world that we’re in now. It’s a world in which higher education is floundering. So, I’m not really addressing your question…

No, no, … thank you!

I’m sort of riffing on these larger questions that all of us are grappling with and theory helps us to grapple with those big questions, those big issues. And effective ways to address them pragmatically.

Well, maybe to connect to the idea of theory and upending the canon… We sorta have this very stable canon, at least in recent years, at least post-WWII, there’s these old classic figures of old, dead white guys. And we keep going back to them. So, I want to ask, in a minute, where to go beyond that. But, for the moment, focusing on that older sociological canon, you mentioned Addams. What other Classical age sociologists do you think had anarchistic characteristics or anarchistic influence? Or can you see anarchistic ideas within?

When I read Marx’s Communist Manifesto, and I see him as a young firebrand. And you can almost read that Manifesto as a street preacher. “And the bourgeoisie… and the bourgeoisie!” I love that. Certainly echoes in Marx, but as I go back and re-read classics in the canon, I come away, always, with a different take on Weber and Durkheim. And I wouldn’t call myself a theoretician, just the big questions. So, maybe possible influence in Weber… I’m not sure.

What kind of influences do you think… He apparently knew all sorts of anarchists. We would vacation with some of them.

Oh, I did not know that! [laughs]

He sort of had these Bohemian circles he traveled in and he know a bunch of them because it was during that time in Germany when there was the Bavarian Commune after World War I. He defended one of them… He was like “He has confused ideas, but he’s a nice person. You shouldn’t prosecute him…” His ideas are pretty broad. Anything in particular that resonates with you about Weber’s idea that you think have commonalities with anarchist ideas?

Nothing comes to mind at the moment. The last time I really did a close reading of Weber, I assigned The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism to my class. And his musings on the nature of work and time, and the management of time. They really resonated with me when I read it again.


But, one of the reasons I hesitated when you asked me if I would do an interview with you, “he’s gonna think I’m a total idiot”, because… this is thirty years on… So you can just toss me out! [Laughs]

[Laughs] No! What I’m going to be doing is, is sending people our interviews, and ask “Is this what we’re intending to do?” And you can say “Oh, I don’t really want to…” [Both laugh] We can snip it. You have editorial control! We should operate in an egalitarian fashion!

You mentioned earlier reading Kropotkin and Goldman, people like that. You can talk about them, if you want, but I was wondering if they or other people, if those certain anarchists (or others) had what we’d call a sociological imagination? It seems a lot of times what people in movements are doing is, they’re articulating a broader social question that they are putting in the context of people’s lives, kind of like what Mills was saying: “Don’t just understand your own life in terms of your own troubles, but you’re part of this world”.

Yeah, make the connection…

What kind of anarchists had this sociological imagination?

Well, certainly Kropotkin. It’s curious how many individuals come from privilege, you know, he was a prince. But, I think The Conquest of Bread stands today. It’s very elegantly written. And it’s been years since I’ve looked at it, but the sense of justice, the need to attack the evils of inequity and poverty, are just so strong. It’s interesting, that I still have from that era in my life, some texts from Bookchin and Bakunin, but they didn’t speak to me in the way that Kropotkin did. I think in my heart-of-hearts I should have been a nineteenth century Russian. [Laughs]

Maybe switching gears a bit from the old folks to the current period. We talked about Marx before. We’re both in the academy. There’s been all these examples of movements that made in-roads into the academy. Or their ideas. And one of them is Marxism. And another is feminism, which you also mentioned. Now there’s also these additional influences of queer theory. So there’s these movements that are non-sociological in their origin, but somehow they matriculate in. They find a way into sociology. So, this might be a total hypothetical question, but what facilitated their adoption by sociology, but also conversely inhibited anarchism? Marx and anarchism exist at the same time, they overlap in their chronology…

Well, anarchism got this really terrible, terrible press. There was hope about what communism might proffer for decades. There was a strong, strong Communist Party in the United States in the 1930s and beyond. Anarchism, because of some highly publicized assassinations by people who claimed to be anarchists, I think that has made it harder to rehabilitate how we see anarchism. And the whole notion, that to be anarchic is to be unruly, untamed, and frightening, might be a reason why it’s never had the kind of academic legitimacy. And it’s really been on the fringes of social thought. Whereas the other movements you talked about and being embraced by the academy. It’s not been an immediate embrace, it’s been a slow embrace. Academic feminism had to muscle its way in, over 25 years, and face all the usual epithets that get thrown at areas of inquiry that have an applied or social movement emphasis.

And I must admit, I go back and forth myself, on the nature of academic work and where it should reside and what it is. Those inner-dialogues are dialogues that I still have. I was just talking with Nik about your program here and the practical, pragmatic emphasis on things that students can do with this degree. That’s really important. So is a finely-honed, philosophically-based liberal arts education. And we make it always an either/or, because we think in terms of bifurcations. So, feminism has been damned by its association with being a social movement and yet the nature of the work in feminism, highly theoretical and philosophical and it really gets to the nature of larger questions about inequities and identity. And also the demographics shifted. I think when new groups of people move into the academy, they move in with their ideas and their ways of framing the world, per your lecture this morning, about perceptions. We bring those with us. And I think that’s enriched the academy in so many ways.

It’d be hard to imagine having a sociology of gender class or sociology of the family without talking about feminism. It seems inconceivable to teach about stratification or any of those other things without talking about Marx…

Right! Certainly now I hear a lot of my younger colleagues talking about critical race theory and borderland study. And that’s a whole new, fascinating area looking at people’s movements across borders and nation-states and what is home? What belongs to whom?

So, yeah, I don’t know. It would be interesting to see if anarchism is something that will ever be rehabilitated and embraced by academicians. I tend to think it’s an upward battle.

Yeah, totally. Speaking of the academy: what ways could those things (like academic sociology), be more anarchistic? Which things do you think need anarchizing (if that’s a word)?

Gosh, what things need anarchizing? Well, I think this massive state system that we work in, at the level of academic departments, I think it’s remarkably cooperative, given that this is a hierarchy. I’ve just been having fits with a colleague in our discipline who insists that Professors are privileged over Assistant Professors and Associate Professors, and is pulling the “rank card”. And I’m having fits with it because it’s really one of the first times in my entire academic career that I’ve heard someone do that. And your value based on who you are, not where you are in the promotion process–that’s really immaterial, that’s longevity. That’s aging in place! And so I think that in terms of my own personal observations of what I’ve seen in this massive system, there’s desire to see people succeed. There’s a desire to engender cooperation over cutthroat competitiveness. That’s one way to address your question…

Sounds like you’re pointing out that there are already anarchist qualities in the organization of the academy or maybe our jobs…

Could be. Or the organization of our work. We are less and less… It’s sort of ironic. We’ve got collective bargaining and that’s a great thing. Because it brings us wonderful benefits, ensures fairness, etc. etc. It also codifies the uncodifiable, which is the nature of academic work. I say to you, as a person in faculty affairs, that “your work load is 15 WTUs…”, which sounds like you’re stamping-out widgets somewhere. It’s a curious thing.

It sounds kind of Habermasian, with the colonization of the life world… the system is this thing that’s dominating… I have one or two other questions, if you don’t mind.

Sure, go ahead.

I’ve gotten all sorts of responses to this one: have you ever encountered any anarchists in your classrooms. And what have their reactions to sociology been?

I have not encountered any avowed anarchists. But, I’ve encountered lots of students wearing the anarchist symbol on a t-shirt! Yeah. But, no one who has self-identified…

No, not all, but consider where I’ve taught. Eighteen years in the Central Valley. Of course, now I’m in southern California, but I’m in rural southern California, which makes a difference. I think there’s been a renewed visibility of anarchism in popular culture. But I don’t know how thoughtful people have been about it. So, no I haven’t. But I’ve encountered students who I think in their heart-of-hearts are truly anarchists. Their way of being in the world and their bravery.

To continue with that, did they take sociology to heart? Do you think they like it? Are there parts that resonate with them?

I think that there is truly a connection between anarchism and the study of society, the study of people in groups—that resonates very much with anarchism.

I wonder if people who were wearing the circle-A thing, that’s kind of a part of punk culture these days, and there’s those anarchistic elements in punk, but it could just be these symbolic things without any anchoring or rooting in, anything. To put that shirt on you didn’t have to read Emma Goldman, just put it on.


So, one last big picture question. So, we’re sitting here in the academy. We’re both sociologists, we both have degrees. So, clearly it’s possible, but what are the consequences for anarchists who may be working in the academy? Is it possible for anarchists to work as professional sociologists?

It depends on where the anarchists are publishing! [Laughs] Doesn’t it? The academy has had a very wide-reach. For those of us in sociology, there’s such a breadth in what we consider to be sociological. Which is what drew me to the discipline in the first place. Because you can pick anything and find the sociological aspects of it. Depending on whether the person was actively practicing a kind of anarchism that might bring embarrassment to the institution, but I think the reach of the academy… It’s one of the few places left that emboldens people. I fear sometimes that we’re losing that.

The things you’re talking about with collective bargaining, or the corporatization of education, the loss of tenure, things that are part of that kind of craft-control and self-management, and cooperativeness. Or, your colleague saying, “I’m a full professor…”

Yeah, “I’m a full professors, so give me my choices of my classes first”. And I was appalled. And I’ve heard other people say, “well, as the ranking professor, c’mon!” Anyway… you now have a class to go to!

Yes, thank you!