International Journal of Communication Publishes a Forum on Lazarsfeld’s Legacy
Decades after his death, what is the intellectual legacy of Paul F. Lazarsfeld, the Austrian-born U.S. sociologist, for communication research and other fields?
Guest-edited by Jefferson Pooley and Hynek Jerabek, the Lazarsfeld’s Legacy Forum marks Lazarsfeld’s (1901–1976) enduring significance with eight articles that, taken together, illustrate the Columbia sociologist’s polymathic breadth. It is telling that none of the articles is centered on Lazarsfeld’s contributions to communication research. The partial exception is Elihu Katz’s tribute (“His Master’s Voice”) to his former teacher, delivered to a crowded Prague hall at the 2018 International Communication Association meeting and reprinted here. Katz’s essay holds special significance, for he passed away on New Year’s Eve, 2021, just as the Forum was set to publish. The collection is dedicated to Katz and his remarkable career—an honor to Lazarsfeld in every meaningful sense.
In the Forum’s other contributions, we encounter a handful of alternative Lazarsfelds: the innovative methodologist, research-bureau impresario, sociologist of academic life, political analyst, and lifelong sociologist. Even this catalog fails to capture Lazarsfeld’s full intellectual spread. Yet the Forum articles make the attempt and continue what is now a decades-long recovery project—an effort, by Katz and others, to challenge still-resonant caricatures of the Austrian émigré.
The Forum contributions serve to unflatten Lazarsfeld—to restore some of the roving creating that marked his career. A pair of articles treat Lazarsfeld’s Austrian period, including his encounters with the hothouse intellectual culture of the Viennese Kreise (Circles) and the Social Democratic Party’s commitment to empirical inquiry. Other Forum articles trace Lazarsfeld’s methodological innovations, his enduring struggle to combine quantitative and qualitative methods, his research on academic freedom, and his friendship with German scholar Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann. Another contribution tracks the gendered division of labor at Lazarsfeld’s Columbia research operation, in which women were disproportionately relegated to work on commercial studies. The Katz paper makes the case that Lazarsfeld is a neglected forerunner of social network analysis, while former student Anthony Oberschall applies Lazarsfeld’s mid-century election analysis to Trump–era U.S. politics.
Together, the Forum contributions make a compelling case that Lazarsfeld’s cross-continental legacy endures. Indeed, the articles stand as a collective invitation to pick up a thread or two—to retrofit Lazarsfeld for the 2020s.
We invite you to read these articles that published in the International Journal of Communication on January 8, 2022. Please log into ijoc.org to read the papers of interest. We look forward to your feedback!
Jefferson Pooley and Hynek Jerabek
His Master’s Voice
Paul Lazarsfeld: Living in Circles and Talking Around Tables
David E. Morrison
Beyond Marienthal: The Relationship Between Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann and Paul F. Lazarsfeld
Ralph E. Schmidt and Thomas Petersen
Paul Lazarsfeld’s Understanding of the 1948 Electoral World and 2020
Larry Gross, Editor
Arlene Luck, Founding Managing Editor
Kady Bell-Garcia, Managing Editor
Kasia Anderson, Managing Editor, Special Sections
Jefferson Pooley and Hynek Jerabek, Guest Editors
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