085: Jeffrey Sklansky, 41


Edited by Bonnie K. Goodman

85: Jeffrey Sklansky, 2-18-08

Basic Facts

Teaching Position: Associate Professor, Department of History, Oregon State University, 2003-
Area of Research: American intellectual and cultural history, particularly the history of political and economic thought.
Education: Ph.D., History, Columbia University, 1996
Major Publications: Sklansky is the author of The Soul’s Economy: Market Society and Selfhood in American Thought, 1820-1920, (University of North Carolina Press, 2002), winner of the 2004 Cheiron Book Prize, Cheiron, the Jeffrey Sklansky JPGInternational Society for the History of Behavioral and Social Sciences.
Sklansky is also the author of numerous scholarly journal articles, book chapters and reviews including among others: “Corporate Property and Social Psychology: Thomas M. Cooley, Charles H. Cooley, and the Ideological Origins of the Social Self,” Radical History Review 76 (Winter 2000): 90-114
“Pauperism and Poverty: Henry George, William Graham Sumner, and the Ideological Origins of Modern American Social Science,” Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences 35:2 (Spring 1999): 111-138; “Rock, Reservation and Prison: The Native American Occupation of Alcatraz Island,” American Indian Culture and Research Journal 13:2 (1989): 29-68; “Das Gilded Age als Reifeprüfung: G. Stanley Halls Psychologie der Industrialisierung” (“The Gilded Coming-of-Age: G. Stanley Hall’s Psychology of Industrialization”) in Philipp Löser and Christoph Strupp, eds., Universität der Gelehrten-Universität der Experten: Adaptionen Deutscher Wissenschaft in den USA des Neunzehnten Jahrhunderts (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag, 2005; Transatlantische Historische Studien, Bd. 24): 89-103.
Sklansky is currently working on The Money Question: Currency in American Political Thought, 1700-1900. Book project on the rise and fall of the 200-year struggle over what should serve as money, who should control its creation and circulation, and according to what rules.
Awards: Sklansky is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships including among others:
American Council of Learned Societies Frederick Burkhardt Residential Fellowship for Recently Tenured Scholars, American Antiquarian Society, 2006-2007;
Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History Fellowship, Harvard University, 2005- 2006;
Cheiron Book Prize, for The Soul’s Economy, awarded by Cheiron, the International Society for the History of Behavioral and Social Sciences, 2004 (for an outstanding monograph in the history of the social/behavioral/human sciences published between Jan. 1, 2000, and Dec. 31, 2003);
National Endowment for the Humanities-Newberry Library Fellowship, Chicago, 2003-2004;
Researcher of the Year, College of Liberal Arts, Oregon State University, 2003;
Research Office Released Time Grant, Oregon State University, 2002;
L. L. Stewart Faculty Development Award, Oregon State University, 2000;
Research Office Released Time Grant, Oregon State University, 1999;
Humanities Resident Research Fellowship, Center for the Humanities, Oregon State University, 1998-1999;
Frederic Bancroft Dissertation Award, Columbia University, 1998 (for an outstanding dissertation in American history);
Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship, Society of Fellows in the Humanities, Columbia University, 1996-1998 (Declined);
Postdoctoral Fellowship in the History of Science, Northwestern University, 1996-1997;
Nominated for the Allan Nevins Dissertation Prize of the Society of American Historians, Columbia University, 1996;
Mrs. Giles Whiting Foundation Fellowship in the Humanities, Columbia University, 1995-1996;
Richard Hofstadter Fellowship in History, Columbia University, 1989-1994;
Highest Distinction in General Scholarship, University of California at Berkeley, 1988;
Phi Beta Kappa, University of California at Berkeley, 1987.
Additional Info:
Sklansky is the Series Editor for the book series “New Studies in American Intellectual and Cultural History,” Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007-.
Sklansky was also a Postdoctoral Fellow, Science in Human Culture Program, Northwestern University, 1996-1997, and an Instructor in the Department of History at Columbia University during 1993-1994.

Personal Anecdote

At the heart of my first book is the relationship between the personal and the political, or between the intimate ways in which we come to think, feel, and relate to one another and the societal structure of power and property, rights and resources. Looking back, I think that underlying question, derived from the New Left, brought me to the historical profession in the first place.

When I was in middle school, my mother went into private practice as a psychotherapist. We had a growing library of professional and popular psychology at home, and we talked a lot about our feelings, which was a blessing even if I didn’t always appreciate it. Around the same time, I got interested in politics; I became an avid reader of The Progressive magazine, wrote a politically oriented column for the school paper, and volunteered for Barry Commoner’s presidential campaign. Proposition 13, Three Mile Island, SALT II, Camp David, the Iranian revolution- the political tumult of the late ’70s made a deep and lasting impression on me.

In high school, I joined the debate team and advocated things like school busing, marijuana legalization, and an end to U.S. aid for the occupation of East Timor. My political interests supplied an antidote to alienation, as did part-time reporting for the local weekly and daily newspapers. Much of the appeal was that the politics and journalism were about something bigger and more compelling than my own adolescent angst. They allowed me to define what I was about in terms of something other than personal anxieties, aptitudes, and ambitions, something irreducible to my need or desire for it, as high-flown as that may sound.

Journalism and politics came together for me more powerfully at U.C. Berkeley, where I covered rent control issues, urban development, and the burgeoning anti-apartheid/divestment movement on campus for the Daily Cal. I straddled the line between participant and observer, drawn to political action but rarely joining in fully. Maybe more comfortable in the classroom, I was enthralled by the heady mixture of political engagement and intellectual depth and breadth I encountered in my history teachers and texts. For $1,200 a year in tuition, I gained an incalculable state-funded inheritance-much as my father, from a very poor family, had received a first-rate public education at CCNY, a life-changing legacy of the New Deal order.

My love of history and politics drew me to graduate school shortly after college, hardly realizing how fragile and contingent was the political promise of higher education itself. Having worked some more as a newspaper reporter, I was struck by the widening divide between the academic culture of the liberal arts and the neoconservative discourse of the drug war, homelessness, and the dismantling of the welfare state in the early ’90s. On the one hand, I struggled to make sense of my own experience in the impersonal language of class and capitalism I learned from social history-“Do you feel oppressed?” one skeptical professor asked me. On the other hand, I was troubled by the psychological rhetoric of addiction and dependency that framed public discussion of social issues-“Who can better help our city recover than someone who has gone through recovery?” as Marion Barry said while running for mayor of Washington, D.C. Such concerns framed my dissertation on what I came to see as the ascendance of modern “social psychology” over classical “political economy,” which became my first book.


By Jeffrey Sklansky

  • Since the Revolutionary War, democratic thinkers had commonly identified republican rule with a broad distribution of the means of subsistence. . . . But as the corporation finally replaced the household as the The Soul's Economy: Market Society and Selfhood in American Thought, 1820-1920 JPG main owner of productive resources, a rising generation of Progressive social scientists declared the once revolutionary ideals of self-ownership and self-rule retrograde if not obsolete. Born of the new research university, the modern disciplines of psychology, sociology, anthropology, political science, and economics together reconceived market society as a fast-moving mainstream of culturally created desires, habits, and mores . . . [R]eformist academics happily hailed the death of “economic man” and the birth of a new “social self” in his place. Their vision of an increasingly “interdependent” society, in which each shared in the rising prosperity of all while the means of production remained under corporate control, provided the point of departure for later generations of progressive thinkers from the New Deal to the Great Society. — Jeffrey Sklansky in “The Soul’s Economy: Market Society and Selfhood in American Thought, 1820-1920”

About Jeffrey Sklansky

  • “The Soul’s Economy is an important contribution to both American intellectual history and our understanding of the ideological roots of the modern social sciences. Deeply researched, imaginatively structured, and superbly argued, Sklansky’s book is noteworthy for the timeliness of its subject matter but even more so for the sensitive and innovative way it intertwines the history of the social/behavioral/human sciences with cultural, political, and labor history.” — From the 2004 Cheiron Book Prize Citation from Cheiron, The International Society for the History of Behavioral and Social Sciences
  • “In this spirited and ambitious book, Jeffrey Sklansky argues that the American thinkers who traded class analysis for social psychology made possible a cultural accommodation with capitalism that resulted in grinding poverty for the many and unprecedented wealth for a few. Even readers put off by Sklansky’s forthright embrace of class analysis will be rewarded by his subtle arguments, fine prose, and meticulous scholarship.” — James T. Kloppenberg, Journal of American History reviewing “The Soul’s Economy: Market Society and Selfhood in American Thought, 1820-1920”
  • “[T]his is a path-breaking contribution to the new history of social science.” — Mary O. Furner, Florida Historical Quarterly reviewing “The Soul’s Economy: Market Society and Selfhood in American Thought, 1820-1920”
  • “Jeffrey Sklansky has produced a learned and carefully crafted work that . . . carries a sting in its elegant tail.”– Dennis Smith, American Journal of Sociology reviewing “The Soul’s Economy: Market Society and Selfhood in American Thought, 1820-1920”
  • “We tend to associate the soul with higher-order matters of the spirit, the economy with baser needs and strategies. In an age of Enron and tax cuts for the wealthy, one might well wonder how the two could possibly mix company in the same monograph. Jeffrey Sklansky’s marvelous accomplishment in this fine book is not only to make clear the links between souls and economies-or at least ideals of personhood and the material structures within which they are expressed-but also to historicize the very division of these two realms in American social thought.” — Sarah E. Igo, Reviews in American History reviewing “The Soul’s Economy: Market Society and Selfhood in American Thought, 1820-1920”
  • “Jeffrey Sklansky has written an ambitious, tightly argued, sometimes dense, but finally rich and rewarding book about how social scientists and other intellectuals rethought the nature of selfhood and the self’s relation to society during the hundred-year rise and consolidation of industrial capitalism.” — Mark Pittenger, Business History Review reviewing “The Soul’s Economy: Market Society and Selfhood in American Thought, 1820-1920”
  • “Jeffrey Sklansky’s The Soul’s Economy persuasively documents a shift in American social science from political economy’s sovereign individual, his will grounded in reason and labor, to social psychology’s socialized self, a product of instinct, habit, and desire. Along the way, Sklansky gives us illuminating rereadings of many major figures in a century of social thought. This is an original and important book, with implications for both the history of American social science and the welfare-state liberalism it helped to sustain.” — Dorothy Ross, Johns Hopkins University reviewing “The Soul’s Economy: Market Society and Selfhood in American Thought, 1820-1920”
  • “Did twentieth-century notions of ‘social selfhood’ represent an unambiguous improvement upon the ‘outdated ideals’ of the nineteenth century? In this exemplary study, Sklansky provides us a fresh perspective on this familiar theme. His book is a valuable act of historical recovery which will also greatly enrich our present- day debates about self and society.” — Wilfred M. McClay, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga reviewing “The Soul’s Economy: Market Society and Selfhood in American Thought, 1820-1920”

Posted on Sunday, February 17, 2008 at 10:39 PM

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