“Lembranças de” Chuck Tilly

After the great sadness that overcame me with the news of the death of Chuck Tilly, I can now compose a few considerations which in a very limited way express, in addition to the other tributes, my contribution to how Charles Tilly made the world a better place to be in.

Now it is commonplace to say that Charles Tilly was one of the outstanding intellectuals of the second half of the 20th Century. Just as important is to note that “Chuck” Tilly, in his half century career, projected and defended a model of intellectual mentorship and collaboration often described as ‘generosity’ though it went beyond just an individual desire on his part to give. I believe that what many have called his generosity was in fact Chuck Tilly’s philosophy of a manner of doing social science that he understood as a collective undertaking in which collaboration could only be done in good spirited discussions and debates. Thus his and Louise Tilly’s “Think and then Drink” seminars at the New School or the earlier version on Sunday evenings at their University of Michigan home, always accompanied with wine, cheese and bread to make intellectual exchange congenial, friendly and non-competitive. In short: a brother/sisterhood of scholars. This is what was truly unique in the Chuck Tilly approach to scholarship.

In advising students and colleagues, Chuck always gave freely of his ideas and in presenting his hard reasoned argumentation, he did so in a gentile, often jovial way which is unusual considering his intellectual stature and the behavioral mores of modern academia. Chuck was a formidable challenger of positions, his and others, capable of arguing both sides so as to provoke a more profound reformulation and/or to help in consolidating a good proposition which in his view of science should be defended elsewhere in those customary forums where academics exercise their profession. Thus Chuck was not only an adviser but also a devil’s advocate because he knew that his students must leave the fold and brave the currents of academic life.

I sense that this Chuck Tilly style of doing scholarship was not always appreciated by some of his outstanding colleagues, but like a social scientist that he was, he found confirmation of the effectiveness of this “inclusive and congenial” approach of doing social science in the works of his students and collaborators.

I have lived this Chuck Tilly philosophy since he advised my doctoral dissertation at the University of Michigan. Because I moved to Brazil and made my academic life in São Paulo, my contacts with Chuck Tilly were irregular, largely restricted to e-mails and occasional trips to New York when Chuck was never to busy to have lunch or dinner as a pretext to discuss what I was doing and what he was researching. Never did I leave these meetings empty handed, carrying away copies of his papers, books and/or reprints, as well as helpful suggestions of other relevant works. In this sense, these visits to New York were always marked by the prospects of seeing Chuck and an occasion for returning, if only briefly, to his seminar. He never failed to extend his invitation to participate in the New School or Columbia seminars, providing copies of the papers under discussion and, once there, introducing me to those present, maybe as a distant intellectual friend. Of course, I shall also keep the memories of the cheerful company of fellow seminar participants at the after-seminar dinners held either at the Indian or Chinese restaurants down the street. For a foreign visitor who came to the city once a year Chuck contributed his share in making the visit more like a homecoming.

In this sense, Chuck had the capacity of converting his place of work into an intellectual home for visitors and friends, whether it was the University of Michigan Perry Building, the Center for Study of Social Change or his office at Columbia University. A home, I mean, in the sense of Robert Frost’s definition of home: “home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in”. Now with Chuck Tilly gone and Louise Tilly no longer in the City, I will always feel a certain emptiness whenever I go to City. Because going to see Chuck Tilly and attending his seminars were not mere coincidences as it might appear, but rather, as Jorge Luis Borges once said: “coincidence is not a coincidence but an appointment in destiny”. If this were the case, then truly the passing of Chuck Tilly has altered destiny.

I will not only no longer find the customary Tilly greeting when I get to his office, but I also can’t expect and look forward anymore to the latest Chuck Tilly article, book or paper: who is Chuck debating, taking issue with or what is he analyzing. This, too, will be another void for me. As an analogy, I am reminded of the death of Tom Jobim, the genius of the Bossa Nova. I remember how his passing marked the end of that expectation of another song or album from the composer of the “Girl from Impanema.” Similarly, the passing of dear Chuck Tilly means the finalization of an expectation of reading yet another work by the author who gave us such a poetic title like “Democracy is a Lake”. I will miss Chuck Tilly.

Salvador A. M. Sandoval
Pontificia Universidade Catolica de São Paulo
Universidade Estadual de Campinas


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