It was a little after midnight, and I was typing away at the word processor in the administrative area of the Center for Research on Social Organization in the Perry School. This was the intellectual hub for grad students involved in macrosociology during Chuck’s tenure at Michigan, and as the director he had made it an hospitable and fertile place to work. Check emerged from his small office in the rear, faithful Nero at his side. We exchanged greetings and I asked him what had kept him at the office so late. (This was a superfluous question, since as many people know Chuck spent many late nights at Perry.) Chuck responded, briefly stating that he was working on a response to a critique of his work that had been published recently. He then paused and rubbed his eyes and said, “Sometimes I think that I’ve been working on my dissertation topic for the past 30 years,” and he chuckled softly and left.
At first I thought that Chuck’s remark was undue modesty. However, as the years have gone by I have realized the truth in the statement. Chuck’s intellectual agenda was in some senses nothing short of analyzing the dynamic politics of modernity. Over the years I’ve come to more fully understand the extraordinary breadth and complexity of this project, and have developed a much deeper appreciation of Chuck’s remarkable achievements.
For us graduate students Chuck’s capacious agenda mixed with his generosity were remarkable blessings. His peripatetic mind and the scope of his project provided plenty of room for all of us, regardless of our particular interests. When I arrived at Michigan he was deep in the throes of what we at Perry called the “Great Britain Industry,” his pioneering project to analyze the transformation of contentious politics in England during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. I was interested in the cultural dynamics of class conflict, not the focus of the project. However, Chuck readily included me in the project and guided me through several phases of what would ultimately become an analysis of the discourses of class conflict. While his study was national in dimension, I focused on a few towns. While he was honing his theories of large-scale political processes, I was working the small spaces of contentious rhetoric. Nonetheless he openly welcomed me to his research agenda, and enthusiastically provided advice, support and assistance, even from afar when he moved to New York.
My story, of course, is nothing unusual. All graduate students who worked with Chuck can quickly harmonize in a chorus of such reflections. The Perry school was abuzz with the intellectual energy and exuberance that he generated. Many of us who sought Chucks advise recall that his responses often were tripartite. In closing, and recalling his work let me offer my final thought on Chuck Tilly—Big Heart, Large Benefactor, No Comparisons.
Marc W. Steinberg