AN AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL NOTE
There are two views on autobiographical notes, especially as scientists
go. The one is that notes of this kind are unnecessary. Our works
stand for themselves, and tell their story. The other is that such
notes sometimes add something to the understanding of our works.
I am of the latter opinion.
Methodologically, this is difficult territory. We write about what
we experienced in the past. But we write about it contextualized
in the present, through the glasses of contemporary times. This
means that we know how the story ended, which we didn’t know
when we experienced it as it actually took place at the time. It
also means that we have a kind of outsider’s perspective –
an older, wiser or less wise, individual, with other experiences
added to those of the past.
These are, as I say, thorny methodological problems. They are also
interesting problems. In any event, here I simplify things by largely
letting the problems remain undiscussed. Maybe some other time –
a discussion now would lead me on to a different trail than the
one I wish to follow. But let me emphasize that I am telling a story
from the past as seen from the present, and with knowledge of how
the story finally ended.
Fortsettelse fra forsiden... / Continuation from the front
WE WHO LOVED AMERICA
”We who loved America”,”Vi som elsket Amerika”,
is a title taken from an essay by the Norwegian author Jens Bjørneboe.
Looking back, I think the title was a particularly apt one in my
I was born in 1933, into a typical Norwegian middle class suburban
neighbourhood outside Oslo, Norway’s capital city. It was
a neighbourhood coming out of the early 1930s, characterized by
middle class values, medium income and great stability – several
of my childhood friends still live there, now between 70 and 80
My mother was American. This was a very important fact in my early
childhood and young manhood. Of Norwegian descent, born in Wisconsin
in 1908, she came to Norway in 1926, together with her younger brother
and older sister, to visit family – and met my father, her
first cousin. They fell in love. I have been told (and I believe
it) that it was a dramatic love affair: In the US, marriage between
first cousins was and is illegal. In Norway it was and is legal,
but frowned upon. In the Norwegian branch of the family three spinsters
– ”the aunts” – ruled the family. They became
very old, and I remember them vividly. They were the three sisters
of my two grandfathers. Their word was law, and the love affair
was very unpopular. My mother went back to the US, and stayed there
for three long years. For a while she stayed in Washington D.C.,
where she went to art school. The relationship with my father managed
to live on. Remember that a letter took days to cross the Atlantic,
perhaps weeks if you add the distance to and from the Mid-West.
She returned to Norway in 1930, and they married despite ”the
aunts”. ”The aunts”, who were the closest to organize
the wedding (my two grandfathers died in the early 1920s), refused
to do so. A distant relative, a kind old woman who lived long enough
for me to remember her, did the job. Later ”the aunts”
regretted and demanded the wedding party to be held over again,
in their apartment in Bogstadveien 2, a building which still stands.
Since their word was law (I think the only time their law was broken,
was when my parents married), the second wedding party in fact took
place, with pictures taken of the bride, the bridegroom and the
wedding cake. I still have the pictures.
But my mother was always torn between the two countries and the
two cultures. In 1935 she went back to visit. From this early time
on I remember how she expressed her love for America, and her family
there. As a result, I came to love America and all of the people
she told me about.
World War II and the German occupation 9 April 1940 interrupted
our lives. I was seven at the time. The story is familiar –
my parents were against Germany and Nazism, but lived a rather quiet
life. My father participated in circulating an illegal newspaper
between neighbours. It was not entirely undangerous. We grew potatoes
and tobacco, and had chicken and rabbits in cages in the back yard.
Our next door neighbour had an illegal home made radio in the attic.
My own only heroic act was to steal a German helmet from somewhere,
I don’t remember from where. I still have the helmet. I doubt
it was really dangerous. Up till 1941, when the US entered the war,
my mother, being an American citizen, could have gone to the US
with me. It would have been with the trans-siberian railway. She
decided to stay in Norway with my father. My life would have become
very different if we had gone. But my love for America remained
intact through my mother’s various stories – a distant
In May/June of 1945, as the war ended, the love affair suddenly
became very close and extremely intense. One of my friends accidentally
bumped into some American GIs – soldiers who had made their
way up north in the American army participating in the Italian campaign.
My friend told the GIs that an American woman – my mother
- lived next door with her family. The GIs resolutely filled several
bags with canned goods, chewing gum and other goodies, and raced
to our house in a jeep. We were out and the house was empty, but
they managed to crawl through a bath room window which was open,
overturning a box of powder on their way, symbolically leaving powder
footsteps all the way to the living room where they left a huge
pile of chewing gum and candy on the table – and their names
We became close friends. Although I was only twelve, I still remember
their names. Raymond Kirk had an untrained but beautiful voice,
just like Caruso’s, and sang classical opera with my mother
at the piano. We wept with joy. Bob Powell was a photographer, and
took pictures. Charley, whose last name I can’t remember,
was also a nice guy. Neighbours and friends came in and joined our
parties. It was just tremendous. The shadow of war was still there
– on a trip to Hovedøya, a GI whose name I remember
well but won’t expose here, had a darker mind and after a
couple of beers he suddenly drew his large and loaded pistol and
shot indiscriminately across the water. Fortunately no one was hit.
The other GIs immediately took care of him, calmed him down, and
told us that he had had a breakdown in Italy. War was no joke. America
had saved us from it.
But this was only the beginning of the intensive phase in my love
affair with America. Two other lengthy incidents in my life backed
the affair up and kept it alive.
In the fall of 45 the GIs packed their bags and left the country.
We wept at the farewell party. But we would see each other again!
My mother now planned a lengthy trip to the US, to visit relatives
and friends after the war. She would go with her sister, also American,
living in Bergen during the war with her husband and son (her sister
also met her future husband on the visit to Norway in 1926). So
my mother, her sister, my cousin Per and I boarded a DC3 passenger
plane going via Stavanger to London, then a tanker owned by the
company where my father worked all the way to Corpus Christi in
Texas. After a visit there with relatives – a World War II
fighter plane pilot and quite a hero with us two boys - we boarded
a long distance train heading north for Chicago - on board we
became heroes due to our mended war-time clothes, unheard of
in middle and upper class America – and then further North
to the the little town of Chetek in Wisconsin, a dot on the American
map, where the family and friends owned cottages built in the 1920s.
Indian, Polish and Norwegian territory. We stayed there all of the
warm summer of 1946 - this is where I learnt my English, or rather,
my American – with one exception: my cousin Per and I accompanied
my cousin’s father and a colleague of his on I a long trip
by car through the American west, all the way to California. My
cousin’s father and his colleague were both Norwegian physicists
who were also visiting, and who told us a great deal about the remarkable
features of America, and America’s role in the world. In fact,
they brought us to the famous Mount Wilson Observatory, which at
that time had the greatest telescope on earth, where we were allowed
to look briefly at a distant star they had discovered. And in California,
who did we meet? The two GIs from 45, Ray Kirk the singer in San
Francisco, and Bob Powell the photographer in Los Angeles. Ray was
married, Bob was single. We loved them both. We loved America.
My mother and I came back to Norway in October, after a dramatic
trip on the Norwegian-American liner ”Stavangerfjord”,
which had to stop mid-way during a heavy storm to rescue crew and
passengers on board a burning Swedish cargo ship. I still remember
the name of the ship – Kristina Tordén. I had taken
some pictures of the event with my 6 times 9 box camera, and when
landing in Bergen Bergens Tidende wanted to buy the film
in order to use the pictures. I refused selling, and still have
the pictures. That’s outside the story and neither here nor
there, except possibly to say that I may have been wary of the media
also at that time. School had already started, I had been given
a leave of absence due to the trip, and I remember I brought with
me a real American “hershey’s” chocolate bar -
candy was still scarce in Norway – as a gift to each and everyone
in the class.
Another prolonged and maybe more important incident clinched my
relationship to and feelings for America. I finished high school
in 1952, I enlisted in the air force in the early fall, but was
”exempt in peace time” due to allergies, I studied philosophy
at the University Oslo during the fall of 1952, and then went back
to America in January 1953, to study at the University of Wisconsin
in Madison. My cousin Per also came to study there, my American
family lived in the same state, the little dot on the map Chetek
still existed. It was my second home. I had intended to stay for
a semester. I stayed for almost three years, financing myself on
some money from home, long summer jobs in a canning factory, and
after a while a scholarship. I had intended to study music, which
I partly did; I had a passion to become a professional pianist,
which I didn’t (but it became a nice hobby). For many reasons
which space forbids detailing – an American student of Norwegian
descent who worked for his PhD in the sociology of religion, a Jewish
student who worked for his Masters in sociology, a particular course
in ”American society” which thrilled me, a growing understanding
of the importance of sociology as a perspective – I ended
up as a sociology student. In Norway at the time I would certainly
not have come in touch with sociology.
I discovered an intellectual America which I had never known about.
It was an enormous scholarly injection. I remember one of my professors
asked me to read Goetz Briefs The Proletariat (in English)
and Ortega y Gasset The Revolt of the Masses (in English),
and to write a paper about them. I remember vividly leaving the
library that cold and star-lit night with a feeling of revelation
– this great intellectual stimulus was brought to me by an
American professor. Looking back, I now realize that I had been
luckier than most as far as sociology goes. This particular professor,
Howard Becker was his name, was a remarkable person, steeped not
only in the Chicago school of sociology of the 1920s and 30s, which
he came out of with a PhD under Robert E. Park. He was equally steeped
in classical European sociology – Tönnies (he had studied
under Tönnies), Troeltch, Weber, Simmel, von Wiese, Durkheim.
But American sociologists were also important, notably George Herbert
Mead, blended with the European heritage. He was not typical. Neither
was the Wisconsin sociology and anthropology department at that
time typical. Hans H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills, who translated
Weber’s essays in sociology into English (1946), had recently
been there, and there were others. I had ended up in the middle
of things. Howard Becker, who died in 1960 at the age of 61, became
my mentor. Becker’s most important book, Through Values
to Social Interpretation, is forgotten now but was new at the
time (1950), was for me an outstanding invitation to qualitative,
interpretive sociology of a phenomenological kind. So was Becker’s
comprehensive work (with Harry Elmer Barnes) Social Thought from
Lore to Science in three volumes, from before World War
We heard the rumblings of Talcott Parsons from the east, and read
his The Structure of Social Action from 1937 – probably
his best book ever - and The Social System, new at the time
(1952). But he didn’t make so much impact, probably due
to the towering local importance of Howard Becker.
I also discovered another side of American intellectual life: The
political critique and political ferment at a large American university,
at least at that time. Wisconsin was senator Joseph McCarthy’s
state. During my time there, the McCarthy hearings took place (1954).
In the student union building there was one (black and white) television
set. Between classes we ran to the Union, to watch the hearings.
There were demonstrations and protests.
To be sure, McCarthy’s shadow was all over the campus, silencing
people. I had a close Jewish friend who from time to time would
have his lunch apart from the others, in a corner of the cafeteria
and with people I didn’t know. He never invited me over. I
wondered why. After almost three years had passed, and I was planning
my trip back to Norway, he told me that he was a communist. He hadn’t
dared to tell me before.
But in spite the cold war political climate, and the witch hunts
against communists, the liberal and critical spirit seemed to prevail
on the campus. I knew less about what was outside the campus. I
participated; the protests against McCarthy and Mccarthyism constituted
my initiation into political life and discussion.
I was 21 at the time. A year later, in 1955, I went back to Norway
on the “Queen Mary” via Southampton, and by ship from
Newcastle to Oslo, still loving America, and believing that I had
something to offer as a sociologist.
MANY LOVED AMERICA
After World War II, and the US participation in it, many people
loved America, in Norway and elsewhere in Europe. I was certainly
not alone. America had saved us from German occupation. America
had saved us with the Marshall Plan. America had given us new intellectual
tools. We talked about ”America” as I have done on purpose
in this little essay, as if the United States was synonymous with
America. Only later did we realize that there were other Americas.
So we were many. But my particular background probably made my relationship
The ”American” intellectual tools also reached sociology
and social science in general. Above I spoke of how I had found
an intellectually extremely inspiring sociology in the US. It certainly
existed. However, I don’t think we got the best part of it
when it conquered Europe and Norway. Looking back we can see what
it was: a part of an American cultural conquest of post-war Europe.
Back in Oslo during the fall of 1955, I looked up and registered
in The Department of Sociology. The department had their headquarters
in Løkkeveien 7, right next to where the US embassy building
was being built; the embassy being located there from 1959. There
were between 5 and 10 graduate students there, one professor and
two or three part time or full time teachers.
The period as a student in the Department of Sociology up to 1958
was one of the unhappiest times of my life. The other students were
nice, the professor was nice though very difficult to understand
(he came from philosophy with a magister degree on Bergsson),
and the other teachers were nice. But my elation and enormous enthusiasm
over sociology in all its aspects, its eye-opening and imaginative
function for me, the feeling that sociology was deeply moving, deeply
interesting and fun, disappeared. Why? Let me single out one factor
– Talcott Parsons. In Oslo, Talcott Parsons was the towering
American figure. We had to read him, and understand him.
Of course, we read others as well. But Parsons was the core. Small
revolts took place. They were quenched by solemn advice: We had
to learn to think in terms of several levels (”dere må
lære dere å tenke i flere plan”), not bad advice
in general terms, but here it meant Parsons’ cultural, social-system
and personality levels criss-crossed by the pattern variables at
the same time. The point was not to bring out and focus on the actual
gems that did exist in Parsons’ works. The point was to understand
and memorize the whole system. A young American lecturer and small
groups researcher, Ted Mills, who was visiting in 1955-56 (many
Americans were visiting), to some extent saved some of us. Though
he didn’t say ”forget about Parsons” (how could
he?), he brought us to small groups experimental, empirical research.
It ended up in a research report, authored by all of us, showing
how experimentally created structures of three persons developed
when a fourth person was added.
A fellow student (Yngvar Løchen) and I created the various
structures of three by role playing with a third, uninitiated person,
the fourth person, also uninitiated, being added after a while.
The interaction was observed and categorized from behind a one-way
window and according to a system developed by Freed Bales. I was
even able to use something of what I had learnt at Wisconsin: Mills
supported a Freudian inspired hypothesis, with a family consisting
of parents and one child being expanded with a second child; I developed
an alternative hypothesis based on Leopold von Wiese, whose work
in Allgemeine Soziologie had been adapted and augmented by
Howard Becker into a great volume in English called Systematic
Sociology (1932/1946). Both hypotheses turned out to be partly
right. That was the only time in my student days in Oslo I managed
to use actively what I had learnt at the University of Wisconsin
– Mills was a very open man. Nothing of what I had learnt
over and above that and brought with me to Norway was of any interest.
I must say I don’t know how valuable such experimental findings
are, but at least we had fun for a while and could forget about
Parsons and related figures. Mills also helped me personally by
recommending me for a trip to Salzburg in Austria, to a seminar
in 1956 lasting one month – notably with Parsons heading a
team consisting of Freed Bales (small groups researcher collaborating
closely with Parsons, a mentor of Ted Mills’), Bernard Barber
(the one with ”The Case of the Floppy-Eared Rabbits –
An Instance of Serendipity Gained and Seredipity Lost”),
Ithiel de Sola Pool (a political scientist) and others. It was nice
to hear Parsons. He was much more interested in lived life than
his books indicated. But at home in Oslo the books contained the
Actually, it was a bit more complicated. Even this early there
were protests against Parsons’ hegemony in sociology (the
major revolts, actually downing Parsons, came later – with
C. Wright Mills (1959) and perhaps especially Alvin Gouldner (1970)).
By quite a few, his framework was even this early considered conservative,
a structural-functional strengthening of American social structure
in the face of the presumed communist danger. I remember Ralf Dahrendorff
arriving flamboyantly at the Salzburg seminar – with the sole
purpose of taking Parsons to task, showing him how he had overlooked
Marx (Parsons certainly overlooked Marx almost completely i.a. in
his great exposee of classical European social scientists in The
Structure of Social Action). Little came out of it, and
later Dahrendorff himself was severely critized for establishment
orientation and misrepresentation of Marx. But in Norway, in the
latter part of the 1950s, Parsons’ word was, as I have said,
law. Parsons also visited Oslo, and was met with the greatest possible
The small groups research experience and the Salzburg seminar were
glimmers of light during the dreary and unstimulating years at the
Oslo department of sociology. Also to some extent stimulating, to
me but probably not to others, was my study – and magister
thesis - of the changing class structure in a town undergoing
rapid industrialization and social change (Mo in Rana). It was a
part of a larger project headed by the professor in the department.
Several nice student works, but no final integrated report or book
came out of it. They were dry years. I almost gave up. The most
difficult thing was perhaps that there was very little opposition
to how things were going. I also remained silent, I was too weak
and probably too conformist and didn’t have the guts to protest.
One of the few lively discussants was my fellow student at the time,
Yngvar Løchen, later professor and rector at the University
of Tromsø, who also had problems. And Ørjar Øyen,
research assistant at the time and a student of George Lundberg’s
at the University of Washington, later professor and rector at the
University of Bergen. But Lundberg’s positivism didn’t
fit in, and Øyen, a very competent sociologist and the author
of a small but brilliant ecological study within the Mo in Rana
project, was cornered.
At the end of the table you sometimes found Hans Skjervheim, later
professor of philosophy at the University of Bergen, who claimed
that things had to be viewed in existential terms (“ein må
sjå eksistensialistisk på det”), and who told
us, whether parsonians or not, that sociology was impossible. I
remember I disagreed strongly with the latter position. To my mind,
sociology was certainly possible, viable and opening. But it had
ended in a blind alley.
Then came the opening. In 1958 Vilhelm Aubert, then associate professor
of sociology of law in the Law Faculty, who occasionally gave lectures
in the Department of sociology, asked me if I would like to have
a post as research assistant at the Institute for social research.
The offer saved me. I started my job as research assistant 1 January
1959, after having completed my magister degree in the fall.
The Institute for social research had been founded in 1950, with
Vilhelm Aubert, Erik Rinde, and many others as central actors from
the social sciences. Interestingly, an important impact came from
law – both Aubert and Rinde had their first training in law.
During the first few years it had its headquarters in Arbiensgt.
4, almost next door to the Department of sociology. It was and still
is a private institute, separate from the university. In the early
years which we are looking at here, the institute was to a large
extent financed by Erik Rinde’s father, who was a wealthy
industrialist. I was financed by the Norwegian Research Council
for Science and the Humanities, which had been established in 1949.
In 1959 the institute was on the move to a different part of town.
Erik Rinde’s father’s money was important. A new building
was to be built in what was originally a large garden with beautiful
apple trees. In one end of the garden there was a large wooden house
in so-called Swiss style, with a number of spacious rooms and a
large balcony overlooking the garden. It was designed for one or
two wealthy families, but the rooms could serve as offices for a
number of less demanding social scientists. And the social scientists
moved in during the construction of the nice brick building in the
In various capacities I stayed in the Swiss villa for almost 20
years. Professionally they were, I think, the happiest years of
my life. As I see it low, four major factors contributed to this.
Firstly, the interdisciplinary character of the work we did. The
building, which was old and rickety, had an architecture which was
admirably suited to communication in interdisciplinary research,
which was the institute’s hallmark. A large living room had
doors to a number of other, smaller rooms which served as offices.
To get to and from your office, you had to go through the living
room, where there always were people. You always had to say at least
“hello”. Usually you said much more. There was also
an attic with several rooms, suitable for contemplation. Here were
sociologists, political scientists, historians, lawyers, people
from educational science, psychology and other professions, from
the first and second generation of social scientists (Vilhelm Aubert
belonged to the first and founding generation, I to the second).
People worked together, or worked on their own separate projects
but in an interdisciplinary context. The place was, to put it mildly,
live and kicking. Belonging to the early generations, we were highy
optimistic, believing that in social research, “everything”
was possible. Above all, we had a belief that the world was open
and could be changed for the better. Senior people, though in a
sense relying on general parsonianism, were eclectic in practice
and critical of the United States and Norwegian membership in NATO.
Some of them participated in developing av new political party to
the left of the old NATO-supportive Labour Party.
After a short period, I had a chance to develop my own project,
again with money from Norwegian Research Council for Science and
the Humanities. That was the second factor. I spent two years of
participant observation at a prison in the outskirts of Oslo. This
was my first major empirical work. It opened my mind. I could forget
about Parsons, in fact, Parsons somehow didn’t fit realities,
though I must admit that the general kind of thinking which Parsons
and colleagues represented, lingered on. Much more so did Howard
Becker’s old advice – go though values to social interpretation.
Thirdly, there was a growing political awareness which the prison
study made me sensitive to. I finished the book in 1965. I was still
US-oriented: The book was geared towards American prison research,
which my findings partly contradicted. But in a prison setting,
at least at the time, it was natural to see the system “from
below” – hence the title The Defences of the Weak.
Once you begin to think in those terms, you can hardly avoid
taking a political stand. The enlivening McCarthy hearings in 1954
got a new thrust.
Fourthly, developments outside and inside the institute after 1965
made my wavering allegiance to the US, to “America”,
change into active opposition. On the outside: Increasing protests
against the Vietnam War and against the American cultural and military
hegemony in Europe and elsewhere, as well as the unrest and revolt
ending up in and following from the 1968 “revolution”
in Europe, made their impact. Inside the institute: a parallel growing
politization of the penal law, punishment and prison issues, resulting
in the establishment in 1968 of the Norwegian Association for Penal
Reform, KROM, which still exists and where I became an active participant
– all of this finally, after all of these years, broke my
love for America down for good. I still love many people in the
US, but no longer the US. It had been a long affair. I defined my
own activity in KROM and related organized activities as “radical
action research”, and I am actually a bit proud of my works
from this period. I was finally out and independent, on my own.
I visited the US later on several times – once in 1967, actually
in the midst of it, as assistant professor in Santa Barbara; next
in 1975, just as the Vietnam War ended, as professor in Berkeley;
and several other times. Let me add, more into the future and closer
to the present, that in 1997 I made a quick trip, just for old times’
sake, back to Wisconsin and the University there. It was moving.
But it was a different place. The spell was broken.
Many things happened later. I had become a professor of sociology
of law in 1972 (after Vilhelm Aubert, who had moved to sociology
proper), and as a small separate institute of sociology of law (which
for a long time had shared quarters with the Institute for Social
Research) we had to leave the old house in Swiss design (however
well suited to interdiscipliary research, the house was unfortunately
torn down towards the end of the 1970s, to give space to an enlargement
of the main brick building). After a number of years located in
various places and engaged in various activities, with my own heart
basically in line with the position of seeing things “from
below”, we finally merged with the Department of Criminology,
in a building close to the Law Faculty campus. There we are now.
Through the later decades, I have been engaged i.a. in prison issues
and criminal policy, research and writing on the media, and –
during the last ten years or so – the development of surveillance
systems in our new technological times. As I am writing these lines,
I am also trying to write something else - on the British proposal,
after the terrorist bombs in London in July 2005, to introduce long
term storage of communication traffic data (who calls whom, when
and where by telephone, e-mail, text messages, mobile phones) between
all British citizens, indeed all citizens within the
EU. If introduced, such massive control will generate enormous masses
of communications data about the citizens of Europe, and, together
with an ID card containing up to 50 types of personal information,
it is likely to change the democratic fibres of our society as we
know it. After 2001 the US has introduced similar devastating measures.
Speeding up the process has been the way in which the US has tackled
terrorism, with wars against Afghanistan and Iraq, the latter being
an illegal war in terms of UN rules. In turn, this has fostered
rather than curbed further terrorism. The issues involved concern
me and others greatly.
So, my development as a sociologist did not end with the old rickety
building and the withering away of the spell.
But this particular story, which I felt I wanted to relate, ends
Oslo, July 2005 Thomas Mathiesen
 Actually, Howard Becker’s
name was Howard Paul Becker. Another, much younger sociologist,
Howard Saul Becker (born 1928, the one with Outsiders),
has recently written somewhere on the Internet disparagingly about
Howard Paul, not only pointing out that he is a different person
and unrelated to Howard Paul, which of course is legitimate and
clarifying, but also that Howard Paul was a very nasty and rude
person, cruel to everyone, including his students. Howard Saul is
a good sociologist, but so was Howard Paul though in a different
way, and good to his students, me and others. I was there, Howard
Saul was not.
 His name was Sverre Holm. The
story of how this nice man, so difficult to understand, became Norway’s
first professor of sociology is interesting. Vilhelm Aubert was
a coming Norwegian sociologist of some significance, with a PhD
in the sociology of punishment from 1954 (Straffens sosiale funksjon,
The Social Function of Punishment). I have been told (but cannot
confirm it definitively) that there were discussions as to whether
the chair should be filled right away, or whether one ”should
wait for Aubert”, that is, wait for him to become fully qualified.
The American sociologist Paul Lazarsfeld, one of the many American
visitors to Oslo at the time, advised that the chair be filled as
soon as possible. So Holm got the chair. The early phases of sociology
in Norway would have been quite different if the other course had
In spite of this, Vilhelm Aubert had a strong influence on the
early development of Norwegian sociology; more about this below.
The early development of sociology in Norway, i.a. with its ties
to law and the Law Faculty as far back as the 1800s, is a fascinating
story but goes beyond the scope of this essay.
 To understand Parsons was the
main point and quest. Some of us had colloqiums turning Parsons’
fuzzy and tortured sentences over and over again, wondering what
they meant. In so far as Parsons had become important at the University
of Wisconsin in the early 1950s (as I have said, he was less important
there due to Howard Becker’s local influence at the time),
the sheer understanding of him was also the main quest. I remember
one of my fellow students once said to me in desperation: “Thomas
[actually, as a good American he said “Tom”], I simply
don’t understand Parsons. That means that I don’t understand
50 % of modern sociology!” Why understanding Parsons became
so important, fuzzy, abstract and tortured as his writings were,
raises an engaging question of sociology of knowledge. Alvin Gouldner
has provided us with a partial but important contribution to this
question in his The Coming Crisis of Western Sociology (1970). Parsons’
background in a new department of sociology at the prestigious Harvard
University, which made him influential in relation to a whole generation
of top sociology students who in turn became influential full professors
with investments in Parsons, is part of the answer. Gouldner’s
analysis could well serve as a model for analyzing sociological
writers of today who are extremely difficult to understand, and
also extremely prominent.
 Theodore M. Mills et al.:
Group Structure and the Newcomer. An Experimental Study of Group
Expansion. Oslo University Press 1957, 32 pages.
 With Renee C. Fox, The American
Journal of Sociology, 1958.
 For more details about the house
and what went on there, see my ”Huset med det rare i”
(The Magic House), Kritisk Juss Vol 28, No. 1-2 2001, pp.