American Sociology and Holocaust Studies: The Alleged Silence and the Creation of the Sociological Delay. By Adele Valeria Messina. Boston: Academic Studies Press, 2017. xxxviii + 459 pp.
In 2007, Judith Gerson and Diane Wolf wrote that studying the Holocaust from the perspective of sociology was akin to wandering in the desert. Adele Valeria Messina's new book, American Sociology and Holocaust Studies: The Alleged Silence and the Creation of the Sociological Delay, provides a close topography of that desert, uncovering forms of early life and the harsh conditions that inhibited growth. Metaphors aside, this comprehensive volume tracks the precise historical and political factors that shaped seven decades of American sociological thought on Nazism and the Holocaust, offering new insight into the notion of a "sociological delay."
The book's four dense chapters are arranged chronologically, presenting a rich compendium of Holocaust-related sociological scholarship. In each chapter, Messina effectively uses a historiographical narrative to explore the field's inconsistent level of attention to Nazism, racism, and the extermination of the Jews. Chapter One points to the postwar political environment and long-standing prejudices within the academy that led to the marginalization of Holocaust-related research by the establishment, now called the "sociological delay." Chapter Two starts in the early 1970s and connects American sociology's newfound interest in Nazi extermination camps to growing national discourse on the Holocaust, as well as to political events including the Vietnam War and the Yom Kippur War. The third chapter reviews 1980s sociological theory on the "genocidal state," suggesting that it was prompted in part by atrocities occurring against the Maya Indians, Sikh, and Burundians that decade. The last chapter begins with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and ends at the present moment, situating American sociology at the fulcrum of interdisciplinary Holocaust studies. In this history of the sociology of the Holocaust, Messina reveals that there were, in fact, sociologists writing about Nazi atrocities all along.
Most intriguing is the author's discussion of the eminent sociologists Talcott Parsons and Everett C. Hughes, who in 1948 both shied away from publishing research on Nazism. Messina shows that Parsons' abrupt disinterest coincided with his trip to Allied-occupied Germany and the establishment of the Harvard Russian...