In this essay, I draw on a professional life history to suggest how sociological knowledge is generated by encounters with changing research opportunities, here called targets of opportunity. In my case, a study of rural communities led to unanticipated conclusions concerning buffering mechanisms that protected authorities by absorbing dissatisfactions and rebellions. Wartime research in a military setting identified sources of group solidarity and effective performance under stress. Major societal changes in racial/ethnic relations provided opportunities to develop new concepts and empirical findings. Synoptic studies of post–World War II American society led to extensive research on values and institutions. These macrosociological analyses of ethnicity and social systems, in turn, led me to a new sociology of war and interstate relations. I also offer here some critical reflections on recurrent issues and chronic controversies in American sociology. Final sections of the review deal with the continuing search for conceptual clarity and cumulative knowledge. I note the obstacles of disciplinary fragmentation, but my closing judgment is that sociology now has the base of substantial scientific knowledge and methodological expertise necessary for investigating crucial twenty-first century problems.


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