Charles Tilly (May 27, 1929 – April 29, 2008) was an American sociologist, political scientist, and historian who wrote on the relationship between politics and society. Charles Tilly has been described as "the founding father of 21st-century sociology" and also "one of the world's preeminent sociologists and historians" as his "scholarship was unsurpassed, his humanity of the highest order, his spirit unwavering." Numerous special journal issues, conferences, awards and obituaries appeared in his honor.
Charles Tilly was an influential proponent of large-scale historical social science research. The title of Tilly's 1984 book Big Structures, Large Processes, Huge Comparisons is characteristic of his particular approach to social science research.
Charles Tilly's work has had great influence on the study of social movements. "I avoided writing about social movements for about twenty years because I felt that the term had become swollen and imprecise," he said in a 2007 interview. "The phenomenon of the social movement looked to me like a historically specific form of politics parallel to the electoral campaign and the collective seizure of food, not a universal category of human action."
Charles Tilly completed his Doctor of Philosophy in Sociology at Harvard in 1958. Charles Tilly figures among eminent sociologists of the world. According to Dr. Victor Lee Burke, one of Tilly's graduate students at the University of Michigan, Tilly stated that he was a teaching assistant to Pitirim Sorokin, who along with Talcott Parsons and George C. Homans was considered by many in the profession to be among the world's leading sociologists.
According to Tilly, Sorokin was known to call him up in the wee small hours of the morning and say in a distinct Russian accent, "Mr. Tilly you have to teach my class today" and then hang up, leaving Tilly in a panic.
Tilly dutifully taught the class without the slightest idea of what
Sorokin intended for the day. Tilly also planned to have Sorokin chair his
dissertation but every time Sorokin heard Tilly's ideas he would say something
like "Very interesting Mr. Tilly but I do think Plato said it better." - as
recounted in Tilly's 1984 book "Big Structures, Large Systems, Huge
Comparisons." At Michigan, Tilly was professor of history 1969–1984, professor
of sociology 1969–1981, and the Theodore M. Newcomb Professor of Social Science
1981–1984. Tilly wrote more than 600 articles and 51 books and monographs.
Charles Tilly was a major figure in the development of historical sociology, the early use of quantitative methods in historical analysis. Charles Tilly was a major figure in the study of: contentious politics, social movements, the history of labor, state formation, revolutions, democratization, inequality, and urban sociology.
Examining political, social, and technological change in Europe from the Middle Ages to the present, Tilly attempted to explain the unprecedented success of the nation-state as the dominant polity-type on Earth in his 1990 book Coercion, Capital, and European States. - Tilly, Charles (1990). Coercion, Capital, and European States, AD 990–1990. Cambridge, Mass., USA: B. Blackwell. ISBN 978-1-55786-368-3.
The notion of locating the birth of the social movement in a specific time and place occurred to Tilly while he was writing his pathbreaking work on the transformation of British popular politics, Popular Contention in Great Britain, 1758–1834. - Tilly, Charles (2005). Popular Contention in Great Britain. Paradigm Publishers. ISBN 978-1-59451-120-2.
Charles Tilly argues that social movements share some elements with other forms of political contention such as coups, electoral campaigns, strikes, revolutions, and interest-group politics, but have their own distinct characteristics. He argues that the social movement developed in the West after 1750 and spread throughout the world through colonialism, trade and migration.
A pro-democracy movement may lead to anti-democratic consequences, Charles Tilly argued; an example would be liberals or neoliberals ultimately promoting the fragmentation of democracy-seeking coalitions. Conversely, an anti-democracy movement may promote democratic outcomes by stimulating democratic counter-action by other citizens or self-serving countermeasures by public officials; an example would be unsuccessful anti-immigrant movements.
Tilly received several awards including the Common Wealth Award in sociology in 1982, the Amalfi Prize for Sociology and Social Sciences in 1994, the Eastern Sociological Society's Merit Award for Distinguished Scholarship in 1996, the American Sociological Association's Career of Distinguished Scholarship Award in 2005.
After his passing, the Social Science Research Council hosted a 2008 conference, co-sponsored with Columbia University and the Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy, in his honor: "A Celebration of the Life and Works of Charles Tilly" and at this conference the SSRC announced the Charles Tilly and Louise Tilly Fund for Social Science History.