Orlando Patterson is the John Cowles Professor of Sociology at Harvard University. He received his B.Sc. in Economics from London University and a Ph.D. in Sociology from the London School of Economics. After faculty appointments at the London School of Economics and the University of the West Indies, he moved to Harvard University in 1969-70 and was appointed Professor the following year. Between 1971 and 1973 he was also the Allston Burr Senior Tutor of Leverett House. An early interest, mainly historical and literary, in Jamaican slavery matured into a sociological fascination with slave society as a system of total domination that empirically poses the Hobbesean problem of order. His dissertation, The Sociology of Slavery: Jamaica, 1655-1838, was published in 1967. From this source his academic interests moved in three main directions: (1) the comparative study of slavery aimed at an understanding of power at its limits on both the personal and systemic levels; (2) the study of its antithesis, freedom; and (3) the study of socio-economic underdevelopment with special reference to Jamaica and the Caribbean Basin.
Slavery and Social Death: A Comparative Study was published in 1982. The problem of underdevelopment has been explored in papers on the Caribbean and many policy oriented reports prepared for the government of Jamaica during his tenure as Special Advisor to Prime Minister Michael Manley for Social Policy and Development (1972 – 1980). The convergence of his primary interests led to an exploration of the problem of ethnicity resulting in the publication of Ethnic Chauvinism: The Reactionary Impulse (1977). The first of a two volume historical sociology of freedom was published in June 1991, Freedom: Freedom in the Making of Western Culture. He is presently completing the second volume of Freedom, dealing with the modern world. At the same time, he is shifting the focus of his research to contemporary America with special emphasis on the intersecting problems of race, immigration, and multiculturalism. The first two volumes of a trilogy in this area, The Ordeal of Integration: Progress and Resentment in America’s “Racial” Crisis and Rituals of Blood: The Consequences of Slavery in Two American Centuries are available from Civitas/Counterpoint.
Before fully committing himself to sociology, Dr. Patterson pursued a parallel career as a novelist and critic. He has published three novels, The Children of Sisyphus, now published under the Caribbean Modern Classics series, An Absence of Ruins, and Die the Long Day, a number of anthologized short stories, and numerous reviews and critical essays. In addition to his variety of book publications, he has served as a guest columnist for the New York Times, and has written for Time Magazine, Newsweek, and The Washington Post
Dr. Patterson was awarded the Distinguished Contribution to Scholarship Award of the American Sociological Association in 1983 (The Sorokin Prize), and was co-winner of the Ralph Bunche Award of the American Political Science Association for the best scholarly work on the subject of pluralism. In 1991 he was awarded the National Book Award in non-fiction for Volume 1 of Freedom. He holds honorary degrees from several universities, including the University of Chicago, U.C.L.A and La Trobe University in Australia. He was awarded the Order of Distinction by the Government of Jamaica in 1999. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.