About Orlando Patterson


Orlando Patterson is 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.

Patterson’s dissertation, The Sociology of Slavery: Jamaica, 1655-1838, was published in 1967. His academic interests include the culture and practices of freedom; the comparative study of slavery and ethno-racial relations; and the cultural sociology of poverty and underdevelopment with special reference to the Caribbean and African American youth.  He has also written on the cultural sociology of sports, especially the game of cricket. Patterson is the author of numerous academic papers and several major academic books, including Slavery and Social Death (1982); Freedom in the Making of Western Culture (1991); The Ordeal of Integration (1997); The Cultural Matrix: Understanding Black Youth (2015); and The Confounding Island: Jamaica and the Postcolonial Predicament (2019).

Before fully committing himself to sociology, 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. He has also produced a number of anthologized short stories, and numerous reviews and critical essays.

For eight years (1972-1979), Patterson was Special Advisor for Social Policy and Development to Prime Minister Michael Manley of Jamaica.  He was a founding member of Cultural Survival, one of the leading advocacy groups for the rights of indigenous peoples, and was for several years a board member of Freedom House, a major civic organization for the promotion of freedom and democracy around the world.

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 in the Making of Western Culture. 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, the Gold Musgrave Medal in 2015, and the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2016. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

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