K. Westhues Homepage

Principles of


Kenneth Westhues, Professor of Sociology, University of Waterloo, Canada


Different sociologists have different principles — assumptions, predispositions, basic ideas underlying what they say and write on specific subjects. The two books shown at left, and the six online papers listed below, make explicit the theoretical and methodological principles in which I try to ground my scholarship. These principles are not very original. They are drawn mainly from pragmatist and other Hegelian traditions. I have tailored their formulation to present historical circumstances.

(1) Building Relationships Where People Are Real. Successive versions of this essay about reciprocity in human relations were published in Good Work News in 1990 and 1998. The essay was originally given as a colloquium in the Department of Sociology, University of Western Ontario, in 1988. The extent of reciprocity is the key question to be asked of any social arrangement.

(2) The Waterloo School for Community Development at the Working Centre (since 2005) captures pretty well the basic principles guiding my personal scholarship. See in particular Joe Mancini's and my introductory statement, Mancini's list of ideas and influences, and the design of the diploma program in local democracy.

(3) "The Humanists: from Lineage to Dynasty," Keynote Address at the Eighth Annual Meeting of the Association for Humanist Sociology, Hartford, Connecticut, 1983. This was an effort to formulate sociological principles at the most basic level.

(4) "Toward Sexual Equality: Reflections following the Murder of Roberta Chafe," Address in the Distinguished Lecturer Series, University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, 1988. Human equality (between the sexes and otherwise) is a fundamental value for most sociologists, myself included, yet its practical meaning is elusive. In this paper I offer a dialectical perspective in terms of difference and sameness between self and other.

(5) "Schooling and Sin: Doctor Faustus in the Modern University," Address in the National Colloquium, Ohio Wesleyan University, 1988. This was my first effort to conceptualize evil in human relations, drawing mainly on the work of Ernest Becker. My recent studies of workplace mobbing are founded on this conceptualization. So is the course I introduced and have taught regularly at Waterloo since 1998, "Good and Evil in Social Relations."

(6) "On Trying Not to Be a Kierkegaardian Professor," Presentation at the Tenth Annual Meeting of the Association for Humanist Sociology, Atlanta, Georgia, 1985. This is as close as I have come to proposing basic principles for teaching sociology — or whatever else.

Basic Principles for
Social Science
in Our Time

Kenneth Westhues, ed.
Waterloo, Ont.:
St. Jerome's
University Press

The editor's long introduction to this collection of conference presentations distills three "cardinal principles" for a humanist social science: acceptance of human agency, moral engagement, and practicality. Contributors include Christopher Lasch from history, Gregory Baum from theology, Yi-Fu Tuan from geography, David Gil from social work, Kenneth Gergen from psychology, Serge Gagnon from history, and Shoukry Roweis from planning. An appendix lists ten classic guides to social scientific research.


The Working Centre: Experiment in
Social Change

K. Westhues et al.
Kitchener, Ont.:
The Working Centre

The first chapter asserts that the Working Centre, a self-help community organization, is sociology, and presents arguments in support of this startling assertion. The book includes selections from the writings of engaged sociologists:Jane Addams, Moses Coady, Dorothy Day, and the founders and leaders of the Working Centre itself.
Andy Macpherson's cover illustration captures the dialectical thinking at the base of any adequate sociology: the dance of connaître and savoir,of nature and culture, of what is and what could be.
here for more information on this book.