Severyn Bruyn - Lover of Life

Severyn Bruyn: Impactful Life Celebrated

Severyn Bruyn: Obituary

Severyn Bruyn – On May 26, 2019, retired professor of Sociology at Boston College, Severyn Bruyn, passed away peacefully at age 91 with family at home in Newton. He leaves his beloved wife Louise Bruyn, son George Bruyn and his wife June Epperson, daughter Rebecca Bruyn and her wife Cindy Rosenbaum, daughter Susan Collyer and grandchildren Matthew Collyer, Sev Bruyn and Tiffany Brister. Along with Louise, Sev was a longtime member of the Cambridge Meeting of the Society of Friends and a social activist.

A founder of the “participant observation” approach to research in the field of sociology, Bruyn authored ten books and inspired the innovative Leadership for Change program at Boston College. Having taken his B.S., his M.A., and his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois, he taught at Illinois College in Jacksonville, IL between 1952 and 1966, before joining the Boston College faculty until his retirement in 2000.

Severyn Bruyn’s books include The Human Perspective in Sociology: The Methodology of Participation Observation (Prentice- Hall, 1966); The Social Economy: People Transforming Modern Business (John Wiley, 1977); The Field of Social
Investment (Cambridge University Press, 1987); Beyond the Market and the State, Co-edited with James Meehan (Temple University Press, 1987); A Future for the American Economy: A Social Market (Stanford University Press, 1991); and A Civil Economy: Transforming the Market in the 21st Century (University of Michigan Press, 2000).

Among his many grants, awards, and recognitions, standouts include a NIMH grant of $200,000 to support 18 Sociology PhD students (1979); the Alpha Sigma Nu, National Jesuit Honor Society, Social Science Award for A Future for the American Economy (1991); the Presidential Divine Award from the Association for Social Economics (2000); and a celebration of his career contributions at a joint meeting of the American Sociological Association and the Society for the Study of Social Problems (2011).

His retirement led to no diminution of activity, but rather to the birth of a riotous creativity that included writing a novel about the future of higher education, painting, learning how to write music on the computer, the setting of famous poems to song, and the composition and production of oratorios, operas, and a musical – A Song of Evolution; The Modern Orpheus; The Music Makers; The Teachers of Norway; The Majesty of Love; and The Story of God. Many of Sev’s books and musicals can be found by googling him.

Severyn Bruyn: ASA Footnotes

During the 1970s, Severyn Bruyn applied his knowledge about sociology and labor relations to a collective bargaining issue at a Boston bakery company. He was a proponent of worker self-management of firms and a deal was reached with workers that allowed them to purchase the enterprise from the owners. The workers put together back-vacation time money in the amount of $700,000 to place a down payment on the business purchase. Bruyn and colleagues successfully lobbied the U.S. Small Business Administration to provide a loan for the employee-owned bakery in Boston; however, private banks and state lending agencies refused to fund the endeavor. This led him and his colleagues to organize a nonprofit organization called the Industrial Cooperative Association (ICA) that continues to help workers purchase firms and start employee-owned companies. The ICA has been the recipient of Ford and Rockefeller Foundation grants, which funded employee-ownership initiatives…

During his retirement, Bruyn has remained active with academic projects including a significant volume of research on the subject of evolution. He also enjoys composing music, sculpting, and painting. His books and artwork during retirement can be found on his webpage.

More from Craig Schaar.

Severyn Bruyn: What is Social Economy?

Many people have asked me “What is social economy?” I say to them, “read my books,” but that’s not fair to those who are just curious. So here is a quick way to answer it.

“Social economy” is a field of knowledge about how people organize the production, distribution, and consumption of scarce resources in society. It is a sociological concept, broader than economics and political economy. It is not based on the principles and premises of capitalist markets. People in every society down through history have experienced scarcity and organize associations and engage in social interaction in very different ways.

Furthermore, every society and its economy changes and evolves over time. Capitalism did not exist in the middle Ages and today it is not the end of history. It is changing within the culture and institutions of the larger society. The business sector, as one part of the economy, has its own subculture, evolving in the context of other sectors like religion, science, and government.

The idea of “economy” comes from the Ancient Greek word oikonomia, which for Aristotle meant “management of a household.” In the transition into the modern period (16th–18th century), overseas expansion led to the growth of commerce and the economic policies of mercantilism, which was a system that inspired a body of literature around nationalism. In the late 17th and the 18th centuries a protest against the governmental regulation was voiced, especially by the physiocrats. That group argued that business should follow freely “natural laws” without government interference.

The idea of  “political economy” did not begin until the appearance of the social contract philosophers (notably Jean Jacques Rousseau) who described the economy in the context of the larger state, not society. Then in the latter 19th century (notably Alfred Marshal) recommended “economics” as a term emphasizing how this new field is a science.

The concept of political economy is still used but it is narrower than social economy. All organizations and human interactions that take place in the economy are not just political. They are all broadly based on social relations. Social forces take place in markets that have nothing to do with power and politics. The term “social” is larger and more abstract in meaning. It includes political relations but also relationships that are not — like emotional relations or religious symbols or a sense of art and beauty. Furthermore, the social economy in the modern period includes the Third Sector with its churches, science associations and civic groups with their own cultures. In its broad sense, the social economy includes all income making organizations including the family and government.


The origin of such terms in history is relevant here. The words “social” and “economy” evolved with the concept of “society.” The word “society” did not exist in the time of the ancient Greeks. Aristotle did not write about the economy in society, rather, he wrote about the family and government. And economics was not a word in his vocabulary even though he talked about the use of goods in the marketplace.

The words themselves, “social” and “society,” appeared at the time of the Social Contract philosophers in the sixteenth and seventeenth century. The word “society” was evolving variously to mean “A system of sharing within a group,” and the “condition of living or associating with others,” and “companionship, fellowship, or company,” as well as human association or friendly interaction with other people. It evolved to mean “the company of others, the system of customs and organization adopted by a group of people for harmonious coexistence or mutual benefit, an aggregate of persons living together in a community, esp. one having shared customs, laws, and institutions.” (See The Oxford Dictionary.) It was then defined in more complex terms by sociologists in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. See the history of civil society as a concept in Appendix A and B of the Civil Republic posted on my webpage.

Adam Smith did not know the word “capitalism”. It did not exist in the English language when he was writing in 1776. It came to be popular with Karl Marx’s Das Kapital in 1867.

The Social Factor

Capitalism for professionals came to be defined as an economic system based on private ownership of the means of production and the creation of goods and services for a profit. Competitive markets, wage labor, capital accumulation, voluntary exchange, and personal finance are part of markets considered capitalistic but this is not the whole story.

The work of Karl Polanyi is important here because he saw how an economy is submerged in social relationships. Government policies for him were instrumental in helping to develop capitalist markets.  His book on The Great Transformation is a history of the self-regulating market and its emergence from the Industrial Revolution. He wrote about the cultivation of the market economy through the efforts of statesmen of England in the first decades of the nineteenth century. The market was brought into existence by government not just by “natural” forces.  He saw how social processes like cooperation, reciprocity, and association (not just competition) were central to the development of markets.

People think today that the market is based primarily on competition and the bottom line is economic (money and profits) i.e. markets are driven by financial incentives. Many believe that there would be no incentive to work and that no inventions would take place without the goal of making money. They forget that inventions took place long before the appearance of capitalism. Inventions are part of nature.

Put another way, there is a social order that underlies every economic order. The bottom line is “social” in its analytical meaning, not “economic” in its scientific meaning with formulas and calculations on prices, or making money. The capitalist economy is based on human organization, not just profits. This perspective of the “economic order” based on a “social order” — alters the way we see it change in the context of society.

Sociologists study the way a corporation is socially organized, and not all by command systems. (A corporation can be organized successfully on a system of “mutual governance” as well as on a system of “command bureaucracy”.) We can study how some corporations have decentralized their operations and developed self-management and worker ownership successfully in a market changing its character. Employee ownership is evolving now in business but it is not typical of capitalism.

The way a market is socially organized can show how the capitalism is changing as well as predict a market sector’s success or failure. This is because there are many social processes by which a market system is organized, not just by competition. These processes include collaboration, accommodation, assistance, adjustment, support, conflict, tension, negotiation, absorption, integration, cooperation, assimilation and democratic processes, not just competition. Indeed corporations were competing so hard in the 19th century that they were destroying each other; hence, they decided to cooperate and created trade associations. Trade associations developed as a form of democratic governance with electoral processes based on their members.

There are different theories that develop around markets. For example, there is the so-called “social market theory” and also “market socialism.” Proponents seek a middle path between socialism and laissez-faire economics. Theorists argue that government regulation is required to establish fair competition. They argue that governments can maintain a balance between a high rate of economic growth, low inflation and low levels of unemployment, good working conditions and social welfare — by using state intervention.

This has truth in it, factually and normatively, but it is not my theory.

I claim that the purpose of a government is to cultivate a basis for the market economy to regulate itself. In this case, the state encourages market organizations that will help corporations govern themselves for the common good apart from the state. The purpose of government is to lessen its need to regulate the economy. In addition to other purposes like promoting the general welfare and protection of its citizens from outside invaders, the purpose of a state is increase the transparency and public accountability of markets. The goal of government is to lay the basis for self-governance in the private sector.

This is different from positions taken by Democratic and Republic parties in the United States but in accord with their key values.

Most Republicans and conservative economists claim that the market is already self-regulating. This is partially true but not enough to keep the market from being destructive to people and the environment. I view the current market organization as self-destructive in ways that require a parent state to regulate it. The capitalist economy is not truly self-regulating. It is like in an adolescence stage of evolution, not yet developed and mature enough to be independent of the government.

Democrats and leftist economists claim that the government should regulate the market. This is true, normatively, but such policies alone lead toward bigger government. The capitalist market will find new ways to be exploitive in spite of government regulations.

Hence, the market requires the government to build a new organization to be truly free, profitable, self-regulating, self-correcting and self-reliant without government regulations.

Let’s look at modern history to see how states developed self-governance. In the 18th century we see state self-governance emerging by degree — from feudalism to become a ” democracy” with a representative assembly, and a judicial system. At the same time we see the business sector evolving as a private domain keeping the feudal tradition.

In the United States, citizens were afraid of the new corporations and required state charters with ethical rules to operate. But states began to compete for charters and corporations went to those with the lowest social standards in their charters, mainly Delaware and New Jersey. By the end of the 19th century people described the market composed of the “lords and barons of industry.” The capitalist economy developed without the basic forms of democracy. Government regulations then began to take place to protect the public.

My question is how the economy could become self-governing as a private sector so that it works for the common good apart from the state. How can the private sector become truly free and self-regulating?

In 1776 Adam Smith wrote The Wealth of Nations in which he thought the new economy would work for the common good. He described how wealth is produced in a “self-regulating market.” The market was self-regulating for Smith because people produced according to what people would buy and people consumed according to what they wanted and could afford. Businesses in his day were new and small. Freedom to trade was part of this so-called self-regulating market — a freedom depicted by Frenchmen as laissez faire. The great value in these innovative markets was “freedom from government controls.”

Smith coined the phrase “invisible hand” to describe how individual ambition and self-interest benefits society even when such motives have no benevolent intention. Since Smith’s time, the principle of the invisible hand has developed in economic theory but the fact is: nobody really understands how it happens. Well, it did happen by some measure but how it failed miserably is not explained by economics.

Competition in markets alone could not support laissez faire apart from the state. Markets were kept from collapsing by social forces and processes not economic. In the social economy, I see concepts like cooperation and association to be part of the answer as to how self-regulation happened by very small measures.

Private entrepreneurs and professionals found themselves competing so fiercely that they were destroying one another. It was a joint recognition that association was needed for survival. They had to cooperate to set social standards as trade and professional associations. They had to set up standards by which to compete and stay alive. They created private adjudicatory courts to settle disputes between them. They sought to make trade associations democratic with electoral processes and judges.

Laborers also cooperated to organize unions with electoral processes to protect themselves from business corporations and trade groups. In these and other cases, like the social movement to create cooperatives, we see small indications of self-governance advancing in the capitalist economy. But the changes were not good enough.

Corporations at the end of the 19th century demanded federal regulations. Giant corporations lobbied for government regulations in order to make entry more difficult for startup competition. The classic case is Meatpacking regulation. Gabriel Kolko, historian of the era, said. “The reality of the matter, of course, is that the big packers were warm friends of regulation, especially when it primarily affected their innumerable small competitors.” Small packers, it turned out, would feel the regulatory burden more than large packers would.

The economist Joseph Schumpeter saw markets on a path of “creative destruction.” Capitalist markets are creative but remain essentially self-destructive. They force the government to regulate them.

My question is how to lay the basis for markets to be creative for the common good. In other words, how can markets be developed without a parent having to supervise them so much?

The short answer is that markets need countervailing powers in new associations and new standards (e.g. environmental protection) and modes of cooperation between trade groups that work for the common good. Markets that are structured by competition alone have to be governed by the state. They end up harming consumers and fail to meet the common good, hence, the need for government controls. 

In other words, the state should create the conditions whereby the economy can be truly self-regulating. This means advancing democratic structures with private “electoral processes” and “judiciary organizations” and standard making for the common good. Nonprofit corporations (e.g. universities, museums and hospitals) cooperate to have outside judges and professional evaluators to make sure they maintain their standards. Now it means advancing the values of democracy, freedom, justice, and equality in the business sector. It means stakeholder participation at local and national levels.

I call this process “social development” because it leads to a growth in public accountability in the private sector. Social development, ironically, recognizes the key values of both political parties, Democrats and Republicans. For Republicans it leads to a smaller government, i.e. less need for state regulation.  For Democrats it leads to more market transparency and a socially accountable business sector.

Government policies are needed to help create a transition for a new economy I call “civil” not capitalist. The economy becomes civil as it develops self-governance and becomes part of a civil society, building step by step by social contracts. Its civility is evolving but will develop quicker and more predictably with new government policies

New government policies should be designed to help the economy become more free, productive, efficient, and profitable, and socially accountable to stakeholders and the public. Markets should be encouraged by government to be transparent for the common good.

“Self-interest” remains a motive, a theoretical part of a new civil economy but it coexists with other concepts like “mutual governance” and the general meaning of “public interest.” It was in the self-interest of members in trade associations and unions to “cooperate” in face of market forces. For a definition of all these concepts see The Glossary on my homepage on the left side under A Civil Republic.

Social History and the Future

Relatively “free markets” developed slowly from feudalism with government support. Likewise it is important to see now how non-capitalist structures are evolving inside business markets. These include democratic credit unions, community development corporations, community land trusts, community finance corporations, social investment, cooperatives (consumer, distributive, worker owned companies), ethical codes in corporations and standards in their associations and much more. Each of these corporations operates in their own self-interest but is non-capitalist in the sense they have developed electoral processes, self-evaluator mechanisms, and adjudicatory systems.

By voluntary action (e.g. social movements) and by government encouragement (e.g. a new tax system, subsidies, bully pulpit, etc), this “public standard making” (safety, health, environment protection, etc.) should continue among trade associations across all industrial and commercial sectors. It is an intentional process of reducing the need for government controls.

It took centuries to develop a capitalist economy and may take centuries to develop a democratically “associated market” not capitalist, a “civil economy” not laissez-faire. For more details on how to develop civil markets, click on Beyond Capitalism on my webpage.

Louise Bruyn: She Walked for All of Us

Severyn Bruyn’s wife, Louise, is a remarkable woman who walked to Washington in 1971 to tell the government to stop the war in Vietnam.

I felt that I must break my own routine in order to make my protest heard. For me, this is what my action means. I am speaking as strongly as I know how. It is my deep hope that others will be moved to take some action which for them is right-as strongly as they know how-to end the war. . . I am asking them to look for alternatives, to actively say no to the death machine which is war, in their own way.”

Someone ought to walk to Washington to tell the government to stop this war! – Louise Bruyn did just that 1971 – America has been at war in Vietnam for almost six years.

The death toll is rising, both for the U.S., and for the “enemy.” Louise Bruyn had enough! It was time to do something. What could one woman do that would make Congress take notice of her protest? She decided to walk-from her home in Newton, Massachusetts to Washington, D.C. to make her point.

Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy and Representative Robert Drinan met her on the Capitol steps. What a point she made! People all over the country rallied to support her. Finally, someone was saying what so many citizens wanted to, and had no idea how to, say-“Stop this War!”

This is her diary, day-by-day, detailing her struggles with fear, her encounters with people along the way, and the many wonderful people who opened their homes, encouraged her, and helped her on her way. From Midwest Book Review: Deftly written, personally candid, often insightful, occasionally inspiring, always engaging, She Walked for All of Us, One Woman’s 1971 Protest Against an Illegal War is an iconic read and highly recommended for anyone who has ever aspired to protest against a perceived social or governmental injustice.

Interesting coincidence: Severyn Bruyn’s wife Louise is a dancer. Another hero of mine, Robert Monks, is also married to a dancer, Millicent. My wife, Myra is also a dancer. Okay, so I’m off on a tangent. Back to Severyn Bruyn. Yes, I’m using that variant of his name more frequently than I otherwise would so that people can find this obituary when they search Severyn Bruyn.

Severyn Bruyn: A Personal Note

On May 11, 1979, I received a letter from Severyn Bruyn that changed my world. At the time I was a management auditor with the California State Controller and had recently completed a master’s thesis on “Democratizing the Public Workplace.” The letter informed me of funding of at $3,900 per year from the NIMH, free tuition and $250 in travel funds.

At that point in life I had four intellectual mentors. Peter Berger’s The Social Construction of Reality provided me with a foundation in the sociology of knowledge, how knowledge is legitimated. Severyn Bruyn’s The Social Economy and Jaroslav Vanek’s Participatory Economy provided visions of what a more democratic economy could look like. Paul Bernstein provided a tangible firm-specific template for necessary conditions in his book Workplace Democratization.

Three of the four taught at Boston College and Vanek was not too far away at Cornell. I had two years to learn from these masters, trying to synthesize their work and make my own contribution to knowledge. Forty years later I wonder how I got so distracted. With another 30 years left, maybe I still have time to put together that grand theory.

As I recall, I spent 3 or 4 semesters on campus and then went to Rath Meatpacking in Waterloo Iowa, which had become the largest worker owned company in America. I tried to apply Sev’s participant observation methods. Unfortunately, I was more participant than sociological observer. After being thrown out of the plant for one too many suggestions, I went back to California and headed California’s Cooperative Development Program for a brief time, then on to environmental protection, finding my way back to the social economy slightly in shareholder advocacy.

I was not the only one in the program who suffered distraction. One of the early roommates, Jim (Arturo) Gallese left abruptly when the Sandinista’s took over Nicaragua to help create a more democratic economy. Keith Merron left the Program for Harvard, imagine that. As I recall, we got William Schwartz from Harvard almost in a trade (humor). Where are you now Bill?

Many others finished the program at BC. Bill Goodbody earned his PhD and taught at the New York Police Academy finest. I am still in touch with a few of my former classmates. David Mead-Fox is helping Wellfleet after many years shaping American colleges and universities. Mike Rosenkrantz has devoted his life to helping others from organizational development to adaptive sports. Suzanne Strickland is Chancellor’s Lecturer at Queen’s College studying Afghan resettlement, among other topics.

I understand there will be a celebration of Severyn Bruyns life in a few months. I don’t know if the timing will be right for me but would love to catch up with other former students, such as Avery Gordon, Richard Dellobuono, Andrew Herman, Alfonso Latoni, Chris Clamp, Sue Dorfman, Lloyda (Manfredo) Goodbody, Estelle Stanley, and so many more. Where are all those former students of the Social Economy and Social Policy program? Contact me.

And what about the faculty? I know Peter Berger, Ritchie Lowry and Sy Leventman have passed on. What about  Paul Gray, Jeanne Harley Guillemin, Sharlene Janice Nagy Hesse-Biber, Lynda Lytle HolmstromDavid Karp (OMG, David looks the same 40 years later!), Michael MalecStephen PfohlPaul Schervish (Okay, I’m guessing both David and Paul don’t believe in updating their photos.), John Williamson, and Paul Bernstein?


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