Tilly was a comparative and historical sociologist, an analyst of social movements, a social theorist, a political sociologist, a methodological innovator—none of these labels quite capture the scope of his work. I think of him as someone who was interested in the general problem of understanding social change, and he attacked it with tremendous, unflagging energy. Here is one of his own self-descriptions:
Among Tilly’s negative distinctions he prizes 1) never having held office in a professional association, 2) never having chaired a university department or served as a dean, 3) never having been an associate professor, 4) rejection every single time he has been screened as a prospective juror. He had also hoped never to publish a book with a subtitle, but subtitles somehow slipped into two of his co-authored books.
I saw him speak on several occasions and met him a few times, too. I particularly remember him giving the Mel Tumin lecture at Princeton, and a great chat I had with him in his office at Columbia. He was a small, wiry man who always seemed to be smiling and, like a true Weberian charismatic figure, he seemed able to transmit some of his own brio to you as he talked.