A History of Sociological Analysis, Basic Books, New York, pp. 283-321
oral Fervor and Social Reform
oral Fervor and Social Reform
"In all seriousness, then, and with careful weighing of my words," wrote Albion Small, one of the founding fathers of American sociology, "I register my belief that social science is the holiest sacrament open to men."'
It is hard to believe that such a sentence could have been written by any of the major European exemplars of our discipline. It points to the distinctive marks of early American sociology. The evangelical passion and moralistic rhetoric that informs many of the writings of early American sociologists becomes understandable when it is realized that a very high proportion of them were sons of ministers or had themselves been ministers or studied in divinity schools. Of the early presidents of the American Sociological Society, Giddings, Thomas, and Vincent had been born in clerical homes, while Sumner, Small, Vincent, Hayes, Weatherly, Lichtenberger, Gillin, and Gillett pursued careers in the Protestant ministry before they became sociologists.' Analyzing the 258 responses to a questionnaire asking sociologists to provide autobiographical background information originally gathered by Luther Bernard in 1927, Paul J. Baker and his associates found that sixty-one sociologists had previously been in the ministry and an additional eighteen received formal training in divinity schools without pursuing a career in the `Church.'
To be sure, some of these: men, like Stunner and Ross, lost their faith after embarking on a career in sociology, often after exposure to the evolutionary thought of Darwin and Spencer. Others, however, like Small or Vincent, remained believing Christians throughout their lives I leave no numerical data on the personal beliefs of all the members of the sociological discipline during the first few generations, but perusal of many biographies leaves no doubt in my mind that Christian faith was widespread among those men -- almost ail from a rural or small-town background--who became sociologists in the period before the first world war.
A large majority of believing sociologists around the turn of the century were tied in one way or another to the Protestant social reform and Social Gospel movements that had developed very rapidly during the Progressive era. The Protestant denominations had largely been staunch supporters of the status quo fn the first two decades after the Civil War, but by the turn of the century critical voices could be heard forcefully in all major churches. The orgies of speculation in the age of the robber barons, the mad scramble around the great barbecue, the violent repression of the emergent labor movement, the largely uncontrolled growth of cities, the closing of the frontier, the millions of new immigrants herded into appalling slums and mercilessly exploited in coal mines and sweatshops‑these and many more harbingers of crisis and decay brought many formerly complacent clergymen, as well as other concerned citizens, into the Progressive movement. They were all eager to transform America into a country more nearly in tune with the moral message of Christian doctrine. "No other movement in American political history," writes Richard Hofstadter in reference to the Progressive movement, "had ever received so much clerical sanction."`
There is still another reason why increasing numbers of Protestant clergymen turned to reform around the turn of the century. Clergymen had lost much of the leading status they possessed before the Civil War fn the rush for wealth and power that marked the post-Civil War period. No longer were they looked at with the same awe and reverence which had made them the unquestioned moral leaders of the community in colonial days and, largely, until the Civil War. New trends of secular ideas, especially evolutionary thought, now contested the previous preeminence of religious doctrine. While formerly men of the cloth had dominated all educational institutions, the boards of trustees of colleges and universities were now mainly comprised banters, businessmen, and corporate lawyers. A divinity degree was no longer the accepted 'passport to administrative positions in the world of higher education. Moreover, and in tune with these trends, the salaries of the clergy began to compare unfavorably with those of members of other professions and often did not even keep up with the increasing cost of living. Thus, the rise of the Christian social reform movement can be understood, at least fn large part, in terms of the new social and material interests and the status insecurities of the Protestant clergy. To quote Hofstadter again, the movement can be seen as an "attempt to restore through secular leadership some of the spiritual influence and authority and social prestige that clergymen had lost."'
Many of the Christian reformers were acutely aware that their newly awakened social consciousness needed to be informed by knowledge of social conditions and social problems which had up until recently not been in the intellectual baggage of Christian ministers. They therefore turned for assistance to various reform-oriented researchers, settlement workers, social welfare specialists, or muckraking journalists. A variety of networks came into being linking all these professions, religious or not, in the center and on the periphery of the Progressive movement.
The first and second generation of American sociologists were very much part of the growing reform movement. Whether directly tied to the Social Gospel and related developments or not, they saw themselves as reformers and addressed themselves largely to an audience of reformers. Moreover, their moral fervor, sustained by their immersion in the melioristic tradition, helped give their newfangled calling a legitimation which it might otherwise have lacked. As Vernon Dibble tersely put it, "sociology needed moralists to get started."
American sociology emerged as a self-conscious discipline in the nineties, but it had, of course, an earlier history. In their exhaustive study of the Origins of American Sociology,' L. L. Bernard and Jessie Bernard describe in great detail the predecessors of formal sociology in the nineteenth-century social science movement.
This movement was strongly pervaded by a spirit of reform. Although those aiming at reform and those emphasizing scientific research did not long live in harmony with each other, it is indicative of the common roots of reform and sociology in America that the Massachusetts Board of Alien Commissioners, which was founded in 1851 "to superintend the execution of all laws in relation to the introduction of aliens into the Commonwealth and the support of state paupers therein,"' became some fifteen years later the nucleus of the American Social Science Association.
The American Social Science Association proclaimed as its objects "to aid the development of Social Science, and to guide the public mind to the best practical means of promoting the Amendments of Laws, the Advancement of Education, the Prevention and Repression of Crimes, the Reformation of Criminals, and the Progress of Public Morality, the Adoption of Sanitary Regulations and the Diffusion of Sound Principles on the Questions of Economy, Trade and Finance."' From its inception in 1865, it combined a spirit of reform with a zeal for scientific investigation. 'rite "problem" emphasis met increasing opposition within the association during the seventies and eighties, especially after various social-welfare associations such as the National Prison Association and the National Conference of Charities and Correction broke away. Those of its members who were concerned with the academic respectability of social science attempted to dissociate i1 from immediate application in social work and other practical activities. Yet, as will be shown in the following pages, the reformist ethic so canalized the interest of the first generation of American sociologists that it constitutes an important element in the enhanced cultivation of sociology. The deep-rooted reformist interests of the day demanded in their forceful implications the systematic, rational, and empirical study of society and the control of a corrupt world.
The predominance of the "problems" approach over the purely theoretical concern with sociology is clearly evident in the charter statements of the earliest departments of sociology. Thus, Columbia University's announcement of a chair of sociology stated: "It is becoming more and more apparent that industrial and social progress is bringing the modern community face-to-face with social questions of the greatest magnitude, the solution of which will demand the best scientific study and the most honest practical endeavor. The term 'sociology'. . . includes a large number of the subjects which are most seriously interesting men at the present time. The effective treatment of social problems demands that they be dealt with both theoretically and concretely." The newly established chair "will provide for a thorough study of philosophical or general sociology and of the practical or concrete social questions in their relation to sociological principles . . . special courses of instruction will be offered on pauperism, poor laws, methods of charity, crime, penology and social ethics."
The Columbia statement, drafted by Giddings gives perhaps more weight to theory than similar statements announcing other chairs." As a historian of American sociology has said: "On the one hand, the development of sociology as a subject of instruction in American universities was influenced strongly by Spencer and to a lesser degree by several other European pioneers .... On the other hand, the sociology that was taught before 1920 in the colleges and Universities of the United States was even more strongly influenced and shaped by the humanitarian, philanthropic and social reform movements that were actively under way in the country during the nineteenth century .... It is certain that a large proportion of the courses being offered under the name of sociology . . . as recently as the second decade of the present century dealt mainly with 'social problems,' i.e., they covered such topics as poverty, crime and the treatment of the 'dependent, defective and delinquent classes.' ""
Even though American sociologists around the turn of the century attempted to achieve academic respectability by emphasizing the scientific and theoretical aspects of their work, their reformers' zeal was still not spent." To a modern sociologist, noting the almost complete separation, if not opposition, between social science and reform today, the recurrence of reformist phrases in the writing of the fathers of American sociology is apt to signify merely customary usage. But such an interpretation is possible only if one neglects to translate oneself into the framework of late nineteenth‑century values."
As Albion W. Small and George E. Vincent stated in the first textbook of American sociology: "Sociology was born of the modern ardor to improve society."" Although sociology's early devotees attempted repeatedly to dissociate themselves from immediate reform, it crept in again and again through the back door." Attempting to define "what is a sociologist?" Small could write in 1905 that "a great many people" consider sociology "to be absorbed in plans for improving the condition of wage earners, or for dealing with paupers and criminals," but that this was only a small part of the truth since the sociologist is concerned with the study of all social phenomena." But the same Small had said earlier that "scholars might exalt both their scholarship and their citizenship by claiming an active share of the work of perfecting and applying plans and devices for social improvements and amelioration."" In Adam Smith and Modern Sociology Small stated unequivocally: "Sociology in its largest scope and on its methodological side is merely a moral philosophy conscious of its task." He was to repeat later that "there is an irresistible conflict in modern society between presumptions of capital and the paramount values of humanity. Our academic social scientists would serve their generation to better purpose if they would diminish the ratio of attention which they give to refinements interesting only to their own kind, and if they would apply them to tackling this radical moral problem of men in general.""
Small, who for the many years of his editorship of the American Journal of Sociology mainly was preoccupied with problems of methodology, was also the author of Between Eras--From Capitalism to Democracy," a series of conversations in fictional form in which he advocated a basic reform of capitalism and in which he called the present system of distribution a "rape of justice."" In his presidential address to the American Sociological Society meeting of 1913, Small, the respectable deacon of a Chicago Baptist church, stated emphatically: "The social problem of the twentieth century is whether the civilized nations can restore themselves to sanity after the nineteenthcentury aberrations of individualism and capitalism.""
There will be occasion later in this paper to allude again to the mixture of reform rhetoric and scientific language in the writings of Albion Small's generation. Even though its reform orientation was conspicuous, sociology made rapid strides toward becoming an academic discipline.
ology Becomes an Academic Discipline
ology Becomes an Academic Discipline
In spite of the strong appeal of Christian moralism and Progressive reform, sociology would not have been anchored in American society without a material basis. This was provided by the unprecedented growth of the system of higher education beginning around the turn of the century and by the receptivity of that system to the upstart discipline. The reason why sociology was known for many years all over the world as the "American science" is largely to be sought in its early institutionalization in a mushrooming American academy.
As Anthony Oberschall, following the lead of Joseph Ben David, has put it, "The wide resource basis and competitive nature of the rapidly expanding higher education system in the United States, together with the sponsorship and active backing of the new discipline by influential and organized groups who perceived sociology in their interests, were the crucial factors enabling the institutionalization of sociology in the United States. Moreover, the opportunity provided by sociology was exploited not just by intellectually dissatisfied and socially concerned scholars, but by a group of upward mobile men who otherwise could not have moved into university positions through the already established disciplines."
Although colleges devoted to the instruction of future clergymen, other professionals, and members of the upper strata have flourished in America since the colonial period, the first full-fledged American university, Johns Hopkins, opened its doors only in 1876. Four years later Columbia College began to develop into a national university. The universities of Michigan and Pennsylvania followed soon after. In 1891 large endowments from private benefactors led to the creation of two new major universities, Stanford and the University of Chicago. Others soon followed.
Not only did the American university system expand by leaps and bounds within a relatively short period, but the new institutions, unencumbered by the century-old traditions of European universities, proved to be receptive to new disciplines, especially in the social sciences. As a result, young social scientists, whether trained in Europe (mostly Germany) or in the new graduate schools, commanded a premium on the academic marketplace. Those who did not find a niche in the most prestigious institutions of the East found opportunities farther west. The burgeoning demand for enlightenment about novel social conditions and for guidance along the road to reform allowed young social innovators and progressive social scientists to introduce reform-oriented courses and curricula with relative ease. Even though there were some ugly cases of restriction of academic freedom, the relative scarcity of trained social scientists created a sellers' market for these innovators, so that they had a good deal of leeway when it came to defining their subject matter and structuring the courses they offered.
The first sociology course in the United States was taught by William Graham Summer at Yale in 1875, despite the strenuous objections of Yale's president Noah Porter, who felt that Sumner's Spencerian orientation would do "intellectual and moral harm to the students." But soon after, many college presidents themselves began to offer courses in "sociology" as a replacement of their former courses in mental and moral philosophy. At the end of his first year as president of Colby College in 1890, Albion Small, for example, reported to the trustees that he had changed the subject matter of one of his key courses previously called "moral science." "Instead of attempting to trace the development of metaphysical philosophy," Small wrote, "he had introduced the class to modern sociological philosophy." His syllabus at Colby, which served him as a guideline later when he became the first chairman of the new Department of Sociology at the University of Chicago, fell into three parts: "Descriptive Sociology-The actual society of the past and present, the world as it is"; "Statical Sociology-The world as it ought to be"; and "Dynamic Sociology-The methods available for causing approximation of the ideal, the world in process of betterment.""
The early courses in sociology, whether offered by college presidents or young instructors, tended to be a motley assemblage of moral exhortation, factual description, social problems, conservative or reform-oriented Darwinism, Christian uplift, institutional economics, and concern with various forms of social pathology. But by 1900 a rudimentary differentiation began to set in." Those instructors interested in sociological analysis or "pure sociology" began to separate themselves from their colleagues who were mainly concerned with social problems or "applied sociology." At the same time sociologists began to differentiate themselves from institutional economists and from historians and philosophers who previously had often taught generalized "sociology" courses. Around the time of the first world war, sociologists largely led by the Department of Sociology of the University of Chicago--which also published the only journal entirely devoted to sociology, The American Journal of Sociology--had developed a publicly recognized identity and visibility.
The main currents of ideas that animated the developing discipline are best dealt with in terms of the major contributions of those figures in the early history of American sociology who have left an enduring mark on the discipline. These ideas must, of course, be considered within the historical and social context in which the founders of American sociology did their work.
Although among their predecessors in the social-science movement the doctrines of Auguste Comte had by far the most potent influence, the generation of Sumner and Ward was under the spell of the work of Herbert Spencer and the social Darwinists. Not all of them accepted the main lines of Spencer's doctrine, but even those who opposed him in important respects felt the need to respond to his challenge.
Around the turn of the century the social Darwinist camp in America came to be largely divided between "conservative Darwinism," glorifying the captains of industry as the flowers of civilization and giving ideological support for an economic system of uncontrolled laissez faire, and "reform Darwinism." The latter tendency look major clues from Thomas H. Huxley, Darwin's ardent disciple, his "Bulldog" . as he was then called. In his "Evolution and Ethics" of 1893 Huxley argued that there were two distinct processes in which mankind participated, the "cosmical" and the "ethical.' Evolution and the survival of the fittest belonged to the "cosmical" part of human destiny, but humankind in evolution had created an ethical process that deviated from, and worked counter to, the "natural" course of evolution, so that ethics need not take any lesson from biology." To the reform Darwinists there was no disjunction between the findings of evolutionary theories and efforts at making the world over in the image of ethical ideas. Sumner was squarely in the first camp, while Ward, together with a number of other early sociologists, was in the second.
Graham Sumner, 1840-1910
Sumner, the most outspoken disciple of Herbert Spencer in America, combined evolutionism, laissez‑faire, and Malthusian pessimism with the ardor of a great Puritan divine. There were few men on the American scene who applied the Darwinian doctrine of the survival of the fittest more inflexibly to the human social realm than this Episcopal rector turned sociologist. One is tempted to sum up Sumner's whole social philosophy in one of his pragmatic sentences: "Society needs first of all to be free from meddlers--that is, to be let alone."" It is doubtful whether Sumner in his youth ever believed in the invisible hand of God as deeply as he later believed in the invisible hand of Adam Smith.
Sumner's father was a frugal, hardworking Lancashire immigrant mechanic, a devout Protestant who, if one is to believe Sumner's own portrayal, had a deep and passionate relation to but one social cause--that of abstinence. In his later life Sumner abandoned most of his father's religious beliefs but never the underlying "Protestant" attitude. Thrift, hard work, prudence, and abstinence remained his central virtues and values. His father would have approved most heartily when the son wrote, "Let us not imagine that . . . any race of men on this earth can ever be emancipated from the necessity of industry, prudence, continence and temperance if they are to pass their lives prosperously."
When only thirteen or fourteen years old, Sumner, already an avid reader, came across Harriet Martineau's Illustrations of Political Economy at the library of the Young Men's Institute at Hartford, Connecticut. From this collection of didactic stories popularizing Ricardo and Malthus he imbibed free‑trade principles, and learned "natural truths" such as "Restriction on the liberty of exchange‑is a sin in government." Sumner said later on that "my main conceptions of capital, labor, money and trade were all formed by those books which 1 read in my boyhood."" When, after a brief career as an Episcopalian rector Sumner lost his religious faith under the impact of Spencer and Darwin and accepted a teaching position at Yale College, he kept his faith in free enterprise.
As generations of Yale College graduates consistently exposed to "Sumnerology" assumed their place in the banking and commercial world, as his class talks were reported fully in New York dailies and letter columns began to be filled with Sumnerian polemics, it became apparent that Sumner was by no means a dispassionate recorder and observer of the laws of evolution and competition. Fighting against protectionism and for free trade, attacking the imperialist tendencies behind the Spanish‑American War, Sumner was suspect to a major part of the community of wealth and to the high and mighty. The Republican press and Republican alumni repeatedly tried to have him dismissed from Yale." But Sumner was not to be dismayed. To him, the advocates of protectionism were not only in error, they' were in sin, and he was convinced that "socialism was profoundly immoral." Even though he had been converted to evolutionism, the Christian moralism of his background informed much of his later writing.
Sumner saw himself as a sort of apostle to the gentile--an old testament prophet who sorrowfully and wrathfully castigated his people for the errors of their ways. In an age of "foxes" Sumner was a "lion," passionately defending free individual enterprise at just the moment when it was rapidly displaced by huge trusts and corporate giants. He fought his losing battle with all the feeling of moral righteousness that underlay the reformist ardor of his colleagues on the left of center.
To Sumner, "the law of the survival of the fittest was not made by man and cannot be abrogated by man. We can only by interfering with it, produce the survival of the unfittest. The history of humankind, Sumner taught, can be viewed as a perpetual struggle between individuals, classes and groups. In fact, Sumner's doctrine involved a kind of economic determinism considerably more dogmatic and unbending than that of Karl Marx. "The thing which makes and breaks institutions," he wrote, "is economic force, acting on the interest of man, and, through him, on human nature."" In his opinion, the "views of rights are thus afloat on a tide of interests."
Sumner was impatient with those reformers who wished to correct the balance of natural forces as they worked themselves out in the harsh struggle for survival. "They do not perceive," he wrote, "that . . . 'the strong' and the 'weak' are terms which admit of no definition unless they are made equivalent to the industrious and the idle, the frugal and the extravagant. They do not perceive, furthermore, that if we do not like the survival of the fittest, we have only one possible alternative, and that is the survival of the unfittest."
Had Sumner only produced secular sermons, impassioned pamphlets in favor of evolutionism, crusading philippics against moral crusaders, he would probably only be remembered as a not very original social Darwinist, a Spencer in American dress. In fact, fairly late in his life (1906) he published the one work, Folkways," that left an enduring mark on the subsequent history of American sociology. In this work, his moralism is largely replaced by a pervasive moral relativism, yet his underlying laissez-faire stance remained virtually unchanged.
The subtitle of this work, "A Study of the Sociological Importance of Usages, Manners, Customs, Mores, and Morals," describes its content. Supporting his thesis with a vast array of ethnographic and historical materials culled from a variety of cultural contexts, Sumner attempted to develop a comprehensive theory of human evolution while also giving an account of the persistence of basic human traits.
Guided by instincts that humankind had acquired from its animal ancestors, Sumner argued, and by the tendency to avoid pain and maximize pleasure, the human race had gradually, through trial and error developed types of group conduct, habitual ways of doing things, adaptation to the human environment and a successful struggle for existence. These types of group conduct and below the level of conscious deliberation.
When these habitual ways of doing things, which Sumner calls "folkways," are regarded as assuring the continued welfare of the group, they become transformed into "mores." "The mores are the folkways, including the philosophical and ethical generalizations as to societal welfare which are suggested by them, and inherent in them, as they grow. They are the ways of doing things which are current in a society to satisfy human needs and desires, together with the faiths, notions, codes, and standards of well living which inhere in those ways . .. ." The mores can make anything right. "What they do is that they cover usage in dress, language, behavior, manners etc., with the mandate of current custom, and give it regulation and limits within which it becomes unquestionable." They are coercive and constraining. They dominate all members of society or groups, and they are enforced by sharp negative sanctions in case of infringement. Whereas sanctions against deviance from folkways may only be relatively mild-like gossip, for example-the sanctions upon infringing mores are severe precisely because they are thought to guarantee the welfare of the group.
Sumner's third key concept is "institutions." "An institution consists of a concept (idea, notion, doctrine, interest) and a structure .... The structure holds the concept and furnishes instrumentalities for bringing it into the world of fact."" Most institutions of the past have been "crescive"; that is, they have slowly grown out of folkways and mores. "Enacted" institutions, in contrast, belong to the modern world as products of rational invention and intention. Religion, property, and marriage are primarily crescive institutions, whereas modern banks and the electoral college are enacted institutions. But acts of legislation can succeed only to the extent that they have their roots in the mores. "Legislation has to seek standing ground on existing mores . . . to be strong it must be consistent with the mores." Folkways, mores, and crescive institutions are based on sentiment and faith. Laws and enacted institutions, on the other hand, are conspicuously brought into being and embody positive prescriptions or proscriptions of "a rational and practical character."" But, and this is of the utmost importance to Sumner, laws "are produced out of the mores" which they codify. Hence any attempt to legislate against the mores is bound to fail. Stateways can never contradict folkways.
It should be apparent by now that although in Folkways Sumner subscribed to a consistent moral relativism, he still maintained his prepotent belief in laissez-faire. Any attempt to legislate against the mores, he argues, is bound to fail. The mores do change, but they change slowly, in tune with changing "life conditions," with changing adjustments of mankind to its surrounding environment, and mainly through trial and error. They roll along like a muddy river, and any attempt to influence them purposefully is bound to upset the cosmic applecart. Sumner must have chuckled beatifically in his heavenly abode when he learned of the attempts to legislate prohibition in America and their disastrous failure in the face of American drinking mores.
And yet, it would seem apparent that his conservative bias made him overlook the fact that while homogeneous societies may indeed be strongly resistant to attempts at deliberate change, this is by no means the case in societies that are heterogeneous, where the mores of groups or strata are in conflict and tension. In such societies, deliberate efforts can indeed subvert previous mores held on to by vested interests. Enacted legislation is vastly more powerful in such societies than Sumner was willing to concede. When news about the success of civil-rights legislation reached Sumner in heaven, his beatific smile must soon have been replaced by an expression of disbelief and pain.
Sumner's argument, when shorn of its all-embracing pretensions, may still be of considerable usefulness when one attempts to account for large areas of persistence even in a world subject to rapid waves of change. However, in addition to the general message of Folkways, this work also contains a number of other observations that have had an enduring influence on subsequent theorizing. Only a few can be mentioned here. Though he stressed that, impelled by the major human motives‑hunger, love, vanity, and fear men and women were most of the time engaged in conflict, he also highlighted what he termed "antagonistic cooperation." This term refers to "the combination of two persons or groups to satisfy a great common interest while minor antagonisms of interest which exist between them are suppressed."" That is, Sumner highlighted the important fact that conflict and cooperation are not diametrically opposed notions but are intertwined in a variety of concrete ways that can only be separated analytically.
Two related notions developed by Sumner are perhaps of even greater interest. Both of them have entered the common language. Sumner distinguishes between the "in-group" and the "out-group" and posits a dialectical relation between them. "A group of groups may have some relation to each other (kin, neighborhood, alliance, connubium, and commercial) which draws them together and differentiates them from others. Thus a differentiation arises between ourselves, the we-group, or in-group, and everybody else, or the others--groups, out-groups. The relation of comradeship and peace in the we-group and that of hostility and war towards other-groups are correlative to each other. The exigencies of war with outsiders are what makes peace inside.." In a related train of thought Summer points to the tendency of a group to view itself as "the center of everything, and all others as scaled and rated with reference to it."" This tendency lie termed "ethnocentrism." Both of these notions have led to an impressive amount of research since Sumner's days and have proved exceedingly fruitful guides."
Even though Sumner's ingrained conservative stance has surely alienated many contemporary sociologists and has led them to neglect him, there is no doubt that he will continue to occupy an honored niche among the founders of our discipline. The crisp and pithy prose of the old curmudgeon from Yale can still be read with considerable profit, especially by those who persist in believing that if there were only a law most human problems could be legislated out of existence.
F. Ward: 1841-1913
When discussing Ward's contribution to sociology, we enter a universe of discourses very much different from that of his contemporary, Sumner.
Like so many American reformers in the Progressive age, Ward was a son of the Middle Border. Born in Illinois in 1841 into the family of an itinerant mechanic and tinkerer, Ward passed his youth in dire poverty. Whenever some time was left over from his many jobs in mills and factories, he taught himself various languages, as well as biology and physiology, and finally succeeded in becoming a secondary-school teacher. After two years of soldiering in the Civil War, Ward moved to Washington and entered the civil service as a clerk in the Department of the Treasury. Continuing his struggle for learning, he went to evening‑session colleges and managed within five years to take several diplomas in the arts, medicine, and the law. Still later, Ward continued his studies in the natural sciences and came to specialize in paleontology and botany. In 1883 he was made chief paleontologist in the United States Geological Survey. Only in 1906, near the end of his career, was he finally called to teach in the groves of academe-he accepted a chair in sociology at Brown University. He died in 1913."
Though he wrote the first major treatise in sociology in America, Dynamic Sociology, Ward never had any formal instruction in the social sciences and was largely self‑tutored. His ponderous manner of writing reflects his struggle to acquire his considerable learning in sociology. It is probably largely due to his lack of expository skills that Ward is hardly read today, while Sumner, a masterful stylist, still commands a considerable audience, And yet it would seem that in some ways Ward is a considerably more "modern" author than Sumner. While the latter hankered after a free‑enterprise economy that was already largely disappearing during his lifetime, the former laid the foundations for what later generations called a welfare state.
Ward shared with Sumner an intense admiration for
Darwin 'and for evolutionary science. One might even call him a social
Darwinist, but only if it is understood that his allegiance to that doctrine was
of the reform variety. Though detailed treatment of his work would probably
focus on several other of his contributions to the emergent discipline of
sociology, I shall limit myself here to only two of them: his evocation of the
need for social planning and the emergence of a "sociocratic" society,
and his break with the biologistic analogies of social Darwinism and of
Spencer and his cothinkers had argued for a monistic explanation of all human and natural phenomena. They believed that such concepts as natural selection, the survival of the fittest, or differentiation applied to the human and nonhuman field alike, that they were the master keys that would allow access to all the riddles of the universe. Their defense of laissez‑faire economics followed logically, or so they thought, from the universal natural laws that they believed to be firmly established by evolutionary science. It is this major premise that Ward wished to refute. Since he was wedded by background and general orientation to a meliorist and reformist stance, he considered it of the utmost importance to be able to show that the laws of natural evolution did not apply to human development, there being "no necessary harmony between natural law and human advantage."
Ward laid the foundation for a dualistic interpretation according to which natural evolution proceeded in a purposeless manner, while human evolution was informed by purposeful action. Nature proceeded according to the laws of "genesis," human evolution was guided by "telesis." By introducing this bifurcation, Ward undermined the Spencerian system which rested largely on biological analogies. He thus helped to emancipate the emergent social sciences from dependence both on biological processes and on laissez‑faire principles. To Ward, nature's way was not the human way. As Hofstader puts it, "Animal economics, the survival of the fittest in the struggle for existence, results from the multiplication of organisms beyond the means of subsistence. Nature produces organisms in superabundance and relies upon the wind, water, birds, and animals to sow her seed. A rational being, on the other hand, prepares the ground, eliminates weeds, drills holes, and plants at proper intervals; this is the way of human economics. While environment transforms the animal, man transforms the environment."
Given this basic bifurcation between human and nonhuman processes, Ward argued, Malthus's theory of population, which had been so instrumental in forming both Spencer's and Darwin's views, does not apply to the human race. "The fact is," he wrote, "that men and society are not, except in a very limited sense, under the influence of the great dynamic laws that control the rest of the animal world .... If we call biological processes natural, we must call social processes artificial. The fundamental principle of biology is natural selection, that of sociology is artificial selection .... If nature progresses through the destruction of the weak, man progresses through the protection of the weak."
Having demolished, at least to his satisfaction, the case for "natural" laissez-faire, Ward then proceeded to argue for a sociology based on the analysis of changing human institutions in terms of theological progress. He conceded to the orthodox social Darwinists, and to the Austrian "conflict theorists" Gumplowicz and Ralzenhofer in particular, that in the past the struggle between races and classes had indeed marked the course of human history. He went even so far as to assert that, "When races stop struggling progress ceases." Yet he was also at pains to point out the wastefulness of such struggles, and he expressed the hope, indeed the certainty, that in the future they would be eliminated through planned and purposeful action led by an enlightened government, a "sociocracy."
Welcoming all popular movements which in his day worked for reform, he saw in these movements the seeds of an emergent "people's government" that would set its course on a deliberate recasting of the social order. There are, to be sure, certain passages in Ward that remind one of Comtean delusionsabout the ability of scientist-kings to guide humanity into a socially engineered and managed paradise. But his propensities in this direction were held in check most of the time by his prepotent belief in education as the rational means of developing the intellect of even the humblest men and women. Education, would enable them to participate consciously in the self-government of democratic citizens. He was convinced that " . . . the bottom layer of society, the proletariat, the working class . . . nay, even the denizens of the slums . . . are by nature the peers of the boasted 'aristocracy of brains, if only they would receive proper instruction." The man who had sacrificed so much in order to acquire an education put an almost unlimited faith in the conscious enlargement of the mind of every man and woman. One may judge this overriding faith to have been somewhat naive, but one can hardly deny a the nobility of this vision.
Ward was by no means always consistent. In particular, despite his stress on telic processes and the unique and artificial character of social organization, he repeatedly relapsed into Darwinistic language and cosmological speculations of an evolutionary nature. But it remains his great historical merit to have made the first major attempt in America to free sociological inquiry from its biological fetters and to have stressed that collective human purposes, informed by an applied sociology of social reform, might inaugurate a major new step in the direction of what at a later date Amitai Etzioni called "the active society.
While retaining many of their roots in the tradition of reform-oriented Darwinism and putting to their uses the melioristic message of Lester Ward, many leading sociologists of the succeeding generation, Edward Alsworth Ross and Thorstein Veblen in particular, articulated a more critical stance in reaction to the American scene in the Gilded Age. Ross, who would not give "a snap of his finger for the 'pussyfooting' sociologists," was involved throughout his career in the politics of radical reform, while Veblen during most of his life cultivated a weary and ironic aloofness from the sphere of politics; yet both were at one in expressing in their work a fundamental critique of major social tendencies in their America. They laid the foundations for a type of radical critical sociology that was to flower in a later age in the works of men such as C. Wright Mills.
Alsworth Ross: 1866-1951
Like Ward, to whom he was tied by bonds of discipleship as well as kinship, Ross was a son of the Middle West. He was born on December 12, 1866, in Virden, Illinois, of parents who pursued a checkered farming and homesteading career in Kansas, Illinois, and Iowa. Both parents died at an early age, and so Ross was left an orphan when he was only eight years old. He was brought up by various relatives in the small town of Marion, Iowa. Given his unusual status, lacking a sense of family tradition or geographical roots, the young Ross seems to have felt very early that he had little in common with his small-town contemporaries. Selling some of the land he had inherited from his parents, the restive youngster managed to enroll at Coe College, a Presbyterian institution in Cedar Rapids which, despite its intellectual restrictiveness, helped open for him the doors of higher learning. He subsequently taught at the "collegiate institute" in Fort Dodge, Iowa. Although he started out as a staunch member of the local Presbyterian church, he soon lost his faith after immersing himself in the works of Spencer and Darwin. As was the custom for many young intellectuals of his generation, Ross then resolved to acquire a "real education" in Germany. Hegelian philosophy and other metaphysical systems proved uncongenial to the young midwesterner, and though he toyed for a while with the cultural pessimism of Schopenhauer and Nietzsche, Ross soon resolved that the cultural gloom of fin-de-siecle Europe was not for him. When he returned to America at the end of 1889, Ross was resolved to leave behind him the world of speculation and to immerse himself instead in action and reform. Working under Richard Ely at Johns Hopkins, he wrote a dissertation on public finance in the spirit of the new reform economics and then taught the subject at Indiana, Cornell, and Stanford. There he encountered the work of Lester Ward and resolved, largely under Ward's influence, to switch from economics to sociology. What appealed to him in Ward's system was the notion that society was not subject to "natural" laws but was an "artificial" creation subject to human control and direction. Thus sociology could be conceived as a guide to radical action and not only as a simple program of study. He decided, to use the words of R. Jackson Wilson, that "he could be objective and still passionate, scientist and still progressive, that social science could be both data and program, law and plan of action."
Fired from Stanford after having offended the "vested interests" and the widow of the founder of the University, lie moved to the University of Nebraska and finally to the University of Wisconsin, where for thirty years he combined a distinguished academic career with a free-lance calling as one of America's leading muckrakers and as a main exponent of the tenets of the Populist and later the Progressive movements. From the Free Silver Crusade of William Jennings Bryan, to the Bull Moose Campaign of Theodore Roosevelt, to Lafollette's Wisconsin progressivism, and to a great variety of other progressive causes, Ross was always to be found in the thick of battle. A friend and associate of radical reformers like Clarence Darrow, Jane Addams, Lincoln Steffens, Upton Sinclair, Ida Tarbell, and Justice Brandeis, but also of such somewhat more aloof liberal reformers as justice Holmes and Dean Roscoe Pound, Ross became a most successful popularizer of a critical sociology. His more than two hundred magazine articles and twenty-four books (which had sold over 300,000 copies by 1936) gave him maximum exposure as an outspoken spokesman of action-oriented sociology.
Had Ross limited himself to his pamphleteering and his devotion to the literature of exposure, he would surely have merited more than a footnote in the history of American reform. His stature as a sociologist, however, rests largely on his seminal book, Social Control (1901), and its successors, The Foundations of Sociology (1905) and Social Psychology (1908).
In his theoretical work, Ross's main objective was to elucidate the ways in which societies control the behavior of their component members so as to make them accept social requirements. Having been inoculated in Germany against large-scale historical and philosophical speculations, Ross worked largely by way of description and enumeration, sticking "close to the facts."
He initially set down a list of no less than thirty-three
different ways in which he thought societies controlled their members. The list
was pruned down later on, but it still is more a laundry list than an
analytically rigorous classification. Nevertheless, it is clear that he was
working his way toward a distinction between forms of social control that
operate largely through external imposition and those that gain their
effectiveness through "internalization" achieved in the course of
For Ross, the most prominent among those control mechanisms that work through external constraint and punishment is the law and the repressive mechanisms at its command. Custom, which in earlier times had preempted almost the whole area now dominated by law, still functions as an informal, though potent, adjunct to legal regulation in modern society, but it has a less repressive character. In the same way, institutionalized religious beliefs, a major means of social control in earlier societies, still operate in this way, although to a more limited degree.
In contrast to those regulative institutions that operate largely in terms of outside controls on component individuals, there are, according to Ross, means of control that become effective through persuasion instead of constraint. Here he discusses, among other things, public opinion, education, the' emulation and imitation of extraordinary moral figures, and the creation of ideal images by artists who invite the public to live up to moral and aesthetic ideas.
Ross believed that the course of moral progress was marked by the gradual replacement of external constraint by inner disciplines that are rooted in social interactions and internalized in socialized individuals. The more democratic a community, the more it is able to turn from repressive controls to enlightenment and persuasion. Enlightenment, Ross believed, would help make people aware of the social origins of their moral being and of their social obligations as members of the democratic community.
Ross's deep-rooted antagonisms to the trusts, the malefactors of great wealth, and all the other objects of his wrath were rooted in his belief that their greed, their predacious appetites, and their grasping egoism hindered the emergence of the great democratic community that he hoped to see in America. In the last analysis, then, his sociological and his polemical writings were but different facets of his overarching desire to enlarge the scope of the good society. He taught that equalitarian social interactions in democratic communities, through the ideals, conventions, and institutions that they constitute and foster, have the "task of safeguarding the collective welfare from the ravages of egoism." The greater the ascendancy of the few over the many, on the other hand, the more distinct, close-knit and self-conscious the dominant minority, the more likely that social control will be coercive ands authoritarian.
Ross significantly enlarged the sociological understanding of social control by pointing out that there exists a wide range of control mechanisms, and that law, which had earlier been seen as the only important mechanism, is only one of many, and possibly not even the most important one. He groped his way to a view that conceived of control as more internalized than externally imposed, but he never satisfactorily explained the precise manner in which external factors come to be incorporated into the personality. When it came to such issues, he most often had recourse to such ad hoc notions as imitation and habit. It is only in the work of Cooley and Mead, who will be discussed later, that such mechanisms are identified and explicated in a theoretically satisfying manner.
Except for a short period near the end of his career,
Veblen kept aloof from the political activities of the radicals of his day and
cultivated instead a stance of amused detachment from the foibles of his
contemporaries and the contentions of his America. Unlike E. A. Ross, he felt no
need to enter the arena in which the political battles of his age were fought
out. Yet his work is infused by a radical perspective more deep-going than that
of almost all of his contemporaries. Though he liked to veil his highly charged
radical value judgments by using a complicated, illusive, and polysyllabic style
of exposition the attentive reader soon discovers the subversive implications
behind his allegedly value neutral mode.
Much of Veblen's critical bite, as well as certain of his key observations, can be accounted for by the fact that throughout his life he remained a marginal native in American society, a stranger who spent most of his life accounting for the queer ways, customs, and institutions that ruled the lives of those who remained committed to the regular grooves and routines of American culture.
He was born of Norwegian parents on a frontier farmstead in Wisconsin, the son of the Middle Border like Ward before him or Vernon Parrington and Charles Beard after him. But while these men may have felt somewhat alienated from the genteel character of the East, they nevertheless came from old Protestant stock. Veblen’s parents, in contrast, were recent immigrants who lived in remote farming communities almost totally cut off from contact with the surrounding world of the Yankees. Having grown up as a marginal Norwegian, Veblen became a marginal student as well during graduate study at Johns Hopkins and Yale. He later moved on to a career as a marginal professor at the University of Chicago, Stanford University, and the University of Missouri, a marginal civil servant, and a marginal editor. Forever refusing to pay tribute to the pieties and routine requirements of the various institutions in which he found a temporary refuge and resting place, he indeed lived within American society without ever being of it. His amazingly acute insights into the cracks and fissures, the contradictions and failures, of American society were fostered by his vantage point as a stranger among natives.
Veblen was trained as an economist, but much of his life was spent in an endeavor to undermine the assumptions of classical and neoclassical economics which dominated the academic world and which were part of the cultural fabric of American free enterprise. The tools he used in this endeavor were partly derived from Karl Marx, but mostly from the evolutionary thought of Darwin and his followers. But conservative Darwinists such as the erstwhile teacher Sumner extolled the captains of industry as the flowers of civilization; and the reform Darwinists were committed to a vision according to which, through unremittant reform efforts, America would gradually evolve into a community of brotherly benevolence. In contrast to them, Veblen was unremittingly critical of all structural and ideological assumptions of American society.
Far from being based on unchanging "laws," as the classics had taught, economic behavior to Veblen could only be understood in evolutionary and institutional terms. The evolutionary process involved selective adaptation to the environment. And this adaptation, in turn, was largely the result of technological development. In the last analysis, institutional change was rooted in the continuous improvement of the industrial arts. Ways of acting and ways of thinking that crystallize over time into institutional molds are sanctioned by communities and impressed upon their component members; they are rooted in technological soil even though they may attain a relative autonomy of their own. In particular, those who hold power in given communities are wont to defend the existing scheme of things in which they have a vested interest and so retard the progress that technology already makes possible.
Modern capitalist America, and the capitalist world in general, is characterized, according to Veblen, by an irremedial opposition between business and industry, ownership and technology, pecuniary and industrial employment between those who make money and those who make goods, between workmanship and salesmanship. It is dominated by a leisure class that lives "by the industrial community rather than in it. Not only does the leisure class exploit the underlying population, but the price system to which it is bound hampers the development of the industrial arts and sabotages the advancement of production and hence the forward course of mankind's evolutionary developments. Those who have been seen in the prevailing myths as the constructive builders of industrial America in Veblen's inverted vision turn out to be engaged in sabotaging the benevolent forces of technology through their malevolent backing of a price system that goes counter to the evolutionary scheme of things.
The price system in its turn gives rise to a competitive culture which forces all men and women to pay unremitting attention to their relative standing in relation to other persons. Bound to the Ixion's wheel of perpetual interpersonal comparison, people's self-esteem tends to be rooted in the impression they make upon their fellows and not on intrinsic achievement. Attempting to gain advantage in the continuous struggle for heightened self-evaluation, people engage in conspicuous consumption, conspicuous leisure, conspicuous displays of symbols of high worth so as to outrace their neighbors. It is not the propensity to truck and barter that animates people in the modern world, but the propensity to excel. The struggle for competitive standing is a basic datum if one is to understand the institutional framework of modern economic behavior.
The price system distorts the industrial process, and the competitive system distorts the human character. It subverts the instinct of workmanship, the inbuilt tendency to produce to the limits of one's capacity, the concern for a job well done. It induces a lag between technological and institutional developments.
Committed to an ethos of unremitting application to the tasks at hand, a somewhat "puritan" work ethic, Veblen was a kind of Benjamin Franklin living in the age of the Great Gatsby He castigated the wasteful ways of the age of the robber barons and contrasted the rationality of the machine process to the irrational caprices of speculators, financiers, and other malefactors of great wealth. Behind an ill-fitting mask of scientific objectivity, he proceeded to shoot his poisoned analytical arrows in the direction of all sacred cows.
Yet it would be a mistake to see in Veblen only the grand critic. Had he been only that, he would not loom as large in a contemporary America, which in many ways has characteristics quite dissimilar from his own. His theory of the socially induced motivations for competitive behavior certain elements of his technological interpretation of history, his institutional economics in general, and his concern with lags between technological and institutional development in particular, are likely to have enduring valor even when the tooth of time will have rendered his particular critical positions obsolete. His sociology of knowledge, though rudimentary, still is worth rereading for its emphasis on the interrelations between people's thoughts and their position in the occupational order. And a student of modernization cannot afford to remain unaware of Veblen's writings about uneven developments, with Veblen's insistence that those who borrow from the predecessors in development realize advantages that result in the relative decline of those who have originally taken the lead. One could go on. Suffice it to say here that Veblen's was probably the most original mind of his generation, a mind whose critical bite and analytical perspicacity still fructifies contemporary social thought.
Even though both Cooley and Mead considered themselves part of the Progressive movement and saw their work as contributing its share to the tradition of equalitarian and democratic reform, moral and political concerns were less central to their work than to that of most thinkers considered so far. Reforming intentions emanate from Mead's and Cooley's thoughts, but their quests for reform are not as salient on the surface as are those of men like Ward or Ross. This is why this brief account of their respective work will have little to say on this subject and will instead focus on their substantial contributions to a pragmatic social psychology. Cooley and Mead can be considered primarily as the creators of a view of the human personality that tries to overcome the Cartesian dualism of the thinking ego and the surrounding world. Instead, they view human actors as enmeshed in a network of interactions. Human actors emerge from biological roots, but their selves are formed through social experiences. Human personality, hence, cannot be understood except as part of a social process which shapes each person through communicative interaction in terms of his or her significant social matrix.
The shy, withdrawn, introspective, and bookish Charles Horton Cooley, who ventured but rarely from the confines of his study on the campus of the University of Michigan, lacked all the characteristics that the popular imagination usually associates with the sociologist's calling. He did no surveys, administered no questionnaires, and knew next to nothing about the seamier side of urban living. The only observational study he ever conducted was largely confined to his own small children. He was preeminently what is often sneeringly referred to as an "armchair sociologist." But the thoughts generated in the privacy of his study proved to have informed the minds of generations of followers who had themselves a more socially active conception of what it meant to be a sociologist.
Cooley was born on the edge of the campus of the University of Michigan where his father, a professor of law at that university, continued to reside after his election to the Supreme Court of Michigan. The Cooley family was well off and belonged to the small upper crust of Michigan's legal and social elite. While the young Cooley therefore did not suffer all the social and economic disabilities that marked the lives of so many of his contemporaries among sociologists, his early years were marked by impediments of a psychological nature. His father was a hard-driving, ambitious extrovert who seems to have overawed the son who, in order to protect himself from his father's imperious manner, withdrew into a shell of sickliness and passivity. He attempted to derive secondary gains from a series of ailments, some of which seem to have been psychosomatic. Long torn by an emotional dependence on a father from whom he was basically alienated, Cooley required an unusually long time to come into his own. It took him seven years to complete his B.A. in, of all things, engineering. His Ph.D. dissertation on "The Theory of Transportation," a pioneering study in social ecology, was written in a tough-minded, "realistic" style of which his father presumably approved, but which was fundamentally at variance with his own tender-minded and introspective approach which he later used. This dissertation, as well as a few other early contributions, grew out of two years Cooley spent in Washington working for the Interstate Commerce Commission and the Bureau of the Census, a role in which he found himself badly miscast. It was only after he returned to the University of Michigan in 1892, to begin a teaching career he pursued to the end of his life, that Cooley finally came into his own. Having no financial worries and living in an age in which the publish-or-perish philosophy had as yet made few inroads, Cooley could devote himself to a life of unhurried contemplation and leisurely study. His three major works, Human Nature and the Social Order (1902), Social Organization (1909), and Social Process (1918) grew slowly and organically from notes he took over long periods of time and were distilled from his informed reactions to a wide variety of stimuli received from his extraordinary range of reading.
Like all the sociologists of his generation, Cooley
was influenced by Darwin, but he was much less interested in the social
implications of Darwin's thought than in the intricacies of the interrelations
Darwin had been able to discover in the world of biology. The sense of the
organic unity and wholeness of life Cooley found in Darwin was also what drew
him to Goethe and Emerson, from whom he gained philosophical sustenance
throughout his life. But his greatest intellectual debt was undoubtedly to
William James, from whom he not only derived his view of the mind as forever
changing and expanding in terms of novel experience, but also, the notion of
selves being constructed through a variety of transactions with the outside
world. Another formative influence was that of the social psychologist Mark
Baldwin, who in his pioneering studies of child development kept insisting that
the personality of the child can only be studied in social terms. From such
ingredients, and many others besides,Cooley developed his own distinctive
Stress on the organic link and indissoluble connectedness between self and society is the cornerstone of Cooley's teaching. As he put it, "self and society are twin-born."" A person's self, Cooley taught, grows out of commerce with others. The self is not first individual and then social; it arises dialectically through communication with others. There can be no isolated selves, since there can be no sense of "I" without the correlative sense of "thou." The self can be defined as a "looking-glass self" because it is reflexive and arises in the person's consciousness through an incorporation of the views of others in a process of communicative interchange. If there can be no "I" without a "thou," the human personality does not emerge in splendid Cartesian isolation from the world but arises in the process of social experience. Without roots in social life the human plant would wither.
Cooley's preoccupation with the "organic" relations between individuals and their society led him to try to identify those types of social formations that would be especially conducive to sustain vivifying connections between human actors. Many social interactions, he reasoned, are fleeting in character and leave little trace in the personality. In contrast, others, such as those within the family, among close friends, in children's play groups and the like, have an intimate character and seem to leave a profound impact on individual selves. Such intimate groups, which he called "primary groups," are breeding grounds for the emergence of human cooperation and fellowship. Here individuals are drawn away from the propensity to maximize their own advantages and are tied to others by sympathy and affection. In such groups, the "we" primes the "I," and diffuse solidarity replaces the search for specific benefits that marks social life in other spheres. To Cooley, then, society can become a part of individual selves only to the extent that communal bonds in primary groups assure that the individual experiences a sense of trusting concern from those in whom he is linked in such groups. There is no looking-glass self without primary groups and without a community.
More extended commentary would have to discuss in some detail Cooley's not inconsiderable part in the development of institutional economics, or his insistence that sociological method must be attentive to the subjective meanings human actors give to their actions. One would also have to develop a critical stance vis-a-vis Cooley's excessively mentalistic and introspective views of the social nature of the self. Here it must suffice to note that the "sage of Ann Arbor" contributed a general perspective on the interrelations between individuals and their society which, though refined, extended, and elaborated, still seems to dominate genuinely social psychological approaches in contemporary thinking.
Although, as has been shown, political considerations and macrosociological concerns played a less prominent part in Cooley's thought than was the case with other sociologists in the Progressive tradition, he remains part of that tradition. He was at one with the other proponents of Progressivism in believing that only a revival of primary groups, of brotherly communities, would be allowed to stem the tide of acquisitive individualism of his times which, if left unopposed, would destroy the fabric of communal solidarity on which he thought America's promise was built.
Had he only written the two crucial chapters on "the looking-glass self" and "the primary group," Cooley's name would loom large in any historical account of early American sociology. Since he contributed much more, he is surely to be considered a modern master.
Although they were linked by a close intellectual companionship, Cooley and Mead differed significantly in their backgrounds and personality. In contrast to Cooley, Mead became acquainted early in his life with hardship and want. His father taught theology at Oberlin, where his son was born and grew up. But when the boy was still an adolescent, his father died, and the family was forced to sell their house and to move into rented quarters. The young Mead waited at colleges tables to earn his board, and then moved on to teach school, to become a private tutor, and to do survey work for railroad construction in the Northwest. An omnivorous reader, Mead prepared himself during those embattled years for an intellectual career and managed finally, in 1887, to go to Harvard to study philosophy under Royce and James. Harvard liberated him from the remnants of his father's puritanism, and the combined influence of Darwin and James led him to develop a philosophical orientation that placed him squarely in the pragmatic tradition of his Harvard teacher. Further advanced studies in Germany, partly under the direction of Wilhelm Wundt, whose conception of the "gesture" influenced him deeply, completed his philosophical education. Returning to America, it was Mead's good fortune to secure a position at the University of Michigan, where Cooley, Dewey, and James H. Tufts also taught at the time. Although Mead spent only two years at Michigan, the association with colleagues equally drawn to pragmatism influenced his later intellectual development. When Dewey was called in 1893 to the new University of Chicago to head the philosophy department, he prevailed upon Mead to follow him there. Mead stayed at that university until his death almost forty years later.
While Cooley tended to look for protective cover behind the walls of the University of Michigan, Mead took his university appointment as a vantage point from which he could involve himself in the social life of the bustling, energetic, raw, and vulgar city in which the new University of Chicago was located. He immersed himself in various urban associations and, while never neglecting his teaching duties, joined Jane Addam's Hull House as well as the City Club of Chicago, an association of reform-minded businessmen. Together with the other eminent members of the department who collectively elaborated the foundations of pragmatic- philosophy under John Dewey's guidance, Mead felt that it behooved pragmatic philosophers not to limit themselves to philosophical work but to study the manifold social problems of the city firsthand. They all wished to learn by doing good.
Mead was a superb lecturer who kept his audiences in thrall, and he was surrounded by admiring students throughout his career. Yet hr found it very hard to put his thoughts on paper, so that most of his work now available consists mainly of lecture notes published posthumously b) his students. This largely accounts for the fact that clueing his lifetime he was overshadowed byhis friend John Dewey, who did not suffer from a writing block. Mead's reputation was largely established only after his death. In retrospect it would seem, however, that his contribution to philosophy and social psychology equals that of Dewey. When it comes to his impact on sociology, it was surely more deep-going than that of his friend. In fact, Mead has now become the sociologists' philosopher. In a discipline in which philosophy weighs lightly among intellectual baggage, there are probably few sociologists who do not have at least some familiarity with Mead's work.
Following James, and largely paralleling Cooley's thought, Mead insisted that consciousness must be understood as a stream of thought arising in the dynamic relationship between a person and his significant environment. Individuals are continually involved in a succession of joint enterprises with associates, and this forms and shapes their minds and selves. Reflexivity is the essence of the self. By introducing the distinction between the "1" and the "me," Mead wished to clarify the nature of the self. Both the "I" and the "me" relate to social experience, but the "I" is the response of the organism to the attitudes of others, while the "me" is the organized set of others' attitudes which the person assumes through communicative interchange. To put it differently, as a "me" the person is aware of himself as an object and reacts or responds to himself or herself in terms of the attitudes of others. The parallels between this conceptualization and Freud's and Durkheim's notion of internalization are readily apparent. Self-appraisal is the result of a felt perception of the appraisal of others in the person's significant environment. People are born into social structures not of their own making, they are constrained by the "generalized other," the norms, customs, and laws that channel their actions. All of these enter the "me" as constituent elements, yet the "I" always reacts to preformed situations in a unique manner. Hence, while human actors are always immersed in social experiences that fashion their selves, each individual "I," with its incalculable spontaneity, is constantly actively responding against society, so that the mature self transforms the social world even as it responds to its exigencies in socially patterned ways.
The capacity to shape the self in accord with the attitudes of others assumes the capacity to comprehend these attitudes through the ability to take the role of others. To visualize one's performance from the point of view of others, the person must develop the ability to conceive the attitude of these others in imagination and in symbolic form. The world of symbols is to Mead the world of human activity. While animals communicate by means of simple gestures involving direct responses to given stimuli, humans communicate significant gestures based on linguistic symbols carrying a content that is shared by different individuals. Such significant gestures allow "an arousal in the individual himself of the response which he is calling out in the other individual, a taking of the role of the other, a tendency to act as the other person acts." '° Symbols as significant gestures allow individuals to direct their later conduct in terms of received responses. Human communicative processes involve the constant self-conscious adjustment of ongoing behavior to the conduct of others whose role one takes.
By rooting thought in communicative interaction and locating the self as an emergent in ongoing transactions between the person and the community, Mead prepared the ground for investigations of the concrete sociological links between social and thought processes. Providing a convincing answer to the earlier philosophical assumption of a radical disjunction between thinking and acting, he also furnished the rudiments of a sociology of knowledge that was more securely grounded in social psychology than was the case with the European tradition in that area. Advancing the idea that consciousness is an inner discourse carried on by public means, he set the stage for efforts to link styles of thought to social structures, and to ascertain the reciprocal relations between a thinker and his audience. More generally, Mead's work had led, or so one hopes, to the final demise within sociology of what Simmel once called the "fallacy of separateness"‑the fallacy of considering actors as monads without windows, without reference to the interactions in which they are continuously engaged.
While Cooley's theorizing sometimes came perilously close to a subjectivistic and solipsistic view of society, Mead remained steadfast in his social objectivism. The world of organized social relationships was to him as solidly given in intersubjective evidence as the physical world. To him, society is not a mental phenomenon but belongs to an "objective phase of experience." Properly understood, his work lends no support to the subjectivistic biases that have afflicted many recent developments in the social sciences. This is why, one ventures to think, Mead's work will inspire much future work in sociology and social psychology when currently fashionable doctrines will have joined the solipsistic teachings of the good Bishop Berkeley in the cabinet of antiquity.
Mead was as solidly rooted in the Progressive tradition and its search for a more enduring community as Cooley was, yet he was more tough‑minded than the latter. Mead was wont to cast a cold eye on efforts to make the world over tomorrow morning, but he never wavered from his deep‑seated conviction that the future of humankind was tied to the urgent task of improving society. Mature individuals, he believed, can secure enduring and nourishing roots in the community of their fellows if that community in its turn is sustained by an ever-renewed quest for wider and deeper forms of democratic participation.
It seems no exaggeration to say that for roughly twenty years, from the first world war to the mid-1930s, the history of sociology in America can largely be written as the history of the Department of Sociology of the University of Chicago. During these years, the department set the general tone of sociological inquiries, published the only major journal of the discipline, and trained most of the sociologists who made a mark on the profession and who assumed the presidency of the American Sociological Society. Its members wrote the most influential monographs and textbooks.
The Chicago department had its beginning in 1892. Under the guidance of Albion Small it immediately assumed a preeminent place on the American sociological scene. Whereas other early departments, such as the ones at Columbia under Giddings and at Yale under Sumner, tended to be dominated by the strong personalities of founders who endeavored to impose their theoretical vision on their fiefdoms, Small seems from the very beginning to have been committed to a deliberately eclectic stance. Though personally working in the German historicist tradition in which he had been trained, he attracted other members of the department who had but little use for his style of inquiry, and who worked in the traditions of urban ethnography, social pathology, urban ecology, or social psychology. It was probably this commitment to let many flowers bloom that accounts in part for much of the success of his department. Another major reason for this success was the location of the department in the new metropolis of Chicago, that ambitious city with its mosaic of recent immigrant groups, that "Hog Butcher for the World," which had developed in little over a half century from a frontier outpost to America's second largest city. Chicago sociologists‑and most of them had a strong empirical inclination-needed to walk only a few blocks from their protected surroundings on the sedate Midway to find their "social laboratory. "
Whether from deliberate design or as a kind of ecological adaptation, fieldwork-oriented studies, mainly in Chicago, became the hallmark of the department's contribution, even though statistical investigations were to become prominent when William Ogburn joined the department in 1927. What fascinated most members of the department was the variety of urban life-styles, of urban organization and disorganization, of occupations and professions, whether licit or illicit, that could be observed in the "laboratory." The founders of the department were largely drawn to such studies by the reforming impulse they shared with so many other sociologists dealt with in these pages. The next generation, though still committed to reform, turned to various local elites and local professionals in city‑improvement associations, race-relations commissions, and the like, in efforts to make sociology relevant to public affairs."
While the first University of Chicago generation still had largely small town and religious roots, the next was more urban, even cosmopolitan, in origin and orientation, and more professionalized. While the first generation worked in close collaboration with reform-minded social workers, the next generation, having developed a surer sense of professional identity, tended to compete with social work in its search for clients and audiences willing to profit from advice of those who now bathed in the glory of a newly acquired professional and institutionalized identity. The members of the second generation were still much committed to doing good but now tended to pursue their calling in a somewhat less exuberant, more restrained, more gentlemanly way, as professionals talking to other professionals.
Moving from the working style and the audience of the Chicago sociologists to the substance of their work, it must be stressed that their reputation as atheoretical fact finders and empty-headed empiricists is by no means deserved. The members of the early generation possessed well‑furnished theoretical minds and were very much conversant with social theory, whether European or homegrown. Simmel, Durkheim, the Austrian conflict theorists, but also Marx (though not Weber) were part of the theoretical toolkits of most Chicago sociologists of the first generation, and also, though less uniformly so, of the second. A simple glance at Park and Burgess's influential textbook, Introduction to the Science o` Society (1921), an attempt at codification of the Chicago department's approach to sociology, will readily show that its authors attempted to introduce their students to a great deal of sociological thought of a theoretical nature. They did not succeed in fully assimilating the theoretical structure of the various European social thinkers with whom they were familiar, but they benefited from them in bits and pieces and in tune with their specific research requirements. .
W. I. Thomas and Robert E. Park straddled the first and second period of the development of sociology at the University of Chicago. Thomas joined the department in its early stages but was forced to leave it in 1918. Robert Park joined only in 1914 but served there until his retirement in 1933. Both of them singly or .jointly helped train most of the major sociologists of the second generation, from Everett C. Hughes and Herbert Blumer to Louis Wirth, E. Franklin Frazier, Clifford Shaw, Leonard Cottrell, and a host of other, though not lesser, scholars.
W. I. Thomas, the son of a Southern dirt farmer and Methodist preacher, had to travel a rocky road to reach the eminence he finally attained. Thomas has said that the social environment in which he grew ill), twenty miles from the nearest railroad, resembled that of the eighteenth century. lie subsequently moved to the University of Tennessee and later to metropolitan cities of the Middle West and the North so that lie could say that lie had lived "in three centuries, migrating gradually to the higher cultural areas." Thomas had originally contemplated a career in literature and the classics, and it was only after his stay in Germany, where he became familiar with the tradition of Voelker-psychologie-i.e., ethnography-that he resolved to devote himself to anthropological and sociological research. lie became a graduate student in the new Department of Sociology of the University of Chicago in 1894 and stayed there as a key member of the faculty until 1918. lie was fired on account of a minor infringement on the straight-laced sexual mores of the community of scholars and gentlemen.
This episode was of the most shameful in the whole history of American academic life. Thereafter, although he taught upon occasion, Thomas was forced to live as an independent research scholar without institutional affiliation. A man less vital, ebullient, and rambunctious might have been destroyed by this disgraceful event. Thomas, however, continued his life seemingly undisturbed and was nearly as productive in his later career as he had been at Chicago.
Thomas's work, as well as his teaching, was informed by an insatiable curiosity about the ways in which diverse persons and groups react in characteristic manners to their transportation from a rural origin to the wilderness of modern cities. His magnum opus, The Polish Peasant fn Europe and America, which he coauthored with Florian Znaniecki, is informed by this curiosity, which probably had its roots in Thomas's own experience. Employing novel research methods, among which the collection of life histories and other personal documents were the most noteworthy, the authors attempted to give an exhaustive accounting of the transformation of life-styles, ways of looking at the world, modes of perceiving, and moral orientations that attended the move of peasants from their native village to the modern city. Thomas and Znaniecki attempted to show how different modes of social organization and social control generated different value structures in the significant environment of migrants from village to city, and how such value changes in turn called forth different personal attitudes. In attempting to do justice to both objective and subjective factors in the determination of human conduct, Thomas and Znaniecki insisted that only the conjoint interplay of individual attitudes and objective cultural values was adequate for an account of human behavior. The cause of all social phenomena, but more particularly of social change, which was the main object of their inquiry, was never, as they put 'it, "another social or individual phenomenon alone, but always a combination" of both.
To these authors, the influence of objective factors upon human conduct assumes importance largely to the extent that they are subjectively experienced. It was certainly their peculiar genius to balance their emphasis on attitudes, subjectively defined meanings, and shared experiences with an equally strong emphasis on the objective characteristics of cultural values and their embodiment in specific institutions. This is why their work, while paying a great deal of attention to the subjective definitions that their life histories and other personal documents reveal, pays equally sustained attention to microsociological units, such as primary groups and families, and to the larger institutional settings, from churches to schools to clubs, in which these smaller units are embedded.
Despite the great diversity of topics discussed in the book, it gains its unity through its portrayal of the impact of urbanization and modernization in the contemporary world. The authors documented the replacement of traditional forms of social control by the looser and more tenuous controls that guide the conduct of modern men and women. They documented the sea change from a kin-dominated culture to one based on urban associations or loose neighborhood ties. Thomas and Znaniecki were of course not alone in this endeavor; in a sense, most modern sociology can be said to be embarked on that task. But whereas their predecessors provided mainly typologies or generalized descriptions, Thomas and Znaniecki sustained their thesis by way of a rich texture of concrete and vividly portrayed personal documentation and firsthand observation. It is generally agreed by now that their book, despite its many flaws, despite gaps between theoretical foundations and empirical findings, is the first great landmark of American research sociology.
Thomas's later work grew naturally out of the earlier collaborative effort. The stress he placed on the fact that all human subjective meanings come to be constructed by definitions through which the prism of the mind orders perceptual experience, already adumbrated in The Polish Peasant, was only fully developed later on. The most seminal sentence Thomas ever wrote in his later career runs: "If men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences." This phrase sums up his most deeply ingrained sociological conviction and his essential message: people do not only respond to objective features of a situation, but also, and often mainly, to the meaning a situation has for them, and this has social consequences. If people believe in witches, even though educated Westerners know that they do not exist, such beliefs have tangible effects. Once a Vietnamese is seen as a "gook" or a black as a "nigger" or a Jew as a "kike," he has been transmuted through the peculiar alchemy of social definitions into a wholly "other" who may now become a target of prejudice and discrimination, and even of murder. There are, of course, both benevolent as well as malevolent consequences of social definitions. In any case, it was Thomas's distinct merit to have pointed to the salient fact that definitions organize experience, and hence action. Even if some contemporary theorists have distorted Thomas's insight into the absurd proposition that only definitions count and that objective social conditions need not be attended to, it is certainly the case that Thomas's formulation remains one of the essential building blocks of contemporary sociology. In his own right, and through his influence on many social psychologists both within the Chicago tradition or, as in the case of Robert K. Merton, outside of it, Thomas's heritage has decisively influenced the course of American sociological theorizing and research.
Few journalists prepare themselves for their job by taking an M.A. degree in philosophy at Harvard, fewer still gain a Ph.D. degree in Heidelberg under one of Germany's major philosophers, and still fewer, after years of newspaper reporting, become professors of sociology at a major university Robert Park managed all that.
Park was born in Pennsylvania, the son of a prosperous businessman who, soon after the son's birth, moved to Minnesota, where the young Park grew up. Like Veblen, Ward, Cooley, and Mead, Park is a product of the Middle Border. Despite his father's opposition to book learning, Park enrolled at the University of Minnesota, transferring to tire University of Michigan in his sophomore year. At Michigan, Park was influenced by the progressive atmosphere and by the pragmatic philosophy of his teachers, John Dewey among them. This is why, upon graduation, he decided not to join his father's business and to seek instead a career in which he could follow his concerns for reform. Having a strongly developed empiricist bent and distrusting systems of ideas, Park felt that intimate acquaintance with social problems was a prerequisite for attempts to resolve them. So he became a newspaperman, believing that a career in reporting would allow him to make firsthand observations. He worked for a dozen years on various newspapers in a number of cities, covering the urban scene, investigating city machines and the corruption they brought in their wake, and exposing the squalid conditions in immigrant ghettos and high-crime areas.
Always fascinated by the character of news and newsmaking, Park decided in 1898 to go to Harvard to acquire a wider philosophical background. After earning his M.A., he proceeded to Germany for further studies. These culminated in a Ph.D. dissertation on "The Mass and the Public" under the neo‑Kantian philosopher Wilhelm Windelband. Returning to Harvard as an instructor in philosophy, he soon found that he was "sick and tired of the academic world" and resolved to return to the "real world" after six years in academia. Fascinated by race relations in America and elsewhere, he wrote a series of muckraking exposes of the Belgian colonial atrocities in the Congo, and he roamed around the South to acquaint himself with the conditions of black people.' This led to his acquaintance with Booker T. Washington, the president of Tuskegee Institute, to whom Park served as an informal secretary and traveling companion for seven years. In 1914, at the age of fifty, Park decided upon an academic career in sociology, after having met W. I. Thomas, who invited him to give a course on "The Negro in America" at theUniversity of Chicago. Though his position in the Chicago department was at first somewhat tenuous, Park became its outstanding member by 1920 and impressed his stamp on it throughout the twenties and early thirties.
Park was, above all, a great teacher who managed to inspire his students with his own enthusiasm for the study of urban phenomena and race relations. He wrote relatively little himself; his main contributions consist of journal articles and introductions to the books of his students. He wanted above all to train scholars who would be able to explore the social world, and especially the urban scene, with a precision and objectivity that only rarely could be found among his former associates in the newspaper world. In this he succeeded magnificently, as the long list of works written under his guidance on such topics as urban gangs, slums, taxi dance halls, and the gold coast and the slums eloquently testifies.
Although he concerned himself with apparently
disparate topics, Park nevertheless followed a fairly distinct theoretical
strategy. Social life, so he argued, should be conceived as governed by four
major social processes: competition, conflict, accommodation, and assimilation.
These processes accounted, for example, for the "natural history" of
ethnic and racial groups attempting to carve a niche for themselves in the wider
social order. Eschewing static approaches to society, Park defined sociology as
"the science of collective behavior," thereby indicating his view that
relatively fluid social processes rather than fixed social structures govern
social life. He tended to conceive of society not as relatively stable but as an
instrument of social control attempting to direct and challenge the process of
collective behavior while, at the same time, responding to its challenge. In
this view, the corporate existence of society is perpetually challenged by
component groups and individuals, so that a permanent state of equilibrium is an
asymptotic and utopian goal.
Taking a leaf from the Darwinian notion of the "web of life," Park focused on the process through which a biotic order emerges through competition, dominance, and succession among mutually interdependent groups. These groups are seen as carving out a niche for themselves through ecological adjustments and spatial accommodation. Park maintained that the processes characterizing the growth and development of plant and animal communities apply to human communities as well. But at the same time he argued that human communities differ from animal communities in that they are sustained in a culturally transmitted symbolic and moral universe that has no counterpart in other species. Human societies, to him, have a double aspect: they are made up of interdependent individuals and groups competing with one another for economic and territorial dominance a d for favorable ecological niches; but they are also held together by symbolically affirmed solidarity, consensus, and common purpose. The social and moral order softens the impact of the competitive struggle for existence through social control, normative guidance, and involvement in transindividual tasks.
I shall not deal here with Park's conception of social role, social distance, marginality, or the social nature of the self. Many of these conceptualizations, though he gave them an original cast, owe a good deal to previous thinkers, particularly William James and Georg Simmel.
It would be exaggerated to claim that Park furnished a finished system of sociology. He never had such an intention. lie was content instead to develop a series of general ideas and sensitizing concepts that could appropriately guide the empirical work of his students. Being especially attentive to the process of social change and to the emergence of novel social formations that upset or render obsolete previous adjustments and accommodations, Park's theoretical ideas were persuasive enough to develop a Chicago‑based "school" of urban ethnography and human ecology that still inspires a great number of contemporary investigations.
The later developments of American sociology are being dealt wish in other chapters of this volume. The end of the Chicago dominance may conveniently be dated as 1935, when the American Sociological Society, previously largely, though not wholly, dominated by the Chicago department or Chicago‑trained scholars, decided in a minor coup d'etat to establish its own journal, The American Sociological Review, thus serving the longtime formal and informal links of the discipline to the University of Chicago department. Two years later the appearance of Talcott Parson's The Structure of Social Action heralded the emergence of a theoretical orientation considerably at variance with that developed at the University of Chicago. This new orientation was largely to dominate American sociology for the next quarter of a century. Having gradually become institutionalized and largely professionalized in the years with which this essay has dealt, having passed through a period of incubation during the years of Chicago dominance, sociology could embark on its mature career.