1 Chicago School
1.1 Introduction
1.2 The concept of 'school
1.3 Constructions of the School
1.4 A Chicago School?
1.5 Designations of the School
1.6 Brief chronology of the Department
1.7 Myths of the Chicago School

2 Chicagoans as ameliorists
2.1 The myth
2.2 Small and Henderson
2.3 Thomas and pure research
2.4 Park's anti-reformism
2.5 Burgess and action research
2.6 Local Community Research
2.7 Society for Social Research

2.8 Conclusion

3 Chicagoans as ethnographers
3.1 The myth
3.2 Nature of ethnography
3.3 Case study
3.4 Nomothetic orientation
3.5 Participant observation at Chicago
3.6 PO and community studies
3.7 PO and the Chicago approach

4 The quantitative tradition at Chicago
4.1 Introduction
4.2 Case study v statistics
4.3 Park's approach to quantification
4.4 Ogburn and quantification
4.5 Burgess as barometer
4.6 Methodological debate in SSR
4.7 Chicago eclecticism
4.8 Interdisciplinary network
4.9 Conclusion

5 Chicagoans as atheoretical empirical researchers
5.1 The myth
5.2 The empirical approach
5.3 Urban sociology at Chicago
5.4 Conceptual development
5.5 Chicago theorising
5.6 Chicagoans epistemology
5.7 Chicago alternatives
5.8 Conclusion

6 G.H. Mead and the Chicagoans
6.1 The myth
6.2 Mead's involvement in sociology
6.3 Mead's theoretical impact
6.4 Mead and symbolic intractionism
6.5 Mead and Blumer debate
6.6 The debate and the work of the Chicagoans
6.7 Conclusion

7 Chicago dominance
7.1 The myth
7.2 Chicago's role to 1930
7.3 The coup and decline
7.4 Chicago neglect
7.5 Chicago introspection
7.6 Loss of research ethos
7.7 Structural factors
7.8 Extent of the decline
7.9 Conclusion

8 Schools and metascience
8.1 Introduction
8.2 Potential of a unit approach
8.3 Conclusion



About Myths of the Chicago School (1987)



© Lee Harvey 1987, 2019

Page updated 1 February, 2019

Citation reference: Harvey, L., [1987] 2019, Myths of the Chicago School, available at, last updated 1 February, 2019, originally published in Aldershot by Avebury, Gower Piublishing, all rights revert to author.


Myths of the Chicago School

1. The 'Chicago School'

1.6 A brief chronology of the Department of Sociology at the University of Chicago

When Albion Small was appointed head professor of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Chicago in 1892 it was the first sociology department to be established in a university anywhere in the world. Along with Small in the Department in its first year were six other people. Charles Henderson was associate professor of social science, later to become head of the Department of Ecclesiastical Sociology (1906) subsequently renamed Practical Sociology (1913). Marion Talbot was assistant professor in sanitary science; in 1903 she moved to the newly created Department of Household Administration. E.W. Bemis who was an associate lecturer in political economy was a member of the extension staff in sociology. W.I. Thomas was a fellow in the Department. He received his doctorate in 1896, was slowly promoted to a professorship (1910) and stayed on in the Department until forced to resign in 1918. In addition there were two anthropologists, Frederick Starr, assistant professor and curator of the museum who remained in the Department until he retired in 1923 and G.H. West, docent for three years. (Appendix 1 contains full details of the information provided in this summary).

Small remained head of the Department and professor until 1925 during which time approximately thirty people were listed in the annual Official Publications of the University of Chicago as sociology teaching staff along with another three anthropologists. At no time, however, did the sociology group consist of more than half a dozen people. W.I. Thomas was to emerge as the major theoretician in the early period of the 'Chicago School' and his impact on conceptual development at Chicago was to be profound. We shall examine this in some detail in chapter five. Apart from Thomas, the main appointments made during Small's headship were probably Vincent, Burgess, Park, Bedford and Faris. George Vincent, who co-authored a sociology textbook with Small (Small and Vincent, 1894), was a graduate student in 1893 who became a tenured member of staff at Chicago until 1908. He became professor and Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Literature and Science in 1907 before leaving to become President of the University of Minnesota. In 1917 he was appointed as President of the Rockefeller Foundation (Diner, 1980).

E.W. Burgess was also a Chicago graduate student and received his doctorate in 1913. He was appointed in 1917 as an assistant professor and remained in the Department until 1951. Following his retirement in 1952 he remained active as an emeritus professor into the 1960s. His long-term involvement with the Department, covering some fifty years, made him an important figure in its development.

An equally important appointment, initiated by Thomas (Matthews, 1977; Raushenbush, 1979), was that, in 1914, of Robert Park. Initially appointed as a professorial lecturer, Park became a full professor in 1923. He is regarded by a number of commentators (Faris, 1967; Matthews, 1977; Coser, 1971) as the prime force behind the rapid development of empirical study in the Department during the 1920s. Park retired in 1933 and became attached to the Tuskegee Institute although he remained professor emeritus until his death in 1944.

S.W. Bedford was another long-term appointment made under Small. He was associated with the Department over a twenty-year period until his resignation in 1925. His principal interest had been urban sociology and his teaching actually gave an impetus to the area that is most usually associated with the 'Chicago School' (Diner, 1980). However, he published very little and did no empirical research and perhaps for this reason is not often regarded as a significant figure in the development of sociology within the Department. Faris (1967, p. 32) mentions Bedford once, referring to him as an instructor. Bedford was, in fact, an associate professor when he resigned [12].

Apart from Ira Howerth and Anne Marion MacLean who taught in the extension division, other members of the Department, excluding fellows, recorded in the Official Publications up to 1925 were C. Zeublin, A.F. Bentley, J.H. Raymond, H. Woodhead, G. Taylor, M.S. Handman, C. Rainwater, F. Znaniecki, F.N. House and E.N. Simpson. In addition Edith Abbott taught part time in the Department as a lecturer in methods of social investigation until 1920 while also assistant director of The Chicago School of Civics and Philanthropy (from 1908). With the formation of the School of Social Science Administration in 1920 she left the Department of Sociology and Anthropology.

One other major appointment was made during Small's leadership. Following Thomas' departure, Ellsworth Faris was appointed professor in 1920 and became Head of Department in 1926, a position he retained until his own retirement in 1939. During this period the Department of Sociology and Anthropology split into two separate departments (1929) and the Sociology Department finally appointed its own quantitative expert, W.F. Ogburn in 1927.

Chicago graduates from the 1920s who were to become professors and exercise some considerable influence on the Department were Louis Wirth, Herbert Blumer, Samuel Stouffer and Everett Hughes. Wirth was granted the doctorate in 1926 and, after two years at Tulane returned to Chicago in 1931 and became a full professor in 1940 following Ogburn's own promotion to Head of Department. Blumer gained his doctorate in 1928 and remained at Chicago. Blumer took over the teaching of Mead's social psychology course following Mead's death in 1931. Blumer's own promotion to full professor was not until 1947, at which time Ernest Burgess had taken over the headship of the Department. Stouffer, who had been an instructor for two years following the award of the doctorate in 1930, was reappointed at Chicago in 1935 as a full professor. Hughes received his doctorate in 1928 and left Chicago to teach at McGill University in Canada before returning to take up the appointment of assistant professor in 1938. He was eventually appointed to full professor in 1949 and became head of the Department for three years from 1954 to 1957. He retired in 1961.

Hughes was succeeded as head of Department by Philip Hauser, who was awarded a doctorate in 1938. He had been an instructor in the Department for five years prior to that and was re-appointed in 1947, in the first year of Burgess' headship, as a full professor.

Burgess' headship also saw the inauguration of more varied developments in the Department and the growth of a number of associated staff involved in a variety of projects. One of these was the National Opinion Research Centre, whose directors were C.W. Hart (1954) and P. Rossi (1962) and whose senior study directors included S.A. Star (1954), E.S. Marks (1954), J. Elinson (1955), E. Shanas (1958), L. Kriesberg (1960), J. Feldman (1961) and J.W. Johnstone (1962). Another development was the Industrial Relations Centre, in 1955, for whom C. Nelson was Director of programme evaluation. Other projects included the Chicago Community Inventory; the Population Research and Training Centre (E. Kattagawa, 1956 and O.D. Duncan, 1959); the Farm Study Centre (E. Litwak, 1954); and Community Studies Inc. of Kansas City, Miss., (with whom Howard S. Becker was associated).

Another thirty people were also employed in a lecturing capacity in the Department of Sociology from 1926 to 1954. Of these, the following spent five years or more lecturing in the Department: E.H. Sutherland (1930-34), M.M. Davis (1932-37), E.S. Johnson (1933-41), C. Shaw (1935-1957), J.D. Lohman (1940-1956), E.A. Shils (1940-7 and 1957 onwards) [13], W.F. Whyte (1944-48), L. Goodman (from 1950), D. Horton (1948-57), D.G. Moore (1950-55), N. Foot (1952-56) and W. Bradbury (1952-58).

The Department also employed teaching assistants (who are listed in the Official Publications between 1922 and 1932) and research fellows. Of the one hundred and eighty five fellows listed in the Official Publications up to 1952, eighteen went on to develop an academic career at Chicago.
 In addition to the resident staff, the Department invited eminent sociologists from other institutions to teach, especially during the summer quarter (a system relatively unique to the University of Chicago). Among the twenty-five different sociologists listed in the Official Publications who provided such courses were E.A Ross of Leyland Stanford University (1895), Lester Ward of the Smithsonian Institute (1896) Talcott Parsons of Harvard (1937) and Paul Lazarsfeld of Columbia (1949).

The work of the Chicagoans will be examined in detail in the next chapters and some of the myths about the Chicago School that have grown up over the last half century will be investigated.



[12] Blumer (1980b) and Hughes (1980) recalled their time at Chicago in a talk in 1969. They made jocular references to 'someone who taught urban sociology' but were unable to recall Bedford by name. Bulmer (1984) pointed out that Bedford was forced to resign as he did not fulfil the criteria for a member of staff Small required of him. Return

[13] Bulmer points out that Sutherland was a research professor in the Division of Social Science from 1930–35 and that Shils' original appointment was on the Committee on Social Thought. (Correspondence 1.4.1985). The information in the text derives from the Official Publications of the University of Chicago. Return


Next 1.7 The myths of the 'Chicago School'