MYTHS OF THE CHICAGO SCHOOL



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1 The Chicago School

2 Chicagoans as ameliorists

3 Chicagoans as ethnographers

4 The quantitative tradition at Chicago

5 Chicagoans as atheoretical empirical researchers

6 G.H. Mead and the Chicagoans
7 Chicago dominance
8 Schools and metascience



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© Lee Harvey 1987, 2017

Page updated 19 September, 2017

Citation reference: Harvey, L., [1987] 2017, Myths of the Chicago School, available at qualityresearchinternational.com/csr, last updated 19 September, 2017, originally published in Aldershot by Avebury, Gower Piublishing, all rights revert to author..


 

A novel of twists and surpises



 

Myths of the Chicago School

4. The quantitative tradition at Chicago

4.1 Introduction

The 'Chicago School' is rarely associated with the development or even use of quantitative techniques. As we saw in chapter three, the myth is that Chicago was the home of ethnographic research. Thomas's assertion of the 'perfect' nature of life history as a source of data, Park's apparent opposition to statistics and Blumer's attacks on variable analysis have all been taken as indicative of an antipathy towards quantification by the 'Chicago School'. This ignores the extensive development and use of statistics at Chicago (Bulmer, 1981a, 1984).
 
It must be remembered, too, that up to 1930 there was relatively little use of statistics by American sociologists at all. The Committee on Social Statistics of the American Statistical Association noted, in 1929, that more sociologists ought to be interested in statistics, as well as vice versa. To that end it felt the need for 'an appraisal of the extent to which statistical methods have already been developed, utilized or foreshadowed in a variety of social and sociological studies' (Rice, 1930). In December of 1929, for the first time, the American Sociological Society and the American Statistical Association had joint sessions, to discuss statistical method, at their annual meetings.
 
Duncan and Duncan (1934, p. 212), in their longitudinal survey of the interests of members of the American Sociological Society, between 1928 and 1931, concluded

more sociologists have an interest in social psychology than any other subject, but their major interest is in social work. This being the case, those who look with disdain upon social work and social problems, and pin their hope for a "scientific" sociology on statistical sociology will find little comfort or satisfaction in these findings.

Although it is clear from inspecting their work that the Chicagoans made widespread use of official statistics in various ways, the assumption made by commentators is that the Chicagoans tended to make use of statistics as descriptive rather than analytic tools. This view further suggests that the development of quantification by the Chicagoans was quite different from the post-war expansion centring at Columbia and initiated by the developments in public opinion polling. The use of statistics by the Chicagoans is usually not seen to fall into this mould. Chicago sociologists, it is assumed, did not specify hypotheses for rigorous statistical testing, develop the large scale scheduled interview of a representative sample, rigorously assess the relationship between correlation and causality (and thus criteria for causality attribution), define concepts operationally nor, therefore, develop accurate measurement techniques and advanced statistical analysis.

Next 4.2 Thomas and the case study versus statistics debate