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, 2020

Page updated 30 March, 2020

Citation reference: Harvey, L., [1987] 2020, Myths of the Chicago School, available at, last updated 30 March, 2020, originally published in Aldershot by Avebury, Gower Piublishing, all rights revert to author.


Myths of the Chicago School

2. Chicagoans as ameliorists

2.2 Small and Henderson and Christian reform

The 'golden era' of the 'School' (1918-33) was the period in which the shift from reform to 'objective research' was completed (Cavan, 1983, p. 407). The earlier founding period, during which time Small and Henderson were most influential, was, arguably, inclined more towards reformist ends and was close, at times to ameliorative concerns (Matthews, 1977, p. 93). Henderson, in particular, saw sociology as interwoven with Christian reform and, under the auspices of his role as University chaplain, published an article in which he wrote that 'God had providentially placed the social sciences at the disposal of reformers' (Henderson, 1899). Henderson had had a long experience of practical philanthropy before moving to the University. The city of Chicago itself was noted for its involvement in ameliorative issues and reform movements in the first decades of the century. There was a rapidly growing number of voluntary and civic organisations in the immediate pre-first world war period and, gradually, a more systematic programme of civic reform developed (Diner, 1975). Henderson had close ties with two such prominent organisations: Jane Addams' 'Hull House' and Graham Taylor's 'Chicago Commons'. He was impressed by the social surveys undertaken by them and promoted similar empirical work at the University. He argued that first hand observation and intimate experience of daily life as experienced by the 'poor, the socially deviant and the distraught' was essential as a basis for Christian reform.

However, the work undertaken in these early studies encouraged by Henderson (and Talbot), whilst motivated by ‘reformist’ concerns, was not all, however, simplistic ameliorative under­takings. For example, MacLean (1910) researched women in the labour force with a view to examining the role of trade unions. For her, trade unions represented a rational strategy of indus­trial betterment in which the employee rather than the employer was the motivating force. So, even at this early stage, the encouragement of first-hand investigation was directed towards an understanding as well as the alleviation of problems.

Small, too, argued forcibly for empirical research and en­couraged first hand investigation. He advocated an 'objective' approach to social enquiry and, while he believed that sociology must be essentially Christian, 'distrusted the preachers of the Social Gospel' (Matthews, 1977, p. 95). Barnhardt (1972) recalled that Small was not at all keen on his attending Matthews' course on 'The New Testament and Social Problems' in the Divinity School, nor a course on social work with Breckinridge. Small thus distanced the sociological work of the department from social work and the religious concerns of the University.

Between 1895 and 1915 Small and Henderson attempted to reconcile the debate between the naturalist sociologists and the Christian reformers (Inskeep, 1977). They refused, on the one hand, to confine sociology to the New Testament scriptures, nor, on the other, would they sacrifice spiritual answers entirely. Post Darwinian naturalism and New Testament spirituality both held self-evident natural truths for Small and Henderson, and they were not prepared to limit their insights to a unidimensional approach. Thus, Small and Henderson promoted Christian concerns but in the context of an understanding of social processes.

Many of Carey's (1975) interviewees indicated, however, that by the 1920s the religious connotation was less evident. Indeed, they claimed that the Department tended to ignore religion, in the sense that there was no attempt to develop an attitude to sociology or social problems that ostensibly reflected religious concerns. The bitter struggle between evolutionism and fundamentalism had been resolved in the former's favour and Chicago adopted an evolutionary approach and, with it, a kind of 'religious indifference'.

The Department had been established at a time when sociology and Christian reform were seen as compatible and its faculty composition was influenced by this perceived relationship. As the new century unfurled, sociology and reform were less closely allied. Indeed, at Chicago, a separate department of Ecclesiastical Sociology was established in 1904, later to become the Department of Practical Sociology (1913). Henderson was professor of the department and it is notable that, after his death in 1915, the course structure in the Department of Sociology, with which he had still been closely linked, was revised. Courses that linked sociology with religion and reform were dropped or began to fade out. Thus, Small's own course on the 'Ethics of Sociology' was never actually taught; and Burgess's 'The Causes and Prevention of Poverty' ran only rarely in the next decade. 'Problems and Methods of Church Expansion', 'Contemporary Charities' and 'Family Rehabilitation' rapidly disappeared and, like 'Church and Society', were not taught by mainstream sociology staff. The later reorganisation of courses in 1924 saw a pronounced distancing of sociology from social reformism (see Appendix 4) and the establishment of a more 'scientific' approach to sociological enquiry.

The conflicting interests of human betterment and objective studies were apparent from the beginning. The purpose of sociology was not humanitarianism or social reform, but an understanding of human behaviour.... Small... set the stage for an objective research approach. (Cavan, 1983, p. 409)

Small, arguably, had always seen sociology as an objective science in its own right and not just as an extension of moral philosophy, although ethical considerations pervaded his sociology (Dibble, 1972). In arguing for the founding of the American Journal of Sociology, Small noted that

every silly and mischievous doctrine which agitators advertize, claims sociology as its sponsor. A scientific journal of Sociology could be of practical social service in discrediting pseudo-sociology and in forcing social doctrinaires back to accredited facts and principles. (Small, 1895)

For Small, sociology was a scientific and ethical discipline oriented towards reform based on sound knowledge. Ethical con­siderations, for Small, provided the basis for decisions about what areas of enquiry were suitable for sociology, while enquiry should proceed scientifically. The canons of science advocated by Small were value neutrality, objectivity and theoretical analysis. Value neutrality meant non-partisanship, objectivity meant rooting assertions in empirical evidence rather than conjecture; and he saw science as necessitating inductive theorising not just the collection of 'raw facts' (Small and Vincent, 1894). He saw science proceeding through the correlation of facts, through a procedure that would allow for the grasping of meaning embedded in facts.

Small maintained that the worth of scholarly research lay in its objective, non-partisan perspective. The more a work took into account diverse views the more objective Small saw it to be. He expected sociological research to take into account the wider social milieu, yet be empirically grounded, as he noted in a letter to Harper in 1891:

I would never grant the doctorate to men of the microscope alone, but would insist that they shall have acquired a sharp sense of relation of what their microscope discovers, to the laws of society as a whole. (Small, 1891)

Next 2.3 Thomas and the demand for pure research