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

2.6 The Local Community Research Committee and reformism at Chicago

The Local Community Research Committee was very important during the 1920s in attracting research funds to the social sciences at Chicago. Research monies were of two sorts, grants from the Laura Spellman Foundation and matched funds from local agencies. Both types were channelled through the Committee. Funding from the Laura Spellman Rockefeller Memorial Foundation was initially directed towards substantive problems related to children, the aged, immigrants, leisure and recreation, poverty and neighbourhood relationships (Bulmer, 1980, p. 72). Thus, the sphere of research funded from this source was limited.

Similarly, the organisations contributing matched funds to the research of the Local Community Research Committee were primarily social agencies (Smith and White, 1929). The matched funding procedure accounted for about half the total funding of the projects under the Local Community Research Committee (Bulmer, 1980, p. 78). Matched funding tended to place the initiative for research in the hands of the community, who in effect made requests for services, sometimes to the detriment of less immediately applied research (Smith and White, 1929). (See Appendix 2 for full details of funding and publications related to the Local Community Research Committee).

An examination of the work published by social researchers funded by the Local Community Research Committee shows a heavy practical, reformist orientation. Of the forty-eight books or contributions to books published under the auspices of the Local Community Research Committee from 1923 to 1929, thirteen were on social welfare, nine on sociology, eight on politics, eight on business studies, three on geography, two on economics, one each on the census and on history. Of the forty-one journal articles published under its auspices, ten were sociology articles, eight of these published by Burgess and two by Frazier. Thurstone, the psychologist, published thirteen articles and the publishing locations of the total article output clearly indicate that sociology was a peripheral rather than a central concern of the Committee. Even the three artic-les published in the American Journal of Sociology were by non-sociologists. Of research in progress in 1929, only seventeen (22%) of the seventy-eight projects were sociological compared to economics (29%) and welfare projects (23%) [6]. Of this sociological work in progress, about half were M.A. theses and most of the rest was quantitatively oriented work undertaken or inspired by Ogburn. Much of the non-quantitative sociological work carried out in conjunction with the Local Community Research Committee seem to be 'social reformist' at least in conception if not their final presentation (for example, Reckless, 1925; Conway, 1926; Leiffer, 1928; Cressey, 1929; Scott, 1929).

The Local Community Research Committee had both positive and negative consequences for 'pure research'. It did serve to establish the principle of co-operative social science research. It served as an embryonic organisation for the administration of such research. It encouraged a greater concern with methodology and particularly provided opportunities to develop quantitative techniques (Bulmer, 1981a; 1984). It encouraged, if further encouragement was needed, empirical research in the social sciences. More importantly it enabled this research by attracting funds.

On the other hand, the Local Community Research Committee did not provide an academic forum. It had occasional discussion meetings to review progress, at which time the only satisfaction voiced was with its administrative role. It seemed not able to fulfil a consultancy, stimulatory, monitoring or, in any sense, an academic role. Even its organisation seemed to be ad hoc; Cottrell (1972) recalled that the organisation was loose and informal, with decisions often being made by telephone. Further, the nature of the funding attracted by the committee meant that reformist motivated research was prominent in the work supported by the Committee.

The role of the Local Community Research Committee seems to have been primarily, if not exclusively, administrative and directed towards fund raising, especially attracting research commissions and funds from outside, usually civic and 'caring' agencies. The result was a concentration on policy-oriented research, rather than the more 'objective scientific' research that was encouraged and fostered through the Social Science Research Committee at Chicago, in the post 1930 period, in line with the policy of the Social Science Research Council.

However, the Local Community Research Committee did not generate research funds that, by any means, occupied all the research time of the sociologists at Chicago. Nor, where they were involved, did they get absorbed into reformist concerns at the expense of the development of sociological theory. For most of the sociologists the Local Community Research Committee was kept at a distance even where it did supply the money to enable their research.

Up to 1927, Burgess was the only sociology faculty member involved with the Committee; and this was mainly due to his contacts with outside agencies. Park, notably, seems to have remained detached from the Committee. Ogburn became involved after 1927, encouraged by the Committee's sponsorship of the quantitatively oriented Thurstone and Schultz as research professors. It was only after 1929, when the Local Community Research Committee was terminated and reborn into the Social Science Research Committee at Chicago in accord with the growing role of the Social Science Research Council nationally, that sociologists became more involved and Faris, Wirth and Ogburn, in addition to Burgess, served on it between 1929 and 1940.

Despite its importance in generating funds and promoting 'social' as opposed to 'sociological' research, the Local Community Research Committee did not create an institutional environment that fostered a reformist rather than a theoretical climate within which the sociologists had to work. It did not serve to inhibit sociological research through an encouragement of extensive involvement in ameliorative concerns. Amongst the sociologists, it was really only the work of Burgess and some of his students that may have been affected but, on balance, Burgess and most of his students still undertook scientific rather than ameliorative research.



[ 6] The classification of publications is based on (a) the series published by the University of Chicago Press in which they appeared, (b) the content of the article as indicated by title and sub-title (c) by inspection of the publication where (a) and (b) did not provide a clear indication. Return


Next 2.7 The Society for Social Research and reformism