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

3. Chicagoans as ethnographers

3.1 The myth

One of the most common views of Chicago sociology is to see it as embodying a qualitative approach to sociology and thus at variance with a 'quantitative tradition' embodied in the approach adopted at Columbia (Glaser and Strauss, 1967, p. vii; Berger and Berger, 1976, p. 48). In this chapter the nature of the ethnographic work undertaken at Chicago will be examined. Chapter four will take up the 'forgotten tradition' of quantitative social research at Chicago.
Chicago is portrayed as rooted in 'qualitative sociology' (Deutscher, 1973, p. 325; Mullins, 1973; Tiryakian, 1979a, p. 227; Wiley, 1979, p. 56; Kuklick, 1980, p. 207). Some commentators suggest that map drawing, life history collection and even walking (Bell, 1977, p.52) were the major preoccupations of the Chicago sociologists (at least until 1930); while others imply that the Chicagoans were principally, if not exclusively, participant observers (Madge, 1963; Pusic, 1973; Bogdan and Taylor, 1975; Meltzer, et al., 1975; Rock, 1979). This methodological aspect of the myth of the 'Chicago School' is the most enduring and specific.

The idea of Chicago as the bulwark of ethnography is usually supported through reference to the work of three people at Chicago, namely Thomas, Blumer and Park. The latter is popularly seen as having instituted a programme of research that led to the adoption of participant observation. The views on ethnography of these three key figures, along with that of other significant figures in the history of Chicago, will be examined below. The extent to which the Chicagoans relied on participant observation will be explored and the approaches adopted at Chicago will be put into the context of American sociology as a whole in order to assess the extent to which Chicago sociologists offered something methodologically unique.

Next 3.2 The nature of ethnography