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

4. The quantitative tradition at Chicago

4.3 Park's approach to quantification

Park is cited as a clear opponent of statistics and as providing a heritage that disdained the use of quantitative techniques.

For Park, statisticians were worse than dirt, that they really never knew the phenomena they were studying. He made great point of the difference between knowledge about something and acquaintance with the phenomena. (Cottrell, 1972)

He communicated this forcibly to some of his students and redirected their research methods, as Hayner recalls

You had to start with a map so I got one of these big maps of Chicago and spotted all the hotels in the Chicago area ... I was going to cook up a questionnaire to these places. Park put his thumb on that. He wasn't into statistics, you know. You don't want to do it that way. You have to get out and visit these people and talk with them. There are all kinds of people in the hotel. Put yourself in their place. Be a good reporter. (Hayner, 1972)

Indeed, Park’s disdain of statistics also affected his personal relationships, according to Faris.

Park asked me how my thesis was coming along and I told him I hadn't done anything because I was getting too interested in statistics and that destroyed my relation with Park for three years.... He was anti-statistical, I didn't realise I was hurting his feelings but he didn't approach me any more and he didn't notice me in the corridors, not until my final examination on my thesis. He liked my work, he got immediately warm again and gave me a friendly compliment and was personally warm to me ever since. (Faris, 1972)

However, Park's position was not so straightforward as these accounts suggest. He noted (Park, 1939, p. 3) that as early as the 1890s he had an 'understanding of the significance and the possibilities of the social survey as an instrument for social investigations'. Similar to Thomas, Park was sceptical of the uncritical adoption of the practice of the physical sciences and wanted the subjective element taken into account (Wirth, 1944). The social survey, he felt, could provide some useful information but that it only showed the surface of appearances and that it masked the meanings that underlay the aggregates. Nonetheless, he approached surveys and statistics critically rather than rejecting them outright. He even taught a course entitled 'The Survey' from 1915 to 1922 (with the exception of 1921) that looked at the 'uses and practical limitations of the Social Survey' and described and compared 'technical devices for the analysis, description and presentation of sociological data with reference to the different fields in which they have been practically employed'. Thus estimating 'the value for science and for social reform of the results obtained' (University of Chicago, Official Publications, 1915). The ending of this course in 1922 was the result of the development of Park's collaboration with Burgess on the teaching of a course entitled 'Field Studies'. Begun in 1917, Burgess joined Park in teaching it in 1920 and this became the only methods course in the department until 1927; and was the basis of Palmer's handbook (1928).
It would be possible to assume from this that Park saw little potential in the social survey and that, with Burgess, encouraged 'field work' that moved away from statistical concerns. The well-known studies of the 'golden era' could, then, be seen a result of this 'qualitative' orientation. While having some credibility, this interpretation accounts for only part of the story. Hughes recalled that during the period 1923 to 1927 he had a course on the social survey with Park (which was, presumably, part of the field studies course).

It was a field operation and he introduced us to the volumes of Booth's Life and Labour of the People in London and Rowntree's study of poverty and other British studies of this kind and the Pittsburgh survey and the Springfield survey... he used these surveys emphasizing, incidentally, the demographic, statistical side of them as well as this dynamic human side. It's a mistake to think that Park was neglecting that side. (Hughes, 1980, p. 270)

Although the Department of Sociology had no statistician of its own until 1927, despite Small's repeated requests for one dating from 1915, Chicago sociology students were directed towards the statistics courses in other departments, notably Thurstone's course in the psychology department (Blumer, 1972) and Field's courses in the economics department (Bulmer, 1981a; Cavan, 1983). Field, in fact, developed his course to make it more suitable for social science students rather than specifically for economics graduates. While statistical techniques were taught elsewhere an understanding of them was expected of sociology students. Their active involvement in the development of small area statistics and in the Chicago Fact Books reflect the encouragement of statistical expertise and appreciation of it within the Department.
Park encouraged Charles Johnson, the joint executive secretary of the commission to investigate the Chicago race riots to investigate the riots using statistical techniques and Park, himself, employed a mixture of case study and statistical analyses in the 1925 West Coast survey of Japanese immigrants (Matthews, 1977), which was published in 'Survey Graphic' (Park, 1926). As part of this study, Park encouraged Bogardus to produce a quantitative indicator of social distance, which later became the 'Bogardus Social Distance Scale'. On his return from the Institute of Pacific Relations held in Honolulu in July 1925, Park spoke of the 'unusual opportunities in Honolulu at the present time to study sociological problems as controlled experiments' (Minutes of the Society for Social Research, 29.10.1925).
Park also tried to get Hughes to do a mathematical study of land values in a large city because he thought it would be the best statistical index to city growth. 'As you have no doubt heard, he didn't believe in statistics, but he wanted me to do that thesis just the same' (Hughes, 1980, p. 256).
Other students of Park and Burgess (for example, Mowrer, 1927; Thrasher, 1927; Cavan, 1928) made use of statistical techniques in the early 1920s (before Ogburn joined the staff). Mowrer, for example, began his research on family disorganisation in 1920, which set out on a search for a 'fundamental and scientific analysis of marriage disorganization ... by an examination of statistics and statistical methods as these could be applied to the phenomena of divorce and desertion' (Mowrer, 1927).

Next 4.4 Ogburn and the nurturing of quantitative techniques