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

4.7 Chicago eclecticism

The dichotomisation of the history of sociological research in the United States into qualitative and quantitative approaches (Mullins, 1973) embodied in a view of a methodological struggle between Chicago and Columbia, is not tenable (Wilson, 1940; Coleman, 1980). Indeed, by the 1950s, when Columbia was at its peak, Chicago had been developing quantitative studies for a considerable time. The review of the methodological interests of some of the key figures at Chicago clearly belies the idea that Chicago was out on a limb compared with the rest of American sociology. Nonetheless, there are commentators who suggest that such was the case especially after 1930 when its dominance of the discipline is seen to draw to a close. This is investigated in chapter seven below.
The Chicagoans did not represent one side of a dichotomised view of methodic practice. The 'Chicago School' was not simply anti-statistics. The rapid development of statistical analysis in social science generated some reaction from interactionists who were sceptical about, or hostile towards, what they saw as a tendency to set aside the subjective element. Burgess is the archetypal case, despite a positive attitude towards the potential of statistics, he also displayed a certain scepticism towards quantitative techniques. In this he reflected not only Park and Thomas but the prevailing attitude within the discipline. His changing stance, however, from initial scepticism of statistics to enthusiastic usage in prediction studies is indicative of the changing nature of the view of sociology as science in the United States.
Shaw is a prime example of the eclecticism of Chicago sociologists. In his studies in the late 1920s and 1930s he utilised spot maps, statistics and case studies. He was not prepared to abandon case study for statistics maintaining that the

case study method emphasises the total situation or combination of factors, the description of the processes or sequence of events in which the behavior occurs, the study of the individual behavior in its total setting, and the analyses and comparison of cases leading to the formulation of hypotheses. (Shaw, 1931, p. 149)

Shaw was a student of Burgess who, as suggested above, can be seen as the barometer of methodological change at Chicago. A barometer affected not only by local pressure but also by changes in the wider sociological milieu. Burgess was far from alone in adopting this eclectic approach. Wirth, for example, in outlining a study of the black community in Chicago in 1939 indicated the use of three methodological approaches. These were the 'methods and concepts of the students of human ecology', 'the viewpoints and methods of those who have approached modern communities from the standpoint of the cultural anthropologist' and the 'life history method'. This necessitated three sources of data, statistics, interviews and life histories.

The statistical material provides the background for the entire research. A statistical study of the growth of the Negro community has been made, as well as an ecological, a demographic and an occupational study. All available statistical sources are being used to check the interview materials and non-statistical data. The interview method has been relied upon to define and document the description of the social structure. The persons interviewed have been selected with reference to the various fields of major interest into which the study is divided. Approximately eight thousand interviews have been taken in the community. Life histories ranging from one hundred to seven hundred and fifty pages in length, were obtained from twenty five persons. These have been of value in showing the impact of the culture upon the individual by portraying the social structure as it appears to the individuals living in it, and by indicating the adjustment of the individual to the culture, its subsocieties, and the total society throughout his life career. (Wirth, 1939)

The sample survey of doctoral theses (Appendix 6) clearly reveals the eclectic nature of the methods adopted at Chicago. Only two theses were dependent on a single method and just five more relied on two methods. The data generation devices utilised by the Chicagoans surveyed range from literature review (adopted by 90%) through historical analysis (59%), document analysis (51%), informal interviews (43%) observation (36%), scheduled interviews (31%), life histories (30%), to questionnaires (14%). Preference for methods shifted over time with literature review, historical analysis and document analysis dropping from a major technique adopted by between forty and sixty per cent of authors prior to 1940, to a mere five to twenty per cent after 1940; and life history dropped out altogether as a major technique, being replaced by informal interviewing of a less strenuous type (a rise of from 5% to 50%).

Conversely, scheduled interviewing and participant observation, which had not been used at all as a major technique before 1940, were adopted as a major technique after 1940 in sixty five per cent and twenty five per cent of theses respectively. Questionnaires increased in major usage from nine to twenty per cent in that period.

Next 4.8 The interdisciplinary network of quantfiers at Chicago