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

4.9 Conclusion

It would seem that the idea that Chicago sociology was remote from the concerns of quantitative sociology has arisen through various factors. Artificial divisions have been created by historians in charting the history of social research in America and the 'Chicago School' has been located on one side of these divisions. So the 'School' is seen as supporting case study rather than statistics, as undertaking participant observation research rather than quantitatively based surveys, as ignoring quantitative techniques rather than developing them. The single most powerful component of this view is the assumed 'anti-statistical' perspective, derived from Thomas and Park and proposed as an alternative to 'positivistic' sociology in the work of Blumer. This avowed qualitative perspective is seen as clearly indicative of the school and opposed to the development of quantitative methods.
Such a perspective distorts the sociological enterprise at Chicago, not least by assuming a coherent 'School' opposed to prevailing methodological, epistemological and theoretical concerns of the discipline at large. [7] Such a position is presumed to be reflected in the advocacy of the theories of G. H. Mead by the Chicagoans. The following sections will explore the epistemological and theoretical orientations at Chicago, in relation to the perspectives in sociology in the United States in general. The role of Mead, in particular, will then be critically assessed. The discussion above has suggested that in the development of quantification in sociology, Chicago was an integral part of American sociology. Furthermore, the Chicagoans did not develop a phenomenological alternative to the prevailing nomological approach. Indeed, a cumulative theory model, grounded in a falsificationist approach to theorising can be seen to have underpinned the work of Chicago sociologists and was intrinsic to the general approach adopted in the United States. This will now be examined in more detail.



[ 7] Hammersely and Atkinson (1983) in assessing the unique contribution of ethnography, reflect the perspective adopted by the Chicagoans. Hammersley and Atkinson suggested that, unlike both sides of the 'positivist-naturalist' dispute, ethnography brings social science and its object closer together. Involvement in the field is a process which, if nothing else, leads to the challenging of the sociologists 'dangerously misleading preconceptions'. More importantly, ethnography, they argued, is valuable for its development and testing of theory. The need for this attempted reconceptualisation has, it is suggested here, arisen through the dichotomisation generated by the prevailing history of American sociological research. The Chicagoans did not address a phenomenological sociology but rather attempted the development of theory through a 'naturalistic' approach embedded in a 'positivistic paradigm', and utilising typification processes to help achieve explanatory power. Return


Next 5.1 The myth