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

6. G.H. Mead and the Chicagoans

6.2 Mead's direct involvement with the Department of Sociology at Chicago

The extent to which Mead was an important figure in the 'Chicago School' has, however, come under closer scrutiny recently, despite Fisher and Strauss's (1978) assertion of the fruitlessness of such analysis. [1] Mead's direct impact on the Chicagoans is not as clear-cut as it once was assumed to be, either his pedagogic input or the assimilation of his ideas.

Mead is usually assumed to have had a very important role in the development of Chicago sociology not least because of the direct teaching link he had with the Department of Sociology. This link, however, is not as strong as is often popularly supposed (Goddijn, 1972a; Mullins, 1973).

Mead taught a course in 'advanced social psychology' in the Department of Philosophy (until 1931), which was an available option for sociology students. Despite the taken-for-granted view that his course was dynamic and highly regarded (Mullins, 1973), it seems that Mead, although brilliant, was a difficult lecturer (Carter, 1972). His style was unengaging; he tended to 'think out loud' (Faris, 1967), rarely provided opportunities for questions (Carey, 1975) and was generally unavailable for informal discussion with students.

Furthermore, an analysis of class enrolments, suggests that relatively few sociology students took his course (Lewis and Smith, 1981). This has been disputed by Kuklick (1984) who calculated that '72.2% of the recipients of PhDs from 1910 to 1924 had studied with Mead'. Further, she claimed that when Faris was appointed to the Department in 1919 he taught a social psychology course, which was heavily reliant on Mead's views and acted as a surrogate for Mead. This appears to be unsupported by Carter's (1972) recollections, though. 'Cooley was their [the sociology faculty's] God—Faris quoted Cooley all the time'.

Apart from his formal teaching, Mead seems to have had little direct involvement with sociology staff or students. Unlike some faculty in other departments, Mead, surprisingly for someone supposedly so central, was not a member of the Society for Social Research. He appears to have addressed the Society on just one occasion. This was an address in 1929 that was attended by over fifty members. In the four years after Mead's death only one session was given over to discussing Mead's philosophy. This session was the occasion of an address by Morris from the philosophy department on the nature of the 'significant symbol'. It is also notable that Morris edited the posthumous publication of Mead's work, rather than any of the sociologists, on whom Mead was supposed to have had such an enormous impact. It is, perhaps, rather glib to suggest that Mead was so taken-for-granted that first hand exposure to his ideas were not necessary for the Chicagoans (Kuklick, 1984). Park and the other sociologists, along with Thurstone, Gosnell and Lasswell, whose ideas were also well known, all regularly addressed the Society for Social Research, of which they were members.



[1] Most treatments of interactionism as a school of sociological thought or a general intellectual position designate George Herbert Mead as one of its founding fathers. The ambiguous character of such terms as 'Chicago School', 'interactionism' or 'symbolic interactionism', makes it difficult—and perhaps fruitless—to argue with such claims. Mead's importance as an intellectual figure and his association with the theory of 'interaction' is well established. (Fisher and Strauss, 1979, p. 483) Return


Next 6.3 Mead's theoretical impact on the early Chicagoans