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

7. Chicago dominance

7.1 The myth

It is commonly assumed that the Department of Sociology at Chicago was the foremost sociology department in the United States until well into the 1930s. Chicago, it is argued, dominated American sociology for about forty years.

Established in 1892, the University of Chicago department of sociology dominated general sociology and sociological theory until the 1930s... Other departments, such as that of Columbia, initially chaired by Franklin Giddens [sic], were not able seriously to challenge Chicago's preeminence during this period. (Coser, 1976, p. 146)

It does seem that Chicago was a major force during the first quarter of the twentieth century, as will be outlined below. However, this central position inevitably came to an end as the discipline of sociology became ever more popular and ever more fragmented. The myth that surrounds Chicago in respect of its dominant position is about its loss of prestige. After the mid-1930s, the 'Chicago School' is presumed to have declined rapidly (Goddijn, 1972b; Mullins, 1973; Martindale, 1976; Coser, 1978; Tiryakian, 1979a). Several views emerged about the 'decline' of Chicago, which is usually dated at around 1935, the time of the 'coup' in the American Sociological Society that 'excluded' Chicago candidates from executive posts.
One view is that Chicago had become autocratic and domineering and had developed an unjustified and unacceptable stranglehold on the discipline. This grip was epitomised in its control of the American Sociological Society and the American Journal of Sociology,which was the Society's official organ. A corollary of this, and to some extent the first two views, was that Chicago was holding back the development of sociology in the United States.
A second view is that Chicago represented an 'old fashioned' approach to sociology that is evidenced in its failure to keep in touch with developments. Such developments are linked to the 'scientizing' of sociology. Chicago is seen as representing a 'soft' ethnographic approach to sociology that was unable to fend off the sustained attacks of more rigorous scientific methods. Its indifference to quantitative methods is indicative of this anti-scientism. The state of sociological enquiry had moved on from exploratory study to scientific explanation, and Chicago, it is assumed, while having provided some interesting accounts of social situations, was unable to make the jump to scientific analysis.
A third, and similar view, suggests that Chicago failed to grasp the significance of, or was indifferent to, the development of new theoretical developments, particularly those that crystallised as structural functionalism.
A fourth, and related, view was that Chicago was parochial and continued to be preoccupied with local concerns at a time when sociology was moving on to national issues, and through this parochialism adopted an insular approach to the discipline.
A fifth view was that, by the mid-1930s, the research impetus at Chicago had gone. This is accounted for primarily by the loss of Park. His retirement in the mid-1930s saw the end of the dynamic era of empirical research at Chicago, for it had been heavily dependent on Park's own charisma and drive (Matthews, 1977; Bulmer 1984).

Next 7.2 Chicago's role in American sociology until 1930