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

7.4 Chicago's neglect of methodological and theoretical developments

Matthews claimed that the

analysis of complex situations in terms of the subjective perceptions of actors pushed Park and the 'Chicago school' away from statistics. More intensely as he grew older and the demand for statistics grew, Park came to despise it as 'parlour magic'.... This aversion to statistics, however, meant that as sociological research became more quantitative in the late twenties, the development isolated Park himself as an exotic. (Matthews, 1977, p. 179–180)

This isolation of Park, Matthews sees as also an isolation of Chicago, given Park's enormous charismatic dominance over the Chicagoans.
However, methodology was becoming more self-conscious at Chicago in the 1930s. This was in conjunction with a changing appreciation of the notion of objective science. Explanation of an external reality via classification procedures derived from direct but unverifiable and unsystematic observation was no longer deemed adequate. Instead, the twin gods of validity and reliability were being invoked. The Chicagoans were not of an accord with Park's view. As discussed in chapter four, the Chicagoans were fully involved in methodological innovation up to the 1950s. Besides the work of the faculty, a cursory glance at the Ph.D. theses produced between 1930 and 1950 shows a heavy concern with correlation and prediction studies and with attempts to isolate causal factors, (Appendix 5). A considerable amount of effort was directed towards testing prediction instruments and measuring devices, as epitomised in Reiss (1950) 'The Accuracy, Efficiency, and Validity of a Prediction Instrument' and Star (1950) 'Interracial Tension in Two Areas of Chicago: An Exploratory Approach to the Measurement of Interracial Tension'. In this respect the Chicagoans were responding fully to the initiatives coming from the Committee on University Social Science Research Organizations in 1929, 1936 and 1944. [3]
While Chicago tended not to have the acknowledged personnel in the rapidly expanding quantitative field in the post-war period, it was not slow in importing the required expertise and adopting the new techniques.
The rise of other major centres, notably Harvard and Columbia, [4] Matthews argued, was the result of the adoption of either a methodic or theoretic orientation that was alien to the Park inspired 'Chicago School'. Columbia developed a 'highly rationalized, efficient and large scale organization of research' that lacked 'personal inspiration' and was 'easily reproducible and multiplied'. This contrasted sharply with the individualistic research at Chicago that relied heavily on the 'inspiration of a great teacher and the personal flair of the researcher'. Harvard, whose prominence owed much to Parsons' system theories, drew on the European theory at the expense of the traditional American pragmatists. While Park had been aware of these 'great continental masters', their ideas never penetrated 'beyond the horizon of Park's intellectual spectrum' [5]. What is more, Matthews (1977, p. 179) argued that:

Without Thomas or Park to provide a dominant personal force and inspiration, the deficiencies of Chicago's theories and methods became more apparent. [6]

As we have seen, in Chapter five, the Chicagoans were very much involved in theoretical developments. Through the work of Blumer and Wirth, in particular, Chicago was integrally involved in the assimilation of European perspectives. Blumer had spent a sabbatical year in France on a Social Science Research Council Fellowship in 1932 with the aim of discovering the theoretical perspectives dominant in that country and Wirth was very much influenced by Weber and the German sociology of knowledge approach. Both Blumer and Wirth were very well versed in European sociology (Ogburn, 1930). Blumer and Wirth provided the basis for what could have amounted to alternatives to the prevailing functionalist-interactionist approach. [7] That the department lost their services around 1950 left a gap that was not easily or quickly filled.
Although Park might not have been inclined towards co-operative research, this was not reflected by the Chicagoans at large. Among its recommendations, the Ogg Report (1928) proposed that research be more effectively organised, that it should follow the pattern of broad social science research as evident at Chicago, Columbia and North Carolina. Several departments at Chicago were involved in interdepartmental organisations, including the social sciences through the Local Community Research Committee. Park, as was suggested in chapter three, tended to be somewhat remote from the Committee. Burgess, and later Ogburn and Wirth, however, were very much involved with the Local Community Research Committee, the Social Science Research Committee that succeeded it, and the Social Science Research Council, of which Burgess was Chairman from 1945 to 1946.
Matthews' account of the decline of the 'Chicago School', then, is integrally related to the surpassing of the ideas of Park. However, the Chicagoans were, as has been examined above, far from constrained by Park's ideas. For example, in his journal Ogburn recalled

I was glad to speak [at the dedication of the Robert E. Park Hall at Fiske University] for five minutes in tribute to my former colleague at the University of Chicago, Robert Park... He had great influence, distinguished students who did excellent research, and a considerable following.... All the other members of the Department of Sociology were students and followers of Park except Faris. Two or three times in these early months [of 1927] we began conversations, but they never went well. I don't know why. I think I got the idea rightly or wrongly that [Park] was trying to tell me what was what, and I did not recognize anything new in what he said. I thought also perhaps wrongly that he would like to have had me one of his followers.... I am sure I am too sensitive about being anyone's follower, especially if that person in any way tries to dominate me. I usually don't mind an egotist or how much he displays his egotism, so long as it is not accompanied by a love of power, especially a power to be exercised over me. (Ogburn journal, 4th & 5th April 1955)

Park influenced a lot of research at Chicago in the 1920s, but to restrict the notion of the 'Chicago School' to this limited sphere of operations is to exclude a considerable amount of the work undertaken in the Department of Sociology at Chicago. The Chicagoans did not stand still but, as has been shown, engaged widely in the debates and the activities that Matthews indicated transcended their traditional approach.
That the Chicagoans had moved ahead of Park's rather out-of-date conception is illustrated by the special meeting of the University of Chicago Social Science Research Committee on Friday and Saturday, the 1st and 2nd of December 1939, to commemorate the first decade of the Social Science Research Building. A large number of invited social researchers from the United States and Canada attended this prestigious occasion. The Friday morning session was addressed by C.E. Merriam on 'Urbanism' and H. Bruere on 'The Social Sciences in the Service of Society'. The Saturday morning session, chaired by L.J. Henderson of Harvard was, on a survey of research and was addressed by Ogburn on 'Social Trends' and by Thurstone on 'Factor Analysis as a Scientific Method'. The latter was discussed by W. Line of Toronto University and E.L. Thorndike of Columbia. The luncheon speaker was Beardsley Ruml (of the Social Science Research Council) who commented on the prospects for social science research. The afternoons of both days were given over to round table sessions on 'generalization in the social sciences', 'integration of the social sciences', 'quantification' and 'social science and social action'.
Those very features Matthews had indicated were overtaking Park were, then, assimilated by the Chicagoans. If the 'Chicago School' suffered a decline, it has to be explained in terms other than the loss of Park and the failure to keep up to date methodologically and theoretically.



[3] See, for example the following PhDs: Cottrell (1933), Lang (1936), Cox (1938), Reeden (1939), Dunham (1941), Devinney (1941), Campisi (1947), Bowerman (1948), Turner (1948), Shanas (1949), Lunday, (1949), Nelson (1949). Return

[4] See Chapter 7 note 1. Return

[5] In the late 1930s and 1940s, Parkian concepts appeared to be rather limited. Blumer (1980b), Hughes (1980) and Matthews (1977) all point to the distortion of his social ecological approach by later generations who concentrated on spatio-statistical studies in 'psychological behaviorism', led to the ecological approach being fiercely attacked (Alihan, 1938). Park accepted the criticism of his approach on the whole with the exception of 'some malicious interpretations' (Matthews, 1977). Ironically, by the mid-fifties, the ecological approach was going through a revival (Schnore, 1958). Return

[6] For Matthews, Park's going is seen as the final passing of a holistic perspective at Chicago. However, it is quite likely that Park would have 'retreated' into a specialist field at Chicago as he did at Fisk. Race studies had always been his major concern (Barnhardt, 1972; Blumer, 1972; Matthews, 1977), and this he developed in two ways, according to a letter written to Wirth in 1938 (Park, 1938). Park was concerned with the investigation of the moral and personal social world that, in his own research, involved the investigation of 'two types of 'world' the Bohemia of the Lower North Side in Chicago where Park House is located, and Cedar Street, in Nashville Tennessee. The first is an area like Greenwich Village; the other is an underworld, such as every metropolitan city supports. But it is an underworld of Negroes. I am interested in exploring these underworlds, which are characteristically cultural and racial melting pots, in every part of the world'.
       His method of investigation, reflecting his increasing intolerance of statistical study as he grew older, was mainly based upon 'life histories of a generally psychoanalytic bias' that were designed to 'throw light on the nature of the intimate and relatively closed moral and personal order to which the individual person is most responsive, and they throw light also upon the processes of acculturation which take place within the limits of such a minor cultural unit'. (Park, 1938)

[7] In the United States in the 1930s and 1940s Weberian and Marxist perspectives were taken up directly, although the life of these as autonomous roots to analysing the social world were curtailed as structural functionalism muted the phenomenological potential of the Weberian approach and McCarthyism inhibited the growth of Marxist perspectives. Return

Next 7.5 The introspection of the 'Chicago School'