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

7.7 Structural factors leading to Chicago's decline

Rather than the loss of organisational prominence, or the loss of any one faculty member, or the parochialism of the Department or any theoretical or methodological insufficiencies, I would suggest that Chicago's decline was the result of structural changes. Structural changes in sociology inevitably brought about a lessening of the dominance of any one department or group of departments. The rapid expansion of sociology, the increase in specialisation within sociology and the consequent narrowing in focus of research areas and realms of competence made it impossible for one department to dominate the whole discipline, even if it had been a possibility earlier when sociology was seen in more holistic terms.
This change is perhaps best reflected in the changing nature of social scientific research in the United States between 1920 and 1950, as epitomised in the changes in funded social science research and the role and nature of the Social Science Research Council. In the period up to 1930, Chicago University was one of half a dozen universities well endowed with research monies and having a research environment that allowed them to play a major part in the development of social scientific research. Chicago played a large part in this group, without, however, being an oppressive force. Chicago led by example. The Local Community Research Committee at Chicago (which later became the Social Science Research Committee) was probably the first university based organisation to adopt the concerns of the Social Science Research Council at a local level (Bulmer, 1980), and this Chicago approach came to be emulated by other institutions. Research in the social sciences at Chicago was becoming well established and encouraged by the end of the twenties. Ogg's (1928) report to the American Council of Learned Societies singled out the University of Chicago as one of the most research oriented universities in the United States in respect of the social sciences and humanities. [8] The flexible teaching arrangements, easily obtainable sabbaticals, the recognition of research professorships with small teaching loads and the use of research as the prime basis for judging promotion and salary increases, contributed towards the research environment at Chicago. [9]
By the standards of the time, the University of Chicago had, in 1928, exceptionally large, although limited term, research funding. The social sciences had an enormous budget of $143,000, of which about one hundred thousand dollars was administered by the Local Community Research Committee. A considerable amount of this money came from the Laura Spellman Rockefeller Memorial Foundation. An additional fund of $100,000 spread over five years, was also available for publication of material in all fields. However, Chicago had not always been so well endowed and this represented a considerable advance over the previous five years as, in 1922, Chicago University did not indicate that it was in receipt of regular funds through which research in any departments could be financed (Bulletin of American Association of University Professors, 1922, (volume 8), p. 32). As an indication of its financial standing, and rapid improvement, between 1924 and 1927, the University of Chicago raised around twenty million dollars in endowments. Nonetheless, despite the relatively healthy environment, and the ability of some sociologists to tap the research funds, sociologists, as noted in chapter two, were not the sole, or even the major, beneficiaries of the money administered by the Local Community Research Committee. Nor was Chicago alone in its support of research. Columbia, Harvard, North Carolina, Yale and California all actively supported social science research.
President Butler of Columbia University noted, 'at Columbia the spirit of research is everywhere active and persistent' (Butler, 1925, p. 38) and considerable research was taking place in the social sciences while the Columbia University Press offered a ready outlet for research work. The appointment of five new professors in 1926 principally for research work (including one in statistics and one in economics) further stimulated research. In 1925 the Columbia University Council had created a Council for Research in the Social Sciences with the duty of furthering co-operative research. In its first year it administered in excess of one hundred thousand dollars derived partly from the University and partly from the Laura Spellman Rockefeller Memorial Foundation. In addition, the University received numerous large gifts and there was an emergency fund for research purposes ($40,000) appropriated annually by the president.
Research at Harvard, too, was deemed to be of the highest importance from 1910 onwards, and facilities were greatly improved, with financial support being increased from an 'insignificant figure to several hundred thousand dollars' per year. The development of the Widener Memorial Library into one of the finest in the world, and the reduction of teaching burdens from 1927, helped research endeavours. In addition the Milton Fund amounting to one million dollars provided an annual sum of fifty thousand dollars for research of which (in 1927) the social sciences and humanities received about a third, although very little went directly to the promotion of sociological research. However, there were additional funds for research in the social sciences and humanities, most important was the fifty thousand dollar grant for five years from the Laura Spellman Rockefeller Memorial Foundation for the work of the Bureau of International Research.
The University of North Carolina similarly gave a great deal of support, from relatively meagre funds, to research in the social sciences. Apart from an annual grant of twenty five thousand dollars from the Graduate School and the Smith Fund available to all departments, the University's Institute for Research in Social Science administered a research fund of sixty five thousand dollars annually, granted by the Laura Spellman Rockefeller Memorial Foundation for five years. The University of North Carolina was the motor force behind the series of southern university social science conferences that began in 1925. Highly motivated towards research it created a research atmosphere in the social sciences and attempted to stimulate research in various ways including the publication of an extensive annual review of research in progress, the launching of local surveys in rural social economics, making liberal provision for publication through the University of North Carolina Press, and the editorship of Social Forces besides the establishment of the Institute.
Yale University was also gradually developing a research ethos in the social sciences, this was helped by the establishment of both the Sterling Memorial Library in the late 1920s and the Institute of Psychology in 1924, which was grant aided by the Laura Spellman Rockefeller Memorial Fund. About forty thousand dollars per annum were available for research in the humanities and social sciences, mainly income from the Sterling bequest.
The University of California, later to be a major contributor to sociological research was, in 1927, beginning to establish itself as a research centre. About half of The Searles Fund ($10,000 per annum) was available for research in the social sciences and humanities. In addition the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Foundation provided a grant in 1927 to support a research institute of child welfare for a period of six years.
On the fringes of this group were several others including Cornell University, the University of Illinois, Stanford University, and the University of Cincinnati. All of these had small amounts of money established for social science research or were otherwise promoting such research. [10]
The University of Chicago was not alone in securing research funding and encouragement but part of small group of institutions. However, little of this social scientific research funding enabled sociological research. Sociology was, after all, a new subject and in traditional universities had limited opportunities to establish itself and gain access to funding (Bulmer, 1984). In this respect Chicago had an edge over other centres. This edge, however, was to gradually disappear. The development of the Social Science Research Council; the accompanying clearer specification of research endeavours; the developing status of sociology; the closer relationship of funding allocations to the professionalisation and 'scientising' of the discipline; all tended to reduce the advantage enjoyed, initially, by Chicago. From the late 1920s onwards, sociology in the United States was very much shaped by the fifteen universities who constituted the core of the Social Science Research Council. The fifteen universities were California, Chicago, Columbia, Harvard, McGill, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Northwestern, Pennsylvania, Stanford, Texas, Virginia, Wisconsin and Yale. They tended to be the major beneficiaries of research funding and attracted the more able graduate-level students. The Social Science Research Council had been founded in 1923 because there was an imperative need for an agency with a concern for the common research interests of all social scientists. The disciplinary societies were weak and narrow minded, colleges and universities were more concerned with teaching than research in social science. [11] The lack of any other body with a similar interest in the overall research problems of the social sciences demanded its creation. 'The one goal of the Council since its beginning, of course, has been the advancement of research in the social sciences by any effective available means' (Burgess, 1944b).
This co-operative auspice made it easier for the universities involved to attract research funds from foundations such as the Rockefeller Foundation and the Laura Spellman Rockefeller Memorial Foundation. Further, government initiatives in the social sciences were also directed to these institutions. This was facilitated by the establishment of the Committee on University Social Science Research Organisations of the Social Science Research Council. The aim of this committee was to exchange information on the problems of social science research and the administration of research in the universities. It held an annual conference to which representatives of research foundations, government and non-academic research organisations were invited. The Rockefeller Foundation, which was the principal provider of research funds for the social sciences, had hoped that such a committee of the Social Science Research Council would facilitate co-operation among the various universities it financed, and establish lines of communication for sharing experiences and for co-operative ventures. Such a body, it hoped, could also record and evaluate research. Besides the annual conference the committee visited research centres to collect first hand information on work in progress.
Through this committee, the Social Science Research Council formulated its approach. In 1929 it adopted seven objectives: improving research organizations; developing personnel; improving and expanding materials; improving research methods; [12] facilitating dissemination of materials, methods and results; facilitating research projects; and enhancing public appreciation of social sciences. Following the 1936 recommendations of the Committee on Review of Council Policy these became the four categories for the appointment of committees on research planning and appraisal, on research agencies and institutions, on research personnel and on research materials.
The situation was reviewed again in 1944 and the following criteria for supporting research were made: advance of scientific methods; inventing or improving research instruments; repetitive study; interdisciplinary experimental studies; appraisal of research methods; studies integrating methods from different disciplines; and pilot studies in new fields. This firmly put the onus on methodological analysis and large-scale research enterprises. Columbia University, through its considerable involvement in research on the Second World War and the consequent establishment of the Bureau of Applied Social Research, stole a march on many other institutions, especially Chicago, who were not undertaking specific large-scale research on the war (Wirth, 1949). [13]
Changes in research organisation were being made too. For some time the organisation and goals of the Social Science Research Council had been under review and by 1945 the structure was seen to be a decade out of date. Previously, funding from the Rockefeller foundation had been concentrated on a group of fifteen universities. This changed after 1945 and Chicago University's influence, like most of the universities in the group, diminished.
Following recommendations made in 1945 the organisation of the Social Science Research Council was changed, with the Committee on University Social Science Research Organisations giving way to the Committee on Organisation for Research in the Social Sciences, in 1946. This new committee was formed because the annual conferences were rather limited, the original fifteen universities constituted a dated grouping because other universities with no formal social science organisations had started doing social research, and new research organisations outside the universities had come into being. The new committee was therefore not restricted to universities.
In a review of this new organisation, Wirth (1949) noted that the conferences were concerned with getting further financing rather than with the substantive problems of the social sciences or the technical problems of developing research organisations. However, the Committee

was the one real bridge that allowed for co-operation that was established in the first two decades of the Social Science Research Council's operations. Through the informal discussions among the members present at these conferences much was learned about the successful and unsuccessful experience.

The reorganised committee still placed social science research in the universities at the forefront, argued that such research had become team research with technical backup and that this made research organisation important although it was no substitute for ideas. While the Committee recommended that each organisation establish a committee, in effect equivalent to the Social Science Research Committee at Chicago, [14] the maturation of social science research now made it impossible for any University to dominate.
This maturation of social science research was matched by the extensive development of the discipline of sociology, itself. In less than fifty years sociology had moved from a rather general and schematic holistic discipline to a fragmented multitude of sub-disciplines. The range of sociology was vast, published sociological work was growing at an exponential rate and the number of sociologists and sociology departments was burgeoning rapidly. Many more sociologists were vying for recognition, large numbers of sociology departments were challenging for research monies and universities were establishing social research units. Increasing specialism and the search for new fields meant that sociologists with broad interests, especially those associated with bygone eras were eclipsed. Reflecting on this, Ogburn wrote, at the time of his retirement from Chicago

I put much time and effort on social action in the community, state and nation. I saw I could not do this and maintain my scientific research work. So when I went to Columbia in 1919, my urge to help make the world a better place to live in, was transferred to helping make the social sciences more scientific; and so for 20 years there was much scientific organizational work. But looking at the records of all this, it all seems dead and gone. I helped found the Social Science Research Council, served for years as chairman of its most important committee, the Problems and Policy Committee, and then was for three years chairman of the Council. Now when I happen to go up to the S.S.R.C. headquarters in New York Central Building, I am practically unknown and my work forgotten. They never send me any communications, and I don't know what is going on. (Ogburn journal, 13th September 1952)

It is, therefore, debatable the extent to which Chicago influence diminished as a result of the coup. Arguably, Chicago experienced a natural 'decline' given the structural changes in the discipline. By the late 1930s there would appear to be little chance for any one sociology department to dominate the discipline. A high level of research involvement, publication and methodological and theoretical innovation may serve to mark out a department as a centre of excellence but for any one school to achieve a pre-eminent position after the 1930s would be extremely difficult while sociology continued to expand. I would suggest that Chicago's 'decline' was not so much a rejection of the Chicago contribution as an accommodation by Chicago of structural changes. The coup was the embodiment of this accommodation at a formal administrative level. It was not, however, indicative of the discarding of 'Chicago sociology'.



[8] The report concluded that, in the humanities in general, a lot of research was going on but that it was of poor quality, being badly planned, poorly executed and barren of significant results. Methods of investigation, it maintained, were imperfectly developed, with, in general, too much concern with applied research. The report noted a tendency for specialisation to destroy co-operation but noted the exceptions of both Chicago and Columbia where co-operative efforts in the social sciences were evident.

The report made the following suggestions. First, that research should be more directed to 'pure learning'. Second, that research and learning should be more closely related. Third, that graduate work should be better organised. Fourth, that increased attention be paid to research methodology. Fifth, 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. Sixth, that systematic periodic surveys of research projects be undertaken, either through the publication of 'research in progress' as in the case of North Carolina and Minnesota, or through the annual publication of faculty research, as in the case of Columbia, Cornell, Chicago, Michigan and Virginia. Seventh, the university system should develop specialisation and division of labour. Return

[9] Only a lack of special provision for attendance at conferences and inadequate clerical assistance were pointed to as factors that Chicago might improve upon. Return

[10] The following Universities were listed as having very little or no specific provision for research in the social sciences: Indiana University, University of Nebraska, Princeton University, Washington University, State University of Iowa, Johns Hopkins University, University of Kansas ($250 in 1925-6) Michigan, Minnesota ($1000 in 1927) Missouri, Northwestern University, Ohio State University, University of Pennsylvania ($3151 in 1926) University of Wisconsin ($7500 in 1927), Clark University. Return

[11] This feeling that universities and colleges devoted too much time to teaching was not a universally held view. In a newspaper report with the headline 'Book Writing Professors are Scored by Speaker at Meeting of Sociologists', (Anon, 1913) a student at the American Sociology Society conference was reported to have been concerned that lecturers spent too much time writing for their own benefit and too little engaged in teaching. Return

[12] SeeThe Committee on Scientific Methods of the Social Science Research Council undertook a thorough study of research methods in the latter part of the 1920s. Two Chicago University faculty were members of this committee of eight, L.L. Thurstone from the Psychology Department and Edward Sapir, an anthropologist in the Department of Sociology. The rest of the committee were Horace Secrist (Northwestern University) as chairman, A.N Holcombe, W.I. King, Mary Van Kleeck, R.M. MacIver and F.J. Teggart. Return

[13] Poffenberger, Chairman of the P&P Committee of the Social Science Research Council, circulated members in April 1944, on research methods, notably concerning the opportunity, afforded by the war, of monitoring attitude-scaling techniques.

Techniques for the measurement of attitudes and opinions have been used for years as laboratory devices by psychologists and sociologists. More recently their use has been widely extended and their popularity greatly increased with their adoption for opinion polls and for surveys of attitudes by government bureaus and by several branches of the armed forces. Specialised procedures for administration and statistical treatment are employed by the various groups and champions have arisen to defend one or another of the favoured techniques…. P & P have authorised an enquiry into the feasibility of a thorough appraisal of attitude measurement in the armed forces and government bureaus... The methods of great potential and value are certain to be widely employed for a variety of purposes in the next few years. Therein lies the real danger that their utility will be heavily oversold and that inadequate techniques will flourish. Indeed, there is a reason to expect an attitude measuring boom after this war similar to the mental test boom that followed the last war. Something may be done now by the Council in order to make the outcome in this instance less unfortunate. P & P is now considering such a critical survey which would include suggestions for further research into methods of construction, administration and validation of all such measuring instruments. In undertaking such a survey the Council would be making a contribution in the field which is common to all the social sciences for one can easily forsee [sic] applications in every one of our disciplines. Return

[14] The Committee proposed that each university have an organisation that took responsibility for acceptance and expenditure of all research funds and to represent the university in relations with external funding bodies. The organisation should appraise the research needs of the social sciences; furnish counsel and guidance in the planning and design, prosecution and appraisal of research projects; discover and foster research talents and interests of university staff and to provide facilities for carrying on research; report such interests and needs to the general university administration; facilitate communication between research workers between and within institutions; provide a continuous record of research in progress, completed and planned and to facilitate publication. (Social Science Research Council, Committee on Organisation for Research in the Social Sciences Report, 1946.) Return


Next 7.8 The extent of Chicago's decline