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

7.9 Conclusion

During the 1950s Chicago was less innovative than some of the rival departments but this was more a function of the simultaneous loss of key personnel in 1951-52 than of the cumulation of a downward spiral. Ogburn and Burgess retired in 1952, (as did Thurstone). The War had inhibited the recruitment of new faculty or the elevation or development of existing faculty to take over. The death of Wirth in 1951 could not be planned for. Stouffer moved to Columbia University via the War Department and Shils' involvement with the department between 1948 and 1958 was limited due to his leave of absence on government service and his involvement on the Committee for Social Thought. Blumer moved to California in 1952.
Chicago was bereft of key personnel who might have developed the quantitative techniques that came to dominate in the 1950s. That is not to say that Chicago had nobody to develop this area, and indeed, much fine work was done by Duncan, (before his surprising departure to Arizona, where he faded out of the limelight, (Coleman, 1980)). Goodman and Hauser also made important contributions but without the same recognition afforded the work done at Columbia and Michigan. The restructuring of the Department at Chicago through the recruitment of quantifiers like Blau came rather late and, according to some sources (Janowitz, 1980), failed to establish a credible environment through which pioneering quantification might have prospered.
It is, furthermore, misleading to equate any decline in the role of Chicago University with a decline in ethnographic research.

I don't think there ever was a decline in the amount of ethnographic research... I started doing research in 1946, 47, 48, doing ethnographic research, and I've done it ever since. And lots of other people were doing it, at the same time I was. And it's true that, that as survey research became more important, people, especially in the Eastern part of the United States that the notion that it was dominating sociology, that was sort of a parochial kind of view that people at Harvard and Columbia essentially had. And I never saw any evidence of it myself, because, you know, we were just going right on doing what we were doing, and there were lots of us. In fact, I noticed some years ago that there was a very interesting phenomena... I took the list of [McIver] prize winning books and.... out of, I think, perhaps I'd say ten or fifteen, I think one or two were done with the use of those quantitative techniques. So in fact, quantitative techniques were not as dominant as people thought. (Becker, 1979, pp. 15–17)

The post-World War Two era was also supposed to have been the point at which Chicago's ethnographic orientation became most developed. It was in 1952, however, that Blumer moved to Berkeley and neither Geer, Vidich nor Glaser were tenured at Chicago in the 1950s. Howard S. Becker was an instructor in 1951 and 1952 following his award of a doctorate in 1951. His next official link with the Department was in the late 1950s through his work on the project sponsored by Community Studies Incorporated of Kansas City, Missouri. [17] Strauss was an assistant professor, too, for five years 1954-1958 inclusive, before moving away from a department that was becoming increasingly dominated by quantitative interests. Retrospective accounts suggest that the tradition that Becker and associates developed at Chicago at this time was the end of a longer tradition of ethnographic work. On the contrary, however, such work was in many senses the beginning. It represented an attempt at a novel validation of participant observation that was later to lead to a questioning of value neutrality (Becker, 1967). In the event, the coup, which is supposed to have undermined the influence of the Chicago School on the theoretical and methodological development of sociology, actually serves to show that the 'Chicago School' was not a homogeneous and united grouping of practitioners standing at a distance from prevailing theoretic and methodic tendencies. On the contrary, what seems to be an improbable alliance between quantifiers and Chicagoans is only improbable if the two groups are seen as exhibiting irreconcilable theoretical or epistemological differences. The argument developed throughout this book undermines such an assumption. The quantifiers may be seen as a committed theory group (Lengermann, 1979) advocating radical positivism, with an interdisciplinary sub-group at Chicago. The Chicagoans as a whole, however, were not so cohesive. What they had, and what was instrumental in their dominant position, was a flourishing research environment. It was the dissipation of this environment, rather than any complacency or failure to address new developments in sociology, that led to the waning of the Chicagoans. A waning that seemed inevitable given the rapid development of sociology in the United States and associated structural changes.



[17] Howard S. Becker received his doctorate at Chicago in 1951 and was an instructor in the Department in 1951 and 1952. He does not appear again on the Official Publications until 1959, when he is listed as assistant professor (at Kansas). This listing is repeated in 1960 and 1961. Prior to 1959, Becker undertook fieldwork on the study of a state medical school, sponsored by Community Studies, Incorporated, of Kansas City, Missouri. A project directed by Everett C. Hughes. Blanche Geer was Becker's fieldwork partner on the project and Anselm Strauss was a member of the research team. Return


Next 8.1 Introduction