The Foundations and Contributions of a Major Sociological


 Ken Plummer 

Published in 1997, there are 4 Volumes.


It seems no exaggeration to say that for roughly twenty years, from the first world war to the mid 1930’s, the history of sociology in America can largely be written as the history of the Department of Sociology at the University of Chicago…. Lewis A Coser (1978:311)


‘Chicago Sociology’ is frequently seen as the first major ‘school’ of sociology in the USA, dominating the field for the first thirty five years of the twentieth century and continuing its influence for the remainder. It produced a rich and diverse tradition of empirical research, largely concerned with the new and rapidly expanding urban centre of Chicago and its accompanying social problems. It fostered the development of a pragmatic and formalist social theory, linked to the philosophies of  James, Dewey, Peirce and Mead and the sociology of Simmel. It provoked debates over appropriate sociological methodologies, especially between those who favoured the ‘case study’ method and those who championed the refinement of statistical method. And it helped clarify the relationship between sociological analysis and the public spheres of policy, reform and social work. Equally important, Chicago Sociology was central to the professionalisation and institutionalisation of sociology. It was responsible for starting the first major sociological journal – the American Journal of Sociology; establishing the first major text book- Robert Park and Ernest Burgess’s ‘Green Bible’, The  Introduction to the Science of Sociology (1921); and becoming the first major training centre for graduate students in sociology, producing a substantial array of PhD  studies (as documented in Faris’s account of Chicago Sociology 1920-1932 : Appendix A); and generating major research centres. In many ways, it is hard not to see Chicago as the fons et origio of modern sociology. It is true there are some who do not see Chicago as so central – in Stephen Turner’s account of  the history of sociology, he depicts the above view as ‘Chicago-centric’, suggests it is ‘fundamentally false’, and indeed sees Chicago as a ‘side-show ‘ with ‘little long term significance’. (Turner, 1994 : see also Turner and Turner, 1990)! [1]There are then competing histories and competing claims, and the definitive study of the history of sociology is still to be written. But I believe that there can be no doubt, both in terms of the spirit of much of its work and symbolically, of the importance of the Chicago School . Much of this introductory essay is given over to illustrating its many and varied contributions.

But first just what is ‘The Chicago School of Sociology’? It is clear, I think, that it was not a self conscious school : quite the reverse, since many of its practitioners had no conception of what they might have in common, if indeed they did have anything in common! One of its distinctive features, for me, is a significant heterogeneity and diversity. There is no reference to the ‘Chicago School’ until 1930 (Bulmer, 1984: p229), and the term was never really used before 1939. Indeed, it remained very rare until the mid 1950’s (Harvey, 1987: Ch 1: p7).  Only after its hey day did it really come to be retrospectively identified as a school. And important as Chicago was in the twenties and thirties, it went on to train further generations of sociologists so that its impact may be seen as being enormous throughout the twentieth century. Indeed, later scholars at Chicago are now sometimes sensed to be ‘ a second Chicago School’. But again, this seems to be a retrospectively imposed label (Fine, 1995). It is also the case that several other universities – like Harvard and Columbia – had strong or growing reputations and indeed did not think very much of Chicago sociology. It’s influence in these centres could hardly have been great. Thus, although the significance of Chicago in the history of sociology is beyond dispute, the actual existence of a Chicago School is open to debate. Its significance seems to have retrospectively imposed, and in Lee Harvey’s compelling analysis he suggests that not only is ‘the Chicago School’ a misnomer, but many of its presumed features are simply ‘myths’ : these may have valuable roles to play as myths, but they remain myths.  Put bluntly, he argues that a number of commonly held views are indeed quite wrong: thus it is not true that ‘Chicago Sociology’ can only be identified with qualitative research and participant observation; with symbolic interactionism and Mead to the exclusion of other theoretical concerns ; that it necessarily had a progressive approach to solving social problems;  or that as a school its history lasted till the mid 1930’s and after that it went into decline. In each case he suggests – with good evidence – that these are truly myths. Thus, for example, as the article by Platt in Volume 4 argues, ‘participant observation’ was hardly invented at Chicago and if innovations in methodology were to be found there, then they were probably in the area of quantitative methodology (cf. Platt, 1996). Likewise, symbolic interactionism was a retrospectively imposed label that many – including the later Goffman- actively disavowed : it hardly captures the whole story.

These four volumes of readings examine the critiques of this school whilst recognising that the notion of school is itself problematic. In choosing the selections, there was a problem of whether to reinforce some of the myths named above or to select some commentaries which show the diversity of the school and which will help weaken the ‘unitary’ school view. I have tried to do the latter. I do not subscribe to a ‘unitary school ‘ view of Chicago, and I hope these volumes reflect this.  The volumes do not provide any of the original writings of this school but aim to be a source-book of important commentaries and critiques. As I have explained in the preface, however, in a tradition so wider ranging, not everything could be covered. In this introductory essay, I examine both the history and the major contributions as a background to the four volumes. And hereafter I have placed in italics links between my discussions and where the reader may find further debate in the articles that follow.


            See Faught (5) and Harvey (6) for a discussion of schools

            the foundations of  chicago : A Time, A Place and A Vision[2]

[[Insert Table One around here]

The City Context

In 1840, Chicago was little more than a mud village on a swamp – there were only four and a half thousand people living there, and it was to be swept away both by floods and fire.  The Great Fire of 1871 is generally considered a landmark event :  a large section of the city was destroyed and a major new city emerged from the ruins(cf. Miller, 1990). Yet by the late nineteenth century, the city had grown to over one and a half million and had become the second largest city in the USA. With migration from all over the country and all over the world, it became the classic melting pot: Poles, Germans, Jews, Italians, Czechs, Croats, Lithuanians, Irish, Scandinavians accounting for half of its population. And by 1930, it had grown to well over three million. Cressey writes in a striking passage:

In 1930, one quarter of the people were of foreign birth, and an additional 40% the children of foreign parents. Only two cities in Poland have more Poles, and but two cities in Ireland have more Irish than to be found in Chicago. In addition Chicago is the third large Swedish city in the world, the third largest Bohemian, the third largest Jewish, and the second largest Negro. There are seven immigrant groups in Chicago, each composed of over one hundred thousand people, in addition to which there are nearly a quarter of a million Negroes…. (Cressey, in Short 1971 p111)

Chicago both in reality and in symbol was ‘the modern city’. It was ‘nature’s metropolis’ (cf. Cronon, 1991). The seething excitement of a modern city brought vitality, energy, creativity – a huge confidence in art, business, and intellectual life along with new patterns of communication and transportation. Here were all the excitements of a newly emerging social order, a place of considerable ‘culture’ -writers, art, music- along with civility and diversity. But here too was degradation, exploitation, crime, impersonality, loneliness. Here was condemnation of all that the nascent capitalism and city life brought :  WH Stead’s  If Christ Came To Chicago documents all the corruption, poverty, violence and misery that was present. In the first chair of the department’s (Albion Small) magnum opus, written in 1905, the “great problem” facing science and the public is described:

The production of wealth in prodigious quantities, the machine like integration of the industries, the syndicated control of capital and the syndicated organisation of labour, the conjunction of interests in production and the collision of interests in distribution, the widening chasms between luxury and poverty, the security of the economically strong and the insecurity of the economically weak, the domination of politics by pecuniary interests, the growth of capitalistic world politics, the absence of commanding moral authority, the well nigh universal instinct that there is something wrong in our social machinery and that society is gravitating toward a crisis, the thousand and one demands for reform,the futility and fractionality of most ameliorative programs – all these are making men wonder how long we can go in a fashion that no one quite understands and that everyone feels at liberty to condemn (Small, 1905: 119-120)

Such concerns also started to signpost a new optimism : the roots of the progressive movement, where reform and change became important ingredients of social life. [3] Harboured here was the paradox of the modern city: a world of strangers and danger merges with a world of diversity and innovation. Here was the pathos of modernity. And indeed, in many ways, the recognition of this contradictory tension in modern life has remained the twin birth right of sociology. Today the city is still celebrated and critiqued; it is still a marvellous and yet dangerous place (cf. Zukin, 1995). This tension was at the heart of the work of the Chicago Department of Sociology. It was part of a tacit project of ‘Making America Work’ (Smith, 1988: Ch 3) As Dennis Smith has suggested, Chicago Sociology may best be viewed as developing as a response to both American liberalism and the moral challenges of a the new Capitalist Order. One way of seeing their work is through Albion Small’s earlier question : ‘At what have we arrived and in what direction progress?’ (Small, 1905 and cited in Smith, 1988:p13)

Chicago as a city is discussed in Hunter (12) and the Progressive Movement is discussed most fully in Shalin (13)


The University and The Department of Sociology

It was in this challenging climate  of change – dangerous yet exciting -that a modern private university was born in 1890. With funds from John D Rockefeller Sr.(who eventually gave endowments and gifts of over $45 million!), and a charismatic first president, William Rainey Harper, the University of Chicago set out to establish itself as a foremost research university, seeking to attract the ‘best available men in the country’ (cited in Bulmer, 1984: p15), and developing its own publishing house. Its chief rivals were John Hopkins (founded in 1876) and Clark University, Massachusetts. And whilst it had an undergraduate training and college, its prime goals were indisputably linked to research and graduate study.

The University was soon to be characterised by its vibrancy of intellectual life : it brought new ‘schools’ galore- of Architecture, of Art, of Literature, of Philosophy, of Economics, and of course- of Sociology, a fledgling discipline. As James remarked in a classic observation:

The result is wonderful- a real school and real thought. Important thought too. Did you ever hear of such a city or such a University? Here at Harvard we have thought, but no school. At Yale, a school but no thought. Chicago has both….(William James, cited in Bulmer 1984, p28.)

Not only a school of thought, but one that reached across disciplines: boundaries were loose and borders unclear. Indeed, for the first four decades of its life Chicago sociology included anthropology and was often staffed by renegades from other disciplines. As we have seen, many commentators agree that Chicago dominated North American sociology for the first thirty years of the century, and that ‘for well over a decade after the end of the First World War, Chicago sociology was , in effect, American sociology’” (Smith, 1988: p2) The output was prodigious : indeed, no city before or since had probably been the object of so  much  social investigation. Starting with Jane Adams Hull House research, in which she mapped out the social structure of the entire city – a method informed by the poverty studies of Booth in London and that was subsequently adopted by the Chicago sociologists, and indeed came to be identified with them –  the research stretched into every nook and cranny of city life. Inter alia, Chicago sociologists came to examine migration patterns, race conflict, prohibition, motion pictures, the press, the radio, the family, the ghetto, personality formation, delinquency, crime, prostitution, vice areas, gangs, hobs, hotel lief, dance halls, insanity, Real Estate, intermarriage, youth, chain stores, collective behaviour : all of social life was here, and being investigated by sociology.

The early history of Chicago is reviewed in Volume 2, Section IV

Chicago’s major claim to fame lies not in any one of these diverse studies but in the range and totality of its contributions: many researchers, many books, many projects. No one person or study really captures what the general attitude and contribution was like. My own reading suggests however three books that may have played a formative role. They will appear at many points throughout these volumes so it is as well to be clear about them. As with all suggestions of ‘canonical’ texts, these are socially and historically constructed texts: other authors may not agree(cf. Baehr & O’Brien 1994). The first has to be W.I.Thomas and Znaniecki’s five volume ‘classic’, The Polish Peasant in Europe and America. Funded by Helen Culver, it displays many of the features that are associated with Chicago work: multi methods, an ambitious problem connected to social change, the start of  new theorising, policy links, and new data – masses of it. This book was considered the most important study in American sociology until the late 1930’s and  was undoubtedly influential. It is a the first great classic in American empirical sociology’ (Coser, 1977:381). And as Park says, ‘It is in the work of W.IThomas, I believe, that the present tradition in research at Chicago was established’ (Park, 1939) . The second influential study was the Park and Burgess Textbook – Introduction to the Science of Sociology, the core for several generations of students. It was ‘thought by many sociologists to have been one of the most influential works ever written in sociology’ (Faris: 1967:37).  A large volume,  it was heavily shaped by Simmel and was  organised through unit ideas such as ‘human nature’,  ‘interaction process’, ‘isolation’, ‘conflict’ and ‘social control’. It gathered together  ‘readings’ which represented the state of the art at that time. [4] And the third influential study was a major volume on The City, edited by Robert Park, Ernest Burgess and Roderick McKenzie and first published in 1925. In effect this was a series of already published pieces, but it brought a collection together that provided a readily available research framework for examining the city. The first paper was  Park’s classic 1915 article ‘The City: Suggestions for the Investigation of Human behaviour in the Urban environment’ lays out a host of researchable problems on city life; then McKenzie provides a key statement on ecology; whilst Ernest Burgess details his ‘zonal theory of the city’ and suggests the need for detailed analysis of these zones. It helped shape the research programme of many Chicago sociologists.

In these three texts may be found most of the seminal forces of Chicago.

The Polish Peasant is reviewed in Madge (3) and evaluated in Blumer(40); The Park -Burgess text is reviewed in part in Faught (5); and Park’s work is discussed in Guest (20).

The Sociological Context : Mapping Chicago Sociology

The development of a North American Sociology is  frequently charted as moving through four early phases (cf. Hinkle,1980). Phase 1 is dated from around 1883 and continues to 1918 : it  sees the arrival of the American Journal of Sociology in 1905 and ends with Chicago Sociology coming into paramouncy with the publication of Thomas and Znaniecki’s The Polish Peasant in Europe and America. This was the phase of ‘founding sociology’ and is often linked to Christian evangelicalism, Social Darwinism and Evolutionism. It is identified with Ward, Small, Giddings, Cooley. To a considerable extent, the success of Chicago can be seen as a rejection – or at least modification – of these early ideas; and an attempt to build a more ‘scientific’ basis closely connected to observation and ‘real world events’.   Thus, Phase 2, from 1918 to 1933, has been called ‘The Golden Age of Sociology’ (Cavan 1983).It is a period which marks the ‘Declining Interest in General Theory’ (Hinkle, 1980 : p307), and is the time most strongly identified with Chicago. Under the dominance of Robert E. Park, it is a period of great empirical productivity – the period most closely associated with the empirical studies and the development of research centres. Most of the Chicago ‘classics’ were published during this time (The contribution by Madge signals this period and describes these contributions in some detail). It was also the period which see the publication of the major student text- the Green Book or Park and Burgess Introduction to the Science of Sociology.  But Park retired in 1933 and this signalled a new era.  Phase 3, from 1933 to 1945, saw  a  shift of emphasis both within Chicago, as wider theoretical and methodological concerns appeared in the work of Ogburn and Wirth, and outside of it, mainly in the work of Parsons at Harvard – this is the period which saw a ‘revival of interest in general Theory and Action Systems’ ( Hinkle, 1980: p307? The stage is then set for phase 4 (1945-65) which sees the rise of a Structural Functional Orthodoxy. (Hinkle 1980 P307) This period is also noted for the development of what some have called  – The ‘Second Chicago School’. It is in this period that the influence of Everett Cherrington Hughes,becomes paramount and which sees the training of a new cluster of scholars who were to become especially influential in North American Sociology during the 1960’s and 1970’s (e.g. Becker, Goffman, Strauss and others). (cf. Coser,1994: p1; Fine, 1995).

See the Cavan article ( 2) for a more detailed mapping of the stages of the Chicago school

It is too early for periodising the more contemporary periods, but  some see the next period as The Critical Interlude ( 1965-1975) – a period, mirrored in society, when reigning orthodoxy’s came under severe critique : A Coming Crisis of Western Sociology (the title of a key book by Alvin Gouldner, 1970) was sensed (cf. Vaughan, 1993 : p16). And part of that crisis was a revaluation of the Chicago tradition as part of a liberalism that reinforced the values of American Capitalism. Chicago Sociology came to be seen as empiricists, uncritical of the status quo and, worse, defenders of it. Indeed, Chicago sociologists were under the paymasters of capital (cf. Gouldner, 1970; Schwendingers, 1974). [5]

See section III in Volume 1 for a sense of the critique above.

The Intellectual Context of Chicago

Chicago was a hub of intellectual activity. Below I suggest just three traditions which helped shape it. They are pragmatism, progressivism  and a European connection.

Pragmatism and Chicago : The most significant intellectual foundation of Chicago Sociology is pragmatism: it is indeed the core of American philosophy and social thought- the distinctively American contribution. It is one of the ‘philosophies of flux’ (Dewey, 1958:50) which focuses upon realities in the making rather than some pre-ordained world given for eternity. Four key philosophers are usually cited as the foundational thinkers: James, Dewey, Mead and Peirce (Scheffler, 1974), and they were not all Chicagoeans.  Peirce never gained a permanent university position anywhere (apparently due to his difficult temperament); James was mainly based at Harvard; Dewey had a head professorship at Chicago during the 1890’s but spent most of his life at  was at Columbia (from 1904 to 1930). Only Mead is firmly associated with Chicago for the duration of his career. Indeed, these key philosophers are all very different, and although pragmatism had a strong influence on the Chicago sociologists, it must be recognised that this influence reflected the diversities of pragmatism itself. The warm humanistic James abhorred grand abstractions and his work tottered towards phenomenology and sometimes subjectivism, even solipsism; the difficult, temperamental and abstract Peirce in contrast established semiology as a realist practice examining ‘signs’.Peirce and Mead have been called ‘social realists’ whilst Peirce and Mead have been dubbed ‘subjective nominalists’ (Lewis, 1976). Despite differences, all presented versions of pragmatism that had a marked influence on Chicago.(These distinctions and influences are seminally discussed in C.Wright Mills’s PhD thesis Sociology and Pragmatism  (1964) and latterly in two key books by Rock (1979) and Lewis & Miller  (1980). The latter provides a controversial “revisionist history” in which Mead is shown to be a realist (allied to Peirce). The reviews and symposia which followed the publication of this book indicated a storm of disagreement, which cannot be discussed here. The fiery debates these generated are featured in Plummer 1991 Vol. 1, but some of these issues are considered  in the articles by Hans Joas and Eugene Rochberg-Halton in this volume).

Pragmatism harbours a multiplicity of positions. Giles Dunn in his recent study of pragmatism captures its general mood well:

By directing attention away from beginnings, causes, first principles, a priori reasons, fixed categories, closed systems and historical necessities and towards consequences, results, effects, fruits, and implications, pragmatism accentuates the singularity and concreteness – or to put it more exactly, the alterity – of facts, details, particulars, individuals, exceptions, mutations, idiosyncrasies, discrepancies, discontinuities. (Gunn, 1992: p9)

At its core pragmatism can suggest three things.  First, the importance of dealing with the concrete and the particular rather than the abstract and universal. Pragmatism shuns reasoning and philosophical speculation when divorced from practical and concrete activities. Thus Dewey says: ‘Reality which is not in any sort of use, or bearing upon use, may go hang, so far as knowledge is concerned’ (Dewey 1963 :68) James says in Pragmatism: ‘Damn great empires including that of the absolute… give me individuals and their spheres of activity’. The pragmatist thus ‘turns away from abstraction and insufficiency, from verbal solutions , from bad a priori reasons, from fixed principles, closed systems and pretended absolutes and origins. He turns towards concreteness and adequacy, towards action and towards power’ (James,in Thayer, 1970 P213) .With the major exception of Peirce, none of the pragmatists were keen on philosophical system building or – relatedly – with the search for Platonic essences.  Much more recently, the heir apparent to Pragmatism, Richard Rorty says: ‘My first characterisation of pragmatism is that it is simply anti-essentialism applied to notions like ‘truth’, ‘knowledge’, ‘language’, ‘morality’, and similar objects of philosophical theorising.'(13) The Chicago Sociologists followed this feature of pragmatism in the multitude of concrete studies they made of the day to day empirical world.  From small social worlds through to the study of individual biographies, the concern with detail was everywhere. Theirs was the first of the ‘everyday life sociologies’ (cf. Adler, Adler and Fontana(1987)). Likewise, it is hard to find in the early Chicago writings much of the theoretical system building associated with both the earlier sociologists and later ones like Parsons : indeed, the kind of theory they build is always low level, grounded, in touch with interactions.

A second concern lies with the search for the truth. For pragmatists this is a mistaken enterprise. Grand systems cannot be the proper focus of enquiry.  But the search for truths and meanings is necessary and possible.  Truths are conceived in terms of the sensible effects produced through language; truth depends on ‘helping us to get into satisfactory relations with other parts of our experience’.(James in Scheffler, 1974: p110) At its bluntest, it is  Thomas and Znaniecki’s  famous dictum – that ‘when people define situations as real they become real in their consequences’.  Less aphoristically, Peirce puts this in his celebrated ‘pragmatic maxim’:

Consider what effects, which might conceivably have practical bearings, we conceive the object of our conception to have.  Then, our conception of these effects is the whole of our conception of the object…  The whole conception of a quality, as of every other, lies in its conceived effects..(in Scheffler, 1974:p77-8)

This leads to ‘pluralistic  universe’ (James’ felicitous phrase) where there are multiple meanings given to actions and hence multiple truths. The task of science is not therefore to discover some fixed eternal rational system, but to inspect multiple worlds in the making and examine their consequences. It inspects ‘practical realities’ (James in Thayer, 1970: 168). And this is just what the Chicago sociologists claimed – they fully recognised that ‘things do not have the same meanings, with different people, in different parts of time, in different parts of a country’(Park and Miller, 1921 :265).

And, thirdly, the position shuns philosophical dualism – there is no room in the theory to divorce the known from the known, the subject from the object, the creative from the determined.  By focusing upon the concrete, the interminable dualism of much western philosophical thought can simply be transcended. Mead’s notion of self, for instance, did not favour the individual over the social but stressed both were always at play in a dialectical relation. Likewise, the sociological pragmatist Cooley announces in Human Nature and the Social Order, ‘‘A separate individual is an abstraction unknown to experience and so likewise is society when regarded as something apart from individuals. the real thing is Human Life, which may be considered in an individual aspect or in a social; that it to say a general aspect; but it is always, as a matter of fact, both individual and general..’( Cooley, 1902 p36.) And as Dewey remarked: “The individual and society are neither opposed to each other nor separated from each other. Society is a society of individuals and  the individual is a social individual (Dewey, 1972: 55).

Understandably, much of this background to Chicago thought has been characterised by Alvin Gouldner as Romantic’. Drawing upon the distinction between Classical thought and Romantic thought as a way of contrasting the differing deep structures of social theory. Gouldner suggested that the former was more concerned with the statistically average case, with enduring structures and universals; with coherence and order, and with formal, abstract reasoning.  The latter, by contrast, is happier focusing upon the deviant case; upon process, tension and negotiation; upon ambiguity and uniqueness; upon the ‘extra technical or social sources of theory and knowledge’.  This tension in all social theory is to be found emerging in the works of Chicago sociology:

The Romantics rebelled on every front against the once honoured conventions of the classical tradition: they welcomed a melange of times, tones, moods and places in one artistic product, counterpoising it to the classical doctrines of the unities; they affirmed the value of the contingent, the changing and the local, counterpoising this to the doctrines of universality and permanence; they prized inward conviction, counterpoising it to judgements oriented to externalised and objectified standards; they delighted in the exotic, deviant or special case, counterpoising these to the probable or average case; they portrayed the indecorous as a way of conferring reality on an individuality that was to be defined by its departure from, rather than its conformity with, social convention.  As against the established tradition of conveying meaning as some kind of unity, the Romantics countered by affirming the reality of plurality.  The world was seen as a mosaic, each tile of which had some unique reality or value in itself.  The whole itself was often seen, however, not as a harmonious and integrated unity, but as an incongruous assemblage and as a tensionful conjunction of parts..(Gouldner,1973: p327-8)

For Gouldner, Mead and the Chicago school are firmly located in this tradition.  But he overstates his case – in fact both strands of thought were clearly at work. For although Chicago is strongly identified with strands of the subjective, the qualitative, the gothic even- it also has a long and continuing tradition of seeking regularities, statistical reasoning . There are many classical strands to be found in the work of Chicago sociologists, alongside the Romantic ones.

            Pragmatism is discussed in Section  3 Volume 2.

Progressivism and Reform : The Chicago tradition emerges from a progressive agenda of reform. Whilst it is true that these sociologist rarely challenged capitalism at its roots, as for example a Marxist theory does.  there is plenty of evidence for the involvement of many Chicago sociologists within a liberal critique of capitalism which often displays its failures, and along with this a primacy, theoretically, is given to the democratising and equalising group functioning with the minimum of state intervention. The pragmatic concern was far from a conservative or elitist position. To the contrary, Dewey wanted ‘ a more balanced,  a more equal, even, and equitable system of human liberties’ (Dewey, 1946:113) whilst James endorsed ‘the more or less socialistic future toward which mankind seems drifting’ (James, 1962:488). Dewey was , of course , a major advocate of democracy…

Recent reconstructions of the politics of Mead and Blumer see them both as critics of the blights of capitalist America : of racism, of industrial exploitation, of immigrants providing the basis of cheap labour, of a potentially monopolistic press, of an elitist education system creating a cultured class.  It sees them both as engaged in political reforming outside of their academic lives.  Whilst neither decried the capitalist order, they pursued the “institutionalising of revolution”.(18)  Given their view of change, no outcomes were ever fixed and hence “democracy has to be accomplished over and over again”.

The article by Shalin (13) in volume 2 provides a lucid analysis of Mead’s involvement’s in Progressivism

Europe, Germany and Simmel : A third important intellectual tradition to shape Chicago was the influence of European thought – especially German. Until Chicago, the home of Sociology had clearly been Europe :  from the founding work of Comte and Spencer on to the great triad of Marx, Durkehim and Weber, the nineteenth century home of Sociology (though not always – or often- by that name) was Europe. There is little of real consequence in nineteenth century North American Sociology. And it is clear, when the Burgees and Park text was published in 1921, just how much influence that Europe had on the thinking of the Chicago Sociologists. Pragmatically, they borrowed from the Great Poverty Studies of Booth and Rowntree in England; they developed the theory of emergence so nascent in Spencer’s evolutionary work(and spilled much ink critiquing his Social Darwinism too); they used Durkheim’s notions of moral order. It was the German Sociologists who were the most influential. Indeed, Dennis Smith has highlighted just how important Germany was for the Chicago mind: ”Louis Wirth was born there. Albion Small married the daughter of Junker general. Like Small, both Robert Park and W.I.Thomas studied in Germany before coming to Chicago University…” (Smith, 1988: p34).

Despite many influences, it was Georg Simmel who played the most influential role. Indeed one reading of the origins of Chicago Sociology might suggest it as the Americanisation of Simmel. Small developed a close relationship with him ( Levine, 1976: p815), and Park claimed that ‘it was from Simmel that I finally gained a fundamental point of view for the study of the newspaper and society’ (Baker, cited in Levine, 1976 : p816) Many of Simmel’s ideas on the city (in ‘The Metropolis and Mental Life’) were taken up by Park and Wirth  (notably in Wirth’s seminal ‘Urbanism as a way of life’ where Wirth could claim that Simmel’s essay was ‘the most important single article on the city from the sociological standpoint’. (Levine, 1976: 1112). He played a key role in the Park and Burgess volume Introduction to the Science of Sociology – there were 10 selections by Simmel, some of them new translations by Park (Levine, 1976: 817). Likewise Simmel’s concern with underlying forms of social interaction became a key to much Chicago work. His sociology aimed to dissect through the maze of contrasting social experiences in order to tap the underlying forms of human sociation: of conflict and accommodation, of deference and hierarchy, of attachments and degradation. Simmel’s work constitutes an elementary form of structural theory and was transported into Chicago sociology largely through the work of Robert E. Park. It can be found not only in Chicago’s concern with ‘city forms and processes’ or the racial forms or..and in conflict…. Finally, Simmels concern with social types is also to be found in Chicago. Most notably, Simmel’s Stranger was translated by Park for the Introduction, and subsequently became a formative idea in the development of The Marginal Man (see Levine, 1976: p829-35 for a good discussion of this)

Simmel is discussed in the contribution by Prus (42  )


Most of the articles selected for these volumes indicate how sociology has been shaped by the work of the Chicago sociologists. With hindsight we can usually now see a great deal that is wrong with this work – at times is seems to a late twentieth century reader to drip with naiveté and unsophistication! But at the same time it is always possible to see a world of challenging ideas struggling to get out. In this section, I wish to signpost what I take to be the most significant contributions that Chicago has made to contemporary sociology.  I will cluster them as theoretical, substantive, methodological and practical.

1. Chicago and the Creation of Social Theory

Although Chicago Sociology is generally considered to be atheoretical, this is one of the many myths that enshroud it (Harvey, 1987: Ch5). For, typically, when students study courses in Social Theory, the usual parade of theorists from the ancients -Marx, Durkheim and Weber – to the moderns- Habermas, Focault and Baudrillard-  will be discussed but no mention will generally be given to the Chicago Tradition, with the possible exception of George Herbert Mead – a philosopher and not a Chicago Sociologist (cf. Harvey, 1987: Ch 6) Given that Chicago seems to have been a dominant force in world sociology for the first thirty years of this century, and that its concerns have continued throughout the century, it would be odd indeed if it really had contributed nothing to theory! But that is its reputation. And this is largely because of the obvious concern with its multitude of empirical studies which dominate any discussion of the corpus of Chicago work. And it is partly also true because of the pragmatic inheritance discussed earlier which disavowed the kind of broad speculative theorising which Parsons was later to embody. Indeed today, theory has taken on a very different power – and not always for the best. As Giles Dunn has remarked:

We clearly live in an age when theory is tempted to claim more for itself, to turn itself into the subject or even the cause of its own seeing, Theory of this sort is always in danger of reifying itself – or , what amounts to the same thing, or treating everything it touches as mere epiphenomena of its own idioms’.. Gunn, 1992, p2

The theory concerns of Chicago are different and may be approached in several ways. First, there are a host of mini theories which are developed around specific substantive fields. Indeed, it would be fair to say that almost every substantive field – from crime and deviance, urbanism and race relations to media, stratification and collective behaviour have important theoretical roots in the work of the Chicago sociologists. In an introductory essay such as this, justice cannot be done to all these themes, and I discuss some of their features in later sections (Some starts in documenting such theoretical linkages may be found in Kurtz’s very useful review (Kurtz, 1984; Ch 3)). Nor is there space in the volume to present critical commentaries on all these areas – there is simply too much material.

The articles in these volumes which do highlight this theory aspect include Strauss (16), Prus (42), & Fischer and Strauss (17).

But secondly, and much more broadly than the above, are two broad general, meta theories developing out of Chicago : a structural, formal concern with modernity, the city and change  emerging piecemeal in the writings of Park (following Simmel), Wirth, Ogburn and others[6]; and  a more social psychological wing concerned with human nature and society and growing into the theory of symbolic interactionism which  emerged in the works of Thomas, Faris, Mead and Blumer, reaching its official name when Blumer called it so in 1937.

Making Chicago’s Meta-Theories

Natural Areas, Urbanisation, and the Pathos of Modernity : Although it is rarely articulated as such, there is a major macro meta theory built out of a range of Chicago concerns : with the city and urbanism; with migration and shifting populations; with technological change; with the problem of social order, democratic culture and social change. When all these ideas start to be pieced together, it is clear that there is something approaching a general  theory of both social order and a more specific theory of modernity. Thus social order can be exemplified through city life: how, in the midst of such teeming differences and potential disorganisation, social life takes on more or less stable and co-operative forms.  Although the classic comparison between rural and urban, or folk and urban (Redfield), is continuously made, it is not a harsh distinction but a more gentle continuum. Nevertheless, it is in the city that ‘the essential dynamics of human behaviour become problematic, conscious and therefore visible’(Matthews, 1977: p121). It is a spontaneous process, and one which can be detected through the sheer flux of city life. It is, as Park remarked borrowing from Darwin and others, part of the ‘web of life’ in which all living organisms, plants and animals alike are bound together in a vast system of interlinked and interdependent lives’ (Park, 1936: p1) As Park says:

The Metropolis is .. a great sifting and sorting mechanisms, which , in ways that are not yet wholly understood , infallibly selects out of the population  as a whole the individuals best suited to live in a particular region and a particular milieu.. The city grows by expansion, but it gets it character by the selection and segregation of its population, so that every individual finds eventually, either the place where he can or the place where he must live (Park,  cited in Matthews, 1977 p139)

Within the city, three themes emerge : ‘natural areas’, ‘community succession’ and ‘urbanism as a way of life’.  In the paradigm setting paper by Robert Park on research in the city, published in 1915, the city was analysed as a series of ‘natural areas’ alongside  a Darwinian struggle for space. Cities are composed – ecologically- of ‘natural areas’ or habitats . The ecological frame – distilled from the earlier social theory of Spencer, Weber, Simmel,Toennies and matched with biological/Darwinian accounts of the ‘web of life’- linked the urban environment to the plant environment. Park sensed the organic nature of the city:

I expect that I have  actually covered more ground, tramping about in cities in different parts of the world, than any other living man, Out of all this I have gained, among other things, a conception of the city, the community and the region, not as a geographical phenomenon merely but as a kind of social organism…..(Park, cited in Faris, 1967 p29)

Growing closely out of Park’s analysis, it was Burgess who suggested that the city can be examined through five concentric zones, and that the expansion of cities occurred as a result of the invasion of each zone by the next outer one. A  central zone occupied by the business district; a zone in transition – often the first home of the immigrants, and linked to slums and industry; followed by the zone of working men’s homes, a residential zone and finally a commuter’s zone. This was not meant to exhaust urban spatial forms,. but represented something of an ideal type. Burgess’s earliest work built up a picture of these ‘concentric zones’ through  a process of statistic spot mapping:- clusters of the city were identified which could be characterised by  distributions of delinquency, or mental illness, or suicide, or dance halls, or rooming houses.

These ‘areas’ have become a major organising feature of social life – now identified as subcultures, and more recently as  ‘social worlds (cf Strauss, 1991).  Here we see the development of the pluralisation of life worlds that is a stable stock of sociology. Modern people lives in this pluralisation and experience it daily ; the process which Anthony Giddens (1990)  has recently described as ‘disembedding’ and ‘time-place distantiation’ is here being given an early form in the analyses of early Chicago. Within the theory is the beginnings of a concern with a late modern world.

The ‘area analysis’ is also closely linked to the rise of minority groups and ghettos. Indeed, the ghetto is one of these natural areas, but one in which groups become severely segregated. It becomes ‘ the physical symbol for that sort of moral isolation which the ‘assimilationists’, so called, are seeking to break down”  (Park 1956 (1928) pv). Ghettos are ‘cities within cities’ and

The process of segregation establishes moral distances which make the city a mosaic of little worlds which touch but do not interpenetrate. This makes it possible for individuals to pass quickly and easily from one moral milieu to another, and encourages the fascinating but dangerous experiment of living together in several different continuous, but otherwise widely separated worlds….  (Park, 1925 p40-1)

Here then is a major series of accounts of modern living in a plurality of socialworlds that are contiguous and overlapping, but where both social distance and marginality may increasingly become social and personal issues.

A second theme is that of ‘community succession’, – an initial invasion, continuing penetration and competition, followed by succession, or victory for on e or other of the antagonists. It is a very dynamic , conflict  model of how the city works (a model most clearly used by Zorbaugh in The Gold Coast and the Slum). Park  argued that ‘the natural area of the city’ was ‘not planned and the order they display in not the result of design’. There was a struggle, a competition, and out of this emerged new cultural orders Emergence remains an abiding them, but it is given substance through a principle of competition for resources , caught in the famous cycle: invasion, succession, domination. He argues:

In every life community there is always one or more dominant species.. the principles of dominance.. tend to determine the general ecological patterns of the city… R. Park 1952 p151-2

But a third theme concerns the way this city life permeates into everyday experience. Here the later but equally influential work of Louis Wirth was important.  In his ‘urbanism as a way of life’ thesis,  influenced heavily by Simmel, Wirth showed how city size, population density and heterogeneous population leads to a new way of life he calls urbanism along with  the appearance of a new social type: the marginal man. Underpinning much of Wirth’s work was the simultaneous need to tolerate the enormous range of difference found in the city, alongside the fear that city life would lead to a decline in family, neighbourhood and community.  It is part of the great debate about ‘mass society’ . The city could be dangerous: but it could also increase cosmopolitanism , tolerance, urbanity, and, even, democracy.

The contacts of the city may indeed be face to face, but they are nevertheless impersonal, superficial, transitory and segmental. The reserve, the indifference, and the blasé outlook which urbanites manifest in their relationships may thus be regarded as devices for immunising themselves against the personal claims and expectations of others..” Wirth, 1938 : p12

It was the ‘world of strangers’ to be analysed further by many sociologists (but see especially Lofland, 1985). One of the most remarkable aspects of modern social order as exemplified by the city is the development of ambivalence and diversity. Cities bring growing fragmentation, differentiation, strangeness and ambiguity : they often indeed seem to be on the brink of moral breakdown and chaos. At their edges- of crime and violence which the Chicago sociologists were fond of studying- they clearly were highly dangerous places: a chaos and a danger seethes beneath city life. And yet at the same, there is a celebration-  a diversity. The city challenges what might be taken for granted in more traditional communities and it becomes’the natural habitat of civilised man’ (Park, 1925, p3). The Chicago tradition was endlessly lodged in this tension and remains therefore a harbinger of modern debates in social theory.

But the problems were many.  A major tension arises in all this work because of a concern to study and grasp the city as an empirical object (with it natural areas, zones, ways of life etc.) and simultaneously to view it as theoretical object (usually in a functionalist -ecological frame). The latter is often at odds with the former. Indeed, Lester Kurtz has usefully suggested three key biases in this classic work: an ethnocentric bias by which the problems of Chicago as a city are too readily generalised to other cities; a determinist bias, by which city life is too easily determined without human agency; and a conservative bias, which leaves out the wider workings of capitalism. (cf. Kurtz 1984: p21-29) [7]. There is a sense that it all seems too natural, too fatalistic, too accepting that things are what they are. Chicago urban sociology relied too much on a theory of ‘natural’ competition and domination as the basis for society; it failed to produce empirical material on the zones of the city that could lead to good comparative enquiry; it often muddled biological and cultural elements, as well as theoretical and empirical ones; and it failed to locate the city in the wider capitalist system. But despite all this, the work of the Chicago sociologists has to be seen as the enormously influential baseline of the understanding of modern urban life.

            To piece together the theory of the city, See Volume 3, section VII

Social Psychology and The Making of Symbolic Interactionism: the other theoretical wing  – not to be overstated- was the social psychological concerns , later to be developed into the theory of Symbolic Interactionism. It starts its journey in the early writings of social psychologists at Chicago who are concerned with the emergent social nature of human nature and the self, along with the refutation of (then dominant) instinct theory. As Dewey remarked in an early and influential paper,’The instincts do not produce the institutions, but rather the institutions produce the instincts’ (Dewey… cited in Faris, 1967 p111) Likewise: ‘ ..human nature comes into existence. Man does not have it at birth ; he cannot acquire it except through fellowship, and it decays in isolation… (Cooley, 1901, p30 and cited in Faris, 1967 p44). There was a broad attack on ‘reflex arc’, instinct theory, behaviourism and also a general lack of sympathy towards Freud. The earliest attempts included Thomas’s Four Wishes (for  security, new experience, response and recognition..) and his Three Personality Types- Philistine, Bohemian and Creative; Faris’s key paper on ‘Psychological elements in – The Nature of Human Nature… 1937  ; Mead’s famous account of The Self; and William I Thomas and Florian Znaniecki’s : The Self Fulfilling Prophecy

The theory starts to become named and codified in the work of Herbert Blumer around 1937. Broadly the theory has four interweaving themes.  The first suggests that distinctly human worlds are not only material, objective worlds but also immensely symbolic ones: what marks human beings off from all other animals is their elaborate symbol producing capacity which enables them to produce a history, a culture and very intricate webs of communication. It is concerned with how meanings are constantly being built up through interaction with others, and how these meanings are handled, modified, transformed and hence evolve through encounters.  In the world of the interactionist, meaning is never fixed and immutable; rather it is always shifting, emergent and ultimately ambiguous.  Though we may regularly create habitual, routine and shared meanings, these are always open to reappraisal and further adjustment. Closely allied is the theme of process.  Lives, situations, even societies are always and everywhere evolving, adjusting, emerging, becoming.  This constant process makes interactionists focus upon the strategies of acquiring a sense of self, of developing a biography, of adjusting to others, of organising a sense of time, of negotiating order, of constructing civilisations.  It is a very active view of the social world in which human beings are constantly going about their business, piecing together joint lines of activity, and constituting society through these interactions.  Which leads to a third major theme – interaction.  The focus of all interactionist work is neither with the individual nor the society per se; rather its concern is with the joint acts through which lives are organised and societies assembled.  It is concerned with ‘collective behaviour’.  Its most basic concept – the self – implies that the idea of ‘the other’ is always present in a life: we can never be alone with a ‘self’.  But all of its core ideas and concepts highlight this social other which always impinges upon the individual: the very notion of ‘the individual’, indeed, is constructed through the other.  At root, interactionism is concerned with “how people do things together”.(Becker, 1986) And finally , its fourth theme concerns its engagement with the empirical world. Unlike many other social theories which can soar to the theoretical heavens, symbolic interactionists stay grounded on earth. Interactionist theory can guide the study of any and everything social: though what will be discovered is  always a matter of empirical investigation. But in principle, interactionists may inspect and explore any aspect of the social world. As Blumer put it:

Symbolic interactionism is a down-to-earth approach to the scientific study of human group life and human conduct. Its empirical world is the natural world of such group life and conduct. It lodges its problems in this natural world, conducts its studies in it, and derives its interpretations from such naturalistic studies. If it wishes to study religious cult behaviour it will go to actual religious cults and observe them carefully as they carry on their lives. If it wishes to study social movements it will trace carefully the career , the history and the life experiences of actual movements. If it wishes to study drug use among adolescents it will go to the actual life of such adolescents to observe and analyse such use. And similarly with respect to other matters that engage its attention. Its methodological stance, accordingly, is that of direct examination of the empirical world..Blumer, 1969

All these themes mesh together.  Meaning itself is an interactive process – it emerges out of interactions.  The self is a process built out of encounters and endowed with shifting meaning. Social objects assume their meaning according to how they are handled in joint actions.  Social groups are ceaselessly involved in negotiating meaning.  Societies are constituted through the symbolic interactions of ‘self’ and ‘others’. Only in the grounded empirical world open to observation can self, encounter, social object, meaning be investigated. There is, then, behind symbolic interactionist sociologies a pervasive imagery – of symbol, process, interaction and intimate familiarity.

See Strauss (16) along with Prus (42)

2. Chicago’s Substance : A Mosaic of Social Worlds

As is clear from much of the above, at the heart of the tradition of Chicago Sociology was a concern with city life. As Park and Burgess remarked :

The outstanding fact of modern society is the growth of cities. Nowhere else have the enormous changes which the machine industry has made in our social life registered themselves with such obviousness as in cities… (Burgess: The Growth of cities , in Park and Burgess, the City…

And Chicago Sociology provided a multiplicity of roads into the study of this urban life. As we have seen, it mapped the city into an array of ‘natural areas’ and zones, a task previously begun in the famous London Poverty Studies of Booth and the highly influential Chicago work of Jane Addams. From this an account of the ecoolgical foundations of city life, it charted in detail the patterns of migration, the nature of the city’s social problems – crime, madness, delinquency, poverty, suicide, organised crime ; it discussed  the appearance of a new mode of living under the conditions of the city – with the ‘pathos of modern man’(Matthews, 1977), with ‘urbanism as a way of life’ (Wirth, 1938) with ‘the stranger’ in the city(Simmel,[1903], 1971 ;Lofland, 1985); and with the ‘marginal man’ (Stonequist,1937). Above all , it depicted the city as an array of differing cultural forms which rendered the city ‘a mosaic of social worlds’ (Wirth :1938 p15).This latter idea recognised the diversification of modern life that was proceeding apace: it recognised that the modern world was increasingly proliferating into an array of social worlds, a term that whilst present in the early Chicago work has been importantly amplified in the writings of Anselm Strauss, and others. (Strauss, 1978). It is in the study of these many social worlds that Chicago’s fame and recognition chiefly lies. Chicago sociology encouraged an empirical sociology, and possibly no city in the world has ever been so studied as Chicago. (Indeed, studies have continued – for example in the work of Suttles, Hunter and Molotch). An indication of the range of their work is given in Table 2, which is far from being a complete listing.

[Table 2 somewhere around here]

Each of the Chicago studies  needs to be read in its own right. Some are now quite dated and have become historical documents. Others still have contemporary value. Many of them are part of a series – The University of Chicago Sociological series established by the Trustees of the University, edited by Park, Faris and Burgess, and devoted to ‘the results of newer developments in sociological study on America’. They were all written during a period (1915-1935) of immense social change and concern with social problems. All of this change has since proliferated in the late twentieth century, making much of what they  find ’novel’ to be matters we find commonplace today – neither new nor challenging. The enormous concern over delinquency continues today: but to compare the Jack Roller or Thrasher’s The Gang with gangs of the 1990’s is not comparing like with like. They thus become historical documents for examining change at particular periods.

So what do these studies look like? An example – Paul Cressey’s The Taxi Dance Hall (1932)  – may help. On one level, this study like all the others, may be seen as simply describing accurately the contrasting social worlds of the city, with documenting the natural history and ecology of urban instuitions.Indeed, formally, the study aimed to :

1) provide ‘ an unbiased and intimate picture of the social world of the typical dance hall’

2) trace ‘the natural history of the tax dance hall as an urban institution

3) examine the kinds of control in operation (pxi : my italics to highlight key concepts that appear in many of these studies).

At another level, despite its claim to be ‘unbiased’, its background is one of moral concern. This study was clearly sensed to be dealing with a new phenomenon of grave social concern in the 1920’s (we go on having such phenomena : raves, acid house parties, gay discos). Purity Crusades were indeed being waged against these dance halls – just as they are against modern dance raves. The study has hardly got going before it starts expressing its concern at ‘The demand for stimulation, growth of commercialised recreation, and the growing tendency to promiscuity in the relations of the sexes‘ (Cressey: 1932 : pxiii). There is a sense of  ‘the breakdown of social control’. Most Chicago work can be located in this paradox : of simply appreciating and describing city life, and a constant tottering towards moralism and reform. The elegant and influential analysis by David Matza, Becoming Deviant (1969), speaks directly to this problem. (An edited selection is included as a reading in this volume, but the book seems to have become a forgotten classic and is well worth reading in its entirety).

The text of  The Taxi Dance Hall reads like a naturalistic, realistic report : ‘this is how it is happening’. On the surface, like all these studies, the book simply aims to ‘tell it as it is’. The ethnographic myth of ‘naturalism’ is fostered. Thus, Part One of the book describes the taxi dance hall and identifies it as a social type. (It was closed to women patrons and women are only employed to dance with men, usually at ‘ten cents a dance’). Fourteen different types of dance hall are identified (p20-23). The chapter ends with a formal definition of dance halls. Part Two then describes the taxi dancer and her world – it looks at the social world, the background, and the life cycle of the taxi dance hall. Part Three concludes by examining  the patron and his problem, the natural history and local ecology of the halls; and provides an examination of the taxi dance hall ‘problem’.

            For a fuller discussion of a Chicago case study, see the chapter by Madge on The Gold Coast and the Slum (4)

The analysis of this mosaic of social worlds readily reveals many contrasting areas of study. In these volumes, I have given priority to two ‘special worlds’ – the worlds of delinquency, ands the world of race. These are not by any means the only two – media, family, collective behaviour, mental illness etc.could all equally have been chosen. But these two were certainly given an emphasis at Chicago. I have selected them for major illustration in Volume Three.

Race Relations:  American culture – like all modern cultures, but perhaps more visibly so – is  born out of racial antagonisms, ethnic conflicts, migratory cultures and the clash of differences. As Park observed, “ Every nation, upon examination, turns out to have been a more or less successful melting pot” ( Park, cited in Persons, 1987 p77). Native Americans who lost their land through battles or disease; blacks experiencing the pains of a model of slavery imported from Europe; the migratory explosion of the late nineteenth century ( between 1873 and 1910, there were 9,300,370 migrants from south-eastern Europe alone); the strength of the dominant ideology of ‘Americanisation’  – all these help to provide a shape to contemporary US culture. And they pose crucial sociological problems. Chicago Sociology placed many of these problems at the top of its agenda and legitimated the serious study of ethnic relations.

These concerns can be seen in the pioneering  work of W.I.Thomas where the changing clash of different cultures could be analysed as ‘old world traits transplanted’ (a book published in 1921, ‘written by’ Park and Miller, but in fact authored by Thomas). His prime concern lay with the ‘organisation- disorganisation’ of Polish communities both in Poland and in their new  ‘ethnic colonies’  to be found in Detroit, Cleveland and ,of course, Chicago. Looking at the demoralisation in these new communities, he urged the building of new primary and secondary groups to give meaning to faltering lives.

But it was Robert Park who gave a prime focus to race and ethnicity. He had been secretary to the conservative Negro reformer Booker T.Washington  before he was appointed to Chicago, and viewed race relations as a natural cycle born of contact, competition, accommodation and assimilation. The obstacles he saw to this (see the article by Lyman) gave his work an inevitably pessimistic even conservative tone. In an important article of 1913, he established several key themes: the assimilation (or not) of immigrants , the conflicts between blacks and whites in America, and the emergence of a new ‘racial and group’ consciousness. (see ‘Racial Assimilation in secondary groups’ (in his Race and  Culture pp202-7). Park was not especially optimistic about the possibility of change ; the assimilation of racial groups into American life was not to be an easy transition. He sensed simultaneously a strong prejudice from whites along with a growing race consciousness amongst blacks which worked against this.

There was also a small but important group of black scholars who studied and researched at Chicago.   Charles S. Johnson who was involved in the major empirical study of  The Negro in Chicago in the wake of the Chicago Race Riots of 1919 (where hundreds were injured and 38 killed) – riots which were to repeat themselves throughout the twentieth century and from which no lessons seem to have been learned.   E. Franklin Frazier was another student of  Park’s who whilst dissenting from the general Chicago model of a race cycle, went on to conduct several major empirical researches : The Negro Family in Chicago 1932, The Negro in the United States; and St.Clair Drake and Horace Cayton who published Black Metropolis in 1945.

 [see Table 3 about here]

With hindsight, Chicago Sociology sets many of the most central questions that a sociology of race should still address. These include:

a) The Categorisation Question : Prior to the Chicago writings, the dominant views linked race to biology and genetics. Implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, blacks were assumed to be inferior. It is a position that has a long history and continues to this day (in the 1970’s it was linked to Jensen; in the 1990’s to the debate about The Bell Curve). But biological difference and genetic inferiority is firmly rejected by all the Chicago writers, who stress race as a process, as a relation, as a subjective category, as a feature of communication In  this they were way ahead of their time and played a crucial role in changing perceptions of the race problem. In all of this they anticipated the current concerns with issues of  ‘racialization’.

b) The Difference Question : Although the Chicago ‘Race Cycle’ model – of  conflict, accommodation etc.- has been severely criticised, the issues such a model raises are clearly still on the agenda.  For the model poses the question of just how far new cultures can (or should) become meshed into a dominant one or retain their own autonomy. An acute version of this emerged in discussions of interracial marriage; and at the end of the twentieth century, this remained one of the key issues to be re-raised by the ‘multi-cultural’ movement (cf. West et al). Lal sees this as the ‘ethnicity paradox’ – ‘the finding that the development of parochial immigrant institutions and a strong cultural identity actually hastened the incorporation of minority groups into the mainstream of American life’ (Lal, p546; and see Lal, 1990: Ch 5).

c) The Experience/Culture  Question : Chicago did not short circuit the issue of what it means to belong to a different ethnic or migrant group. Indeed, for some – such as Thomas- this was the central issue.

What are Negroes thinking? Few white persons know the intimate reactions of Negroes to problems which they face daily. Yet it is obvious that the conduct of Negroes in practically every phase of life is determined by those very sentiments, which for the white world remain a closed book…  (cited in Bulmer  1984p77)

I do not wish to overstate the contribution of Chicago sociologists to the emergence of a sociology of ethnic relations. It is clear they had their fault. There were a series of major neglects- North American Indians, for instance, do not figure; discussions of the former patterns of slavery were few; and links to class and the economic system were rarely clearly made.  Further, as Myrdal was later to make evident in his monumental studies, there was a pessimistic ‘naturalistic’ flavour to much of this writing: a sense that attitudes and  prejudice could not easily be changed (Myrdal, 1944). Nevertheless,I believe – from a number of recent surveys ( Persons, 1987; Lal, 1990;Wacker, 1987) that Chicago studies certainly recognised and contributed to an important field of ethnic studies. As Person says (in the chapter in Volume 3):

Prior to 1919 racist theories were widely held and openly expressed. After 1939 it was no longer academically respectable to entertain such opinions…. there can be little doubt that the Chicagoeans played an important part in bringing about this transformation. (Persons, 1987:147)

On Ethnic Studies at Chicago, see the readings in Volume 3, section IX

Delinquency in the City : Chicago Sociology is strongly identified with research, theory and policy on youthful delinquency. Although today many of its contributions are seriously criticised, it remains the case that Chicago was responsible for many of the most formative ideas in this important modern area of investigation. It was Clifford Shaw and Henry McKay who were the most prominent researchers in this field.[8] They researched the field  as fully as any have before or since: through the life story tradition focusing upon individual cases (Clifford Shaw’s  Stanley has to be the classic life story of all sociology! (cf. Bennett, 1981), through the much wider statistical analysis of the locations of gangs and delinquencies within Delinquent Areas, and – with various colleagues- through field work observations of gangs. They established the Institute for Juvenile Research. And although they were not especially concerned with the development of grand or high theory, they were responsible for the development of a sprinkling of mini-concepts and ideas that have profoundly shaped the social understanding of delinquency: of how cultures generate and subsequently transmit delinquent values; of the complex links between social organisation and disorganisation; of the role of culture conflict; of how delinquency may be a product of ordinary learning situations – of differential association; of how delinquency may be attached to ‘natural areas’ and ‘subcultures’. It also harboured the seeds of the labelling theory of deviance (in the work of Lindesmith) which was to be popularised in the later work of Becker and others of the ‘second Chicago School’.  Much of this work informed the next generation of more theoretical work : Cohen’s Delinquent Boys, Cloward and Ohlin’s Delinquency and Opportunity and Matza’s Delinquency and Drift all had the inspiration of Chicago upon them. The Chicago sociologists also revealed through the field of delinquency, their ambivalence to scientific sociology as opposed to sociology as reformist activity. For here more than anywhere else, the Chicago sociologist were not simply concerned with the appreciation of the delinquent (Matza’s fine phrase: see Matza 1969), but also – however falteringly – with a stance we could call reformist (if not at times correctional). Thrasher for instance was concerned not just with the process of disorganisation, but the process of reorganisation – ceremonies and institutions that enable delinquent to return to society; Shaw and MacKay established the Chicago Area Project – the seedbed of community action programmes.

On delinquency research at Chicago, see the papers by Snodgrass (28,30 ) and Kobrin (29)

3. Method at Chicago : Creating a Sociological Laboratory

It is the purpose of this department to appropriate to the utmost every advantage afforded by the vast social laboratory within which the university is located…Tolman, 1902 cited in Kurtz,  1984 p13 …. The city of Chicago is one of the most complete social laboratories in the world… ibid. p 60….

Chicago sociologists are renowned for ‘doing research’ : for getting of the seat of their pants and studying the empirical world. [9] We have seen this above. But there are problems. To return to the example of Cressey’s Taxi Dance Hall . This is a kind of ethnography but it contains virtually nothing on how the study was done. All it says is :

Observers were sent into the Taxi dance halls. They were instructed to mingle with the others to become as much a part of this social world as ethically possible. They were asked to observe and to keep as accurate a record as possible of the behaviour and conversation of those met in the establishments.. the investigators functioned as anonymous strangers and casual acquaintances. they were thus able to obtain this materials without encountering the inhibition and resistance usually met in the formal interviews….(Cressey, 1932 pxvii).

This kind of approach is true of nearly all the Chicago studies. They clearly lack a methodological or theoretical sophistication : in most cases, they simply assemble data, providing neither a clear theoretical frame (often Park and Burgess do get a mention but they are not systematically linked or developed), nor a methodological appendix of the kind we have come to expect. Curiously, it is a very late product of Chicago- Street Corner Society by Whyte on Boston – which has come to be the canonical, classic reference on fieldwork. But this comes much later, and under the influence of Blumer and Wirth not Park and Burgess. So in general there is no great sophistication here: indeed, quite the reverse. As Hammersely notes in his review of Chicago method: ‘ In general, the Chicagoeans provide little information about how their research was carried out or about the data used’ (Hammersley: 1989 :p84). Compared to their later followers, they were remarkably unsophisticated, Only at a much later stage did self conscious and sophisticated commentaries appear. There is a raw, almost naive, realism, in nearly all of the Chicago work: a kind of ‘what you see is what you get’!

The early Chicago sociologists shunned the abstract debates in the philosophy of the social sciences and methodology that often dominates sociology today. Some of the key writers actually expressed a disdain for methodology talk. Thomas thought that ‘formal methodological studies are relatively unprofitable ‘ (Thomas,  cited by Bennett (1981) p144) whilst Park claimed to dislike abstract theoretical rhetoric and just wanted his students to get out the in  the city and do it! For Park, ‘The question of methods of investigation is important, but it is distinctively secondary. …. Science is not a ceremonial matter, as some reverent souls seem to think…’ (Park, cited in Matthews, p179) His admonitions were very straightforward: ‘The first things that students in sociology need to learn is to observe and record their own observations; to read, and then to select and record the materials which are the fruits of their readings; to organise and use, in short their own experience ( Park and Burgess, 1921 p45).There is nothing very complicated or obscure about this : method becomes a straightforward practical task. Those who conducted first hand research – and this was nearly everybody-  just did it: they lacked the self consciousness that seems to dominate research writings today. Many of the classic Chicago texts just do their research in a most un self conscious, or reflexive way.

And yet, I do not wish to give a wrong impression : there is more method to Chicago Sociology than is to be found in the empirical reports! For whilst its practice was very down to earth, there was more talk about method at Chicago than possibly at any time before! Chicago Sociology symbolises major debates on methodology in the social sciences.

A first debate is concerned with theory and practice.There is almost certainly more talk about methods outside of the research process itself: they preached, and they practised but often the two were not the same thing at all! Whilst in practice, Chicago field workers just did their research without much recourse to methodological debate, this was also the time  when a spate of textbooks on ‘how to research’ was produced alongside a Society for Social Research and a major Social Science Research Centre. In other words, this period marks a time in which ‘methodology’ becomes a subject in its own right. And yet it seems to remain curiously disconnected from most of the actual research that is conducted! Amongst the questions this literature starts to ruminate upon are matters such as :What is the nature of sociology – as science or maybe as art (Redfield).Should it focus on case studies or surveys (or both)?How can it deal with both the subjective and the objective?(Thomas).And what is the nature of organised research?

On The Society for Social Research, see Bulmer (38)

A second debate concerns the quantitative /qualitative dimension. A curious contradiction appears here : for whilst Chicago is generally famed for its qualitative methods, much of the serious talk around methods was in effect quantitative. There was a divide at Chicago over this methodological split; and some writers suggest that ‘It is probable that a greater novel contribution (of the Chicago Sociologists) was actually made by the Chicago social scientists in the area of quantitative method, which is not what they have been collectively famous for in the later discipline’(Platt, 1996: p264). Martin Bulmer and Lee Harvey’s ’s recent work has done quite a bit to correct this misleading image (see Blumer’s article in this volume,36 ). Alongside the field work studies,then,  there is a long tradition of quantitative work too – and some of the key later Chicagoeans – Ogburn, Wirth, Stouffer – are much more identifiable with this tradition.

And yet, of course, Chicago is identified with field research. In recent years, there has been a major resurgence of interest in such methods and homage is usually paid to Chicago as the foundation of these methods. (cf Denzin & Lincoln, 1994) But in fact, as Platt’s article shows, this is seriously mistaken, at least in the case of participant observation. The term only emerges in the 1940’s (field research was the preferred term earlier), and it is strongly connected to the development of anthropology (Chicago was a joint anthropology – sociology Department till 1929: the anthropologist Redfield (Parks’ son in law) was in the Chicago Department till 1929, when anthropology split away as a separate discipline). The most recent qualitative turns, however, have become concerned with the part the researcher pays in assembling the knowledge – and indeed, with the ways in which the field reports are assembled as a text. Denzin , for instance, has been very critical of the life history of  Clifford Shaw’s The Jack Roller as purporting to present an ‘objective’ account of Stanley. He suggest not only that Stanley was in part produced and shaped by the work of Clifford Shaw, but also that the study as text helps generate a biographical illusion   It becomes a ‘moral realism tale’ – the sociological equivalent of the ‘delinquency films’ of the post Depression era: from Andy Hardy to the Dead End Kids. Stanley and Shaw need to be uncoupled. (cf. Denzin,1989: Ch3; Denzin, 1992 : p36-44). This emerging ‘deconstructionist’ approach puts in question the whole early tradition (For a further illustration of this, see the analysis of Whyte’s Street Corner Society in The Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 1992, Vol 21, No 1).

See the articles by Platt( 37  ) Atkinson (43) and others in Section X, Volume 4.

4. Practical Chicago: Building a Profession

In Martin Bulmer’s important study of Chicago Sociology, he makes the very proper claim that ‘The Chicago school represented the first successful American programme of collective sociological research. As such it had a very significant impact…” (Bulmer, 1984, pxv). What it indeed amounted to was the first major programme of professionalising sociology in the world – to organise, to fund, to train, to create research centres, to establish commissions, to publish in large enough numbers to become a major force within sociology.

Consider what it achieved in the space of some thirty years. It established the first major US journal  : the American Journal of Sociology.  It played a significant role in a number of local and government commissions on social problems, especially those connected to race (for instance: the Commission on Race Relations), or the studies on the impact of the mass media (conducted for the Payne Commission by Blumer and others). It established its own research centres (The Local Community Research Committee, the Society for Social Research, the Institute for Juvenile Research), and fostered interdisciplinary links. It became closely connected to welfare work (obliquely through Hull House, specifically through the  Chicago Area Project). In addition, its faculty dominated the American  Sociology Society; 19 out of the first 40 Presidents were linked to Chicago. (cf. Bulmer, p43-4) It also produced the first major textbook to became very influential, as well as a major monograph series. It took seriously the need for outside funding- W.I.Thomas’s early work was heavily sponsored by Mrs Helen Culver and Mrs Ethel Sturges Drummer (cf Platt, 1996: Ch 5) – two leading philanthropists of the time; and by 1929 (and 2 months after the Wall Street Crash), the funding base of Chicago was secured with a huge grant from the Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial (known as ‘The Memorial’) which helped build a ‘luxurious’ Social science Research Building at 1126 East 59th Street (known as ‘Eleven Twenty-Six’). (see  T.V.Smith Chicago : An Experiment in Social Science Research, 1929) The scale of its graduate work (much greater than its undergraduate programmes),  the significance of the research programmes of the staff, and its significant research funding base have all now been well documente. ( See, for example, Bulmer’s general discussions ( Bulmer, 1984: esp Ch 5,7,8 &11) as well as  the appendices to Harvey (1987),  which documents personnel, publications of the Local Community Research Committee, the work of the Society for Social Research,a listing of courses offered, and a listing of all PhD theses from 1895 to 1952).




From the late 1930’s onwards, ‘Chicago Sociology’ is usually seen to be in decline. Symbolising this decline is the founding of the American Sociological Review. Until 1935, Chicago had dominated the American Sociological Society (ASS) through its journal  , The American Journal of Sociology(AJS), which Small had established. But in the mid 1930’s, ‘the American sociological community was turbulent with conflict and hostility, much of it directed towards Chicago and to the issue of its influence in the profession’. (Lengermann, 1979:p185) . A new journal was formed – the American Sociological Review (ASR) – as the official organ of the Society. In the words of  a chief protagonist against the AJS :

I appointed the committee which recommended the substitution of the American Sociological Review for the American Journal of Sociology and pushed the resolution through to its adoption… I took these steps because the department of sociology at the University of Chicago under its leader at the time had become arrogant and was suspected of making the interests of the American Sociological Society subsidiary to those of the Chicago department. (Cited in Lengermann, 1979: p185).

This is not the whole story, as Lengerman’s (1979) lucid account shows But it is clear that there were tensions between Chicago Sociology and others, as well as within the department itself. Whilst it may become a little weaker and less influential after this date, it remained one of the top sociological departments in the country (from then till now). Its decline is again a ‘myth’ (cf. Harvey, 1988 Ch 7 ).  But what is also clear is that it started to change directions. Always an ecumenical ‘school’, after the departure of its leader Park, Chicago seems to have become even more fragmented with less and less of a role being given to the kinds of studies nowadays identified with it. There is a strong move towards both theory and quantification- found in the writings of Ogburn, Wirth , Stouffer and Shils. Hardly any major monographs appear after 1935.

A few years on and it appears Chicago had quite dramatically changed. Park had died in 1944, Burgess had  retired, and Blumer had moved to California to establish a new Department.  Stouffer, Shils and Janowitz had become dominant forces.M any of its arguments had fallen into disrepute – the ecological frame was empty and outmoded (Alihan, 1938); delinquency theorists had moved on to more functionalist pastures; their  work on many areas – from movies to race – was starting to be ignored; the spate of empirical studies had become historical documents; methodology had been radically transformed; and , of course, the grand theorisations of Parsons had found major favour. At the same time, in expansionist period of the post-war world of the late 1940’s and early 1950’s,  a new group of young scholars settled into Chicago and worked in  fields that are sometimes today referred to as ‘The Chicago irregulars’ and ‘the Second Chicago School’. They include Howard S Becker, Erving Goffman, Eliot Freidson, Jospeh Gusfield, Robert Habenstein, Gregory Stone, and Ralph Turner. Joseph Gusfield – very provisionally- suggests what might hold these scholars together:

What stands out for me is the intensive focus on the empirical world; on seeing and understanding behaviour in its particular and situated forms. Data that do not stay close to the events, actions, or texts being studied are always suspect. There is a hostility to generalisations at any level that are not connected description, to immersion in substantive matter (Gusfield, 1995: pxii).

This is really an image of the (original) ‘Chicago School’ as it is imagined to be in the past and not how it actually was. Gary Alan Fine in his important attempt to take stock of this ‘second school’ suggests that it was not necessarily the mainstream of the Department at this time. Indeed, there may have been a divide between faculty and graduate students; and only a few faculty – Hughes, Blumer and Strauss – were to encourage the style of work that Gusfield describes. (Fine, 1995: p3-4)

It is hence very dangerous to project on to the recent present a straight line of continuity from Chicago’s past. There are enough fragments of observations from Chicago sociologists to make a reader realise that there is possibly more rupture than continuity. As the world changes, so too do the sociological studies that accompany it. Nevertheless, whilst not a direct continuity, it is hard not to see a number of lines of  contemporary work where there are precursors in Chicago. All sociology must constantly change as it grapples with the world around it. Theories, methods and findings that stay lodged in the past are doomed to failure. But there may be a spirit that continues whilst all else changes. I sense in the Chicago of the Golden Age a passion. A passion for a sociology that engages with the empirical world; that studies everything and anything in its wake; that seeks to gather data whilst at the same time bridging the data with theory and analysis; that is willing to take these problems into practical action where needed. This is the image I sense the debates and reviews in these four volumes depict.There is a certain kind of sociology with a grounded humanistic concern for matters of everyday – mainly city- life that preoccupies some contemporary sociologists. And with a sense of cumulative knowledge, they build on the work of Chicago, transforming it is as they do so. There are many exemplars of this continuing work, and it can  often be found in journals such as the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, Qualitative Sociology and Symbolic Interaction. Its most ardent followers are symbolic interactionists [10], qualitatative sociologists, grounded ethnographers. But there are others like the many urban sociologists, deviancy sociologists, medical sociologists, social movements theorists and others who continue to build on this tradition. There are many who continue to study ‘social worlds’ in their unique complexities – I think most recently of Barrie Thorne’s Gender Play, Gary Alan Fine’s Kitchens, or Mitch Dunier’s Slim’s Table. Not all of Chicago sociology is here: it is far too varied and changing to be placed simply as a school. But there is a spirit of Chicago, and it this which I hope the contributions in these volumes will  help the reader see. It has left a rich legacy for sociology.


Adler, P Adler P & Fontana Andrea 1987 ‘ Everyday Life Sociology’  Annual Review of Sociology 13   p217-35


Alihan, Milla Aissa 1938 Social Ecology: A Critical Analysis, New York: Cooper Square

Atkinson, Paul 1990 The Ethnographic Imagination, London: Routledge

Baehr, Peter & Mike O’Brien ’ Founders, Classic and the Concept of a Canon’, Current sociology, 1994 Vol 42, No 1.

Baldwin, J. [1985], George Herbert Mead , London : Sage.

Becker, H.S. (1963) Outsiders : Studies in the Sociology of Deviance, New York, Free Press.

Becker H.S. (1986) Doing Things Together, Illinois : North-western University Press

Bennett, James (1981) Oral History and Delinquency: The Rhetoric of Criminology, Chicago: Univesity of Chicago Press.

Blumer, H. (1933) Movies and Conduct, New York: MacMillan

Blumer, H. 1969, Symbolic Interactionism: Perspective and Method, Berkeley: University of California Press.

Bramson, Leon 1961 The Political Context of Sociology, New Jersey: Princeton University Press

Bulmer, Martin 1984 The Chicago School of Sociology, Chicago, University of Chicago Press

Carey, James T   1975 Sociology and Public Affairs : The Chicago School  Sage

Valuable in locating the wider social influences and impacts of the Chicago School

Cavan Ruth Shonle , 1983 ‘The Chicago School of Sociology 1918-1933’ Urban Life, Vol. 11 No 4 p407-420


Cooley, Charles H. 1902 ( 1956) Human Nature and Social Order, New York: Scribner’s/ Free Press

Coser, Lewis A 1978  ‘American Trends’ in Tom Botomore & Robert Nisbet, eds. A History of Sociological Analysis  London:

Coser, Lewis A. ed  1994  Everett C Hughes : On Work, Race amd the Sociological Imagination, Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Cressey, Paul G (1932) The Taxi-Dance Hall : A Sociological Study in Commercialised Recreation and City Life, Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Cronon, William  1991  Nature’s Metropolis : Chicago and the Great West, New York : Norton

Denzin, Norman K. (1989) Interpretive Biography, London: Sage

Denzin, Norman.K. (1992) Symbolic Interactionism and Cultural Studies, Oxford: Blackwell.

Denzin, Norman K. & Lincoln, Y.S.eds (1994) Handbook of Qualitative Research, London: Sage

Dewey, John (1958) Experience and Nature New York : Dover

Dewey, John 1963  Philosophy and Civilisation, New York : Capricorn Books

Dewey, John (1972) John Dewey: The Early Works 1882-1898 Vol 5 Carbondale; Southern Illinois University Press

Dunier, Micth (1994) Slim’s Table, Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Faris, Robert E.  1967  Chicago Sociology 1920-1932, Chicago, University of Chicago Press

Fine, Gary Alan ed 1995 A Second Chicago School, Chicago, University of Chicago Press.

Fine, Gary Alan 1995 Kitchens, Berkeley : University of California Press

Fine, G.A. (1990) ‘Symbolic Interactionism in the Post-Blumerian Age’ in G. Ritzer op cit p117-56

Fine, G.A. 1993 : “The sad demise, mysterious disappearance, and glorious triumph of symbolic interactionism”, Annual Review of Sociology, 19. 61-87

Giddens, Anthony (1990)  The Consequences of Modernity, Oxford: Polity Press

Glaser B & A. Strauss [1967] The Discovery of Grounded Theory, Aldine.

Gouldner, Alvin 1973  For Sociology: Renewal and Critique in Sociology Today  London: Allen Lane

Gunn, Giles  1992 Thinking Across the American Grain,  Chicago, University of Chicago Press

Gusfield, Jospeph , 1995, ‘The Second Chicago School?’, in Gary Alan Fine ed 1995 op cit

Harvey, Lee 1987 Myths of the Chicago School of Sociology , Aldershot, Avebury.

Herman, N.J. & L.T. Reynolds (eds) Symbolic Interaction, New York : General Hall, Inc.

Hinkle, Roscoe C. 1980, Founding Theory of American Sociology, London : Routledge

James, William 1950  The Principles of Psychology Vols 1 & 2, New York : Dover

James, William, 1907 (1955)    Pragmatism   New York : Meridan Books

Kurtz. Lester R. (1984)  Evaluating Chicago Sociology , Chicago : University of Chicago

Kuhn, M. (1964) “Major Trends in Symbolic Interaction Theory in the Past Twenty-Five Years”, Sociological Quarterly, Vol 5, p61-84.

Lal, Barbara Ballis , 1990 The Romance of Culture in an Urban Civilization : Robert E Park on Race and Ethnic Relations in Cities, London : Routledge

Lengermann, Patricia Madoo (1979) ‘The Founding of the American Sociolgical Review: The Anatomy of a Rebellion, American Sociological Review Vol 44 (April) p185-98.

Lewis, D.J.  1976 ‘The Classic American Pragmatists As Forerunners to Symbolic Interaction’ Sociological Quarterly 17 Summer p347-359

D.J. Lewis and Smith, R.L 1980 American Sociology and Pragmastism : Mead, Chicago Sociology and Symbolic Interactionism   University of Chicago Press

Levine, Donald N., Ellwood B Carter, and Eleanor Miller Gorman 1976 ‘Simmel’s Influence on American Sociology’ American Journ al of sociology 81: p813-54; 1112-32

Lofland, J.  [1970] “Interactionist imagery and analytic interruptus”, in T.Shibutani ed [1970] Human Nature and Collective Behaviour, Prentice Hall.

Lofland, Lynn (1985) A World of Strangers (papebraback edition)Illinois: Waveland Press

Maines D.R.  [1988], “Myth, text and interactionist complicity in the neglect of Blumer’s macrosociology”, Symbolic Interaction, Vol 11, No 1, p43-57.

Manis J.G. & Meltzer B.N. (1967 1st ed) Symbolic Interactionism : A Reader in Social Psychology, Boston : Allyn and Bacon (3rd ed, 1978).

Matthews, Fred  1977 Quest for an American Sociology, Montreal: McGill Queens

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Mullan, Bob (1987) Sociologists on Sociology, London : Croom Helm

Mullins NN.C. & C.J. 1973 Theories and Theory Groups in Contemporary American Sociology, New York : Haroper and Row.

Miller, Ross 1990 American Apocalypse : The Great Fire and the Myth of Chicago. Chicago :University of Chicago Press

Myrdal, Gunnar (1944) An American Dilemma, New York: Harper

Park, Robert E & Burgess, Ernest W 1921, Introduction to the Science of Sociology, Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Park, Robert E & Herbert Miller 1921  Old World Traits Transplanted, New York : Harper

Park, Robert E & Burgess, Ernest 1925 (1967) The City,  Chicago : University of Chicago Press

Park, Robert E  1928 (1956)  ‘Foreword to ‘The Ghetto’ by Louis Wirth’ Phenix Books, University of Chicago Press pv-vii

Park, Robert E 1936 ‘Human Ecology’ American Journal of sociology, Vol XLII, No 1 (July) p1-15

Park, Robert E  1939  ‘Notes on the Origins of the SSR’ published in Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences October 1982 , Vol 18, p332-340.

Park, Robert E 1952 Human Communication NY Free Press

Persons, Stow  1987  Ethnic Studies at Chicago 1905-45, Urban and Chicago, Ill. : University of Illinois Press

Platt, Jennifer (1996) A History of Sociolgical Research Methods in America 1920-1960, Cambridge: Cambrifdge University Press

Plummer Ken ed  1991  Symbolic Interactionism Vols 1 & 2  Aldershot : Elgar

Plummer, Ken 1996 ‘Symbolic Interactionism in the Twentieith Century: The Rise of Empirical Social Theory’, in B Turner ed , Companion to Social Theory, Oxford: Blackwell.

Prus, R. (1987) “Generic Social Processes” ,Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 16 p 250-93

Ritzer, G. ed (1990) Frontiers of Social Theory : the New Syntheses, New York : Columbia University Press

Rochberg-Halton, E.  [1987] Meaning and Modernity : Social Theory in the Pragmatic attitude University of Chicago.

Rock, Paul  1979 The Making of Symbolic Interactionism London: MacMillan

Rorty, Richard 1982  Consequences of Pragmatism  Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press

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Ross, Dorothy 1991 The Origins of American Social Science  Cambridge: Cambridge University Press

Scheffler, Israel 1974 Four Pragmatists: A Critical Introduction to Peirce, James, Mead and Dewey, London: Routledge

Shalin, Dmitri N. 1986 ‘Pragmatism and Social Interaction’ American Sociological Review, Vol 51 (Feb: 9-29)

Shaskolsky, L (1970) : “The Development of Sociological Theory in America – A Soxciology of Knolwdge Interpretation”, in L.T. & J.M. Reynolds (eds) The Sociology of Sociology, New York : McKay

Schwendinger, Herman and Julia (1974) Sociologists of the Chair: A Radical Analysis of the Formative Years of North American Sociology, New york: Basic Books

Short, James ed 1971 The Social Fabric of the Metropolis : Contributions of the Chicago School of Urban Sociology  : Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Simmel, Georg [1903] 1971, ‘The Metropolis and the Mental Life’, in Donald  N Levine,ed Georg Simmel on Individuality and Social Forms, p324-39  Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Smith, Dennis 1988  The Chicago School : A Liberal Critique of Capitalism, London : MacMillan

Smith T.V.  & White, L.D. (1968) Chicago : An Experiment in Social Science Research (republished in 1969: Greenwoood Press)

Stonequist, Everett V (1937) The Marginal Man, New York; Scribner’s

Strauss, Anselm  (1991) Creating Sociological Awareness, New Brunswick: Transaction

Stryker, 1987 : “The vitalization of symbolic interactionism”, Social Psychological Quarterly, 50, p83-94

Thayer, H.Standish 1970 Pragmatism : The Classic Writings  New York : Mentor

Thomas , W.I.  & Znaniecki, Florian (1918-19)  The Polish Peasant in Europe and America, 5 Vols. Boston: Badger

Thorne, Barrie 1973 Gender Play, New Jersey : Rutgers

Vaughan, Ted R. , & Gideon Sjoberg and Larry T.Reynolds ((1993) A Critique of Contemporary American Sociology, New York: General Hall

Zukin, Sharon 1995   The Culture of Cities, Oxford: Blackwell

Wacker, Fred  (1985) Ethnicity, Pluralism and Race : Race Relations Theory in America Before Myrdal, Westport: Connecticut : Greenwood Press.

Wellman, David (1988) ‘The Politics of Herbert Blumer’s Sociological Method’ Symbolic interaction, 11 (10 59-68

Wirth, Louis (1928) The Ghetto, Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Wirth, Louis (1938) ‘Urbanism as a Way of Life’, American Journal of Sociology, July . Vol 44, No 1 p1-24

Wright Mills, C 1964 Sociology and Pragmatism New York : Oxford University Press/Galaxy Books



Table 1: Some key dates:  A Brief Chronology

1871   Great Fire of Chicago

1890   University of Chicago founded, first students enter in 1892. Albion Small, first head and Professor of the Department of Sociology, until he retired in 1924. It was until 1929 a joint department with anthropology.

1894 Dewey appointed as Head Professor of Philosophy Department

1895 W.I. Thomas starts to teach

1895 Founding of the American Journal of Sociology at Chicago by Albion Small

1913 Park as Professorial Lecturer at Chicago

1919  Chicago Race Riots

1923 Local Community Research Committee established

1925-6 Park as President of the American Sociological Association

1929 Social Science Research Building opens : 1126 East 59th Street.(see: Louis Wirth (ed) 1126: A Decade of Social Science Research, 1940)

(Wall Street Crash)

1933 Park retires from Chicago

1935-7  The establishment of the American Sociological Review as the official journal of the American Sociological Association (symbolising the loss of the ‘grip’ of the Chicago Department)

1937 Blumer coins the term’ Symbolic Interactionism’ in a review article of social psychology.

1944 Park dies (Nashville, February 7th)

1947 Thomas dies

1983 Hughes dies

1986 Blumer dies


Table 2 : Some  Key Chicago Works 1894-1939

1894 :  An Introduction to the Study of Society : Albion Small – a pioneer textbook

1904  : Masse und Publikum  Robert Park’s PH D published (The Crowd and the Public)

1905 : General Sociology – Albion Small’s magnum opus

1915 : ‘The City’  : influential essay by Park

1918-19 :  The Polish Peasant in Europe and America  – Thomas and Znaniecki. 2,244 pages!

1921 : Introduction to the Science of Sociology (key textbook)  Park and Burgess

1922  :  The Negro in Chicago  – nearly 700 pages of analysis in the wake of the 1919 Riots.

1923  : The Hobo : Nels Anderson (Vol 1 of the Sociological Series- Chicago monograph and about ‘Hobohemia’..)

1925  : The City (symposia ) edited by  Park and Burgess, and containing key essays from Park (The City), Burgess and McKenzie (on ecology)

1926  : The Urban Community (symposia) Park and Burgess

1927 :   Family Disorganisation  (5 types of family area..)  Ernest Mowrer

:  The Gang  : Frederick Thrasher

1928 : The Ghetto by Louis Wirth
: Suicide by Ruth Shonle Cavan

1929 :’s Delinquent Areas by Clifford  Shaw and Henry McKay

1929 : Chicago : An Experiment in Social Science Research – reports on the first 5 years of the Local Community Research Committee

1929 : Organised Crime – John Landesco (part of a wider study of organised crime)

1929 : The Gold Coast and the Slum (best seller in Chicago) Harvey Zorbaugh

1930 : The Jack Roller -first of a series of delinquent life stories : Clifford Shaw

1930 : Local Community Fact Book of Chicago Ed Louis Wirth

1931 :  Social Factors in Juvenile Delinquency, Shaw and McKay

1932 : The Negro Family in Chicago  E.Franklin Frazier

1932 : Cressey’s MA Thesis of 1929 (supervised by Burgess) is published as The Taxi Dance Hall

1933  : Mead’s posthumous Mind, Self and Society

1938 :  ‘Urbanism as a Way of Life’  Louis Wirth

1939:  Mental Disorders in Urban Areas Robert Faris and H.Warren Dunham

Table 3: Selected Key Writings on Race and Ethnicity in Chicago Sociology

1918                 Thomas            The Polish Peasant

1921                 Park & Miller   Old World Traits Transplanted

1922                 Park                 The Immigrant Press and Its Control

Thompson        The Negro in Chicago : a Study of Race Relations and a  Race Riot

1928                 Wirth               The Ghetto

1932                 Frazier             The Negro Family In Chicago

Reuter              The Mulatto

Smith               Americans in the Making

1937                 Adams             Interracial Marriage in Hawai
Stonequist         The Marginal Man

Frazier             The Negro Family in Crisis

Adams             Interracial Marraige in Hawai

1945                             Drake & CaytonBlack Metropolis : A Study of Negro Life in a Northern City

1947                 Frazier             The Negro in the United States


[1] For Turner, the key to origins lies with Giddings (and Columbia), and the pathway to ‘mainstream sociology’ is through the history of quantitative methods.

[2]Most sociologists acknowledge that sociology itself was a consequence of the massive changes taking place with industrialisation, urbanisation and the making of a new modern world order. With this appeared new forms of communication, new patterns of wealth, changing bases of power, the rise of secularisation and so forth. It was after the Civil War that mass mechanised production really came into its own.Chicago Sociology has to be seen in these contexts and in his classic study Hinkle suggests five major settings in which North American sociology emerged during the 1880’s and 1890’s : (1) the social order of Ante bellum America; (2) the organisational contexts of American Academia – Chicago was part of the rapid expansion of the American university System between 1880 and 1910 and there was an increasingly secularisation of the Professors etc. , and it became more accessible to those outside….; (3) the emerging social sciences; (4) sociology itself; and (5) a the related ‘look to Europe’ (Hinkle,1980: Ch 2).

[3] On the key values shaping North American Sociology, Hinkle (1980) suggests two were central: optimism and progress, and humanitarianism and reform whilst Bramson’s important (1961) study of The Political Context of Sociology, suggests four movements helped shape the of American sociology: Populism, progressivism, the Social Science Movement and the Social Gospel.

[4] A short but instructive discussion of this text is to be found in Faris (1967) Chapter 3.

[5]A recent, but controversial account of the development of North American sociology comes from Horowitz (1994). As an old radical of the 1960’s, Horowitz depicts the current state of sociology as in ‘decomposition’ and is very critical of some of the more recent ‘anarchic’ trends within it. A more radical critique is to be found in Vaughan et al (1993), which continues the Gouldner /Schwendiger lineage.


[6] Park himself claimed that his main concern in developing sociology ‘was always theoretic rather than practical’ (cited in Lengermann,  reading 19), and it is really rather surprising that his, and others, work should have been so neglected.

[7]Thusthe models it develops need relating to other environments. In practice, of course, it has been applied to many other areas – and in the process it has been significantly modified.

[8]Edwin Sutherland is generally considered ‘The Dean of American Sociological Criminology’ but he plays a somewhat ambivalent role in the work of the Chicago Sociologists. He studied there; and returned for a short while to teach. But it was more of a ‘reference group’ to him rather than a home.

[9] a paraphrase from Park. The full quote is:

You have been told to go grubbing in the library, thereby accumulating a mass of notes and a liberal coating of grime. You have been told to choose problems wherever you can find musty stacks of routine records based on trivial schedules prepared by tired bureaucrats and filled out by reluctant applicants for aid or fussy do gooders or indifferent file clerks. This is called ‘getting your hands dirty in real research’. Thos who counsel you are wise and honourable; the reasons they offer of great value. But one thing more is needful: first hand observation. Go and sit in the lounges of the luxury hotels and on the doorsteps of the flophouses; sit on the Gold Coast settees and on the slum shakesdfowns; sit in the orchestra Hall and in the Star and Garter Burlesque. In short, gentlemen , go get the seta of your pants dirty in real research’….. (Park, cited in Bulmer 1984 p97)

[10] Symbolic interactionism itself was a very influential theory during the l960’s, primarily as a critique of the ascendant Parsonian theory, and it helped to reshape thinking in a number of fields of inquiry (notably deviance, occupations, education, sexuality  and medicine). From the mid 1960’s onwards, readers and textbooks started to appear at an accelerating speed which helped to establish and indeed settle the ground of interactionism as something of a new orthodoxy, at least in sociological social psychology. As with any orthodoxy, however, it invited attack. And by the early l970’s it had fallen under severe critique from many sides. A  litany of well known failures have been laid at its door, (discussed in Denzin (1992), but recently it has also undergone something of a revival : indeed, the critical attack of the 1970’s  may well be seen as a harbinger of radical innovation and revitalisation amongst interactionists. (Stryker, 1987). There has been  talk of the ‘sad demise, mysterious disappearance and glorious triumph of symbolic interactionism'(Fine,1993) . 1981-1990’. Symbolic Interactionism is a theory that has spanned the century, has stong affinties with Chicago, and is now about to enter a radical new phase for the twenty firts century (cf Plummer, 1996).

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