(F.) Stuart Chapin

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(F.) Stuart Chapin

F.(rancis) Stuart Chapin (1888-1974) was one of the first American sociologists to try to apply the research procedures of the physical sciences and the techniques of statistics to studies of social behavior, particularly in the areas of social and cultural change and social status.

F. Stuart Chapin was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1888. He was educated at Columbia University and received his Ph.D. in sociology in 1911 with additional training in statistics. He taught at Wellesley College in 1911-1912, at Simmons College in 1912, and from 1912-1914 was an instructor in sociology and statistics at Smith College. Promoted to assistant professor in 1914 and associate professor in the same year, he eventually became professor of sociology and statistics and director of Smith's School of Social Work in 1919.

Chapin joined the faculty of the University of Minnesota in 1922, where he served as director of that institution's School of Social Work from 1922 to 1949 and as professor and chairman of the Department of Sociology from 1922 until 1953. He retired as professor emeritus in 1953 to become president of Consumer Behavior, Inc. in New York, a post he occupied until 1963. He conducted a private practice as a social research consultant until 1972. He died in Asheville, North Carolina in 1974.

Chapin was a consultant to the League of Nations, to the United Nations Economic, Scientific and Cultural Committee (UNESCO) in France, and to the World Health Organization in Geneva. He served as a member of the Governor's Commission on Education Beyond High School (North Carolina). He was one of the founders of Social Science Abstracts (1928) and was its editor-in-chief from 1928 to 1932.

Chapin was recognized by his professional peers by election to membership in the Social Science Research Council (1922-1927) and by his elections as president of the American Sociological Association in 1935 and of the Social Research Association in 1936. His contributions to the cause of making sociology a more exact science was acknowledged by the American scientific community when he was elected vice president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1943.

Chapin's concerns as a sociologist are suggested by advice he offered to younger sociologists as a former president of the American Sociological Association. He observed in the American Sociological Review in December 1953:

You should seek to become known as a social scientist in the field of your specialty. Do not be misled by resistance to overspecialization…. Remember that research, scholarship and teaching are interacting behaviors, each one reinforces the other. Techniques are no more effective in the long run than the soundness of the basic logic that underlies them. Technique should not become an end in itself lest you remain a skilled artisan instead of a creative worker who invents and discovers. Techniques should not become a snobbish escape device in which you seek mere intellectual security…. Remember that social values are an important subject matter of study and value judgments contribute to decisions on what to study. But try to keep your value systems from undermining the objectivity of your research method. Do not mix your roles….

Chapin's scholarly career centered on two major concerns: the use of the methods of physical and biological science—what is often referred to as "scientific method"— and the techniques of statistics to make social science in general and sociology in particular more rigorous, and, hence, more scientific; and the use of sociology to "prevent the recurrence of social ills." He studied phenomena as diverse as the personal adjustment of work relief clients, social effects of public housing, physical and social space as determinants of social status, social participation of Boy Scouts, and community leadership. He developed the Chapin Social Status Scale (1935) that attempts to measure objectively people's socioeconomic status through recording observations of the equipment, condition, and "cultural expression" of their living rooms (cleanliness or orderliness of room, kind of flooring, floor covering, furniture, and the like); and the Chapin Social Participation Scale (1937), that relates social status to participation in voluntary organizations (as social status rises, so does the number of voluntary organizations in which one is involved). He also contributed to greater understanding of social change and its relation to the development of social institutions.

Further Reading

Don Martindale, The Nature and Types of Sociological Theory, 2d ed. (1981) contains a penetrating analysis of Chapin's work. Chapin's concerns are mirrored in his own writings, which include the following books: Field Work and Social Research (1920); Introduction to the Study of Social Evolution (1923); Cultural Change (1928); The Measurement of Social Status by the Use of the Social Status Scale (1933); Contemporary American Institutions (1935, 1946); Social Participation Scale (1937); Community Leadership and Opinion in Red Wing (1945); and Experimental Designs in Social Research (1947). □

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