Giddings, Franklin H.

views updated May 14 2018

Giddings, Franklin H.



Franklin Henry Giddings (1855–1931), a founder of American sociological theory and research, was born in Sherman, Connecticut, of strict Puritan ancestry on both sides. His father was a Congregational minister. Giddings’ intellectual precocity is shown by the fact that before entering college he had read extensively in the then highly controversial writings of Darwin, T. H. Huxley, John Tyndall, and Spencer. These authors, together with Adam Smith, Comte, and J. S. Mill, provided the foundation of his devotion to individualism—his basic philosophical position—and his primary sociological concepts. Graduating from Union College in 1877, Giddings spent the next decade in newspaper work, mainly on the then famous Springfield Republican and Springfield Union. He lectured on political science and sociology at Bryn Mawr Col lege from 1888 to 1894 and at Columbia University from 1891 to 1894. In 1894 he was appointed professor of sociology at Columbia; he was the first full-time professor of sociology in the United States.

Among the founders of American sociology he occupies a strategic position as the most influential link in the transition of sociology from moral philosophy and the philosophy of history to inductive research. In this he was influenced by his close association with Richmond Mayo-Smith and by the concurrent rapid spread of statistical studies into related fields. Although he made no historically significant contributions to statistical research, he gave a powerful stimulus to quantitative studies of all aspects of community life through his lectures and books and his influence on hundreds of students, including over fifty ph.d. candidates.

Giddings’ basic philosophy was a combination of Comtean positivism and Spencerian evolutionism. He saw social evolution as part of cosmic evolution, as basically an equilibration of energy among individuals and groups that results in differentiation, integration, segregation, and assimilation. He thus viewed every social order as always in a state of moving equilibrium, such equilibrium in power and status being essential for internal justice and order and, on a wider scale, for international peace. He considered sociology both a natural science and the basic elemental social science, giving an account of the origin, growth, structure, and activities of human association through the operation of physical, biological, and psychological forces. At times he thought sociology might become a quantitatively exact science.

In his view, “social process,” or social life, results from the interaction of “primary causes,” the natural resources and accessibility of a given habitat, and the “secondary causes,” the human motives arising within society itself. Since all social energy is physical energy transmuted by means of economic activities, the “social composition,” or the number, density, and genetic heterogeneity of a given population, is determined by these primary causes. At the same time, harnessing these resources of food and power increases social dynam ics and, hence, the processes of differentiation and integration, thus adding complexity to the “social constitution,” that is, the functional and purposive groupings, ranging from social clubs to sovereign states. Giddings thus found the task of sociology to be the integration of subjective with objective processes and concepts in terms of mental activity, organic adjustment, natural selection, and conservation of energy.

This basic position is generally sound if rich and accessible natural resources are considered primary only in the sense of being antecedent in time, or as essential, but culturally viewed, static preconditions for the development of a dense population and a highly dynamic social order, or if it is acknowledged that both the manner and extent of their utilization is dependent on the state of cultural advancement. Giddings would probably agree, since he saw all forms of association as “essentially phenomena of thought and feeling,” so that his analyses of the stages of society’s evolution from zoogenic to demotic forms, as well as his analyses of the social constitution and the social mind, were all couched in psychosocial terms.

In The Principles of Sociology (1896) he declared that the original and elementary subjective fact of society is the “consciousness of kind,” or Adam Smith’s “sympathy,” plus a conscious recognition of likeness. In answer to critics who viewed consciousness of kind as merely another name for herd instinct or gregariousness, he sought repeatedly, but not convincingly, to show that gregariousness is a purely hereditary “biophysical habit” to which man alone adds the purely psychic activity of conscious recognition of likeness and difference of kind. This raises the question of just where in the evolution of neural structures such recognition emerged, but in the light of studies in animal psychology there can be little doubt that it preceded primitive man. Giddings himself declared consciousness of kind to be dependent on in-group communication and to result in mutual aid, both of which traits were well developed among the higher apes.

Although Giddings continued to argue this issue, in the outline of his “system” in Studies in the Theory of Human Society (1922, p. 292), he made “pluralistic behavior,” or like response of two or more persons to a given stimulus, antecedent to, and the basis of, consciousness of kind. He declared “interstimulation and response” among individuals to be the causal basis of all collective behavior. Social phenomena thus result from two variables: the psychosocial situation and the pluralistic response to it. Hence he offered a new definition: “Pluralistic behavior is the subject-matter of the psychology of society, otherwise called sociology” (1922, p. 252).

Thereafter, he held that “like” response to an idea, symbol, or group value ensures group solidarity, social control, and concerted volition. Moreover, since “unlike” response to an ideal or purpose leads to segregation, competition, rivalry, and conflict among social groups, the internal solidarity and concerted volition of every group rests upon an awareness of likeness in mental attitude. Differences in the speed, intensity, and duration of response give rise to processes of differentiation and integration, to leadership and followers, the emergence of a guiding “protocracy” of more able members, the division of labor, and to social status. Differences in the intensity of consciousness of kind result in wide variation in the permanence of association and the scope of cooperative activities: the range extends from family to political party. Like and unlike responses result in an endless variety of social groupings, serving varied human purposes, from bridge clubs to nations and international alliances, each of which by the same process develops its own folkways, mores, and institutions. It seems safe to say that no elementary subjective sociological facts have been found that supersede in aptness and universality Giddings’ pluralistic response and consciousness of kind.

Giddings adopted Lester Ward’s distinction between social genesis and social telesis. Like Spencer and Ward he saw a teleological beneficence in the evolutionary processes, aided by increasing scientific knowledge. However, his utopianism was restrained. In the matured views of The Scientific Study of Human Society (1924) he argued that the only means available for “societal engineering” are the same as those now used by religious, educational, economic, and political agencies in current social adjustments, so that the processes of societal engineering are the same as those of social genesis. Indeed, the envisaged ends of telic action are the results of the efficient causes operating in social genesis, so that telesis is “a conditioned and projected genesis.” Consequently, the fruits of telic efforts are more or less the same as the inevitable consequences of the genetic processes. Nevertheless, he envisaged the ends of these processes to be the development of more able, more tolerant, and more cooperative members of society, as well as an enhancement of social welfare.

These are obviously logical conclusions from his basic philosophy. Moreover, while the language is different, the meaning harmonizes, in general, with that of such cultural determinists as A. L. Kroeber and L. A. White. Giddings saw society caught up in cosmic evolutionary processes; Kroeber and White see it caught up in a self-determining cultural stream. Giddings, however, manifested a latent utopianism in assuming that the realization of his own ideals was the assured end of cosmic forces.

His lectures, articles, and books abound in shrewd insights into human nature and social problems and processes. As a whole, they represent a pivotal point in the development of American sociology. While his own terms did not win wide usage, they contained the essence of the “social distance,” the “social interaction,” and the “social situation” of later works.

At the same time, his somewhat questionable distinction between “social” psychology as defining individual reactions and “societal” psychology as defining group reactions led to his ignoring almost entirely the then current advances in dynamic and social psychology. Far more enigmatic is his neglect of the concurrent development of cultural concepts and theories in anthropology. Spencer, his master, had added the “superorganic” as the third distinctive realm of phenomena; Giddings had declared in his Descriptive and Historical Sociology (1906, pp. 176, 183) that the past products of interstimulation and response become “the most immediate and most important stimuli in modern social life,” but he did not develop the implication of this principle in cultural terms.

Frank H. Hankins

[For the historical context of Giddings’ work, see the biographies ofComte; Darwin; Mill; Spencer; Ward, Lester F.]


1888 Clark, John B.; and Giddings, Franklin H. The Modern Distributive Process. Boston: Ginn.

(1896) 1911 The Principles of Sociology: An Analysis of the Phenomena of Association and of Social Organization. New York: Macmlllan. → Translated into seven languages. Giddings’ most important work.

(1898) 1916 The Elements of Sociology: A Textbook for Colleges and Schools. New York: Macmillan. → The most advanced of the early American textbooks.

(1900) 1901 Democracy and Empire, With Studies of Their Psychologic, Economic and Moral Foundations. New York: Macmillan. → Views on various public issues; a work of enduring value.

1901 Inductive Sociology: A Syllabus of Analyses and Classifications and Provisionally Formulated Laws. New York: Macmillan. → Designed as a basis for statistical studies.

(1906) 1923 Readings in Descriptive and Historical Sociology. New York: Macmillan. → Restatement and illustration from literature and history of the concepts outlined in Giddings’ Inductive Sociology.

1918 The Responsible State. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. → Problems of political morality; strong reaction against German militarism.

(1922) 1926 Studies in the Theory of Human Society. New York: Macmillan. → Revision and amplification of concepts and analyses; Giddings’ second most important work.

1924 The Scientific Study of Human Society. Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press. → Replaced Inductive Sociology, with increased emphasis on statistical researches.

1929 The Mighty Medicine: Superstition and Its Antidote. New York: Macmillan. → An exposure of occult ism and a plea for enlightened education.

1932 Civilization and Society: An Account of the Development and Behavior of Human Society. New York: Holt. → An informal text composed of Giddings’ lectures as edited by Howard W. Odum.


Abel, Theodore 1930 The Significance of the Concept of Consciousness of Kind. Social Forces 9:1–10.

Columbia University, Faculty of Political Science 1931 The Bibliography of the Faculty of Political Science: 1880–1930. New York. Columbia Univ. Press. - See especially pages 63-76, which list 14 books and at least 200 articles by Giddings.

Northcott, Charles H. 1948 The Sociological Theories of Franklin Henry Giddings: Consciousness of Kind, Pluralistic Behavior, and Statistical Method. Pages 744-765 in Harry E. Barnes (editor), An Introduction to the History of Sociology. Univ. of Chicago Press.

Odum, Howard W. 1951 American Sociology. New York: Longmans.

Franklin Henry Giddings

views updated May 17 2018

Franklin Henry Giddings

Franklin Henry Giddings (1855-1931) was an American sociologist, educator, and one of the leading writers in the social sciences in the late 19th century.

Franklin Giddings was born on March 23, 1855, in Sherman, Conn. After graduation from Union College, he turned to newspaper work in Connecticut, and during the next 10 years he developed great skill in analyzing public issues. He began to publish articles in scholarly journals, mainly on economic questions, and received favorable notice from the academic world. In 1888 he was made lecturer on politics at Bryn Mawr College and soon became a full professor. In 1894 he was invited to a new chair in sociology and the history of civilization at Columbia University, where he developed one of the nation's leading departments until his retirement in 1928.

"Consciousness of Kind"

The major themes in Giddings's work were fully presented in his Principles of Sociology (1896), where he clearly described sociology as a special basic social science, rather than the sum of other social sciences. Specifically, he conceived of sociology as the study of developing forms of human society, based on the changing intensity of "consciousness of kind," or collective feelings of similarity and belonging. These feelings are expressed in two complementary kinds of associations: relatively cohesive and intimate groups, and groups designed for highly specialized interests. Societies develop through normal conflicts and readjustments between these two forms. These themes were illustrated in Inductive Sociology (1901) and Readings in Descriptive and Historical Sociology (1906).

In subsequent years Giddings gave greater emphasis to processes of social causation and collective achievement. One application of this approach was crucial to the essays in Studies in the Theory of Human Society (1922), where he asserted that the environment affects the character of a population and, indirectly, its ability to overcome environmental limitations and to create more complex techniques and solutions. Another application was Giddings's controversial espousal of United States imperialism in Democracy and Empire (1900). Finally, in a posthumous work called Civilization and Society (1932), Giddings analyzed the practical conflict between government and formal rules, on the one hand, and custom and folkways, on the other, in periods of rapid social change.

Toward the end of his career, Giddings was a pioneer in encouraging the use of careful quantitative and experimental methods in studying social phenomena (The Scientific Study of Human Society, 1924). Among his most famous students were F. Stuart Chapin, Howard W. Odum, and Donald Taft, who transmitted his orientation to more than 3 decades of sociological research and training. He died on June 11, 1931.

Further Reading

The best survey of Giddings's career is John L. Gillin's chapter on Giddings in Howard W. Odum, ed., American Masters of Social Science (1927). A shorter account is Odum's American Sociology (1951). Another review of some scope is by Clarence H. Northcott in Harry Elmer Barnes, ed., An Introduction to the History of Sociology (1948). □

Giddings, Franklin H.

views updated May 23 2018

Giddings, Franklin H. (1855–1931) An early American sociologist who applied the evolutionary ideas of Herbert Spencer in comparative and historical analyses. Although his texts now seem dated (see for example Principles of Sociology, 1896; Elements of Sociology, 1898; Studies in the Theory of Human Society, 1922; and The Scientific Study of Human Society, 1924), his work displays several characteristic traits of mainstream American sociology, including an emphasis on quantification and an interest in the theories of psychologists. His earlier work is characterized by psychological evolutionism; his later studies by an enthusiasm for quantification and behaviourism that provided an important stimulus to American neo-positivism

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Franklin Henry Giddings