Waller, Willard W.

views updated May 17 2018

Waller, Willard W.


Willard Walter Waller (1899-1945), American sociologist, made significant contributions to the sociology of marriage, divorce, and the family, as well as to the sociology of teaching. He also anticipated many later developments in social psychiatry and in the sociology of war and of the military establishment.

Waller was born in Murphysboro, Illinois. The son of a school superintendent, he grew up in an academic setting. He received his undergraduate degree in classics from the University of Illinois in 1920, his M.A. in sociology from the University of Chicago in 1925, and his PH.D. in sociology from the University of Pennsylvania in 1929. He worked as a reporter with the Evansville (Indiana) Courier in 1920, taught Latin and French in the Morgan Park (Illinois) Military Academy from 1920 to 1926, and was an instructor in sociology at the University of Pennsylvania from 1926 to 1929, an assistant professor at the University of Nebraska from 1929 to 1931, professor at Pennsylvania State College (now University) from 1931 to 1937, and associate professor at Barnard College from 1937 to 1945.

Waller’s contributions to sociology were original and often provocative. His preferred methods were sympathetic introspection and the case study, although he also demonstrated his familiarity with statistical methods in a pioneering operationalization of stereotypes, written with Stuart A. Rice (Waller & Rice 1929). His works are characterized by concrete realism; he described social phenomena directly rather than manipulating quantitative data. He aptly described one of his works as the sociology of the commonplace, the product of systematic wondering about concrete persons and situations rather than the result of highly objective research.

Waller was an omnivorous reader, especially of novels. He was an artist in word choice and was sensitive to the aesthetics of word sequence. In his search for ways of phrasing ideas he read and reread the Latin classics and the King James Bible, especially the Psalms, looking for rhythm and beauty of expression. There were also sociological classics to which he returned for similar stimulation. He claimed one should reread Cooley every five years.

Perhaps no sociologist of his generation distilled more imaginative sociology out of personal experience. His major works, The Old Love and the New (1930), The Sociology of Teaching (1932), The Family: A Dynamic Interpretation (1938a), and The Veteran Comes Back (1944), are filled with anecdotes from his own life and the lives of his students and colleagues, interspersed with vivid and often salty observations from literary sources. His doctoral dissertation (based on 38 case histories of progressive marital alienation culminating in divorce) drew on introspection about his own first marriage and divorce; this work has never been equaled as a source of hypotheses about the interpersonal interactions and the phasing of divorce alienation.

Sociology of education. In his treatise on educational sociology, The Sociology of Teaching, Waller made effective use of his father’s experience as a superintendent, of his own experience as a secondary-school teacher, and of the case materials he collected from teachers during his University of Nebraska tenure. The work was an illuminating treatment of the school as a system of social relationships. Although its major objective was to provide “social insight” to its audience of teachers, it also furnished educational sociologists with a rich source of ideas for research.

Waller was the first to apply the concept of symbolic interaction to the network of interpersonal relationships in which the teacher is caught up. He analyzed various significant teacher-other relationships, of which the teacher-pupil, teacher-parent, teacher-school-board member, and teacher-colleague relations involve the most tension. His analysis of the impact of stereotypes of teachers on these relationships and of the effect of teaching experiences in producing distinctive teacher personality-types anticipated some of the later studies of adult socialization.

Sociology of the family. It is probably on the social psychology of marriage, divorce, and the family that Waller had his greatest impact. His writings in this area began with his interest in divorce and bereavement as family crises. He traced the origins of divorce-oriented alienation to the inequality of bargaining during courtship. The Family (1938a) was the first “family text” with a coherent theoretical framework. He borrowed many symbolic interactionist concepts from the works of Burgess, Cooley, Mead, Baldwin, Dewey, Arthur F. Bentley, and Ellsworth Faris.

The Family focused upon interactions in American middle-class families and was the culmination of more than a decade of research and theoretical speculation. As primary data Waller used essays by students on their own dating and courtship experiences and their observations of their parents’ marriages. He arranged these highly personal materials developmentally, beginning with life in the parental family, where the infant is socialized into the rigid habits of others. Symbolic-interaction theory is used to explain the development of self and the learning of self-other roles appropriate both for functioning in the parental family and for interacting as husband-father or wife-mother in a family of procreation.

Waller applied processual analysis to the aim-inhibited relations of early heterosexual dating and to the progressively less aim-inhibited involvements of courtship that lead to the decision to marry. He described the social context of dating and courtship as a distributive order of prestige where people at the top of the order have advantages over those who rate poorly (the “rating-dating complex"). This situation produces courtship bargaining and, when individuals of unequal prestige are involved, exploitation.

His processual analysis of the sources of disruption and stabilization of marital relationships was also fruitful. He was, for example, the first to demonstrate that particular processes of interaction might produce cohesion in one relationship and conflict in another; the very fictions, inertia, and pluralistic ignorance that are often detrimental to a young marriage are shown to support a seasoned marriage.

Waller closed his treatment of the family with a description of marriage and family forms that departed from those approved by the contemporary middle classes, ranging from the polite adultery of emancipated marriages to “free love.”

Military sociology. His last book (1944), written in collaboration with his publisher, the gifted poet and editor Stanley Burnshaw, was a popular success. It dealt with the personal aspect of war and its aftermath for returning veterans and their families. The success of this book brought Waller not only fame but also an increasingly heavy involvement in lecturing, writing, and public affairs, which led him to exhaustion and premature death at the age of 46.

Influence. Waller’s potential contributions were by no means fully realized in the short span of his twenty years in sociology. He published only a fraction of his writings on the sociology of higher education and of campus life (including college fraternities). He introduced his students to social psychiatry and wrote articles (unpublished) about the sociological aspects of psychoanalysis. As he finished his writing about the sociology of war, he was turning increasingly to the political problems of social planning and social control. He was also engaged in supervising several participant-observation studies of reformatory institutions and of children’s camps, which were to be part of a sociology of “institutions of segregative care.” Work on this project was still going on at the time of his death.

Perhaps it was as a teacher and lecturer, however, that Waller best communicated his sociological insights. He cast himself in the role of one who pulled the veil of fraud and obfuscation from public posturing, from social lying, and from “correct” behavior. He encouraged the disenchanted and alienated to think through their rebellions and to communicate their special insights to the world.

Waller’s formulations have become part of the storehouse of fruitful concepts in contemporary American sociology and are frequently encountered in middle-range theories in the fields in which Waller was most active—family sociology and the sociology of education.

Reuben L. Hill

[For the historical context of Waller’s work, seeFamily, article on Disorganization and dissolution; and the biographies ofBaldwin; Bentley; Burgess; Cooley; Dewey; Mead; for discussion of the subsequent development of Waller’s ideas, seeTeaching.]


1929 A Deterministic View of Criminal Responsibility. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 20:88-101.

1929 Waller, Willard W.; and Rice, Stuart A. Stereotypes. Pages 192-197 in Ernest W. Burgess (editor), Personality and the Social Group. Univ. of Chicago Press.

1930 The Old Love and the New: Divorce and Readjustment. New York: Liveright.

(1932) 1961 The Sociology of Teaching. New York: Russell.

1934 Insight and Scientific Method. American Journal of Sociology 40:285-297.

1935 Waller, Willard W.; and Cowley, William H. A Study of Student Life. Journal of Higher Education 6:132-142.

1936a Discussion of “Quantitative Methods in Social Psychology” [by George A. Lundberg]. American Sociological Review 1:54-60.

1936b Personality Changes in Practice Teachers. Journal of Educational Sociology 9:556-564.

1936c Social Problems and the Mores. American Sociological Review 1:922-933.

1936 Waller, Willard W.; and Hawkins, Edward R. Critical Notes on the Cost of Crime. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 26:679-694.

1937 The Rating and Dating Complex. American Sociological Review 2:727-734.

(1938a) 1951 The Family: A Dynamic Interpretation. Rev. by Reuben Hill. New York: Dryden.

1938b Contributions to Education of Scientific Knowledge About the Organization of Society and Social Pathology. Part 2, pages 445-460 in National Society for the Study of Education, Thirty-seventh Yearbook. Bloomington, Ill.: Public School Publishing Co.

1940a War and the Family. New York: Dryden.

1940b Waller, Willard W. (editor) War in the Twentieth Century. New York: Dryden. → See especially the “Editor’s Introduction,” pages vii-xi, “War in the Twentieth Century,” pages 3-35, and “War and Social Institutions,” pages 478-532.

1942 Introduction. Pages 1-6 in Edward C. Jandy, Charles Horton Cooley: His Life and His Social Theory. New York: Dryden.

1943 The Family and Other Institutions. American Academy of Political and Social Science, Annals 229:107-116.

1944 The Veteran Comes Back. New York: Dryden.

1945a A Sociologist Looks at Conscription. American Academy of Political and Social Science, Annals 241: 95-101.

1945b The Veteran’s Attitudes. American Academy of Political and Social Science, Annals 238:174-179.

1945 Waller, Willard W.; and Komarovsky, Mirra Studies of the Family. American Journal of Sociology 50:443-451.

Waller, Willard W. (1899–1945)

views updated May 21 2018

WALLER, WILLARD W. (18991945)

Among education scholars the sociologist Willard W. Waller is known for writing the Sociology of Teaching (1932), an early classic in the sociology of education and the first extended treatment of schools as organizations in social contexts. He was born in Murphysboro, Illinois, and died in New York City, just days prior to his forty-sixth birthday. After attending public school in Illinois, Waller completed a B.A. at the University of Illinois in 1920 and then taught Latin and French for six years at the Morgan Park Military Academy. He completed an M.A. degree at the University of Chicago in 1925, followed by his Ph.D. at the University of Pennsylvania. His dissertation study of divorce, The Old Love and the New (1929), became his first book.

During his relatively short career, Waller explored a broad range of topics, but much of his written work reflected three major interests. He wrote on the family with special attention to courtship and divorce, on education, and on war and the veteran. Those who read Waller's works and accounts of his life often find the man as intriguing as the scholar. Waller's sociological interests reflected his experiences. His interest in the family stemmed from his own divorce and his awareness of the long and sometimes troubled relationship of his parents. His interests in education reflect his being the son of a school superintendent and his years as a high school teacher at Morgan Park Military Academy. His interest in war and the veteran seem connected to his brief service in the navy at the close of World War I and to his having taught at a military academy, where he was addressed as captain, a rank he had in the Illinois National Guard.

Waller pioneered in his ethnographic analysis of schools as miniature societies with problematic relationships to the larger community. Although Waller's work provided rich conceptual resources for scholars in the sociology of education and in educational administration, his influence on subsequent research on schools was limited. He died young, leaving few disciples; what he believed was a realistic portrayal of schools may well have been seen by others as too bleak and harsh; and social science and educational research moved away from the kind of methods Waller employed to more quantitative techniques.

Although Waller's work did not receive the critical attention it deserved at first, since the 1960s scholars have increasingly recognized the significance and staying power of his pioneering analysis of the sociological characteristics of schools. Waller's The Sociology of Teaching (1932) remains a key book in the field. Further indicative of his high standing, the award for the outstanding publication in the sociology of education, presented annually by the American Sociological Association's section on that topic, is named after Waller.

Readers of The Sociology of Teaching are often troubled by Waller's account of how teaching affects teachers, and by what David Tyack called Waller's "bleak vision" of schools. David Cohen provided an eloquent discussion of these issues and what he viewed as Waller's ambivalence in "hating school but loving education." As it turns out, Waller's bleak vision of schools and his pessimism about the difficulty of changing schools and teachers were prophetic. The sustained school reform movement that began with the 1983 report by the National Commission on Excellence in Education, Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform, failed to appreciate until the late 1990s one of Waller's key insights: "The reformation of the schools must begin with the teachers, and no program that does not include the personal rehabilitation of teachers can ever overcome the passive resistance of the old order" (1932, p. 458).

In one way or another, in The Sociology of Teaching Waller touched on most of the issues that continue to perplex school reformers. For example, how best to reform schools, from within or without, top-down or bottom-up? How can teaching and the teaching profession be improved? What impedes the quality of teaching and learning? What accounts for goal displacement in schools? What balance should be struck in teaching and learning between control and authority, on the one hand, and freedom and spontaneity on the other hand? Likewise, in managing and governing schools, what balance should be made among the competing interests of students, teachers, administrators, parents, and taxpayers? Waller dealt with all of these and more.

Willard Waller understood acutely what few policymakers have grasped about the fundamental nature of schools: They are highly institutionalized "small societies," run by employees with a strong feeling of vulnerability to pressures, both from within and without. Facing restive students and critical parents and taxpayers, teachers and administrators must strive continuously for control over their enterprise. Consequently, Waller believed that schools are typically run on autocratic principles and often develop a garrison mentality. The result, he argued, is that the school is "a despotism in a state of perilous equilibrium" (1932, p. 10). "The school is continually threatened," he said, "because it is autocratic, and it has to be autocratic because it is threatened" (1932, p. 11). These conditions, dividing teachers from both students and the community, have profound consequences for the attitudes and behavior of teachers. Those who fail to reckon with these consequences, he suggested, will fail in efforts to reform schools. Waller's message of the 1930s is relevant even for the more democratically run schools of the twenty-first century.


Boyd, William L. 1989. "School Reform Policy and Politics: Insights from Willard Waller." In Willard Waller on Education and Schools: A Critical Appraisal, ed. Donald J. Willower and William L. Boyd. Berkeley, CA: McCutchan.

Cohen, David. 1989. "Willard Waller, on Hating School and Loving Education." In Willard Waller on Education and Schools: A Critical Appraisal, ed. Donald J. Willower and William L. Boyd. Berkeley, CA: McCutchan.

Goode, William J.; Furstenberg, Frank F., Jr.; and Mitchell, Larry R. 1970. Willard W. Waller on the Family, Education, and War: Selected Writings. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Testa, Randy. 1998. "Willard Waller's 'Sociology of Common Sense': A Tribute at Sixty-Six." Teachers College Record 99 (4):758778.

Tyack, David. 1989. "Life in the 'Museum of Virtue': The Bleak Vision of Willard Waller." In Willard Waller on Education and Schools: A Critical Appraisal, ed. Donald J. Willower and William L. Boyd. Berkeley, CA: McCutchan.

Waller, Willard W. 1932. The Sociology of Teaching. New York: Wiley.

Willower, Donald J., and Boyd, William L., eds. 1989. Willard Waller on Education and Schools: A Critical Appraisal. Berkeley, CA: McCutchan.

William Lowe Boyd

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