Bernard, L. L.

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Bernard, L. L.


Luther Lee Bernard (1881–1951), one of the most versatile and erudite American sociologists of the first half of the twentieth century, was born in a rich agricultural area of eastern Kentucky. When Bernard was a small boy, however, he and his family joined a trek to an undeveloped and parched region on the Texas frontier, where they subsequently had to struggle for sheer existence. The rigor of Bernard’s childhood was at least in part compensated for by the intellectual stimulation he received from two unusually able high school teachers.

When Bernard was about 17 years old his family moved to Missouri, where he entered Pierce City Baptist College, receiving his b.s. degree in 1900. Eager for better training, he matriculated at the University of Missouri and received an a.b. degree there in 1907. While at Missouri he attracted the attention of Charles A. Ellwood, who enabled him to get a fellowship at the University of Chicago. He received his ph.d. in sociology from that university in 1910, highly esteemed by the Chicago faculty for his scholarship and industry.

The harsh struggles of his childhood and his laborious efforts to get a good education had a marked effect on Bernard’s personality. Described by a friend as “the embodiment of the Protestant ethic,” he was addicted to hard, unremitting work and was highly individualistic and very direct in his contacts with others, especially in his professional life. It is possible that his frankness, which attested to his integrity and honesty, may have hindered him in conventional academic advancement. As it was, his career embraced an unusually large number of professorships. He taught at Western Reserve University, the University of Florida, the University of Missouri, the University of Minnesota, Cornell, Tulane, the University of North Carolina, Washington University (St. Louis), and Pennsylvania State College. He remained longest at Minnesota, from 1918 to 1926, and at Washington University, from 1929 to 1946. He was one of the best teachers among American sociologists, and the fact that he moved so much among universities increased the number of students he influenced, but it did prevent him from founding a school at a major university. Among his better known students, in addition to his wife, Jessie, were George A. Lundberg, Carl C. Taylor, Carle C. Zimmerman, and Harold A. Phelps. Lundberg and Taylor became presidents of the American Sociological Association.

The work that contributed most to Bernard’s professional reputation was his book Instinct (1924), the product of some fifteen years of research and writing. The research chiefly took the form of an extensive survey of the relevant literature of psychology, anthropology, economics, political science, and sociology to determine how the concept of instinct was being used. Bernard developed an elaborate tabulating procedure to organize and analyze the results. The book was important especially because it distinguished habitual from instinctive behavior and so laid at rest the exaggerated and quasi-biological emphasis on instinct as a social force, which had developed great popularity after the publication of William McDougall’s Social Psychology in 1908. While Bernard’s book had much influence on sociological theory at the time, it made somewhat less of an impression on psychology. His writing in psychological sociology carried on and amplified the tradition of E. A. Ross, Ellwood,W. I. Thomas, and Charles Cooley. He summarized his work in the Introduction to Social Psychology (1926) and in an unpublished companion volume on the socialization of infant and child.

While Bernard was best known for his writings on psychological sociology, he also worked out a system of sociology based on what he called “coadaptation,” a concept that includes man’s twofold or two-way adaptation to the natural and cultural environments in which he operates as a socialized being. Bernard’s conception of natural environments as an influence on human behavior was a pioneer contribution to the ecological approach in sociology. He divided the environments to which man coadapts in the socializing process into the natural, which comprises both the inorganic (climate, geography, natural resources) and organic (flora, fauna), and the cultural, which includes the material cultural environment, the biocultural or learned behavior patterns and skills, the psychocultural or symbolic environment made up of languages and the cumulative products, and the derived control environment, mainly the institutional organization of society.

To understand and analyze the processes of coadaptation, the sociologist must go beyond the data of conventional sociology and investigate all the factors, natural and cultural, that are involved in the coadaptative process. The ultimate purpose of this study is to organize and present the results in such a manner as to make clear their significance for the improvement of social life. Bernard thus repudiated the tendency to bar all value systems and ameliorative aims from sociology. A severe positivist in the tradition of Comte, and dedicated to the scientific method in sociology, he nevertheless held that sociology is important only to the extent that it can contribute to social guidance and the betterment of mankind. His complete system, developed over many years, was embodied in his comprehensive textbook, An Introduction to Sociology (1942a), which had little influence despite the fact that it is exceptionally erudite and well balanced.

Bernard’s distinction in the field of psychological sociology distracted attention not only from his more systematic work in general sociology but also from his contributions to other specialized fields, among them ecology and rural sociology, economics, the use of sociological studies in practical attempts to promote social welfare, and above all the history of sociology and the other social sciences. His most impressive contribution to the history of sociology was his monumental Origins of American Sociology (1943), which he wrote with his wife, Jessie Bernard. It covered the development of sociological concepts and writings from the colonial period to the Ward–Sumner–Giddings–Small era and thus was an eye-opener to most American sociologists, who had believed that the subject started in this country with Ward and his successors. Bernard was also the only American sociologist who possessed a precise and comprehensive knowledge of Latin American sociology and its Spanish background.

Bernard was active in professional societies and in organizations for social betterment, and he did much valuable work as an editor. While he was president of the American Sociological Society in 1932 he took the first steps in the launching of the American Sociological Review. His integrity and candor may have reduced his popularity, but detracted neither from the importance of his writings nor from the impact of his stimulating teaching.

Harry Elmer Barnes

[For the historical context of Bernard’s work, see the biographies ofComte; Cooley; Ell wood; McDou-gall; Ross; Thomas; for discussion of the subsequent development of his ideas, seeMotivation, article onHuman motivation; Social problems.]


1909 The Teaching of Sociology in the United States. American Journal of Sociology 15:164–213.

1911 The Transition to an Objective Standard of Social Control Univ. of Chicago Press.

1914 The Application of Psychology to Social Problems. Pages 207–231 in Geoffrey Rhodes (editor), The Mind at Work: A Handbook of Applied Psychology. London: Murby.

1918 The Teaching of Sociology in Southern Colleges and Universities. American Journal of Sociology 23:491–515.

1922 The Conditions of Social Progress. American Journal of Sociology 28:21–48.

1923a Invention and Social Progress. American Journal of Sociology 29:1–33.

1923b Neuro-psychic Technique. Psychological Review 30:407–437.

1924 Instinct: A Study in Social Psychology. New York: Holt.

1925a A Classification of Environments. American Journal of Sociology 31:318–322.

1925b Scientific Method and Social Progress. American Journal of Sociology 31:1–18.

1926 Introduction to Social Psychology. New York: Holt.

1927a The Psychological Foundations of Society. Pages 395–491 in Jerome Davis and Harry E. Barnes (editors), An Introduction to Sociology: A Behavioristic Study of American Society. Boston: Heath.

1927b Sociology and Psychology. Pages 346–368 in William F. Ogburn and Alexander Goldenweiser (editors), The Social Sciences and Their Interrelationships. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

1927c Foundations of Society. Pages 517–603 in Jerome Davis and Harry E. Barnes (editors), Readings in Sociology to Accompany An Introduction to Sociology. New York: Farrar & Rinehart.

1928 Some Historical and Recent Trends of Sociology in the United States. Southwestern Political and Social Science Quarterly 9:264–293.

1929 Mind: Its Emergence as a Mechanism of Adjustment. Pages 402–460 in Frederick A. Cleveland (editor), Modern Scientific Knowledge of Nature, Man and Society. New York: Ronald.

1931a An Interpretation of Sociological Research. American Journal of Sociology 37:203–212.

1931b Attitudes and the Redirection of Behavior. Pages 46–74 in Kimball Young (editor), Social Attitudes. New York: Holt.

1932 Social Psychology Studies Adjustment Behavior. American Journal of Sociology 38:1–9.

1934 Bernard, Luther L. (editor). The Fields and Methods of Sociology. New York: Long & Smith.

1934 Bernard, Luther L.; and Bernard, JessieSociology and the Study of International Relations. St. Louis: Washington Univ. Press.

1938 The Unilateral Elements in Magic Theory and Performance. American Sociological Review 3:771–785.

1939 Social Control New York: Macmillan.

1940 The Method of Generalization for Social Control.American Sociological Review 5:340–350.

1942a An Introduction to Sociology: A Naturalistic Account of Man’s Adjustment to His World. New York: Crowell.

1942b Recent Discussions Regarding Social Psychology. American Journal of Sociology 48:13–28.

1943 Bernard, Luther L.; and Bernard, JessieOrigins of American Sociology: The Social Science Movement in the United States. New York: Crowell.

1944 War and Its Causes. New York: Holt.

1948 Principales formas de integración social. Mexico City: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.

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Bernard, L. L.

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