Odum, Howard W
Odum, Howard W
Howard W. Odum (1884-1954), American sociologist, was born in Bethlehem in rural northern Georgia. He attended Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and the University of Mississippi and then continued his education in the North. At Clark University, he studied under G. Stanley Hall, obtaining a PH.D. there in 1909; and at Columbia University, where he studied under Franklin H. Giddings, he received a second PH.D. in 1910. Important influences on his work were to come from Wundt, Sumner, Spengler, Geddes, and Sauer. He returned to the South to teach, first at the University of Georgia and then at Emory University. After 1920 he taught at the University of North Carolina, where he remained the rest of his life.
Odum’s entire career was devoted to the development of a social science that would change the nation’s image of the South and the South’s image of itself. At North Carolina he established the department of sociology, the School of Public Welfare, the Institute for Research in Social Science, the department of planning, and the journal Social Forces. As a sociologist he cultivated four fields, all related to one another as well as to his over-all aim. They were race relations, regional studies, social planning, and folk sociology.
In his first important work, on the social life and folk culture of the Negro (1910), Odum made use of both sociological and literary materials. His Rainbow Round My Shoulder (1928), describing a black Ulysses, a wandering roustabout, is a work of literary artistry as well as of perceptive social analysis. Odum continued to write about the Negro for forty-five years, and the combination of his humane sympathy and social-scientific point of view did much to improve race relations. He never ceased to assert that American democratic principles of equal opportunity and justice apply to the Negro and that the Negro is capable of participating in the society on a basis of equality.
Odum was keenly aware of the extent to which the South lagged behind the rest of the nation, culturally, socially, and economically. In a fullscale regional analysis, Southern Regions of the United States (1936), he used cultural-statistical indices to document the immaturity of Southern development. He hoped that such evidence would induce the South to try to catch up with the rest of the nation. He sought new standards for the region not only in race relations but also in public welfare, higher education, regional planning, and penal reform. Indeed, he saw the South as adhering to an obsolete sectionalism and urged that this sectionalism be replaced by regionalism so that what Turner (1932) called a nation of conflicting sections would become a regional-national equilibrium. Odum favored cultural diversity and in perceptive essays showed his delight in regional literary movements. He stressed the importance of state, regional, and national planning (Folk,Region,and Society ...PP.413-426)
Odum’s system of folk sociology was left incomplete at his death. He characterized the folk as “a universal constant in the world of variables,” “surviving as basic elements of new cultures; remnants of old,” and asserted that “when old civilizations,such as that of Greece and Rome, pass away new cultures arise from the folk” (Folk, Region, and Society .. . p. 224). He did not, however, idealize the folk; in fact, he regarded Hitlerism, which he abhorred, as basically a folk movement. His primary concern was to understand the process of change from folk culture to mature state civilization, from a society characterized by folkways to a transitional one characterized by “technicways”and finally to one in which “stateways” predominate.
In the folk society, Odum believed, the principal factor in social change is the slow growth of folkways, mores, institutions, and moral order. The transitional technicways are the habits and customs that develop as adjustments to the innovations of science and technology. (They are not the scientific techniques themselves.) Technicways rapidly override existing folkways and morality;they change institutions and require massive changes in law. State civilization, finally, is characterized by intellectualism and cultural specialization, by centralization of power, and, in some instances, by totalitarianism. State society is called upon to develop stateways as sanctions for the new technicways. In some instances it succeeds in developing such stateways; in other instances it fails. Thus, in the area of business, as the folkways of simple partnership fell before the technicways of large-scale organization, these technicways were indeed regularized by the stateways we now call corporation law or government control of business. But the technicways produced by such a new technique as contraception, namely, family planning and premarital sexual freedom, have not generally been regularized in appropriate stateways. Again, nuclear fission, a complex of scientific techniques, furnishes new technicways of war, but no stateways of international sanction and control. To Odum, there was an equal danger that social change could lead to inadequate controls or to totalitarian power. The state society that arises as a transitional society attempts to incorporate accumulating technicways into an ever-growing body of stateways may ultimately repress the spontaneity, vitality, and freedom of the folk.
Rupert B. Vance
1910 Social and Mental Traits of the Negro. New York:Columbia Univ.
1925 ODUM, HOWARD W.; and JOHNSON, GUY B. The Negro and His Songs. Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press.
1928 Rainbow Round My Shoulder: The Blue Trail of Black Ulysses. Indianapolis, Ind.: Bobbs-Merrill.
1930 An American Epoch. New York: Holt.
1936 Southern Regions of the United States. Chapel Hill:Univ. of North Carolina Press.
1938 ODUM, HOWARD W.; and MOORE, HARRY E. American Regionalism. New York: Holt.
1943 Race and Rumors of Race. Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press.
1947 Understanding Society. New York: Macmillan.
1951 American Sociology. New York: Longmans.
Folk, Region, and Society: Selected Papers. Chapel Hill:Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1964. → Arranged and edited by Katherine Jocher et al. to present Odum’s sociological system; contains a bibliography and a biographical sketch.
Howard W. Odum [Obituary]. 1955a Rural Sociology 20:89-90.
Howard W. Odum [Obituary]. 1955b Social Forces 34:197-199.
Turner, Frederick Jackson (1932) 1950 The Significance of Sections in American History. Gloucester, Mass.: Smith.
Wilson, Louis R.; Johnson, Guy B.; and Vance, Rupert B. 1956 Howard Washington Odum. Pages 153-160 in Almonte C. Howell, The Kenan Professorships.Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press.