Park, Robert E
Park, Robert E
Robert Ezra Park (1864-1944), American sociologist, was a leading figure in the notable University of Chicago “school of sociology.” He was born in Harveyville, Pennsylvania, but soon thereafter his family moved to Red Wing, Minnesota, and Park grew up in what Hamlin Garland called the “Middle Border,” where there was still much unsettled land and where towns were new and few. He left home after graduating from the local high school, and after a year at the University of Minnesota entered the University of Michigan, from which he received a bachelor of philosophy degree in 1887. John Dewey, his chief instructor at Michigan, intervened decisively in Park’s intellectual life by introducing him to Franklin Ford, a man with an original cast of mind. Ford and Park planned a new kind of newspaper, to be called The Thought News, which would register movements of public opinion in some exact manner, just as the market price in the stock market expresses quantitatively the dispositions of individuals to buy or sell. The proposal was never carried out, mainly because techniques of polling and survey analysis were still rudimentary and did not command the financial support they enjoy today. In this respect Park was ahead of his times, but his imaginative view of public opinion as a measurable phenomenon found an outlet in his later writings and was an inspiration to the pioneers of survey analysis in the 1940s.
In 1894 Park married Clara Cahill, daughter of a leading Michigan lawyer. From 1887 until 1898 he was a reporter on daily newspapers in Minneapolis, Detroit, Denver, New York, and Chicago. In those days newspapers could not draw upon syndicated material to balance the volume of Sunday advertising, and reporters were expected to supply columns of human interest and local color. Park was therefore constantly on the prowl for news and feature stories, and throughout his life the city remained for him a laboratory for discovering human nature.
In a brief “Autobiographical Note” (Collected Papers, vol. 1, pp. v-ix), Park recalled that he had been impressed with William James’s essay “On a Certain Blindness in Human Beings,” in which James spoke of “the personal secret” which makes life boring to one person and zestful to another. Park sought the “secret”; he interpreted his own intellectual life as an alternate absorption with the realities of social life and with the problem of describing social types and processes in terms applicable to human association everywhere. Thus, he left the newspaper world to enter Harvard and earned his M.A. there in 1899, studying psychology with Miinsterberg and philosophy with Royce and James. He then took his family to Germany, where he studied with Simmel—his only instructor in sociology—and with Windelband. He took his PH.D. in 1904 at Heidelberg with a dissertation on public opinion, Masse und Publikum. Returning to Harvard he became for a year an assistant in philosophy.
Park next accepted the position of secretary of the Congo Reform Association, which permitted him to escape again from academic life. This was the time of great popular outcry against Belgian atrocities, and Park wrote a series of exposes of colonial brutality in Everybody’s Magazine (1906a; 1906b).
At the suggestion of the American Negro leader Booker T. Washington, Park began to familiarize himself with the condition of the Negroes in the southern states. So began years, of exploring the lives of American Negroes. In his view, action alone would not solve “the race problem” and make emancipation a reality; increased understanding was also required. Park traveled to Europe with Washington, and he wrote most of Washington’s book, The Man Farthest Down. Later he came to see the mode of life of southern whites and Negroes as an instance of a universal historic process whereby human nature and human communities take form through conflict; conflict is followed by accommodation that produces a caste society withde facto division of labor; and the caste structure eventually changes into one of classes (Park & Burgess 1921).
Turning once more to scholarly pursuits, Park in 1914, at the age of 50, joined Albion W. Small and W. I. Thomas in the department of sociology at the University of Chicago, where he remained until he retired in 1929. Between 1929 and 1932 he visited the world’s racial frontiers in South Africa, India, Malaya, and Brazil, and was a guest professor at the University of Hawaii as well as Yenching University in Peking. From 1936 until his death, he lived and lectured at Fisk University, a Negro institution in Nashville, Tennessee.
Sociological theory . Seven years after he joined the sociology department at the University of Chicago, Park, with Ernest W. Burgess, brought out a major work, Introduction to the Science of Sociology (1921). In brief, the book develops concepts for the analysis of group life. It presents a wide variety of historical, philosophical, scientific, and literary documents; relevant general and theoretical formulations; and suggestions for empirical study. The illuminating combination of field observations of all sorts with a theoretical scheme induced from them had also characterized Thomas and Znaniecki’s The Polish Peasant in Europe and America, published shortly before.
The Introduction begins with a discussion of human nature, in which personality is described as the development in the human organism of selfconsciousness and a moral nature, a process possible only in group life. Next, Park and Burgess considered the dominant social process, interaction. It is social attitudes (tendencies to act) that, ultimately, interact and constitute the elemental social forces: “They present us human motives in the only form in which we can know them objectively, namely, as behavior. Human motives become social forces only so far as they are communicable, only when they are communicated. . . . The clearest way to think of attitudes is as behavior patterns or units of behavior” (1921, pp. 438-439). Interaction takes four typical forms: competition, conflict, accommodation, and assimilation: “The community and the natural order within the limits of the community . . . are an effect of competition. Social control, and the mutual subordination of individual members to the community have their origin in conflict, assume definite organized forms in the process of accommodation, and are consolidated and fixed in assimilation” (p. 785). Social forces may be informal (for example, custom, folkways, mores, public opinion) or institutionalized (law, the judiciary, the state), both kinds making for conformity to a common purpose; yet these forces also “are constantly re-creating the old order, making new heroes, overthrowing old gods, creating new myths, and imposing new ideals” (p. 35). Under the rubric collective behavior, the authors presented the behavior of individuals influenced by common (collective) impulses, as when following fashions or participating in crowds, sects, or mass movements.
Park and Burgess found it necessary to warn students that the study of society cannot be both scientific and moralistic. The preceding generation of sociologists, many of whom had close ties to the Protestant clergy, had not always clearly distinguished the description and analysis of social life from the normative view of it. Park and Burgess, therefore, declared at the outset:
The first thing that students in sociology need to learn is to observe and record their own observations . . . to get facts rather than formulate opinions. The most important facts that sociologists have to deal with are opinions (attitudes and sentiments), but until students learn to deal with opinions as the biologists deal with organisms, that is, to dissect them—reduce them to their component elements, describe them, and define the situation (environment) to which they are a response—we must not expect very great progress in sociological science. (1921, pp. v-vi)
The first chapter of the Introduction contains what is perhaps still the best historical exposition of sociology and its relation to the other social sciences:
Sociology . . . may be described as the science of collective behavior. . . . Historically [it] . . . had its origin in [the study of] history. History has been and is the great mother science of all the social sciences. . . . Anthropology, ethnology, folklore and archeology have grown up largely, if not wholly, to complete the task which history began and answer the questions which historical investigation first raised. .. . In the same sense that history is the concrete, sociology is the abstract, science of human experience and human nature. On the other hand, the technical (applied) social sciences, that is, politics, education, social service and economics—so far as economics may be regarded as the science of business—are related to sociology in a different way. They are, to a greater or lesser extent, applications of principles which it is the business of sociology and psychology to deal with explicitly. In so far as this is true, sociology may be regarded as fundamental to the other social sciences. (1921, Introduction)
For years the Introduction had few effective competitors in university classes all over the United States. It was a sophisticated work that drew liberally from European thought and held no hint of provincialism; although it must have been a difficult text for many students, its quality was appreciated.
Other works . In his next book, The Immigrant Press and Its Control (1922), Park again used the method of presenting cases followed by theoretical statements. He interpreted the foreign-language press—whose prevalence then was considered by many to be alarming—as an instrument of eventual assimilation. (A companion volume written by Thomas, but signed by Park and Herbert A. Miller,Old World Traits Transplanted, had been published in 1921.)
Thereafter, Park’s writings were wide-ranging: he wrote articles, lectures, book reviews, and prefatory notes to books written—for the most part—by his students. These have all been published in three volumes edited by Everett C. Hughes, Jitsuichi Masuoka, and others (see Collected Papers). Park followed his divers interests throughout his career, and the classification of his collected papers is topical, not chronological. Volume 1, Race and Culture,contains speculations on such subjects as race relations, racial frontiers and attitudes, migrations, and the “marginal man”—the name Park gave to the man who moves in more than one social world and is not completely at home in any. His most famous student in this field was E. Franklin Frazier, who wrote authoritatively on the American Negro and on racial and cultural contacts in the modern world. Other prominent students in this field include Charles S. Johnson, who studied the plantation Negro; Edgar T. Thompson, who published extensive studies of plantation and migratory labor; W. 0. Brown, who became an authority on African nationalism; Louis Wirth, who began his career with an analysis of the ghetto and went on to play an active part in improving American race relations; and Everett C. Hughes, who studied cultural conflict in French Canada and in industrial race relations.
Volume 2, Human Communities, contains Park’s writings on the city and on human ecology. Park and his student R. D. McKenzie coined the term “human ecology,” and Park taught a course of that name in 1926. His students explored plant and animal ecology to appreciate the meaning of such borrowed concepts as symbiosis, invasion, succession, dominance, gradients of growth, superordination, and subordination. Park had used the concept of mobility as early as 1916 (see Collected Papers,vol. 2, pp. 13-51) to designate, for one thing, a process of changes in status, whether up or down; later he arrived at the notion of using position, which is readily observable and measurable, as an index of status, which is more subtle:
A person is simply an individual who has somewhere, in some society, social status; but status turns out finally to be a matter of distance—social distance. It is because geography, occupation, and all the other factors which determine the distribution of population determine so irresistibly and fatally the place, the group and the associates with whom each one of us is bound to live that spatial relations come to have, for the study of society and human nature, the importance which they do. It is because social relations are so frequently and so inevitably correlated with spatial relations: because physical distances so frequently are, or seem to be, the indexes of social distances, that statistics have any significance whatever for sociology.(Collected Papers, vol. 2, p. 177)
These last phrases are acknowledged in the productive work of demographers and of those who conduct opinion surveys.
Park’s students in ecology were an able set of scholars. Wirth incorporated ecological ideas in his study of the ghetto. McKenzie published articles on the metropolitan community and world ecology in which he considered, among other things, the competition between one currency and another and between one language and another. A very striking work was Clifford Shaw’s formulation of gradients of juvenile delinquency, interpreted as indexes of disorganized community life. Harvey W. Zorbaugh’s The Gold Coast and the Slum and Frederic M. Thrasher’s The Gang are minor classics. Ernest R. Mowrer and Ruth Shonle Cavan used spot maps of Chicago’s divorces and suicides to show that spatial distributions correspond to moral communities.
The third volume, Society, presents Park’s writings on collective behavior. Just as Adam Smith’s economic man is a product of the division of labor, so social man develops through language and a conscious and purposeful sharing in a common life, that is, through social control. In an environment of custom, tradition, institutions, etc., the individual becomes social—a person—and acquires status. Park maintained that the typical progression of the conflict group is from expressive behavior to political action; his ideas on this subject appeared in the introductions to books by his students—to Pauline Young’s book on the communistic sect, to E. T. Hiller’s on the strike, and to Lyford Edwards’ on revolution.
Volume 3 also includes essays on news and the newspapers. Park suggested that there is a continuum of states of being informed, from unordered and intuitive “acquaintance with” to systematic, rational “knowledge about”—the phrases are borrowed from William James—and placed the news somewhere between the extremes, sharing qualities of both history and popular literature. “The Natural History of the Newspaper” (Collected Papers, vol. 3, pp. 89-104) describes how the readers’ demands for “news interest” transferred the power of the press from the editor to the reporter of news. Several of the essays on news and public opinion were written in the first years of World War II, stimulated by the urgency that the war, the most dramatic of all collective enterprises, gave to opinion, intelligence, propaganda, and morale. Many of the ideas on social control expressed in these articles, particularly social control as seen in custom and institutions in time of change, were applied by Robert Redfield to folk society.
Park stands out as a gifted writer in a field in which happy turns of phrase are not common. He was well-read, urbane, and precise. The allegation that he opposed statistics is unwarranted: he encouraged quantitative description whenever it was convenient and would enlarge understanding, but he refused to limit his scientific curiosity to problems which could only be dealt with by a single method.
Helen MacGill Hughes
[For the historical context of Park’s work, seeEcology, article onhuman ecology; and the biographies ofBurgess; James; MÜnsterberg; Small; Thomas. For discussion of the subsequent development of Park’s ideas, seeAssimilation; City, article oncomparative urban structure; Race relations; and the biographies ofFrazier; Redfield; Wirth.]
1904 Masse und Publikum: Eine methodologische und soziologische Untersuchung. Bern: Back & Grunau.
1906a A King in Business: Leopold II of Belgium, Autocrat of the Congo and International Broker. Everybody’s Magazine 15:624-633.
1906b Terrible Story of the Congo. Everybody’s Magazine 15:763-772.
(1921) 1929 Park, Robert E.; and Burgess, Ernest W. Introduction to the Science of Sociology. 2d ed. Univ. of Chicago Press.
1921 Park, Robert E.; and Miller, Herbert A. Old World Traits Transplanted. New York: Harper. → Written by W. I. Thomas.
1922 The Immigrant Press and Its Control. New York: Harper.
Collected Papers of Robert Ezra Park. 3 vols. Edited by Everett C. Hughes et al. Glencoe, III.: Free Press, 1950-1955. → Volume 1: Race and Culture, 1913-1944. Volume 2: Human Communities, The City and Human Ecology, 1916-1939. Volume 3: Society, Collective Behavior, News and Opinion, Sociology and Modern Society, 1918-1942. Volume 1, pages v-ix, contains a brief autobiography.
Cooper, Edna 1945 Bibliography of Robert E. Park. Phylon 6:372-383.
"Park, Robert E." International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 24, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/social-sciences/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/park-robert-e-0
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