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Chicago sociology

Chicago sociology, Chicago School A tradition of sociology associated with the University of Chicago for the first four decades of the twentieth century and one which dominated North American sociology throughout this period. It was the first department of sociology to be established (in 1892 by Albion Small), and with it came the first main sociological journal, the American Journal of Sociology (in 1895)
; the establishing of the American Sociological Association (1905); the first major student text, Robert Park and Ernest Burgess's Introduction to the Science of Sociology (1921); a large graduate school; and an important series of research monographs. Much of this is catalogued in the many histories that have been written about the ‘Chicago School’. (The best of these include R. E. L. Faris , Chicago Sociology, 1967
, and M. Bulmer , The Chicago School of Sociology, 1984

The tradition was heavily informed by philosophical pragmatism, the direct observation of experience, and the analysis of urban social processes. It is most frequently identified with these three themes.

First, and most commonly, Chicago sociology was firmly committed to direct fieldwork and empirical study, in contrast to some of the more abstract, systematizing, and theoretical tendencies of many of the earlier North American sociologists, especially the Social Darwinians, Robert Park, the influential chair, told his students to ‘go and sit in the lounges of the luxury hotels and on the doorsteps of the flophouses; sit on the Gold Coast settees and on the slum shakedowns; sit in the Orchestra Hall and in the Star and Garter Burlesque. In short, go get the seat of your pants dirty in real research’. Such a directive led not only to a large number of now classic empirical studies of sociology— Frederic Thrasher's The Gang (1927), Clifford Shaw's The jack Roller (1930), Nels Anderson's The Hobo (1923) or Harvey Zorbaugh's The Gold Coast and the Slum (1929) are typical examples—but also to considerable experimentation in research methods. Of particular note was the development of participant observation and the case-study method.

However, it is a mistake to see Chicago as simply the home of qualitative methods, since it also pioneered the use of social surveys and community-based statistical research, the quantitative mapping of social areas, and the creation of a local community fact-book. In short, a strong tradition of quantitative method was also developed at Chicago, linked especially to William Ogburn. Nor was Chicago sociology atheoretical, Everett C. Hughes, a leading member of the Chicago School and pioneer of the sociology of occupations and professions in the 1940s, was instrumental in introducing explicit theory into the later Chicago sociology. Hughes himself wrote several classic articles investigating the subjective consequences of work for the individual and the strategies for pursuing status and earnings in workplaces (see Men and their Work, 1958
, jointly authored with Helen McGill Hughes).

A second core theme of sociology at Chicago was its concern with the study of the city. It was here—in one of the fastest-growing cities in North America at the turn of the century, with all its attendant problems of immigration, delinquency, crime, and social problems—that the sociological study of the city came into its own. Much of urban sociology has its roots in this tradition, both descriptively through a mapping of the areas of the city (into a series of zones arranged in a concentric circle from an inner city zone to an outer commuter belt), and theoretically in terms of attempting to explain the dynamics of city growth and change.

A third theme to emerge from Chicago was a distinctive form of social psychology, derived in part from the allied department of philosophy, and especially the work of George Herbert Mead. This was a tradition which focused upon the creation and organization of the self, and which later came to be identified through the writing of Herbert Blumer as symbolic interactionism. See also FORMALISM; FRAZIER, EDWARD FRANKLIN; SEQUENCE ANALYSIS; URBAN ECOLOGY.

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