International Associations in Sociology

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Founded by Rene Worms in Paris in 1893, the International Institute of Sociology (IIS) is the oldest continuous sociological association of any kind in the world. The IIS also happens to be the oldest continuous international association in the social sciences. Indeed, Worms's models for the IIS were the recently formed international institutes in law and in statistics. In the same year that he founded the IIS, Worms (1869–1926) also started the Revue internationale de sociologies (two years before Durkheimians would found the Annee sociologigue) and a book series, the Bibliotheque Sociologique Internationale, which would in time publish more than fifty volumes.

In 1893 Worms was twenty-four years old. His organizational skills are even more impressive when we consider where the IIS's founding falls in relation to that of other major associations in the discipline of sociology, including the discipline's only other major international association. In 1895, Worms himself founded the Societe de Sociologie de Paris, an association that held monthly meetings. A full ten years later, in 1905, C. W. A. Veditz of George Washington University founded the American Sociological Society (now the American Sociological Association) at a constituent meeting held at Johns Hopkins University. Another five years later, in 1910, the German Sociological Society held its first meeting—in Frankfurt, with Simmel presenting the opening paper. Three years after that, in 1913, Tongo Takebe founded the Japan Institute of Sociology (now the Japan Sociological Society).

Then some time passed before other major associations were formed. The Italian Society of Sociology was not founded until 1937, by Corrado Gini (who in 1926 established Italy's equivalent of the Census Bureau and who developed the Gini Scale). The International Sociological Association, which is discussed below began after World War II, in 1948—under broad sponsorship from UNESCO and informed by Cold War rivalries. Finally, the British Sociological Society was founded even later, in 1951; indeed, Britain had only one chair in sociology from 1907 through World War II, housed at the London School of Economics.

Like so many of sociology's founding figures, from Auguste Comte to George Herbert Mead, Worms was trained in philosophy and began his academic career in that discipline. The son of political economist Emile Worms, he earned his philosophy degree at the Ecole Normale Superieure and then also degrees in law and economics. His first teaching assignment was at the secondary school level while he also substituted for Henri Bergson at the College de France. And like other philosophically trained sociologists of the midand late nineteenth century, including Auguste Comte and Herbert Spencer, Worms's early way of thinking about society was by analogy to biological organisms. Within a decade, however, Worms moved, under increasing criticism from Gabriel Tarde (and also Dukheim), to a far more eclectic theoretical position, one that treated sociology essentially as the philosophy of the social sciences. After 1907 he taught an annual course in the history of sociology at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes Sociales. During this period he also taught on the law faculty at the University of Paris and served on important advisory bodies of the French government. By 1924 he had risen to Conseiller d'Etat.

The first World Congress of Worms's IIS was held a year after its founding, in September 1894, and the first volume of the Institute's Annales appeared a year after that. Not only scholars but also politicians and other influentials throughout the West found both the Revue and the IIS to be tolerant and supportive of heterogeneous ideas. This hospitable environment reflected Worms's own broad work experience and interdisciplinary training—along with his own general openness to differing theoretical approaches. Worms respected the work being done, for instance, by the circle around Durkheim, but he also kept a healthy independence from its influence. Thus, we find among the IIS's earliest members major figures not only in sociology but also in economics, the other social sciences, and the natural sciences: Franz Brentano, Enrico Ferri, Ludwig Gumplowicz, Achille Loria, Alfred Marshall, Carl Menger, Edward Ross, Gustav Schmoller, Georg Simmel, Albion Small, Gabriel Tarde, Edward Taylor, Ferdinand Tonnies, Alexandre Tchouprov, Thorsten Veblen, Lester Ward, Sydney and Beatrice Webbs, and Wilhelm Wundt. Indeed, in the early years sociologists were a minority among IIS members. Yet, with the exception of Durkheim, all major sociologists, Weber included, participated in the Institute at one time or another in its first three decades.

In casting his net well beyond the academy, Worms was known to play on the vanity of the famous from many walks of life in order to bring them into his international organization (D'Antonio 1994, citing Gephart). Often he granted influentials an honorary membership or officership in order to exempt them from paying dues. The first president of the IIS was Sir John Lubbock, vice president of the Royal Society of London, president of the London Chamber of Commerce, and a member of the House of Commons. A year later, Albert Schaeffle became the second IIS president, reflecting the fact that until 1914 IIS Congresses tended to be held annually. Aside from exchanging ideas frequently with Tonnies, Durkheim, and Simmel, Schaeffle served as director of the Zeitschrift fur gesammte Staatswissenschaft of Tubingen. The IIS's third president was a senator from Russia, Paul de Lilienfeld. One founding member, T.G. Masaryk of Prague, became both president of Czechoslovakia and president of the IIS. IIS vice presidents were no less successful in other pursuits: Bernardino Machada, Raymond Poincare, and Woodrow Wilson were past presidents, respectively, of Portugal, France, and the United States.

The first sociologist to serve as IIS president was Lester Ward, in 1903; two years later, Ward became the first president of the American Sociological Society. Indeed, Ward, Franklin Giddings, and Albion Small were all active in the IIS and would be prime movers in the formation of the American Sociological Society. All would serve as IIS presidents and, together, they comprised three of the American organization's ten original officers.

Worms himself was always more a technical director than a research sociologist, serving as IIS secretary general and treasurer for thirty-three years. During his tenure, eleven different countries were represented in the presidency of the IIS (and in 1924 Worms was made an honorary member of the American Sociological Society). The first French sociologist to serve as IIS president was Charles Letourneau.

In the interwar years, IIS Congresses were held biannually and IIS leadership was strongly influenced by Célestin, Bougle, Secondo Bouthoul, Corrado Gini, Maurice Halbwachs, Robert MacIver, William Ogburn, Joseph Schumpeter, Pitrim Sorokin, and Luigi Sturzo. Each World War disrupted the frequency of Congresses and, as it turned out, each of these periods also marked general passages for the institute as an organization. For instance, a Congress scheduled for Vienna in 1915 was canceled because of war, and then planning did not resume until 1925. In that year Worms became ill, and he died the following year: the Congress ended up being held in 1927. A decade passed. Then the 14th Congress, scheduled for Bucharest in 1939, had to be canceled—again due to war. It would not be held until 1950, now relocated to Rome and placed under the leadership of Corrado Gini. Earlier, in 1932, Gini had founded the Italian section of the IIS.

At the turn of the century, international associations in all scholarly disciplines typically called themselves "institutes"; they were more "traveling academies, as Scheuch (1997) put it, than bureaucratically established organizations. All drew membership by invitation, all placed numerical limits on total membership, and all organized plenary sessions around particular themes. The IIS continues this tradition to this day. Thus, the format for its biannual Congresses is quite distinct from that of today's meetings of the International Sociological Association (ISA) held every four years. In the first place, the IIS tries to keep attendance to around 500 total participants (whereas ISA meetings draw anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 participants). In the second place, all participants are encouraged to attend morning plenary sessions organized around a particular conceptual theme selected by each Congress's program committee. The afternoons are then devoted to working groups in which members present papers spanning a far broader range of topics.

This "traditional" format is designed to serve both interpersonal and intellectual ends: Interpersonally, IIS Congresses stage events that are designed to create a sense of community among scholars from different national traditions of training and thereby to encourage collaboration and other scholarly exchanges. This is the case not only with the collective morning plenary sessions in which presentations are simultaneously translated in three languages—the language of the host country, French, and English. It is also the case with collective lunches, dinners, receptions, and local sightseeing trips. Intellectually, themes of IIS Congresses are intended to have a cumulative impact on social science disciplines.

The Annales served as the IIS's official publication through 1931 (and the 10th Congress held in Switzerland in 1930), at which time it was discontinued. From this period until 1989, IIS activities were reported in the Revue, which also informally took over publication of IIS Congress papers. In 1989 the Annales were revived and the Revue became independent of the IIS. Recent World Congresses were held in Morelia, Mexico (1982), Albufeira, Portugal (1986), Rome (1989), Kobe (1991), Paris (1993), Trieste (1995), Cologne (1997), and Tel Aviv (1999).

The International Sociological Association was founded in 1948 under an initiative of the Social Science Department of UNESCO—as part of a broad effort that spanned comparable associations in economics, law, and political science. All of these new international bodies very much reflected the geopolitical situation of the day, and all were both considerably larger in membership and looser in thematic focus than the IIS. Today, the major scholarly contribution of the ISA revolves not around its plenary sessions but rather around nearly fifty specialized Research Committees, some of which rival in size an entire IIS Congress.

After WWII, the Allies were interested in undercutting the conditions that could foster any return to fascism, and they saw the dissemination of the social sciences as one important factor in fostering democracy. Indeed, UNESCO had already opened an Institute for Social Research in Cologne, the Rockefeller Foundation had financed another in Dortmund, and the American government still another in Darmstadt. Given that UNESCO was based in Paris, the first discussions leading to the ISA were held in that city beginning in October 1948 under the leadership of Arvid Brodersen. Also attending this first meeting were Georges Davy, Gurvitch, Gabriel Le Bras, Arie den Hollander, Rene Konig, Louis Wirth, Paul Lazarsfeld, Erik Rinde, and Otto Klineberg.

At the time, national sociological associations existed in eight countries (Belgium, Brazil, China, Germany, Italy, Japan, Netherlands, and the United States). In four other countries sociology was included in other social science associations, and in another ten the discipline was organized as institutes on the IIS model—with membership limited to selected individuals (Platt 1998). In September 1949, ISA organizers invited leading sociologists in twenty-one countries to a Constituent Congress in Oslo. Louis Wirth, the noted American sociologist of urban life, was named the first president, and Erik Rinde in Oslo was appointed Executive Secretary and Treasurer (Platt 1998). Unlike the IIS, membership in the ISA was by national association (including general social science association), not by individuals directly. As such, the rise of the ISA itself contributed to the founding of eleven national affiliates, including the British Sociological Association and its counterpart in Mexico (Platt 1998).

The ISA's first World Congress was held in Zurich in 1950, organized by Rene Konig with Wirth serving as president. One hundred fifty-four individuals participated, and eleven national associations and eighteen other bodies were admitted as members. In part, this Congress was held jointly with the newly formed International Political Science Association (and the Research Committee on Political Sociology remains a joint committee of both associations). Shortly thereafter, the ISA's first Research Committee was formed, focusing on social stratification and mobility. This Committee's issues dominated the 2nd World Congress in 1953 in Liege, Belgium. By 1959 other Research Committees were being formed, at first referred to as subcommittees. Throughout the 1950s, another seventeen national associations were founded and joined the ISA, and then in the 1960s twelve more were added (Platt 1998). By 1952 the first issue of Current Sociology, the journal of the ISA, had appeared, and papers of early World Congresses were published separately as Transactions—a practice that ended in 1970 due to the cost and effort involved (Platt 1998). Originally, ISA World Congresses were held every three years, but beginning in 1962 they were moved to today's four-year schedule. Tracing the locations of World Congresses to this point, the 1956 Congress was in Amsterdam, the 1959 Congress in Stresa on Lake Maggiore in Italy, and the 1962 Congress in Washington, D.C.

Because the ISA relied on UNESCO for funding, its activities were heavily influenced by the agenda of UNESCO's Social Science Department (SSD). Early ISA presidents often had served earlier on SSD staff (Platt 1998). One early item on the SSD agenda was using the teaching of sociology to promote international understanding (Platt 1998). Only in the 1960s did teaching steadily lose priority to research, and this same period of transition, not coincidentally, marked the rise to preeminence of the Research Committees—at the expense of the Congress's general program topic and plenary sessions (Platt 1998). By 1970 and the World Congress in Varna, Bulgaria, there were seventeen different Research Committees (Platt 1998).

One issue facing the ISA leadership in its early years was how to deal with the earlier, well-established international association, the IIS. IIS activities had lapsed during WWII, and after the war some of its leaders were tainted with affiliations with defeated Axis regimes (Platt 1998). The same controversy split the national sociological association in Germany by 1960 but not the national associations in Italy or Japan. Regardless, as early as 1953 the leaders of sociology's two international organizations agreed to "friendly collaboration," including a willingness to schedule meetings at different times and to exchange proceedings. Relations between the two organizations have been relatively amicable ever since. Both international bodies have had to deal with the state of sociology in communist countries during the Cold War, the rising prominence of sociology in Third World countries, and addressing cases of political and scholarly repression in selected countries (Platt 1998).

In 1970 the ISA made two major changes in its founding statutes, one that introduced general individual membership and another that opened up the governance of the Research Committees. ISA leadership saw the Research Committees as a force moving the organization beyond national associations toward a grander internationalism. One result, however, is that the Research Committees became the equivalent of the internally pluralistic "sections" of the American Sociological Association (ASA), as opposed to remaining more coherent research groups. Thus, like ASA sections, the number of Research Committees has increased and many "working groups" and "thematic groups" within each Committee operate relatively independently of each other. In 1994, more than 3,000 sociologists attended the ISA World Congress in Bielefeld, Germany (76 percent from North America and Western Europe), and forty-five national associations were admitted. By 1997 there were fifty-nine identifiable research groups of one kind or another. Concerns abound, therefore, that the organization's centrifugal tendencies are overwhelming whatever centripetal forces remain (Platt 1998).

One consequence of the increasing internal pluralism of the ISA is that its funding base became and remains "increasingly problematic" (Platt 1998). ISA dues have been raised considerably for individual members, particularly for those living in economically advanced societies (Platt 1998). Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, communist bloc countries continued to support the voting rights of collective members, along with subsidies by affiliated governments. Still, the only ISA World Congress held in a socialist country was the 1970 meeting in Bulgaria. Looking back in 1994, the chair of a Constitutional Revision Committee held that the ISA's founding statutes had been premised on Cold War politics. His proposal then was that the organization needed to stress even more the importance of membership by dues-paying individuals, as opposed to relying on government subsidies. Two years earlier, in 1992, the Research Council had voted to give the Research Committees power equal to that of member national associations. For the first time, the Research Committees voted for ISA officers (Platt 1998).

Increasingly in the 1980s, the ISA was concerned about the dominance of First World sociology to the detriment of contributions from sociologists in the Third World. With this in mind, the journal International Sociology was founded in 1986 with the mandate to favor scholarly submissions from "disadvantaged areas" (Platt 1998). The first ISA World Congress held in a Third World country was in 1982 in Mexico City (followed by the 1986 Congress in New Delhi).


Clark, Terry N. 1967 "Marginality, Eclecticism, and Innovation: Rene Worms and the Revue Internationale de Sociologie from 1893 to 1914." Revue Internationalede Sociologie 3:3–18.

——1968 "Rene Worms." In International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences. New York: Macmillan and Free Press.

D'Antonio, William V. 1994 "Sociology and the IIS." Annals of the International Institute of Sociology, Paris, France, pp. 1–19.

Platt, Jennifer 1998 History of the ISA, 1948–1997. International Institute of Sociology.

Rhoades, Lawrence J. 1981 A History of the AmericanSociological Association 1905–1980. Washington D.C.: American Sociological Association.

Scheuch, Erwin 1997 "Closing Report." Address delivered to the 33rd IIS World Congress, Cologne.

David Sciulli

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International Associations in Sociology

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International Associations in Sociology