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The Chicago School. SO3066 Thinking Sociologically. Thinking Sociologically SO3066. Chicago School of Sociology (not to be confused with the economists) Established in 1892 by Albion Small (brought the ‘German Tradition’ to the US)

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the chicago school

The Chicago School


Thinking Sociologically

thinking sociologically so3066
Thinking Sociologically SO3066
  • Chicago School of Sociology (not to be confused with the economists) Established in 1892 by Albion Small (brought the ‘German Tradition’ to the US)
  • A highly influential sociology department (early 20th C)
  • Founded American Journal of Sociology
  • and American Sociology Society (ASS)
  • understandably later changed to Association (ASA)
thinking sociologically so30663
Thinking Sociologically SO3066
  • Historical Context
  • Chicago School influential 1892 – 1935 (dates vary) US Sociology’ adopts a ‘progressive’/‘reformist’ stance in response to the perceived injustices/inequities of late 19th/early 20thC. US
  • Chicago: Site of Rapid Social Change
  • Fast Population growth
  • Rapid Urbanisation
  • Migration
  • Numerous Social problems
  • Critical of ‘armchair theorising’ that was seen to characterise early American sociology.
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Thinking Sociologically SO3066
  • Chicago:
  • 1860 – pop. cc. 10,000
  • 1910 – pop. cc. 2,000,000
  • Immigration, Competition, Industrialisation
  • Social Problems – Labour Market ‘Exploitation’ (Long hours, low pay, insecure work), Poor Housing/Homelessness, Alcoholism, Mental Ill Health, Homicide, Suicide, Vice , Crime
thinking sociologically so30665
Thinking Sociologically SO3066
  • The Chicago School – The Study of Human & Environment
  • Focus on concrete experience of human interaction
  • Symbolic Interactionists: Uncovering and comprehending the processes that underlie the construction and maintenance of selfhood and the interaction order – how individuals ‘adapt’ to social situations
  • Urban Sociologists:
  • Ecological approach to understanding the social/demographic development of cities – how individuals and groups ‘adapt’ to the wider environment of the city
  • Intimate studies of daily life (often of lower status groups)
  • Produced a series of notable ethnographies
thinking sociologically so30666
Thinking Sociologically SO3066
  • Distinctively American Perspective –
  • However - heavily influenced by Weber and, in particular, Simmel (also William James, Darwin & Freud?)
  • Focus on Micro-Sociology (Social Psych), Urban Sociology (Ecology), Qualitative Methods.

Thinking Sociologically SO3066

  • Pragmatism:
  • North American philosophy, emerged in 1870s - still influential
  • Rejects search for fundamental, absolute truths and separation of mind and world associated with Cartesian dualism.
  • Our knowledge of the world is always grounded in the here and now, in the way in which our ideas shape and are shaped by our practical experiences.
  • Truth of a statement or belief is to be found in its consequences or use-value – its consistency with our experience and ability to facilitate our adaptation to situations and settings in the here and now.
  • ‘the Pragmatic method…is to try to interpret each notion by tracing its respective practical consequences. What difference would it practically make to anyone if this notion or that notion were true?’ (James, 1907)
thinking sociologically so30668
Thinking Sociologically SO3066
  • Formalism: Forms of social life are brought to life through human interaction.
  • Darwinism: Human beings as engaging in adaptive behaviour in relation to the social and physical environments in which they find themselves.
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Thinking Sociologically SO3066
  • Key figures:
  • Symbolic Interactionism:
  • John Dewey
  • William I Thomas
  • George Herbert Mead
  • Charles Horton Cooley
  • Herbert Blumer
  • (Erving Goffman)
  • Urban Sociology:
  • Robert Park
  • Ernest Burgess
  • Louis Wirth
  • host of others
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Thinking Sociologically SO3066
  • John Dewey (joined 1893 from Univ. of Michigan) – Psychologist/leading Pragmatist Philosopher

People define things in the world in terms of their use for them, determine their action based on what they understand about things, imagine the consequences of various forms of action, and select the optimal mode of conduct


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Thinking Sociologically SO3066

WI Thomas (joined 1894) – From US – Spent some time in Germany studying Sociology

‘The Definition of the Situation’ : Human beings do not merely react to stimuli they act on the basis of subjectively defining situations and selecting corresponding conduct.

The Thomas Theorem : “if men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences” (Thomas & Thomas 1928:572).



Thinking Sociologically SO3066

  • C.H. Cooley (Sociologist, Univ. of Michigan 1892)
  • ‘self and society are twin born’
  • Cooley & The ‘Looking Glass Self’ - Social Self formed through our interpretation of others’ responses to our self presentation
  • Group Size & Social Cohesion (Primary Groups)



Thinking Sociologically SO3066

  • G.H.Mead & ‘Social Behaviourism’(brought to Chicago from Michigan by Dewey in 1893)
  • Influences: Pragmatism (former student of William James)
  • Darwinism
  • Behaviourism
  • Freudianism
  • Simmel

(1863 -1931)

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Thinking Sociologically SO3066

Society is like an organism (from Darwin)

Humans distinct from other animals (contra Watson)

Act on the basis of meaning (gestures, language)

Self/Society as the outcome of meaningful, ongoing social exchange (see Simmel)

‘…consciousness must be understood as a stream of thought arising in the dynamic relationship between a person and his significant environment’ (Coser, 1979)


Thinking Sociologically SO3066

  • Mead & The Social Self
  • Self only develops through interaction –
  • Preparatory Stage – Imitation
  • Play Stage – Simple Role Play – Adapt to Others Expectations
  • Game Stage – Play Multiple Roles – Adapt to the Expectations of Numerous Others
  • ‘Significant Others’ and ‘Generalised Other’
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Thinking Sociologically SO3066
  • Mead & the Social The Self
  • The ‘I’ – the instinctual, spontaneous part of the self (id?)
  • The ‘Me’ - (the social self) the self as a meaningful ‘object’ that is constructed and reconstructed in interaction and through which action is managed and impulses socialised (ego + superego?)

Thinking Sociologically SO3066

  • Mead & the Social The Self
  • The ‘internal conversation’
  • Role Making – Adopting a particular role in interaction
  • Role Taking – Understanding others by imagining their perspective

Thinking Sociologically SO3066

  • Herbert Blumer & Symbolic Interactionism (student of Mead, Thomas & Park joined faculty in 1928)
  • 1) People are unique –they use symbols
  • 2) We only become human through interaction
  • 3) People are conscious/reflexive actors who shape their own behaviour

(1900 – 1987)


Thinking Sociologically SO3066

  • 4) Only reflexive ongoing interaction is real, not the macro structure. Social life is made up of ‘real-life’ encounters.
  • 5) People act in, and towards, situations and objects –apply meaning to them
  • 6) Understanding social action requires us to understand the meanings behind it
  • Methodological Implications (taking the role of the subject)

Thinking Sociologically SO3066

  • Erving Goffman & Dramaturgy(joined 1952)
  • Society is organised around socially derived routines.
  • Interaction depends on ‘Inferences’ with respect to the characters and situations we encounter. Inferences are based on social knowledge & shared meaning – shared expectations based on shared rules, norms and values (as much Durkheim as Simmel and Mead?)
  • The Situation & The ‘Stage’



Thinking Sociologically SO3066

  • Goffman’s Dramaturgical Metaphor:
  • ‘Masks’, Roles & Characters
  • Impression Management
  • Social Scripts
  • Back Stage/Front Stage
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Thinking Sociologically SO3066

Chicago School - The Urban Sociologists

Robert Park

Ernest Burgess

Louis Wirth

& host of others

The Method & The Studies

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Thinking Sociologically SO3066
  • Ecological approach to understanding cities – cities as ‘organisms’ (Darwinian adaptation again)
  • Individuals and Groups adapt to their environment and compete for space in the city
  • Dominant groups displace weaker groups
  • Landscape of the city reflects ongoing competition for space and resources
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Thinking Sociologically SO3066
  • Robert Ezra Park (joined 1914 – previously studied under Simmel)
  • First chair in sociology in Chicago - worked under Simmel in Europe
  • ‘Biotics’
  • ‘Natural areas’ of the city
  • The city as a mosaic
  • The ‘melting pot’

(1864 – 1944)

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Thinking Sociologically SO3066
  • Ernest Burgess (student – joined as faculty member 1916)
  • Differentiation of groups in the city
  • City mapping of zones
  • Zones identify outcome of competition, land use, residency and processes of social stratification

(1886 – 1966)

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Thinking Sociologically SO3066
  • Louis Wirth (German (Jewish) émigré - joined 1931)
  • ‘Urbanism as a Way of Life’
  • Scale & Density
  • Primary & Secondary Relations
  • Social Disorganisation

(1897 – 1952)

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Thinking Sociologically SO3066
  • Chicago Methodology:
  • Participant observation in ‘natural areas’
  • Small town life
  • Biography
  • Interviews (first and second-hand)
  • Quantitative and Qualitative
  • Statistics, mapping,
  • Case analysis
  • School records, agency records, institutional accounts, newspaper reports, diaries life histories
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Thinking Sociologically SO3066
  • (some) Ethnographies:
  • ‘The Polish Peasant’ (Thomas and Znaniecki, 1918)
  • The Hobo’ (Anderson, 1923)
  • ‘The Gang’ (Thrasher, 1927)
  • The Gold Coast and The Slum (Zorbaugh 1929)
  • ‘The Jack Roller’ (Shaw, 1930)
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Thinking Sociologically SO3066
  • The Legacy:
  • Giddens
  • Contemporary Symbolic Interactionism – making a comeback? (Plummer, Denzin, Hochschild, Brewer)
  • Studies of small town life
  • Close, intimate studies
  • Participant observation
  • Case studies
  • Multiple methods