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The Canadian Review of Amencan Studies, Volume IO. Number I, Spring, 1979 Department of Knowledge: The Construction of Sociology Gilman A1. Ostrander FredH. Matthews. Quest for an American Sociology: Rohe1tPark and the Chicago School. Montreal and Kingston: McG1ll-Queen's lJniversity Press. I977. 278 + ix pp. Inthe academic world oflate nineteenth and early twentieth-century America, the revolt against formalism was accompanied by the entrenchment into disciplines. In an open-ended, relativistic, evolutionary intellectual world, academic scholars sought a measure of order and security in the compartmentalization of knowledge, the delimitation of subject matters and the codification of appropriate methodologies. Autonomous departments were not created overnight however. Certain of the early rebels against formalism, such as Sumner, James, Veblen and Dewey, ranged at will beyond the confines of a particular department. Furthermore, in the early years, when fledgling university departments were composed of but a few scholars each, interdepartmental collaboration and interchange appear to have happened almost naturally without requiring pressure from deans or negotiations through interdepartmental committees. The long-range tendency was nevertheless toward departmental hegemonies over segments of subject matter and toward distinctive methodological approaches to knowledge which served to isolate scholars within their disciplines, even while increasing the sophistication with which they approached their particular areas of study. Among the emerging social sciences, sociology was the newest conception with the least-well-defined image of itself. Fred H. Matthews', Quest/or an AmericanSociology: Robert E. Park and the Chicago School, indicates the peculiar difficulty the discipline labored under in its early years. The special ~ubject matter of sociology in the early decades, Matthews writes, "was a 56 Gilman M. Ostrander residual category, or more exactly, two residual categories at extreme ends of a spectrum between concreteness and abstraction ... the study of verv specific 'social problems' - so christened by the common sense of rightthinking citizens -which were gladly excluded by the slightly older disciplines ," on the one hand, and on the other, "the taxonomic problem of society as a whole, the endeavor to define and establish categories by which the total structure and relations of a human population having common bonds could be described" (p. 91). Albion Small, who created the world's first Department of Sociology, established at the University of Chicago in 1892, later recalled that "the Sociologists started out with the conviction that there was something for them to study, then went out to find it" (p. 91). And after they had found it and stakedI out the territory, they had to be prepared to defend it against academic rivals.: Howard W. Odum writes that Small "devoted most of his later life to the task of justifying his pioneering in sociology, and, like a Frederick Jackson Turner. in history, to defining American sociology as a new frontier." And then OdumĀ· goes on to dramatize the pioneers of American sociology as "frontiersmen.. breaking new grounds, clearing new vistas, blazing new trails, discovering ne11 areas, def ending themselves from attack, pushing on again and founding ne11 : dynasties with their students and followers." 1 Small, who had originally trained for the ministry, viewed sociology asthe. lineal successor to moral philosophy and consequently as rightful queen ofthe! social sciences. This was a claim which could hardly be successfully main-' tained without a struggle, and the discipline of sociology in its early yeari produced a doughty breed of professors. 2 Robert Park was of this breed, and at the University of Chicago, as well as in the city of Chicago as a whole, he was in his element. As a recognizably distinct branch of knowledge, sociology had originated chiefly in the writings of a few nineteenth-century European intellectuals. M an institutionalized field of study, on the other hand, it originated in America in the emergent universities of the Gilded Age and the Progressive Era. especially in the newer institutions of the Midwest and preeminently at the University of Chicago. Chicago dominated academic sociology down to the eve of the second world war, much as Columbia University dominated academic anthropology. Columbia anthropology was recognizably the handiĀ· work of Franz Boas, together with the students he trained to perpetuate hii system. Chicago sociology was, by contrast, a group effort. When Small...


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