Journal of Policy History 12.3 (2000) 405-412
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Seeing Pittsburgh: The Social Survey, the Survey Workers, and the Historians
Mary O. Furner
Maurine W. Greenwald and Margo Anderson, eds., Pittsburgh Surveyed: Social Science and Social Reform in the Early Twentieth Century. (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1996). Pp xi, 292. $49.95 cl., $22.95 pb.
At the high tide of urban Progressivism in 1907, an intrepid band of social investigators arrived in Pittsburgh, intent on riding the crest of a reform spirit taking hold there and turning the city into a laboratory for diagnosing the ills of modern industrial society. Funded by the Russell Sage Foundation, researchers such as Paul U. Kellogg, John Commons, John A. Fitch, Crystal Eastman, and Margaret Byington adapted a survey model pioneered by Charles Booth, W. E. B. DuBois, and the women at Hull House to the new purpose of assessing empirically the impact of capitalist industrialization on working-class families, urban conditions and governance, and class relations in the home office of the nation's most oligarchic industrial organizations U.S. Steel. A major event in the history of efforts to provide a knowledge base for social policy, and a valued source for labor, social, intellectual, institutional, and policy historians, the six-volume Pittsburgh Survey is the subject of a collaborative analysis, pulled together by Maurine Greenwald and Margo Anderson, whose thirteen authors give a far more nuanced picture of municipal reform at "The Point" than the one provided years ago by Samuel Hays, dean of Pittsburgh historians, in his landmark "Politics of Reform in Municipal Government."
The editors acknowledge candidly that the authors reached no agreement on how to view the Pittsburgh Survey. Indeed, perhaps without their authors fully realizing it, the articles in this collection provide a retrospective on different ways of interrogating such a source tried out since the 1970s, when [End Page 405] a new appreciation for the need to recognize the indeterminate, contingent, and constructed character of all forms of knowledge transformed the history of the social sciences and suggested the need for a more comprehensive and conceptually nuanced history of social investigation. The three lead papers by Martin Bulmer, Stephen Turner, and Steven R. Cohen illustrate three contrasting and ultimately contradictory approaches to the history of social investigation. A sociologist and co-editor of a recent volume on social surveys, Bulmer contains his analysis of the Pittsburgh Survey within the history of the social science disciplines, comparing Survey workers' motives and methods unfavorably to those in the rising academic discipline of sociology to explain why, as he sees it, the social survey movement had relatively little influence. Turner, a philosopher interested in theory and methods in social science, defines the Survey as a chapter in the history of expertise--its cultivation by an educated middle class and its application to the problems of the poor and unfortunate in a way that enhanced the authority of experts, often at the expense of authority more conventionally rooted in property and citizenship. For Cohen, a historian of social knowledge, the Pittsburgh Survey takes on meaning as an aspect of the history of liberalism, part of the long process of ideological construction and contestation that defined the character, institutions, and social consequences of modern corporate capitalism. The remaining chapters focus on two main subjects: how the Survey constructed the new industrial capitalism's impact on family welfare, urban space, community politics, the environment, and local governance; and how and why particular Survey workers portrayed specific social groups such as women, African Americans, and immigrants the way they did. A fairly sophisticated approach to "representation" runs through the volume, and the topical chapters often underscore one or another of the overarching approaches to the history of social investigation in the service of reform identified above.
Reflecting on these contrasting approaches provides an opportunity to review how far we have come in our attempts to construct a new history of social knowledge. Bulmer begins with the useful premise that different and competing strands of social investigation...