History of Sociology: Modern Sociology Research Paper Starter

History of Sociology: Modern Sociology

While nineteenth century sociology, also known as classical sociology, developed primarily in Europe, early twentieth century sociology emerged and developed as an influential discipline primarily in North America. The early modern American tradition of sociology was characterized by a focus on individualistic perspectives rather than social classes as a whole. The University of Chicago and Columbia University were among the first schools to create sociology departments, and their faculties, in conjunction with various professional societies, played a major role in shaping and defining the field. The influence of classical sociology on early twentieth century sociology can be seen in the latter's concern for discovering the universal laws of society and using the scientific method to investigate social phenomena.

Keywords Chicago School of Sociology; Giddings, Franklin; Industrialization; Small, Albion; Social Economy; Social Reform; Spencer, Herbert; Sumner, William; Urbanization; Ward, Lester

Modern Sociology


This essay encompasses the sociological theory and practice of the first half of the twentieth century. While nineteenth century sociology, also known as classical sociology, developed primarily in Europe, early twentieth century sociology emerged and developed as an influential discipline primarily in North America. The early modern American tradition of sociology was characterized by a focus on individualistic perspectives rather than social classes as a whole. European sociology, on the other hand, remained rather static during the early twentieth century due to the control exerted by Europe's totalitarian regimes and conservative universities. In the early twentieth century, communist rule in Europe labeled sociology as a bourgeois discipline and banned it in order to institute the study of Marxist ideology. For example, during the 1920s and 1930s at many universities and institutes in Russia, Belarus, and the Ukraine, sociology courses were replaced by courses on historical materialism and scientific communism (Keen & Mucha 2004).

The history of modern sociology, including the socio-political influences and key theorists that shaped the field's development, is vital background knowledge for all those interested in the discipline of sociology, as well as social theory as a whole. This article explains the history of modern sociology in three parts:

• An overview of developments in modern sociology.

• A description of the ways in which twentieth century social theorists influenced the development of modern sociology.

• A discussion of the influence of classical sociology on modern sociology.

Developments in Modern Sociology

The first half of the twentieth century was marked by war and urbanization. In the global context, World War I (1914-1918) and World War II (1939-1945) caused millions of casualties, the refiguring of national boundaries and national identities, and the development of international governing bodies to promote diplomatic solutions over warfare. While the world wars stalled the development of classical sociology in European academies, the discipline developed at a rapid pace in North America.

Modern sociology began in North America in the late nineteenth century, and North American sociology was quickly institutionalized and incorporated into academic departments. Sociology became a recognized academic disciple in the late 1890s when American universities began teaching sociology and sociology departments were established. Sociology books, courses, and university departments became common in America during late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (Sorokin 1929). The establishment of the American Sociological Society in 1905 marked the beginning of a uniquely North American sociology, which was characterized by individualism and a focus on individual behavior rather than social classes as a whole. This concern for the individual facilitated the collection of statistical data on individuals and subsequent quantitative analysis.

In the 1890s, sociologist Albion Small established the sociology program at the University of Chicago, and, five years later, the university began publishing, the American Journal of Sociology . The University of Chicago's sociology program, known as the Chicago School of Sociology, was popular for its studies of urban-life, minorities, and conflict. With its qualitative focus, the Chicago School was the center of American sociology for much of the early twentieth century. Its urban focus was a continuation of the European sociology tradition that emerged largely as a response to nineteenth century industrialization and urbanization.

Similarly, sociologist Franklin Giddings established the sociology department at Columbia University in the 1890s. The Columbia program, with its quantitative focus, is credited with training the first generation of sociological statisticians and demographers. Statistics became a central sociological methodology during the modern period, and statistics, along with other quantitative methods, bolstered the scientific nature of early American sociology.

By the early twentieth century both reformist sociology, lead by sociologist Lester Ward, and a conservative, classically inspired branch of sociological thought had emerged. Social reformers began using sociological perspectives and applied research methods to promote social change and social justice. They embraced the field of sociology and came to depend on sociological research, such as urban and rural community studies, to illustrate and prove the existence and scope of social problems. This movement, which was coupled very closely with social work and social reform, had as its mission the improvement of social ethics for all individuals and social progress for all societies. At the same time, other sociologists focused on developing new research methodologies.

Modern sociology moved into mainstream American thought and practice in the early twentieth century; the American government even incorporated sociological research methods into its census and criminology operations. For example, in the 1920s the United States Department of Agriculture undertook sociological research in rural communities throughout the US, and the US Census borrowed sociological methods to learn more about the population through interviews, questionnaires, and data analysis. The US government also hired sociologists during the New Deal era to expand knowledge about social needs and behaviors across sections of society. Additionally, sociologists worked for the US government during World War II to strengthen military performance, as well as develop plans to integrate troops back into society after the war was over (Turner 1990).

Further Insights

Early Twentieth Century Intellectuals

Social theorists of the early twentieth century studied the effects of urbanization, the impact of capitalism, the centralization of authority, the impact of inequality, changes in production methods, and factors in population growth. Four theorist are recognized as the founders of American sociology: Lester Ward, Albion Small, William Sumner, and Franklin Giddings. These theorists, along with other notable sociologists including Robert Park, Louis Wirth, Edward C. Hayes, Ferdinand Tonnies, Pitirim A. Sorokin, Ernest W. Burgess, and William F. Ogburn, shaped the theories, methodologies, and direction of modern sociology.

Lester F. Ward

Lester Ward (1841-1913) was the first president of the American Sociological Association. Ward's best-known work, Dynamic Sociology (1883), encouraged sociologists to embrace experimentation and the scientific method in their research. Later works included Pure Sociology (1902) and Applied Sociology (1906). Ward's sociology was based on a theory of social change. He opposed Herbert Spencer's theory of social Darwinism and his "survival of the fittest" doctrine. According to Ward, and his three laws of social dynamics, people and races could rise above the cultural position into which they were born. And, in opposition to Spencer, he promoted the idea that a science of society could and should be used to address social ills like poverty and foster individuals' happiness and freedom. He was also a strong proponent for equal rights for women.

For much of his life, Ward worked as a civil servant at institutions such as the Federal Bureau of Statistics, the Bureau of Standards, the Census Bureau, and the Bureau of Immigration. He held positions such as Chief of the Division of Navigation and Immigration in the Treasury Department, and Assistant Geologist, Chief Geologist, and Paleontologist at the United States Geological Survey. He also served as a Union soldier in the Civil War, and held academic posts at Brown University. Throughout his life, Ward called for an increase in the state's role in society, arguing that the state represented society and society's interest and was charged with protecting the needs of all of social classes, not just those of the ruling class (Alexander, 1968).

Albion W. Small

Albion Small (1854-1926) founded the first accredited department of sociology in an American university at the University of Chicago, as well as the American Journal of Sociology . The "Chicago School of Sociology," as the University of Chicago sociology department became known, was the center of North American sociology during the first half of the twentieth century. Through the works of its various faculty, it developed a theoretical basis for the systematic study of society. Small is also notable for using the American Journal of Sociology to, in part, promote the work of progressive feminists such as Jane Addams, Florence Kelley, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, despite these women's lack of...

(The entire section is 4360 words.)