Prejudice Theory: Bogardus & the Social Distance Scale Research Paper Starter

Prejudice Theory: Bogardus & the Social Distance Scale

The following article provides a summary of the work of sociologist Emory Bogardus, focusing on his contributions to the study of race relations and racial prejudice. Although Bogardus made many contributions to the field in general—he began an academic journal and a student honor society, for example—he is best known for the development of the social distance scale. The social and historical origins of the scale, its technical development, and its application to the study of early twentieth-century race relations are discussed. Recent research using the scale is also introduced, as are some of the philosophical and methodological critiques.

Keywords Attitudes; Prejudice; Race; Racial Distance; Social Distance; Social Distance Scale

Prejudice Theory: Bogardus


Emory Bogardus's contribution to sociology was immense. In 1911, after graduating with his doctorate from the University of Chicago, Bogardus accepted a teaching position at the University of Southern California. Just four years later, he was asked to found and chair the department of sociology. He continued to lead the department for over thirty years and served as a full-time faculty member for forty-two years. But Bogardus was a leader outside USC as well; in 1916, he created and became editor of the second sociological journal, Sociological Monographs, which today is known as the Journal of Applied Sociology. He founded Alpha Kappa Delta, a sociological honor society whose aim was to identify undergraduate and graduate students who demonstrated promise in the social sciences (Bogardus, 1956). None of these achievements, however, brought him as much notoriety as his contribution to the study of race relations. It was his interest in the relationship between social groups, particularly social groups of different ethnic and language origins, and his accompanying development of the social distance scale for which he became well-known.

Bogardus first developed the social distance scale in 1925 as part of a larger cooperative study of race relations, led by colleague Robert Park. The impact of the scale was due in part to the fact that Bogardus continued to use it beyond its original intent. With the help of over 25 professors at various universities across the country, Bogardus administered the scale every ten years, from 1926 to 1966, making it one of the first longitudinal studies of "America's experience with diversity and difference" (Wark & Galliher, 2007). In addition, Bogardus's social distance scale was one of the first scales developed to measure attitudes. Campbell (1952) writes, "Only the Harper test of liberalism-conservatism is older among attitude tests that have been used beyond the research in which they were originally presented" (as cited in Wark & Galliher, 2007, p. 391). Bogardus (1947) described competing measurements this way: "Many so-called attitude tests are not much more than personal opinion tests. But [social distance] measures something more deep-seated than a person's opinions—if not his attitudes then something very similar to attitudes" (p. 309). The social distance scale continues to be used today in a variety of academic disciplines, including education, psychology, political science, and sociology, and with a variety of different social groups, such as individuals with disabilities, occupational groups, religious sects, and ethnic groups. As Wark and Galliher (2007) conclude, "the Social Distance Scale has…had a profound influence on the landscape of American sociology" (p. 393).

Development of the Social Distance Scale

Before taking a closer look at the scale itself, it might be worthwhile to pause and investigate the contexts—both Bogardus's personal experiences as well as the broader academic and cultural landscape—in which the scale was developed. Wark and Galliher (2007) attempt to show, for example, that "the invention of the Bogardus Social Distance Scale was the result of a unique convergence of biographical and historical circumstances" (p. 393). First and foremost, around the same time Bogardus was being educated and starting to teach, America was beginning to pay more attention to race relations. African Americans were migrating north in larger numbers, and while they did not face the same legal barriers there as in the South, they were not treated on equal terms with whites either. In addition, a second wave of immigrants flooded the country, and unlike their predecessors, they were largely non-Protestant and/or Asian. In 1913, for example, just after Bogardus joined USC, California passed a law prohibiting Chinese and Japanese people from land ownership. In his own words, Bogardus (1931) explains, "There was not much cooperative research in the social-science fields on the Pacific Coast before 1923. In that year, however, culture conflicts between Orientals and Americans reached a climax of intensity up and down the Coast. It was this conflict that gave the setting for an extensive piece of [cooperative race-relations research]" (p. 563).

America's increasing interest in race was also shared by academics. Prior to this time, scholars paid the subject little attention; if race was studied, it was typically in an attempt to validate the different mental abilities of people of varying ethnic backgrounds. Indeed, "at the beginning of the 20th century the flagship journal of the profession was the American Journal of Sociology. It published only one article per year on [race] issues. For this generation of sociologists, racial conflict was considered inevitable" (Wark & Galliher, 2007, p. 386). At the University of Chicago, where Bogardus earned his doctorate, scholars began questioning the idea that mental abilities varied by race and started studying attitudes and prejudices toward racial and ethnic groups instead. Written evidence of Bogardus's personal interest in race relations can be found in his 1922 publication A History of Social Thought, predating the development of the scale. He identified race relations as one of the major social problems confronting Americans (Wark & Galliher, 2007). Bogardus's interest in race, however, was not purely academic. He was motivated to use his knowledge to improve social conditions for all Americans.

Bogardus's interest in social reform fit well with the prevailing mindset of early 20th-century sociologists. The discipline's interest in reform, however, came at the expense of its academic reputation. Specifically, sociology was viewed as unscientific and subjective (Wark & Galliher, 2007). As Bogardus entered the profession, it was making a concerted effort to reshape itself into a social science, with a focus on objectivity and research. As Bannister (1987) writes, Bogardus's social distance scale was one manifestation of the "1920s craze for measurement" (as cited in Wark & Galliher, 2007, p. 388).

The Social Distance Scale

Specifically, the early twentieth-century relations between the immigrant Japanese and West Coast Caucasian Americans set the stage for the development of the social distance scale. Bogardus (1931) explains, "While a number of Americans were openly expressing prejudice against the Orientals, there were other Americans who felt that the Japanese were being unjustifiably insulted. [The latter] urged that an investigation of the problem be made, feeling that a scientific inquiry would undermine much of the unfair tactics of those opposed to the Japanese" (p. 563). The Institute of Social and Religious Research in New York City hired Dr. Robert Park of the University of Chicago to head the study; he in turn hired Bogardus for the specific purpose of developing a quantitative measure of racial attitudes. Bogardus explained that they used the generic title "race relations survey," with specific inclusion of the term "survey," for conventional reasons and to present a face of objectivity and scientific methodology. More surreptitiously, he had "undertaken the tabooed procedure of penetrating hidden subjective fields of experience and their resultant attitudes…and attempted to make those attitudes … measurable" (p. 567).

Thus, it was important to Bogardus to make a distinction between "thinking" and "feeling" and to keep the goal of "attitude measurement" in the forefront of his mind as he developed the social distance scale (Bogardus, 1947). Social distance, he argued, focuses on the feeling reactions of people toward another individual or group of people. Feelings, he explained, are "spontaneous expressions of the autonomic nervous system to whatever is happening in the organism. They are expressions in part of the urge for security" (p. 306). Importantly, Bogardus (1947) believed that feelings were indicative of attitudes and that they might shed more light on attitudes than anything except actual behavior, hence their predictive power. The challenge in the implementation of the scale was to capture the respondent's "first feeling reaction." In other words, Bogardus asked respondents to complete the scale "without thinking." "Feeling reactions," he wrote, "indicate how a person would express himself toward his fellows if he acted 'without thinking,' 'just the way he feels,' and without regard to politeness, social amenities, or his own status" (Bogardus, 1947, p. 307).

Before jumping into the nuances of how the scale was administered, however, its development should be discussed first. Bogardus asked 100 people—faculty members and graduate and undergraduate students— to rate 60 statements according to the social distance each statement described. The types of relationships described by the statements—"all of which were heard in ordinary conversations where a person was expressing himself about other persons," Bogardus explained—included contacts with family members, political groups, occupational groups, and recreational groups (Bogardus, 1933, p. 265). Some sample statements were:

• Would have as chums;

• Would have as my pastor, or religious guide;

• Would invite to my home;

• Would take as guests on automobile trips;

• Would dance with in public regularly.

Each person was asked to place each statement into one of seven social distance categories, with 1 representing the least amount of social distance and 7 representing the greatest amount of social distance. Bogardus computed means for each statement; those having means nearest the whole numbers from 1 to 7 were selected to represent the seven nearly equidistant social distance situations. The final seven social...

(The entire section is 4637 words.)