How would one write a historical sketch of sociological theory in the United states, including such theories as those pertaining to the Chicago School of Sociology, women sociologist(s), black...

How would one write a historical sketch of sociological theory in the United states, including such theories as those pertaining to the Chicago School of Sociology, women sociologist(s), black sociologist(s), multicultural theorists, etc.? 

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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The first step to writing a historical sketch of sociological theory in the United States is to give a brief history and explanation of each theory. Next, you want to remember that theories build on each other and sometimes contradict each other. Therefore, as you look into the history of each theory, you want to think about how each theory is connected, how one theory led to another theory, and be sure to explain this in your sketch as well. If theories were developed in contradiction to other theories, you'll also want to show this relationship in your sketch. In other words, your sketch will be more than just a report of each sociological theory. It will show the history of development by showing how one theory led to another and how they all interrelate. The following are some ideas to help get you started.

The Chicago School of Sociology was America's very first department of sociology and founded at the University of Chicago in 1892 by Albion Small. Due to Small's deep involvement in social reform, the school became involved in progressive social reforms, such as Jane Addams's Hull House project, the nation's first settlement house, and its research focused on studying oppressed groups. W. I. Thomas, one of Small's colleagues, is known for developing social theories reflective of the school. In particular, he and Florian Znaniecki (1918) co-authored a study considered to be one of the most "definitive sociological studies," titled The Polish Peasant in Europe and America: Monograph of an Immigrant Group (The University of Chicago, "Sociology"). In the study, Thomas developed what is called disorganization theory.

Thomas's disorganization theory analyzes the effects of a new city environment when immigrants, like Polish immigrants, move from a purely agricultural environment in their native country to a purely city environment in the host country. Disorganization theory asserts that a city environment is a strong enough force to make completely irrelevant the "structures, relationships, and norms" an immigrant knew in his/her homeland (as cited in Lutters, W. & Ackerman, M., "An Introduction to the Chicago School of Sociology," University of Maryland, Baltimore County). The immigrant is forced to significantly change relationships to fit the new environment or to relinquish them completely and build new relationships, which is very traumatic. Thomas's disorganization theory led researchers of the Chicago School to continue studying what factors made the transition easier for some immigrant groups as opposed to others and reach the conclusion that "stable constants" make the transition possible, such as local synagogues, local churches, and other immigrants from the same village (Lutters & Ackerman).  

Disorganization theory and revelations that followed allowed sociologists to see that immigrants, who are also minorities, were being oppressed.  In addition, seeing that minorities need stable cultural constants to be able to survive a new culture allows sociologists to see that minorities need to hold on to their cultural differences and that these differences should be celebrated rather than opposed. Hence, the development of disorganization theory is only a small step away from the development of multiculturalism.

Multiculturalism is a theory that developed in the 20th century in response to moments that have raised awareness about the treatment of minorities, such as the Nazi's treatment of Jews and other minorities during World War I, the growing influx of immigrants in different countries, and the Civil Rights Movement. The theory asserts that more than just tolerance of different ethnic minority groups is needed to ensure that these groups are treated as equal citizens. Instead, such groups need to be recognized as having differences and be accommodated for these differences in positive ways. Multiculturalism challenges democracies, which assert that all citizens should be treated equally but that citizenship should be seen as culturally homogeneous. Multiculturalism argues that since cultural differences among citizens exist, the democratic perspective of equality really only ignores the fact that genuine inequality continues to exist. To establish equal rights, many multiculturalists argue for self-governance of cultural groups (Encyclopaedia Britannica, "Multiculturalism").

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