American Sociology Research Paper

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All histories are written from a particular perspective, time, and place, and are therefore partial and incomplete. To paraphrase Albion Small (1916:721–22), the history of sociology has less to do with facts and even ideas than it does with the context of those facts and the reasons for particular thoughts. As suggested by the recent volume Diverse Histories of American Sociology (Blasi 2005), the histories of North American sociology have been written from diverse perspectives and contexts, but always with the conviction that expanding the knowledge of its history would provide a greater and more sophisticated understanding of the discipline and its complexities (House 1936; Bottomore and Nisbet 1978; Bulmer 1984; Ross 1991).

The Varieties of Histories of Sociology

Albion Small (1854–1926), one of the key founders of American sociology, produced several historical accounts of the discipline, including “Fifty Years of Sociology in the United States (1865–1915)” (1916) and Origins of Sociology (1924). Small (1924) maintained that sociology “came into existence as an organic part of this maturing of social science as a whole . . . Sociology is a normal advance of human thought from less developed to more developed dealings with human reality” (pp. 14–15). He recognized that the work of building sociology was done also by those outside of, or marginal within, academe who wished to explore the social world, to understand it, to answer questions, and to solve social problems. “Indeed,” Small remarks, “there is the wherewithal for a brilliant Doctor’s dissertation on the subject ‘Sociology outside the Ranks of the Sociologists’” (p. 15). Small credited especially German sociology and philosophy as a watershed for the evolution or development of a social and historical selfconsciousness in sociology, reflecting especially his own training and perspective. In addition, Small recognized how the history of sociology is shaped and influenced by factors of politics, nationality, and ethnicity (p. 19), and, we would add, race and gender. He asserted that an understanding of our discipline and its accumulated knowledge in whatever period requires an understanding of its history.

Nearly half a century later, Howard W. Odum (1951) began his history of American sociology reiterating and extending Small’s point of view, reminding the reader of (1) the distinct history produced by each epoch, (2) the need for young sociologists to understand the history of sociology, (3) the dynamics of technological, economic, and social changes creating the context for the development of sociology, (4) North American sociology’s roots in European as well as American culture, and (5) the expectations for sociology in the future. In his detailed and useful history, Odum takes an institutional approach to tell “the Story of Sociology in the United States through 1950.”

Various approaches to the historical narrative of sociology have followed the early histories by Albion Small, including Harry Elmer Barnes’s (1948) classic edited compendium, An Introduction to the History of Sociology, which views the topic through the sociologies of individuals who were pioneers (Comte, Spencer, Morgan, Sumner, Ward, Gumplowicz, German sociologists, non-German Europeans, English, and finally American). J. H. Abraham in The Origins and Growth of Sociology (1977) similarly looks at individual figures through a periodization from Plato and Ibn Khaldun to twentieth-century America and modern Europe. A voluminous and detailed account of the history of American sociology is L. L. Bernard and Jessie Bernard’s ([1943] 1965) Origins of American Sociology: The Social Science Movement in the United States, which relates the rise of sociology to the social science movement, associationism, the impact of Comte and positivism, quantification, and sociology’s emergence as a positive science.

Heinz Maus (1962) in A Short History of Sociology examines the history of sociology internationally from the nineteenth century to modern times. In analytical chapters, Maus considers how “American Sociology Faces Reality” and “American Sociological Theory and Teaching” in which he discusses the impact of the work of Park, Burgess, and Thomas and Znaniecki, as well as the influence of cultural anthropology on early American sociology. He notes that sociology in America has been significantly more influenced by social psychology than in other countries, that American social research has tended toward the quantitative and therefore away from history, but that the migration of European sociologists and social scientists to America in the 1930s and 1940s had a remarkable influence on the development of social theory and social research.

Jennifer Platt’s (1996) A History of Sociological Research Methods in America, 1920–1960, is a comprehensive and well-contextualized analysis of research methods in American sociology in the twentieth century. Neil Smelser’s (2003) “Sociology: Spanning Two Centuries” combines a historical view of sociology’s development in the twentieth century with insightful projections about the movement of sociology in the new millennium. Histories of the American Sociological Association (ASA) by Lawrence Rhoades (1981) and Katherine J. Rosich (2005) focus on the umbrella organization of American sociology. Other histories may be found that focus more specifically on subdisciplines, specific areas of study, academic departments, and professional organizations. A Centennial Bibliography of the History of American Sociology by Michael R. Hill, a comprehensive and well-developed research tool, was prepared for the 2005 Centennial Celebration of the ASA.

The Origins and Early Development of North American Sociology

The rise of sociology in the United States was not the result of a straightforward transplantation of European ideas to American soil. To be sure, early American sociologists drew upon the European legacy, but they did so selectively, in some cases critically, and adapted European ideas to American experience and conditions. In addition, some streams of thought, for example, pragmatism, appeared to arise from distinctive aspects of the nineteenthcentury American context in the decades following the Civil War.

The European Legacy

In common with the other social sciences, sociology traces its modern intellectual lineage to the eighteenthcentury Enlightenments of France, Germany, and Britain. It was in these contexts that both general and specific social sciences were first proposed and foundational ideas advanced. Of particular significance was the idea of distinguishing between state and society, including the assumption that state forms were malleable and contingent, subject to human design, whereas societies included both malleable and more or less permanent features resistant to human intervention or wholesale change.

Baron de Montesquieu pioneered a sociological approach to the classification and study of societies focusing on their social laws and institutional organization. Condorcet, his successor, extended the goal of the scientific study of society with a strong commitment to the idea of progress. In Germany, Immanuel Kant developed a synthetic view of knowledge showing the necessity of both rational and empirical aspects of any possible science. J. G. Herder developed the idea of societies as coterminous with cultures that could be understood as unified wholes based on common language and living patterns. In Scotland, Adam Smith pioneered the idea of making specific human institutions and processes, for instance, the division of labor, objects of new “moral sciences.” Adam Ferguson and John Millar called specific attention to the significance of social rank or stratification as an object of study. In all of these cases, human societies, institutions, and practices were regarded as objects of systematic observation without recourse to theological speculation or nonnaturalistic modes of explanation. At the same time, the Enlightenment philosophers shared the view that increases in our knowledge and understanding of human societies and social processes could be expected to lead to the improvement of society and hence of human welfare. By the end of the eighteenth century, the way had been prepared for the establishment of social sciences as specific disciplines with defined frames of analysis and inquiry.

Taking their cue from Condorcet, both Henri de SaintSimon and Auguste Comte worked out ideas for a new science of society to be called sociology. This new science was to comprise both rational and empirical methods in the study of both structural (social statics) and processual (social dynamics) aspects of society. Above all, this new science was to contribute to our knowledge of human social evolution and to the improvement of human societies by the application of sociological knowledge to social life. Comte set forth his detailed vision and program of sociology in his six-volume work Cours de philosophie positive, 1830–1842.

During the nineteenth century, the formative center of gravity of the new field of sociology shifted from France to England. First of all, the promulgation of Comte’s ideas for sociology became the project of Harriet Martineau, the English political-economist and writer whose 1853 translation remains the standard version (Martineau 1853). Martineau, who in 1838 declined a publisher’s invitation to preside over the establishment of a new journal of sociology, published over 70 volumes of essays and research over the next several decades on topical questions of the period, such as the effects of industrialization, occupational and social change, urbanization, work and work conditions, socialization, race relations, women’s roles, to name but a few (Hill and HoeckerDrysdale 2001; Hoecker-Drysdale 1992). Especially noteworthy were her empirical and critical macro-studies of American society based on extensive fieldwork, direct observation, and interviews conducted over a two-year period; her contributions to the public discourse concerning the abolition of slavery; and her analysis of the subjugation of women (Martineau 2004). Her How to Observe Morals and Manners, 1838, the first treatise on methodology in sociology, provides still valuable instruction for researchers (Martineau 1989).

The theoretical development of the social sciences was aided by John Stuart Mill, whose 1843 work, A System of Logic, outlined methodological ideas for the social sciences. Herbert Spencer wrote several influential books on sociology, including Social Statics, 1851, The Study of Sociology, 1873, and The Principles of Sociology, 1882. Spencer made extensive use of biological, especially organismic, analogies in his analysis of society (“society is an organism”), and is best known as a theorist of societal evolution paralleling the Darwinian model.

The Emergence of American Sociology: 1850–1890

Not unlike the situation in Britain and Europe, American sociology emerged out of a number of influences: the prevalence of, and interest in, political economy; concern with social problems, including poverty with increasing urbanization; workers’ situations in nineteenthcentury industrialization (Martineau, Florence Kelley, Edith Abbott); a strong interest in the methodologies of social research (Martineau, Spencer, Comte, Durkheim, Charles Booth, Beatrice, and Sidney Webb); empirical investigations of families and workers (Booth, the Webbs, Jane Addams, Florence Kelley, and others); the increasing use of ecological and statistical analyses (Booth, Durkheim, Kelley, and Clara Collett); analyses of gender and class (Thorstein Veblen, Max Weber, the Webbs, C. P. Gilman, and Lester Ward) and race relations (Martineau, W. E. B. Du Bois, Annie Julia Cooper, Ida B. WellsBarnett, Mary Church Tyrell, and Fannie Barrier Williams).

Generally, sociology’s early figures practiced sociology as a response to the societal needs and problems, serious questions and issues about social change in urban industrial contexts, and the desire to know more about the social factors affecting people’s lives. However, sociology was struggling for recognition as a positive science based on empirical observation, a progressive accumulation of facts, and provable theories. By the end of the second period in America, around 1920, sociology’s history became regarded as anachronistic and unimportant, except, of course, for some, like Albion Small, who were committed to this aspect of sociology. New theories, concepts, and methodologies were seen to stand on their own, as abstract tools of timeless meaning. The various debates and tensions between theory and empiricism became pronounced by the mid-twentieth century in America. Today, however, in the early twenty-first century, though tensions remain, the history of sociology is acknowledged as essential to our understanding of sociology; to the critique of our research goals, tools, and findings; and to suggestions for new directions in our research.

The impetus for the rise of sociology in North America, first in the United States and later in Canada, was provided by a number of developments. First, a major influence among the North American founders of sociology, academic and nonacademic, was their philanthropic and humanistic, even moralistic, concerns. American Protestant ministers and/or offspring of ministers whose concern for the effects of the experiences of immigration, urbanization, industrialization, and accompanying dislocation, poverty, family disorganization, and crime combined an interest in exploring and understanding these developments with a desire to find solutions to society’s problems. In the same way, women and black Americans were pursuing research to address social issues and problems of gender and race. “In short, like every other distinct thought-phenomenon, the American sociological movement was a child of its time” (Small 1916:724). Small points out that this quest to understand societal problems was prevalent as early as the mid-nineteenth century (pp. 723–24). The American Civil War and its Jim Crow aftermath created the realization that “work was ahead to bring American conditions into tolerable likeness to American ideals” (p. 725). Harriet Martineau had concluded in her antebellum studies of America that the contradictions between stated American values and the realities of race and gender discrimination and subjugation posed a grave danger to the social fabric of American society, and indeed to the survival of the young republic (Martineau 2004).

In their analysis of American sociology, Stephen Turner and Jonathan Turner (1990) emphasize the moral concerns, in large part fueled by abolitionist values and activities that fed into reform movements and professional organizations during and after the Civil War. Many reformers recognized that these provided more efficacious avenues for improvement in human affairs than political parties. The authors further point to the fact that this interesting relationship between sociologists and reformers became riddled with tensions between the establishment of sociology as a science, still regarded with trepidation by some, and the demands for social reform led by religious reformers, particularly (pp. 12–15).

As young women in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries began to attend universities in the United States and Canada, they applied their educations and training in empirical methods to pursue their philanthropic interests and social concerns about various groups and social problems in the community. The outstanding instance, rather parallel to the collaboration of Charles Booth and Beatrice and Sidney Webb in England, is Jane Addams and the Hull House women (Deegan 1988, 1991, 2002). A great deal of research along with fresh perspectives have revealed the critical roles in theory, empirical research, social policy, and applied sociology that women have played in the emergence of sociology since Harriet Martineau’s generation (Deegan 1991; Lengermann and Niebrugge-Brantley 1998; Reinharz 1992, 1993); and indeed, in the Western world since the Enlightenment (McDonald 1993, 1994, 1998). For a look at North American women’s narratives about their experiences as sociologists in the twentieth century, see works by Ann Goetting and Sarah Fenstermaker (1995), Barbara Laslett and Barrie Thorne (1997), and Deegan (1991).

The second factor in the emergence of North American sociology lay in the need to legitimate a new social science with its focus on society and collectivities that made claims not only to its own distinctive object of study but also to its place as a science among others following natural science paradigms, an objective perspective on social life using scientific methodologies, quantitative analyses, logical reasoning, and verifiable results (Smelser 2003). Tension between the model of sociology as a traditional scientific discipline and the model of sociology as a humanistic, interpretive field of study can be found in most decades and particularly in the interwar and post–World War II periods (Lundberg 1947; Lynd 1939). Certainly Lester Ward (1883) as well as Albion Small and George Vincent (1894) were interested in establishing sociology’s scientific stature within the social sciences.

A third aspect of this endeavor has to do with the organizational foundations of this new field of study as an academic discipline, a recognizable and legitimate source of data for broader public use, and an acceptable, credible enterprise for the “study of mankind” (Stuart Chase). These foundations include not only the institutionalization of sociology in higher education but also recognition through the organization of professional associations and by governments, foundations, unions, business and industry, and society at large of the value of sociological research and of the profession. Sociology in the United States was born out of the concerns and interests of individuals trained in the related fields of history, economics, political science, psychology, and religion. Blasi (2004) shows that the early faculty in sociology often held doctorates in history (several at Johns Hopkins), philosophy (Dewey, Mead), and economics (E. A. Ross, Veblen). The earliest departments not surprisingly had at least one of the founding male academics associated with them: Yale— Sumner; Columbia—Giddings; Brown—Ward; Chicago— Small; and Wisconsin—E. A. Ross.

Fourth, it should be emphasized that in sociology’s early period, many important sociologists were outside of academe so that while doing sociological theory and empirical research, they were generally not considered part of the founding generation nor what became the sociological establishment. Many of these were either trained in other disciplines, worked outside colleges and universities, and/or were women and minorities, particularly African Americans, who had specific perspectives on minority needs. The matter of trained membership in the profession becomes more complex when one considers the profound impact of European and other immigrant scholars in various time periods. In addition to research by academics, major projects took up pragmatic inquiries, as in the works of Ida B. Wells-Barnett on lynching (1892, 1900) and Ann J. Cooper on racism (1892) and The Hull House Maps and Papers in Chicago (1895). Survey research had begun in the American context with the Pittsburgh survey by Paul U. Kellogg, 1907–1909, and even earlier with the labor surveys of H. K. Oliver in the Massachusetts Bureau of Statistics of Labor in the 1870s that were successful in showing both the usefulness and the problems in survey research (Turner and Turner 1990:15, 32–33).

The Founding of Academic Sociology: 1890–1920

The early stages of American sociology can be best understood in terms of the major figures and the theoretical and methodological debates in North America at the time. Albion Small (1854–1926), Lester Frank Ward (1841–1913), William Graham Sumner (1840–1910), and Franklin H. Giddings (1855–1931), among the most influential of the male founders of sociology, were significantly influenced by the work and ideas of their European predecessors. Women founders in this generation, extending the tradition of Martineau, Besant, Butler, Tristan, and Webb (Lengermann and Niebrugge-Brantley 1998) and influenced by these predecessors, included Anna Garlin Spencer (1851–1932), Jane Addams (1860–1935), Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1860–1935), Florence Kelley (1859–1932), Edith Abbott (1876–1957), Sophonisba Breckinridge (1886–1948), Marion Talbot (1858–1947), Emily Greene Balch (1867–1961), Ida B. Wells-Barnett (1862–1931), and many others (Deegan 1991). Several of these women held faculty positions and most published in sociology journals and conducted sociological research within and outside of academe.

Sociology as a discipline entered academe in the form of courses, specific faculty interests, and ultimately departmental structures. Courses were offered in other disciplines, especially political economy and political science, that were sociological in content if not in title. The first sociology course was taught by William Graham Sumner at Yale in 1875. Albion Small, in 1890 at Colby College, announced that he had changed the focus of an important course to “moral science” and “sociological philosophy” that included “descriptive sociology,” “statical sociology,” and “dynamic sociology” (Coser 1978:292–93) and chaired the first Department of Sociology at Chicago in 1892.

From the beginning in North American sociology, there were differences in perspectives, predominantly between evolutionary naturalism that predicates immutable laws of evolution (Spencer, Sumner) and progressive evolutionism that suggested humans had evolved to a stage of emancipation and liberation from the imperatives of nature (Ward, Small) (Fine 1976; Smelser 2003:9–10). The conflicts in assumptions and approaches in sociology reflected differences in values and priorities for the study of society that had been embedded in the lives of the early sociological founders.

It was the struggle, then, between evolutionary, naturalism and social Darwinism against progressive evolutionism that dominated the intellectual and institutional development of sociology during its first two decades, as shown by William F. Fine (1976). The naturalistic or Darwinist evolution emphasized the inevitability of structures, classes, and natural processes that would shape the social world. Progressive evolutionism emphasized human distinctiveness, the creation of the sociocultural world, mastery over nature, humans’developing freedom, and pursuit of values. It challenged the evolutionist idea of inevitable transition according to natural laws and emphasized human agency, free will, and progress as consequences of human actions. Nevertheless, both perspectives identified the need, indeed necessity, for the scientific study of social life and for new knowledge to address specific developments and problems in society. Both sides were building the case for sociology. Turner and Turner (1990) comment on the blending of positivism, organicism, and individualism as American sociology moved forward to establish itself as a science:

What emerges in early American sociology, then, are programmatic commitments to (1) a science that seeks to develop abstract general theory and (2) a combination of individualism/mentalism that is reconciled in an uneasy alliance with evolutionism, organicism, and implicit functionalism. (P. 18)

One must recognize the additional fact of social reformism that was particularly dominant in America in the first two decades of the twentieth century.

During the last decade of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth century, a number of basic textbooks were published: Albion W. Small and George E. Vincent, An Introduction to the Study of Society, 1894; Lester Ward, Outline of Sociology, 1898; and Ernest Burgess and Robert Park, An Introduction to the Science of Sociology, 1921. Important studies produced in the United States included W. E. B. DuBois, The Philadelphia Negro, 1899; Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class, 1899; Edward A. Ross, Social Control, 1901; Charles Horton Cooley, Human Nature and Social Order, 1902; William Graham Sumner, Folkways, 1906; Cooley, Social Organization, 1909; George Herbert Mead, “The Social Self,” 1913; Ernest Burgess, The Science of Sociology, 1921; E. A. Ross, Principles of Sociology, 1901; W. I. Thomas, The Unadjusted Girl, 1923; Frederic Thrasher, The Gang, 1927; and Robert E. Park and E. W. Burgess, The City, 1925.

Studies by women that used the methodologies and analyses of sociology but were often done outside of academe included Ida B.Wells, Southern Horror: Lynch Law in all its Phases, 1892; Matilda Joslin Cage, Women, Church and State, 1893; Florence Kelley, The Sweating System and Wage-Earning Children, 1895; Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Women and Economics, 1898; Frances Kellor, Experimental Sociology, 1901; Emily Green Balch, A Study of Conditions in City Life: With Special Reference to Boston, 1903; C. P. Gilman, Human Work, 1904; Jane Addams, The Subjective Need for Social Settlements, 1892; Democracy and Ethics, 1902; “Trade Unions and Public Duty” and “Problems of Municipal Administrations,” in the American Journal of Sociology and over 500 other publications; Edith Abbott, Women in Industry, 1910; and Olive Schreiner, Women and Labour, 1911.

The roles played by women sociologists during this period exemplified in many ways the tensions and differences in perspectives among the early founders of sociology. Women who were not Ph.D.s in sociology, such as Martineau, Beatrice Webb, Josephine Butler, Annie Besant, and Jane Addams, had been doing sociological research and theorizing in the nineteenth century in England, Europe, and North America. Their work was most often associated with social reform, philanthropy, social policy making, the abolition movement, and suffrage politics in large part because these educated and trained women identified community issues, social injustices, individual and group needs, and social trends that required study, exposure, and action.

As Mary Jo Deegan (1991:8) points out, there were a number of “firsts” for women sociologists in the nineteenth century. Rose R. Firestone received her doctorate in sociology from the University of Wooster (Ohio) in 1887; Mary Roberts Coolidge became an Assistant Professor in Sociology at Stanford University in 1894; Ida B. WellsBarnett became the first black woman practicing sociologist (journalist) with her publications in the 1890s; Anna Julia Cooper (Ph.D., Sorbonne, 1925) wrote A Voice of the South in 1892; Marion Talbot became the first woman assistant professor sociologist at the University of Chicago in 1892.

Black American sociology made further inroads toward establishing its place within sociology with W. E. B. Du Bois’s The Philadelphia Negro, 1896, a brilliant study using a variety of methodologies, and The Souls of Black Folk, 1903. Along with E. Franklin Frazier and later Oliver Cox, Du Bois not only produced groundbreaking analyses of blacks in America but also ensured that research on minorities would become a critical part of the sociological enterprise.

The Establishment of Professional Organizations

Early organizational formations such as the American Social Science Association (1865–1885) founded by Franklin B. Sanborn brought together academics and nonacademics with scientific, historical, or philanthropic interests (Haskell 1977; Small 1916). In 1903, African American Jesse Lawson (1856–1927) formed the National Sociological Society (NSS), an organization of white and black men from the North and the South to address, among other things, the race problem (Hill 2005a:126–40). The organization collapsed a year later because of publicity problems, the splintering of potential members into several black organizations like the American Negro Academy, the reluctance of Du Bois and B. T. Washington to get involved in NSS, and the turn of the American Sociological Society (ASS) away from social reform and activism (Hill 2005a).

At the December 1905 Annual Meeting of the American Economics Association (AEA) at the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, C. W. A. Veditz of George Washington University called a meeting of the sociologists present, to be held on December 27, to determine whether a section of sociologists should be formed within the AEA or another existing association, or whether the group should form an entirely new sociological association. Sociologists were surveyed in advance to explore their general thoughts on the matter. The nearly 50 attendees included Albion Small, E. A. Ross, Lester F. Ward, Thomas Carver, William Davenport, Anna Garlin Spencer, and Franklin Giddings among others. In one day a subcommittee (Cooley, Veditz, Wilcox, Wells, and Lindsay) produced a constitution. All articles were passed unanimously after limited discussion, officers were nominated and elected, and the first Annual Meeting of the ASS’s 115 members (women and men) was held on December 27–29, 1906, in Providence, RI. Of the charter members, 14 would serve as presidents of the ASS (Rhoades 1981:1–5). The first executive committee consisted of Lester F. Ward, president, William G. Sumner, first vice president, Franklin H. Giddings, second vice president, and C. W. A. Veditz, secretary-treasurer, plus six elected council members. The American Journal of Sociology, the first professional sociology journal in America, founded in 1895 at the University of Chicago by Albion Small, became and served as the official journal of the ASS until the American Sociological Review was established in 1936.

The major and best-known figures in this founding generation were Albion Small, Lester Frank Ward, William Graham Sumner, and Franklin H. Giddings. Others such as George Vincent, E. A. Ross, Thomas Carver, and William Davenport were also active in the new discipline. The ASS became important in the promotion of the social sciences, the creation of the Social Science Research Council, the establishment of the Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, the development of the American Council of Learned Societies, and the advancement of the social sciences in the curriculum of public schools. Other accomplishments included the journal Social Science Abstracts, the Dictionary of American Biography, a national social science fraternity—Alpha Pi Zeta, and the American Yearbook (Rhoades 1981:6–7). Membership in ASS increased from 115 in 1905 to 1,530 in 1930. As the society grew in size and complexity, controversy arose regarding structure, fragmentation, the annual meeting format, and publications (Rhoades 1981:11–17).

Albion Small trained for the clergy, studied in Germany for two years and at Johns Hopkins for a year, and served as professor and president of Colby College for three years before he went to Chicago. He was a key figure in the first two decades of the movement to establish sociology as a recognized social science because he took initiative in founding the necessary formal structures. He was appointed the first Head Professor of Sociology at the University of Chicago in 1892. He served as founding editor of the American Journal of Sociology for 30 years, and played a key role in the establishment of the ASS, of which he served as the fourth president in 1912–1913. Small was especially concerned that sociology study, understand, and compile its own history. He emphasized the importance for young sociologists to know the history of their discipline, an idea reiterated by ASA at its 2005 annual meetings when it recommended that every department establish a course on the history of sociology. Small’s (1916) Fifty Years of Sociology in the United States (1865–1915) is an invaluable source of information on American sociology’s earliest period. In many respects he reflects the creative tensions in early sociology to relate philosophy and sociology, science and value, historical and interpretive understanding of the social, and the application of specific knowledge to society’s problems, issues, and conflicts.

Lester Frank Ward, president of the ASS in 1906 and 1907, published (at his own expense) the first major work in American sociology, Dynamic Sociology, in 1883. Ward, a man of working-class origins and a varied educational and work background, came to the discipline with an interest in the science of society, taking up an evolutionary theory of societal change that depended on the forces of matter, motion, and energy and moved in a progressive direction. Ward, in addressing the tension between the intellectual pursuit of understanding, on the one hand, and the application of sociological knowledge to improve society, on the other, saw sociology as a field with pure and applied divisions that studied both statics and dynamics, a Spencerian influence.

William Graham Sumner served as the second president of the ASS from 1908 to 1910. He had studied in Germany and England and spent most of his career teaching at Yale. In many respects Sumner can be seen as the pioneer of the anthropological tradition in sociology because of his compilation and theorizing about folkways and mores in societies. He was akin to Darwin and Spencer in defending the inevitability of social change and the imperatives of nature that worked in the social world as in the natural world. He disliked reformers and anyone who would pretend to social engineering. Sumner defended the status quo in such works as What the Social Classes Owe Each Other, 1883, and was convinced that social problems will take care of themselves through the elimination of people who perpetuate them. While both Ward and Sumner emphasized that human behavior was driven by biological and psychological drives as well as social motives, Ward emphasized the significance of the individual within a progressive collectivity. He believed that change, deliberate as well as natural, was dominant over a structured social order of inevitable social classes and group stratifications that Sumner emphasized.

Franklin H. Giddings, the fourth major founder, became the third president of the ASS, 1910–1912. Giddings worked as a journalist, had no graduate degrees, but received several honorary doctorates. Odum (1951) tells us that Giddings “was appointed to what is estimated the first full professorship of sociology in America in 1894” (p. 87) at Columbia. He was, above all, a teacher. “His influence upon sociology was measured in terms of his textbooks, his lectures and teachings, and the continued extension of his work by more than fifty PhD graduates who held top positions in college, university, publishing, and public affairs” (p. 87).

In the founding generation (1900–1920), many women began their careers with full intent to become professional sociologists and social scientists. Women such as Edith Abbott, Emily Balch, Sophonisba Breckinridge, Charlotte Gilman, Florence Kelley, and Annie Marion MacLean established connections with Jane Addams’s Hull House where the theory and practice of Chicago sociology continued under her influence and collaboration (Deegan 1991:16). That women most often ended up in tangential departments (social work, statistics, anthropology, union work, labor departments, and community service) and often outside academe was a particular function of the male culture and personnel in sociology at the time. Nonetheless, women contributed a great deal to sociological research, social policy, and social reform (Deegan 1988, 1991).

There were exceptions among the men of course. Albion Small offered Jane Addams (BA, Rockford Female Seminary, 1881) teaching positions in the Chicago sociology department, which she declined to work instead in the community through Hull House. Cooley, Ross, and Bogardus cited Addams’s writings in their works, and Lester Ward was a defender of women’s rights, talents, and contributions. George Herbert Mead was active in the suffrage movement (Deegan 1988:208–11). Jane Addams, representative of women who became committed to social causes and the movement to facilitate community change, led an active campaign for peace in the years before World War I, but suffered public ostracism and professional marginalization as a result. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1931; Emily Greene Balch, a student of Giddings, also won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1946. Greene received support and encouragement from George E. Howard and W. E. B. Du Bois (Deegan 1991:55–62). Most important for our purposes here is the recognition and knowledge that women who experienced discrimination in educational environments nonetheless were present in every sense at the beginning and at every subsequent stage in the development of American sociology.

Securing the Place of Sociology as the Science of Society and the Study of Social Change and Crises: 1920–1940

In the period of transition from the post–World War I war decade to the realities of economic depression from 1929 onward, sociology expanded its repertoire of statistical analyses, use of survey methods, development of large research projects often at the impetus of government, and began to rise in visibility as the tools, methods, and approaches offered by this new social science became increasingly known and solicited. An historic project requested by President Hoover and headed by William F. Ogburn and Howard W. Odum resulted in the 1933 Recent Social Trends, which revealed the major trends in America in technology, the economy, population, the family, urbanization, education, and other areas. It was an exercise in demonstrating the potential of sociology to serve policy making as well as scientific goals. It was intended to provide background and context for reforms during the Depression and became a standard reference work for government and educators for some time to come.

New methodologies in sociology—participant observation, various types of interviews, questionnaires, use of government and private documents and archives—had been evolving since the nineteenth century. In their methodologically instructive The Polish Peasant in Europe and America, 1918, W. I. Thomas and Florian Znaniecki used a public call for immigrants’ autobiographies as well as letters and diaries to explore the Polish experience in the early twentieth century. This project and W. I. Thomas’s The Unadjusted Girl, 1923, were funded by philanthropists and social welfare leaders, Helen Culver and Ethel Surges Dummer (Platt 1996:143). The proliferation of empirical studies in sociology by 1920 brought with it the need for research funding, gleaned first from private individuals, then from foundations, and finally from government.

During this period the John D. Rockefeller Foundation, established by the man who founded the University of Chicago, was the largest single supporter of sociological research. The Laura Spelman Rockefeller Memorial Fund, 1918–1929, funded sociological research particularly at Chicago, Columbia, Harvard, North Carolina, and the Social Science Research Council (Platt 1996:144). The Institute for Social and Religious Research (ISRR) (originally the Committee on Social and Religious Surveys) at Chicago was supported originally by Rockefeller to conduct research and analyses of the church as an institution and on social and religious movements using the scientific approach (Turner and Turner 1990:39–84). The Institute sponsored the well-known Middletown studies in 1923 but later rejected Robert and Helen Lynd’s book as long and too descriptive; Lynd left, published the books with Harcourt, and situated himself at Columbia. Rockefeller withdrew his support from ISRR in 1932, in spite of its support of research by Park and others, because the statistical rigor and absence of practical value of the research were not in line with the expectations of supporters and readers (p. 45). Rockefeller supported from 1927 to 1932 the Local Community Research Committee where Robert E. Park was a central figure and the Social Science Research Council (p. 51).

The Social Science Research Council, a federation of learned societies, was one of the first interdisciplinary research bodies with academics from economics, political science, sociology, and statistics involved in the encouragement of joint research and the development of a scientific methodology. The Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, published in 1934, was also a cooperative project of all the social sciences. Symposia that explored the state of the social sciences resulted, in one instance, in Recent Developments in the Social Sciences, 1927, edited by E. C. Hayes. Social research in universities increasingly received monetary support from Rockefeller and others, particularly Howard Odum’s Institute for Research in Social Science at North Carolina.

In the contexts of the Depression and World War II, sociologists were increasingly (1) funded to do massive reports on specific social problems or issues and (2) employed by various government agencies and departments: Works Progress Administration (1935–1943), the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Tennessee Valley Authority, the Natural Resources Committee, and other state and local agencies, as well as the Office of Strategic Services, the Office of Population Affairs, the Department of State, the Agricultural Experiment Stations at the land-grant universities, the Bureau of the Census where Philip Hauser played a major role, and, from World War II on, the U.S. military departments (Platt 1996:150–53).

This period set the stage for the founding of other departments, graduate programs, journals, research institutes, and major empirical studies and their expansions in numbers during the 1920s. The figures show considerable growth. Not only had the general undergraduate population in the United States increased from 462,445 in 1920 to nearly a million by 1930 with a subsequent rise in interest in the social sciences, but also the number of undergraduate textbooks in sociology had increased from 10 before 1919 to 26 in the following decade. The number of graduate students trebled from 1920 to 1930; the number of graduate degrees increased threefold from 1918 to 1924; and the number of Ph.D. degrees awarded in 1930 was four times the 1920 figure (Hinkle and Hinkle 1954:18). Sociology as an organized profession in the 1920s and 1930s was an almost exclusively white male enterprise. Nevertheless, institutions like Jane Addams’s Hull House in Chicago became important centers for women to do research, publications, community service, and to develop a culture of women-centered sociological work. Interestingly, women were seen as strong in research, statistical work, and demography (Margaret Hagood, Alva Myrdal, Dorothy Swaine Thomas, and Irene Taeuber). The next generation of women sociologists being trained at Columbia in the 1930s and 1940s included Mirra Komarovsky, Gladys Meyer, Alice Rossi, and Grace Coyle, and at Chicago, Rose Hum Lee, Ethel Shanas, and Helena Znaniecki Lopata. Jessie Bernard, Helen McGill Hughes, Elizabeth Briant Lee, Carolyn Rose, and Alice Rossi were among the women who married men in sociology. The relationships “for better and for worse” often involved collaborative work as couples but frequently posed difficulties for the women’s careers (Deegan 1991:18–20).

More quantitative research was accompanied by the expansion of descriptive sociology, that is, qualitative studies within communities beginning with Charles J. Galpin, The Social Anatomy of a Rural Community, 1915, which influenced Robert E. Park’s work on the city (Park, Burgess, and McKenzie 1925); E. M. Thrasher, The Gang, 1927, 1936; Harvey Zorbaugh, The Gold Coast and the Slum, 1929; Nels Anderson, The Hobo, 1923; Ruth C. Cavan, Suicide, 1928; Louis Wirth, The Ghetto, 1928;

Robert and Helen Lynd, Middleton, 1929; Franklin Frazier, The Negro Family in America, 1932; Paul Cressey, The Taxi Dance Hall, 1932; and many other such studies using multiple methodologies, surveys, interviews, participant observation, diaries, letters, and so on. The factors creating such realities and their actors were seen as multiple and multicausal, creating networks of social relations and communications of a very complex nature.

Increasingly, sociology was moving toward a broader range of subjects of research, often involving other disciplines and contexts, thereby expanding the relevance and visibility of sociology as a discipline. An example of this is the studies by Elton Mayo at the Hawthorne Western Electric Plant in Cicero, Illinois, from 1927 to 1932, as much a study in the sociology of work and industrial relations as in industrial psychology because it demonstrated that work group norms and the informal organization among workers determined productivity.

Professionalization, changes in funding patterns, economic effects of the Depression, and a continuing fragmentation of sociology into numerous associations, journals, subdisciplines, and changing departmental rankings generated conflicts between the oncoming generation of sociologists and the older generations (Turner and Turner 1990:57–65). An indicator of these developments was the decline in membership in the ASS to approximately 1,000 by 1940 (Rhoades 1981:74). Perhaps the most pragmatic division was the separation of rural sociologists from ASA to establish the Rural Sociological Society in 1935 and to establish their own journal, Rural Sociology. The impetus for this was, to a considerable degree, increased funding from government and to some extent from the Rockefeller foundation in southern colleges and universities for quantitative research in agricultural contexts (Turner and Turner 1990:51–53).

Added to this were the debates over methodology and scientism, leading to questions like Knowledge for What? The Place of Social Science in American Culture, the title of Robert Lynd’s (1939) challenge to make sociological research both relevant and scientific. Turner and Turner (1990:39–84) draw our attention to the numerous disputes during the 1930s having to do with sociology’s audiences, the efficacy of hypotheses in social research, the tensions between traditional scholarship and technical research and between science and reform, and quantitative versus qualitative methods (pp. 66–67). These debates may have been suppressed during wartime, but they perdured in sociology after the war (George Lundberg’s [1947] Can Science Save Us?).

Major theoretical works were published during the 1930s. The most original domestic works were the posthumously published books of the social psychologist, George Herbert Mead, based at the University of Chicago (1934, 2001). Mead, a pragmatist, developed ideas of the processes of socialization and the development of the social self that formed the basis for what became known as “symbolic interactionism.” Other major theoretical publications of the period included Talcott Parsons’s The Structure of Social Action, 1937; Pitirim Sorokin’s Social and Cultural Dynamics, 1937-1939; and Parsons’s translation of Max Weber’s The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, 1939.

The Emergence of Canadian Sociology

Canadian and American sociology share not only the same continent but also, in some respects, a common history. There were, and perhaps still are, significant differences in the culture of sociology between the two countries, shaped particularly by historical, cultural, and linguistic traditions (see Nichols 2002). However, even given these differences, the histories of Canadian and American sociologies have been intertwined. Sociology in Canada, as in the United States, emerged in the context of the “social gospel” movement, social reform movements, immigration, urbanization, and industrialization. The imperatives of the social gospel movement resulted in the establishment of sociology courses in numerous denominational colleges and church-sponsored social research (Brym 1989:16).

The influence of the Chicago School on Canadian sociology was clear from the beginning of sociology when in 1922 McGill University hired Carl A. Dawson, a Canadian trained by Robert E. Park at Chicago. In 1925, the McGill Department of Sociology was established, new hires were inevitably from Chicago, and Rockefeller funding helped to build sociology at McGill (Brym 1989:17). Strong ties between Canadian and American sociology were thereby established and sustained through the following decades with a substantial traffic of scholars. It can be said that though Canadian research projects were limited in number compared to the United States, the projects and their subsequent books became classics and highly influential in sociology in both countries, the two earliest being Everett C. Hughes’s (assisted by wife Helen Hughes) French Canada in Transition, 1943, a study of a small city in Québec (Hoecker-Drysdale 1996). Leonard Marsh’s Canadians In and Out of Work, 1940, the first important analysis of social class in Canadian society. Hughes promoted Park’s sociology and helped to accelerate the growth of sociology in Canada through his association with Father Georges-Henri Lévesque, who in 1932 founded l’Ecole des Sciences Sociales at Laval University, the center for early French Canadian sociology. Lévesque’s successor, Jean-Charles Falardeau (Ph.D. Laval), another leader in French Canadian sociology, studied with Hughes at Chicago (Falardeau 1967). Léon Gérin (1863–1951), who produced many studies of Québec rural society, and Hughes were both influenced by Frédéric LePlay’s family studies. Gérin studied the work of LePlay in Paris and Hughes absorbed the influence of LePlay from Park (Shore 1987:270).

Back in Chicago, Hughes began training Canadian as well as American sociologists, among them Jean Robertson Burnet and Aileen Dansken Ross. (HoeckerDrysdale 1990:152–76). Although the singular influence of the Chicago School began to wane, the momentum of the traffic of sociologists between Canada and the United States has continued through the decades. Sociology in Canada is an amalgamation of French sociologie, the British tradition of political economy, and the American emphasis on social psychology, community studies, and new methodologies. The éminence grise of Canadian social science in its earliest decades was Harold Innis (1894–1952), a Chicago Ph.D. in political economy who spent his career at the University of Toronto and played an enormous role in advancing Canadian social science and in developing the privately funded Canadian Social Science Research Council in 1941, predecessor of the Canada Council, a government agency founded in 1957 (Acland and Buxton 1999).

The “Golden Era” of Sociology in The United States: From World War Ii to 1970

Following the dislocations of European sociologists caused by the rise of Nazism in Germany in the 1930s and the devastating consequences of World War II in Europe and the United Kingdom, the United States was positioned to take a preponderant role in the development of sociology in the postwar period. In fact, many of the pacesetting developments in both theory and research occurred in the United States during the years between the end of the war and 1970. This period was also marked by a great expansion on almost all fronts: academic development, professional organizations, journals, and scholarly publications, as well as the increasing role of governments in research funding (Lipset and Smelser 1961). While sociological research programs and methods proliferated in numerous directions, the trends in sociological theory showed a different pattern: at first consolidation around a single dominant paradigm, structural-functionalism, and then, by the 1960s, a substantial turning away from functionalism toward a variety of alternatives, including symbolic interactionism, exchange theory, phenomenology and ethnomethodology, conflict, and critical theory. With some justification Lawrence Rhoades (1981), in his A History of the American Sociological Association, designated the period from 1950 to 1970 the “golden era” of American sociology.

With the enrollment of returning American soldiers in large numbers in U.S. colleges and universities, sociology also began to expand rapidly as an academic subject. Although fluctuating, the number of undergraduate degrees awarded in sociology doubled between 1950 and 1965, and more than doubled again by the mid-1970s when they reached a peak of some 35,000 per year. The growth of graduate degrees awarded followed a similar pattern, rising from around 400 M.A.s per year in the 1950s to a high of more than 2,000 in the mid-1970s, and from around 150 Ph.D.s annually in the 1950s to a peak of more than 700 per year in the mid-1970s.

Theoretical Schools and Perspectives

The rise to preeminence of structural-functionalism both in the United States and abroad paralleled the period of postwar American dominance in world affairs. The most influential author of this school was Talcott Parsons of Harvard University, who in collaboration with colleagues in cultural anthropology and social psychology established the Department of Social Relations in 1946, an interdisciplinary unit that subsumed and replaced the Department of Sociology. Along with various collaborators Parsons attempted to develop a comprehensive, abstract taxonomy of human society in such works as Towards a General Theory of Action (1951, edited with Edward Shils) and The Social System (1951). Using such concepts as status, role, norm, value, and need, he sought to develop an analytical language for the elemental properties of societies viewed as social systems, including their relations to personality and culture, also viewed as systems. His focus was on the structural aspects of societies and the functional requisites of social systems for their maintenance; hence, the name, structural-functionalism, later referred to more simply as functionalism.

Parsons, who was elected president of the ASA in 1949, was joined in promulgating functionalism by a number of his protégés and students. The most influential of these were Robert Merton, Kingsley Davis, Wilbert Moore, and Neil Smelser, all of whom also eventually served as presidents of the ASA. Merton, author of Social Theory and Social Structure, 1949, responding to critiques of the highly abstract level of Parsons’s theorizing, became known as the advocate of “theories of the middle range.” In attempting to clarify the relation between functions, consequences, and intentions, he distinguished between manifest and latent functions, according to the presence or absence of intention, and between functions and dysfunctions, according to whether the consequences were positive or negative for a designated social system. Latent functions were conceptually distinct from what Merton famously called the unanticipated consequences of intentional (or purposive) action, in that while such consequences are by definition latent, they may be either functional (positive) or dysfunctional (negative) for a given system. As the second most influential American functionalist, Merton contributed a number of conceptual analyses of several middle-range phenomena: anomie, social deviance, role, and reference group analysis.

In a 1945 article, “Some Principles of Stratification,” published in the American Sociological Review, Kingsley Davis and Wilbert Moore articulated the so-called functional theory of social stratification. They argued that systems of stratification, for all their structured inequalities in the distribution of rewards (e.g., prestige, income), are universal because they are functionally necessary to provide motivations for people to seek to fill the positions a society most needs. The claim for the functional necessity of social stratification became identified as a signature position for functionalism and a point of contention in the eyes of later critics. While the claim of universality of stratification could be subjected to empirical test on the basis of the presence or absence of specific indicators of stratification, the claim of functional necessity was difficult if not impossible to prove or disprove, leading to the interpretation that functionalists provided justifications for the continuing existence of institutionalized forms of social and economic inequality, regardless of their “necessity.”

Neil Smelser’s affiliation with functionalism stemmed from his collaborative work with Parsons on Economy and Society, 1956, while he was still a graduate student at Harvard in the 1950s. He is properly considered a neofunctionalist on account of both a generational difference and a departure from the strict formulations of Parsonsian functionalism. In addition to economic sociology, the fields of social change and collective behavior have been the focus of his work. His focus on comparative methods, social change, and historical subject matter tended to set him apart from most of the other functionalists.

In his 1959 ASA presidential address, “The Myth of Functional Analysis as a Special Method in Sociology and Anthropology,” Kingsley Davis proclaimed that functional analysis, rather than being simply one among several alternative “methods” of sociology, was tantamount to sociological explanation tout court. In the eyes of functionalists, this proclamation represented the moment of virtually complete ascendancy of functionalism as the preeminent, if not actually the only, paradigm of sociological theory and analysis. Yet by the late 1950s, functionalism had become the target of a number of influential critiques, including especially those by David Lockwood, Ralf Dahrendorf, and C. Wright Mills. The issues flagged by these critiques were, among others, charges of a functionalist bias toward value consensus as opposed to conflict, toward normative order instead of change, and toward abstract “grand theory” instead of empirically testable ideas. Lewis Coser’s (1956) The Functions of Social Conflict attempted to bridge functionalism and the study of conflict.

The critiques of functionalism continued in the next decade. In his 1961 article in the American Sociological Review, “The Oversocialized Conception of Man,” Dennis Wrong charged that functionalism’s exaggeration of societal integration was based on a faulty conception of personality as being fully malleable to fit the needs of a social system. In 1962, Edward Tiryakian published Sociologism and Existentialism, in which he attempted to broaden awareness of the theoretical perspectives beyond the functionalist tradition. During the 1960s, functionalism was challenged not only by its critics, but also by rival perspectives that had been present but overshadowed by functionalism in the postwar period, especially exchange theory and symbolic interactionism. Exchange theory was developed by George Homans, a departmental colleague of Parsons at Harvard, as an attempt to explain the social behavior of the individual on the basis of principles drawn from Skinnerian psychology and elementary economics. According to Homans’s views in his 1961 Social Behavior: Its Elementary Forms, neither the social group (as for Durkheim) nor the social structure (as for Parsons), but the individual, was the basic unit of analysis. The behavior of individuals is conceived as a set of exchanges that bring rewards and costs, the calculation of which is carried forward in the conduct of future behavior. Peter Blau, an Austrian émigré from the Nazi period, made a significant contribution to the study of bureaucracy with his 1955 The Dynamics of Bureaucracy before turning explicitly to exchange theory in his 1964 Exchange and Power in Social Life. While Blau, like Homans, relied on psychological propositions to explain individual orientations to exchange, he demonstrated a broader concern with social structure as both context and result of exchange processes. Through his analyses of processes of exchange based on individual decision making, Blau can also be regarded as a pioneer of theories of rational choice. Both Homans and Blau served terms as presidents of the ASA, Homans in 1964, and Blau in 1974.

The most prominent representative of symbolic interactionism in the tradition of Mead during this period was Herbert Blumer, who began as a student of Mead, and like Mead, spent half of his influential career in the sociology department of the University of Chicago. Known primarily as an interpreter of Mead’s ideas, Blumer sought to distinguish more clearly between stimulus-response models of behavioral psychology and the symbolic or meaningful components of social interaction. In his 1969 Symbolic Interaction: Perspective and Method, Blumer argued the view that all stimuli are first interpreted by actors in terms of their meanings before the actor responds (acts). This means that sociological analysis must necessarily focus on the subjective aspects of behavior and take into account the standpoint of the actor. Social structures, when acknowledged at all by Blumer, were regarded mainly as constraints on action that nevertheless have to be interpreted by the actor. One of Blumer’s students, Erving Goffman, continued the Meadean tradition by developing a variant called dramaturgy. In his 1959 The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Goffman refashioned the symbolic interactionist notion of role playing into what he referred to as impression management, as part of a set of theatrical metaphors. Goffman’s 1961 Encounters and 1963 Stigma, influential works of the period, presented innovative ideas of self, identity, and interaction. The continuing influence of symbolic interactionism was indicated by the election to the presidency of the ASA of Blumer, in 1956, and his student, Goffman, in 1982.

The decade of the 1960s was a period of social and political turmoil in the United States and a time when received ideas in sociology were called into question in terms of their implications for public policy and social values. The most direct challenge to functionalism, widely portrayed as conservative and as morally indifferent to issues of poverty, racism, and the war in Vietnam, came from conflict theories. In spite of divergent views on certain questions, such as the necessity or universality of conflict, most conflict theorists claimed that conflict is endemic to most forms of group life and is often associated with power and coercion, phenomena neglected by functionalism. The type of conflict theory that came to the fore in the 1960s, however, reflected the view that much conflict and coercion was not only unnecessary but was actually oppressive and socially unjust with respect to issues of class, race, gender, and international relations (colonialism and imperialism).

  1. Wright Mills of Columbia University had been first among American sociologists of this period to critique not only functionalism but the structures of class and power elites in American society. The critique of society was also put forward by neo-Marxist critical theorists of the Frankfurt School, several of whom had come to the United States in the 1930s as refugees from Nazi Germany, including Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Herbert Marcuse, Erich Fromm, and Leo Lowenthal. Their critique of advanced industrial societies attracted many of those who studied or entered sociology during the 1960s and who participated in the New Left, a broad and somewhat amorphous political and countercultural movement directed at first toward domestic issues of poverty and civil rights, and later became a significant anti-Vietnam War movement. Domestic neo-Marxist analyses were developed by Paul Baran and Paul Sweezy in their 1966 Monopoly Capital.

Among the significant alternatives to functionalism to receive attention in the 1960s were the developments in phenomenology. Having originated in European philosophy through the work and influence of Edmund Husserl, phenomenology was imported to the United States by the émigré sociologist Alfred Schutz. From his location in the New School for Social Research, he taught and influenced a number of sociologists who promulgated social phenomenology. Peter Berger, a student of Schutz and also an émigré, was perhaps the most prominent representative of this school during the 1960s, when he published his 1966 The Social Construction of Reality, coauthored with Thomas Luckmann, and subsequently, as he moved into the specific field of the sociology of religion. Also influenced by Schutz, Harold Garfinkel’s contributions to social phenomenology, designated as ethnomethodology, are exemplified in his collection Studies in Ethnomethodology, 1967.

By the end of the 1960s, sociology had undergone a major transformation in its theoretical dimension. For most of the 1940s and 1950s, functionalism had been the predominant school, without significant challenge from competing perspectives. The dominance of functionalism had given the appearance of theoretical unity, if not scientific maturity, by the apparent lack of diversity in theoretical orientations. All this changed in the 1960s when functionalism was challenged not only by direct critiques but also by the rise of competing perspectives, especially symbolic interactionism, phenomenology, ethnomethodology, exchange, conflict, and critical theories. The substantial turn from the previously predominant functionalism led to a vigorous development of diverse perspectives in theory and research in later decades.

Sociological Research

Among the reasons for calling the postwar era “golden” was the flourishing of sociological research and the burgeoning of its funding.

Organization and Funding of Research

The primary sources of support in the immediate postwar period continued to be the major private foundations, especially Rockefeller, but over time also the Sage, Carnegie, and Ford foundations, among others. The choice of universities and scholars as recipients was highly selective, and Columbia and Harvard, along with Chicago, benefited especially from such funding in the first half of this period. The main development in the funding of research in this period, however, was, on the one hand, the enormous growth in the amount of available funding and, on the other hand, the increasingly predominant role of governments, especially the federal government, as the source of funding. Along with this change came others, such as the distribution of research funds to an ever broader array of universities, colleges, and institutes, and broader ranges of research topics, as well as new patterns of allocation processes, such as peer-review procedures.

The other major development occurred in the organization of research. While much sociological research continued to be done by individuals and sometimes by small collegial groups of collaborators, the postwar period witnessed the development of research institutes and centers usually affiliated with specific universities. Examples of research centers of national importance are the Bureau of Applied Social Research, founded during World War II by Paul Lazarsfeld of Columbia University; the Survey Research Center, founded in 1946, based at the University of Michigan; and the National Opinion Research Center, founded during World War II at Denver, but since 1947 based at the University of Chicago. Most of the largest centers, along with the Gallup Research Center and the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research, tended to focus mainly on survey research using nationwide sampling techniques. The same centers involved collaboration among various social science disciplines, including political science and economics, as well as sociology.

Major Studies

Among the most important and innovative of the largescale studies that came out of this period were, first, Samuel Stouffer’s four-volume The American Soldier, published in 1949, and second, Theodor Adorno’s The Authoritarian Personality, published in 1950. Both of these works were conducted by teams of sociologists and other social scientists who contributed significantly to the research, both substantively and technically. The American Soldier research was mandated by the U.S. War Department to address problems of morale, cooperation, and combat effectiveness in the U.S. Army, along with questions of race relations and propaganda effects. Stouffer’s team conducted extensive fieldwork and interviewing of American soldiers and employed sophisticated sampling and measurement techniques. Stouffer later served a term as president of the ASA in 1953. Adorno’s authoritarian personality study, sponsored by the American Jewish Committee, developed the f-scale to tap prejudicial attitudes with the aim of understanding such problems as antiSemitism and racial prejudice. The so-called authoritarian personality type exhibited tendencies of submissiveness to ingroup authority coupled with negative attitudes toward members of outgroups.

A third major study was Gunnar Myrdal’s 1944 study, An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy, commissioned by the Carnegie Corporation to address persistent problems of racial discrimination. The “dilemma” referred to the juxtaposition of the societal ideals of egalitarianism versus practices of racial discrimination. On the grounds that most American social scientists were themselves prejudiced, at least in the sense of believing that racial prejudices were largely immutable, Carnegie chose the Swedish Myrdal, as an outsider, to lead the research. Indeed, one of the main conclusions of the research was that racial discrimination patterns were mutable, subject to change by intervention. Myrdal’s findings were cited in the context and arguments leading to the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1954 decision in the Brown v. Board of Education decision overturning the legality of racially segregated public education.

Sometimes in collaboration with other social scientists sociologists published several important empirical or quantitative studies in the areas of communications research (propaganda, content analysis, and opinion polling), including studies by Robert Merton, Paul Lazarsfeld, Bernard Berelson, and Leo Lowenthal. Industrial sociology benefited from several studies by, among others, Elton Mayo, William F. Whyte, and W. E. Moore, an important theme of which was the importance of informal groups outside the formal organization of work that nevertheless had a significant impact on worker productivity. Some of this research was criticized by later sociologists (e.g., H. Sheppard and C. W. Mills) as displaying a managerial bias in its perspective. An important study that broke new ground in industrial sociology was Union Democracy, 1956, a study of the internal politics of a major trade union, led by S. M. Lipset, with the collaboration of Martin Trow and James Coleman, and supported by Columbia’s Bureau of Applied Social Research. Lipset was ASA president in 1993. The study of work and occupations became an important subfield of industrial sociology during the 1950s.

Other fields that developed especially during this period were criminology and the study of deviant behavior, social psychology, and the study of small-group interaction, military and political sociology, as well as rural sociology and the study of social problems and race relations. Most of these fields also represented topics of courses typically offered in undergraduate programs. Occasionally, as with David Riesman’s classic 1950 study, The Lonely Crowd, a sociological book also became a bestseller for the general public.

Scholarly and Professional Associations

The American Sociological Association, until 1959 called the American Sociological Society, the sole official national association of sociologists, grew sharply in membership during this period, rising from about 1,000 in 1940 to over 14,000 in 1970. This growth outpaced the increase in degrees awarded in sociology, reflecting a number of changes made in the policies and structures of the national association, as it became more open to members in terms of gender, race, and ethnicity, and to students as well as faculty in all types of educational institutions. After electing E. Franklin Frazier as the first black president in 1948, the ASA elected its first woman president, Dorothy Swain Thomas, in 1952, almost half a century after the founding of the association.

Regional and specialty associations also thrived during this period. The main regional associations had been established in the 1930s, including the Pacific, the Midwest, the Southern, and the Eastern. In the decades following World War II, a number of others were organized, including the Ohio Valley (later renamed the North Central), the Southwestern, and the Mid-South. Almost all the regional associations also formed their own journals, including some of the most important journals, such as Social Forces and the Sociological Quarterly. Literally dozens of specialty associations have formed, some of them born from discontent with the ASA. The most significant organization founded in this period has been the Society for the Study of Social Problems, founded in 1951. The latter developed with a concern with social policy that its members found lacking in the ASA’s neglect of social issues during the 1950s and 1960s.

During the 1960s, the ASA experienced a number of internal conflicts that brought changes of lasting import. One of the salient internal schisms concerned the question of ASA policy toward U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. In 1968, the membership voted not to take an official position on the war. The Sociology Liberation Movement was formed that year largely to give voice to strong antiwar sentiment. In the same year, the Caucus of Black Sociologists was formed, as was the Radical Caucus. Women sociologists formed the Caucus of Women

Sociologists in 1969, later to become the Sociologists for Women in Society. Each of these movements and caucuses called for more openness, inclusiveness, and democratization in the ASA, reflecting broader concerns in the society at large for extended civil rights, gender equality, antipoverty, and antiwar policies. Many of these issues were to occupy the attention of the ASA and its members in subsequent decades as well.

Sociology in The Era of Globalization: from 1970 to the Present

In the early 1970s, as the period of greatest student activism and social unrest crested, sociology was nearing the zenith of its most rapid growth in the United States as a discipline, profession, and academic subject. The peak for undergraduate degrees awarded was almost 36,000 in 1973, more than 2,200 master’s degrees in 1974, and 734 doctorates in 1977, numbers not matched again in the twentieth century. ASA membership also peaked in 1972 at around 15,000 members in all categories (see American Sociological Association Web page).

Both Robert Friedrichs’s A Sociology of Sociology and Alvin Gouldner’s The Coming Crisis of Western Sociology, published in 1970, critiqued mainstream sociology as indifferent to societal issues. Jürgen Habermas’s first book, Toward a Rational Society, was translated into English in the same year. Taken together, these critical works challenged sociology to reexamine its largely disengaged relation to the societies being observed and analyzed. Likewise, the ASA, when challenged internally on issues of gender and race, responded in the early 1970s by establishing standing committees on the status of women and on the status of racial and ethnic minorities in the profession.

Following the end of the Vietnam War in 1973, undergraduate student enrollments began to decline steeply, with degrees awarded falling by almost two thirds by 1985. ASA membership levels also began to decline, falling from a peak of about 15,000 in 1972 to about 11,000 in 1984, due mainly to declines in student memberships (thereafter membership levels rose gradually to reach almost 14,000 in 2005). Nevertheless, sociology as a discipline continued to grow into a more differentiated field of study, with the rise of new specialties. Gender joined race and class to form a strong core of variables examined by sociologists across most specialties. Long a majority at the undergraduate level, women formed majorities approaching and exceeding 70 percent from the 1980s onward. By 1980, women formed a majority of master’s degree recipients, rising to about two thirds by century’s end. In 1988, for the first time women comprised the majority of sociology doctorates, reaching about 60 percent by 2000. Men continued to occupy a disproportionately large share of leadership positions both in the academy and in the ASA. An indicator of gender lag in U.S. sociology is found in the fact that eight of the nine women ASA presidents from 1905 to 2006 have been elected since 1970.

U.S. Trends in Theory and Research

The theoretical perspectives developed in earlier periods continued to find followers in the most recent era. Newer trends tended to spin off from already existing schools rather than arising as radically new innovations. Functionalism begat neofunctionalism; exchange theory continued in its earlier guise but also morphed into network analysis and rational choice theory; symbolic interactionism endured but so did its offshoot, dramaturgy and other variations; conflict theory partially gave way to critical theory; and finally, the study of race, class, and gender became more concerned than ever before with policy issues based on equality, redress, and reform.

Only a few of the major studies of this period can be mentioned. Few works of general theory attracted the interest of sociologists in this period. Jeffrey Alexander’s ambitious Theoretical Logic in Sociology, 1982–1983, featured Parsons along with Marx, Weber, and Durkheim in a synthetic and neofunctionalist reading of the classic tradition. Neil Smelser’s Comparative Methods in the Social Sciences, 1986, was among several of his more general works of this period; he served as ASA president in 1997. James Coleman’s Foundations of Social Theory, 1990, attempted to develop a general statement of sociological theory, which nevertheless owed a great deal to the perspectives of exchange theory and rational choice. Coleman also authored important research in the sociology of education that contributed to public debate and policy changes in the area of racial desegregation of the public schools; he was ASA president in 1992.

The tradition of conflict sociology advanced with Randall Collins, Conflict Sociology, 1975; Harvey Braverman, Labor and Monopoly Capital, 1974; and Michael Burawoy, Manufacturing Consent, 1979. Work on various axes of inequality and diversity also tended to reflect emphases on conflict. Outstanding examples included Alice Rossi, ASA presidential address, “Gender and Parenthood,” 1983; Patricia Hill-Collins, Black Feminist Thought, 1990; Nancy Fraser, Unruly Practices, 1989; and Erik Olin Wright, Classes, 1985, and Interrogating Inequality, 1994.

Microsociology, including social psychology, interaction, exchange, and network analysis, benefited from Richard Emerson’s work in the 1970s; Harrison White, Identity and Control, 1992; and Linda Molm, Coercive Power and Exchange, 1997, in addition to the continuing work and influence of James Coleman and Peter Blau. Manuel Castells, The Rise of the Network Society, 1996, and Stephan Fuchs, Against Essentialism, 2001, are important synthetic works in the same tradition.

Although drawing on previous ideas, sociologists developed some newer directions and emphases in theory and research. Examples include theories of modernity, societal evolution, and globalization; theories of culture and emotions; the sociology of the body; and sociobiology. Studies of large-scale or macrosociological subjects came to the fore from the 1970s onward. Daniel Bell’s The Coming of Post-Industrial Society, 1973, attempted to assess current societal trends in a historical perspective. With his works on world systems theory, notably The Modern World System, 1974 onward. Immanuel Wallerstein has played a leading role in the development of macrohistorical sociology on a global scale. Reinhard Bendix, ASA president in 1970, noted for his earlier work in industrial, political, and historical sociology, contributed to comparative political sociology with his Kings or People, 1978. In the same area, Theda Skocpol published her States and Social Revolutions, 1979. Charles Tilly’s major work in this field was his Citizenship, Identity, and Social History, 1995. Randall Collins attempted a global theory of intellectual change in his The Sociology of Philosophies, 1998. Sociologists also contributed to the conceptualization and study of globalization, as in the work of Roland Robertson, Globalization: Social Theory and Global Culture, 1992, and George Ritzer, The McDonaldization of Society, 1993.

Perhaps the greatest single growth area in sociological specialties in the past three decades has been the focus on gender (for several years, the ASA section on gender has had the largest number of members of all the sections). Among the major works in this area not already referred to above are Joan Acker, Doing Comparable Worth: Gender, Class, and Pay Equity, 1989; Margaret Anderson and Patricia Hill-Collins, Race, Class, and Gender, 1992; Jessie Bernard, The Future of Marriage, 1972; Janet Chafetz, Gender Equity, 1990; Nancy Chodorow, Femininities, Masculinity, Sexualities, 1994; Sandra Harding, The Science Question in Sociology, 1986; and Barbara Reskin and Irene Padavic, Women and Men at Work, 1994. Reskin was ASA president in 2002.

The study of race and racism has also been a vital area of sociological research and, as with the study of gender in this same period, has been connected to policy concerns. William Julius Wilson, president of the ASA in 1990, has made major contributions with his The Declining Significance of Race, 1978, and The Bridge over the Racial Divide, 1999. Joe R. Feagin, also a past president of the ASA, has authored several works on racism in American society, including his Racist America, 2001, and The Continuing Significance of Racism: U.S. Colleges and Universities, 2003.

At the same time, important developments occurred abroad and American sociologists became more aware of and receptive to sociological ideas and research in other countries. Outstanding examples of influential European works have been the republication in the 1970s and 1980s of Norbert Elias, The Civilizing Process, 1939; Michel Foucault’s many works, including his Discipline and Punish, 1979; Pierre Bourdieu, Distinctions, 1984, including his idea of cultural capital;Anthony Giddens’s work on structuration, as in his The Constitution of Society, 1984, and on modernity in The Consequences of Modernity, 1990; Jürgen Habermas, The Theory of Communicative Action, 1984–1987; Niklas Luhmann’s work in systems theory, including his The Differentiation of Society, 1982, and Social Systems, 1995; and Ulrich Beck, The Risk Society, 1992. These works are part of a growing international dialogue among sociologists. The writings of Giddens, Habermas, and Luhmann, for instance, address ideas of American provenance, for example, those of Mead and Parsons, while at the same time representing independent and innovative formulations of their own, which in turn have been addressed by their American readers. If the so-called golden era was one of American preeminence internationally, the period since 1970 has seen an internationalization of sociological discourse.

The Development of Sociology in Canada

The widespread development of sociology in Canada began in the 1960s. While sociology had been offered as an academic subject for several decades, the dominant tendency was for sociology to be offered in conjunction with another field such as political economy or cultural anthropology. The Canadian Association of Sociology and Anthropology was formed in 1965. Aside from its more recent development compared to the United States, Canadian sociology is marked by its linguistic duality; French-language sociology has its own institutions, journals, and associations, more or less paralleling those of the English language.

Sociology flourished at Québec’s three major Frenchlanguage universities from the 1960s onward. An important figure was Fernand Dumont, whose Le Lieu de l’Homme, 1968, and Les ideologies, 1974, contributed to cultural sociology. In the 1960s, Québec society underwent a so-called quiet revolution, a quite rapid transformation conventionally analyzed in terms of modernization, secularization, and liberalization. Québec sociology, which has seen itself at a significant intersection between French and AngloAmerican intellectual traditions, has sought to address the peculiar nature of Québec society with its aspirations as a distinct nation in relation to Canadian society and the world at large. The sociology of culture and political sociology, perennially important in Québec, were further developed by Marcel Rioux in critical terms in his Essai de sociologie critique, 1978. Rioux also participated in the public discourse over the status of Québec with his Québec in Question, 1971. Widely recognized as the dean of Québec sociology, Guy Rocher, trained at Laval and Harvard and based at the University of Montréal, has made a major contribution to general sociology, beginning with his three-volume Introduction à la sociologie générale, 1969. His book Talcott Parsons and American Sociology, 1972, has been published in six languages.

English-language sociology in Canada drew upon British, European, and American sociological perspectives and personnel for the staffing of its fast-growing departments all across the country in the 1960s and 1970s before attempting the Canadianization of its curricula and research agendas. A senior sociologist of the period, S. D. Clark of the University of Toronto, contributed to the discourse on the specificity of Canadian society with his Canadian Society in Historical Perspective, 1976. Beyond the exercise of national self-reflection, two especially strong areas of theory and research emerged in EnglishCanadian sociology: macroeconomic sociology and the study of gender issues. Both areas have been supported by a great deal of empirical and quantitative research as well as critical policy orientations.

The study of social stratification and power was greatly stimulated and influenced by John Porter, The Vertical Mosaic: An Analysis of Social Class and Power in Canada, 1965. Beginning in the 1970s, sociologists joined other social scientists in critical analyses of corporate capitalism. Major examples were Wallace Clement, The Canadian Corporate Elite, 1975, as well as his Continental Corporate Power: Economic Linkages between Canada and the United States, 1977; Robert Brym, edited collection The Structure of the Canadian Capitalist Class, 1985; and William K. Carroll, Corporate Power and Canadian Capitalism, 1986. The critical sociology of gender developed especially from the 1980s onward with major contributions from Margrit Eichler, The Double Standard, 1980; Bonnie Fox, Hidden in the Household: Women’s Domestic Labour under Capitalism, 1980; Mariana Valverde, Sex, Power and Pleasure, 1985; Roberta Hamilton and Michele Barrett, The Politics of Diversity: Feminism, Marxism, and Nationalism, 1986; and Dorothy Smith, The Everyday World as Problematic: A Feminist Sociology, 1987.

One of the distinctive features of Canadian sociology has been its frequent interaction with research and perspectives of other national traditions. The boundaries of Canadian and U.S. sociology, in particular, have been permeable in both directions. Several Canadians have had careers in the United States, including Erving Goffman, Dennis Wrong, and Michèle Lamont. Several American sociologists have conducted important research in Canada, including Seymour Martin Lipset’s Agrarian Socialism, 1950, and Continental Divide, 1990. Interaction between Canada and Europe has also been important in the development of Canadian sociology, exemplified by Marcel Fournier’s work on Marcel Mauss; Fournier has also collaborated with Michèle Lamont on Cultivating Difference, 1992. Finally, Canadians also tend to be disproportionately active in international professional associations.

Challenges Facing Sociology Early in the 21st Century

The history of sociology has to be written anew by each generation. What Max Weber said about concepts applies at least as well to the writing of historical accounts. Weber famously claimed that concepts, once formed, are destined to become obsolete because the culture changes incessantly as does the intellectual culture of science and scholarship. Just as there can be no closed, permanent set of concepts, so can there be no fixed historical narrative of sociology’s past. As new insights, knowledge, and perspectives arise, they provide lenses for making new discoveries about the past, discoveries that in turn nourish reflection and innovation for oncoming generations. Of all the challenges facing sociology, we can highlight only three that are especially relevant to the writing of sociology’s history.

Sociology as a Policy-Neutral Science versus Public and Critical Sociology

If there has been a single issue that has haunted sociology from the first generation until now, it is the status of sociology as an empirical science of social phenomena: Should sociology strive to be entirely value- and policyneutral, or should it attempt to contribute to the reform and improvement of social life? The question itself spawns others: If sociology should attempt to be policy- and valueneutral, can it be neutral and nonpartisan, and if so, how? If, on the other hand, sociology should align itself with forces of social reform, how can sociologists know and decide which values and policies will lead to societal improvement? Or is the question of science versus reform wrongly put as an “either/or” alternative? Can ways be found to honor the ideals of both a resolutely empirical science and the humanitarian impulse to contribute to social justice and reform? How can sociology best contribute to the quest for the good society, while maintaining scientific credibility?

Although these questions have so far resisted resolution, an examination of the history of sociology can be instructive in various ways. For one thing, we learn about the rich variety of positions and arguments on behalf of scientific neutrality and reform commitments, and the nuanced as well as passionate positions taken by colleagues of the past. Historical knowledge can help the present generation to refine the questions and issues while sorting through possible paths toward resolution and consensus. Second, our historical account has shown that in the 1960s and 1970s, students flocked to sociology, and graduates entered the profession, particularly in a time of perceived social crisis with the expectation that sociology could address the opportunity for societal improvement. Third, an examination of recent ASA presidential addresses shows that leaders of the current generation share a commitment to sociology as both a science and as an instrument for the reform and betterment of society. Two in particular have highlighted the obligations of sociology toward society and the public: Joe Feagin’s 2000 address, “Sociology and Social Justice: Agendas for the 21st Century,” and Michael Burawoy’s 2004 speech, “For Public Sociology.” The question of science versus reform, a question that is older and broader than sociology itself, has not yet been resolved, but important steps have been taken to clarify the nettle of questions at stake and the opportunities to move toward workable resolutions.

Creating and Securing the Conditions of Dialogue

It is often observed that the present era is one of great fragmentation and diversity in sociology. Instead of a single paradigm, sociology has many; instead of a strong core of general sociological theory and research, we have many special sociologies, each with its own concepts, theories, and favored research methods. Lacking a strong core of theory, method, and knowledge, it has become increasingly difficult for sociologists to maintain a unified sense of the discipline as a whole. One of the great challenges facing sociology in the twenty-first century is to create and secure conditions of communication across lines that divide specialists from other specialists, and that separate sociologists from fruitful communication with social scientists in other disciplines, with sociologists and social scientists in other parts of the world, and with the potential constituencies and publics for sociological knowledge. There are a number of ways of addressing the need for greater dialogue and opportunities to learn from each other: greater use of professional associations, conferences, and technologies for wider communication across specialties and national boundaries; increased attention to developing synthetic theories of social phenomena in conjunction with other social sciences; and promoting awareness of the rich content of past sociological theory, research, and practice. An awareness of the history of sociology shows that neither unity nor fragmentation has prevailed for more than a generation. History also reveals the relative benefits and disadvantages of unity, and more importantly, measures of coping with the challenges posed in this generation by disunity, fragmentation, and diversity.

New Directions in the Writing of the History of Sociology

The most recent period in North American sociology has witnessed several new developments in the writing of sociology’s history. Turning from literal and descriptive accounts of previous sociology, Lewis Coser (1971), in his Masters of Sociological Thought, sought to emphasize the importance of examining earlier ideas in relation to their historical and social contexts. Irving Zeitlin (2001), the Canadian sociologist, in his Ideology and the Development of Sociological Theory, sought in addition to place the development of sociological theory into an overarching narrative in which the thought of Karl Marx was placed at the center as a “watershed.” In a more comprehensive vein, Donald Levine (1995), in his Visions of the Sociological Tradition, analyzed the history of sociology in terms of national traditions and highlighted the need for dialogue to overcome disciplinary fragmentation.

Perhaps the greatest innovations of recent decades have stemmed from a thoroughgoing reexamination of the founding and early development of sociology. Both the ASA and the International Sociological Association have established vigorous sections and research committees on the history of sociology that foster exchange of ideas and research findings. The recent volume, Diverse Histories of American Sociology, 2005, edited by Anthony Blasi on behalf of the ASA section on the History of Sociology, exemplifies the broadening of the scope of contributions to the development of sociology. The most significant development of the recent past has been the rediscovery and acknowledgment of the role of women in the founding of sociology in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Several U.S. and Canadian sociologists have participated in this work of rediscovery, including, among many others, Mary Jo Deegan (1988, 1991), Michael R. Hill (Martineau 1989), Susan HoeckerDrysdale (1992), Shulamit Reinharz (1992), Lynn McDonald (1994), Patricia Lengermann and Jill NiebruggeBrantley (1998), and Hill and Hoecker-Drysdale (2001).

An education that is concentrated only on the sociology of the present day and of a single country or society yields a seriously limited view of sociological knowledge. The obvious antidote is a sociological education that includes knowledge of the history of the discipline, the ideas, methods, and practices of the past and of other societies. Future work in the field of sociology has much to gain from greater awareness of its history.


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