The Americanization of Social Science

The Americanization of Social Science: Intellectuals and Public Responsibility in the Postwar United States

David Paul Haney
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 288
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt14bs8s0
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  • Book Info
    The Americanization of Social Science
    Book Description:

    A highly readable introduction to and overview of the postwar social sciences in the United States,The Americanization of Social Scienceexplores a critical period in the evolution of American sociology's professional identity from the late 1940s through the early 1960s. David Paul Haney contends that during this time leading sociologists encouraged a professional secession from public engagement in the name of establishing the discipline's scientific integrity.

    According to Haney, influential practitioners encouraged a willful withdrawal from public sociology by separating their professional work from public life. He argues that this separation diminished sociologists' capacity for conveying their findings to wider publics, especially given their ambivalence towards the mass media, as witnessed by the professional estrangement that scholars like David Riesman and C. Wright Mills experienced as their writing found receptive lay audiences. He argues further that this sense of professional insularity has inhibited sociology's participation in the national discussion about social issues to the present day.

    eISBN: 978-1-59213-715-2
    Subjects: Sociology, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-21)

    It is something of an historical peculiarity that American sociology, an academic discipline charged with the objective of illuminating the substance of everyday life, has possessed such a comparatively low public profile among the social sciences. Sociologists’ valuable investigations of and insights into the nature of work and the workplace, parenting and childhood, consumerism, sexuality and sexual identity, race and race relations, public health, economic inequality, criminality, substance abuse, gender roles, aging, athletic competition, and artistic expression have yet to receive the degree of public attention that is accorded the work of psychologists, economists, and political scientists. Moreover, the very...

  6. 2 The Postwar Campaign for Scientific Legitimacy
    (pp. 22-45)

    Arguments supporting sociology’s possession of its own realm of scientific integrity have existed as long as the very idea of sociology itself. When Auguste Comte formulated his “positive sociology” in the 1830s, he envisioned a social and intellectual order in which the bearers of a new “science of society”—the most complex of all the sciences—would bring order and harmony to the human community. Emile Durkheim, similarly, sought to make sociology a true science by establishing consistent and reliable definitions of social facts, the substance of the discipline. To obtain such facts and thereby to advance sociology’s progress toward...

  7. 3 Quantitative Methods and the Institutionalization of Exclusivity
    (pp. 46-67)

    As disciplinary leaders asserted their conceptions of sociology’s scientific integrity after World War II, the methodological infrastructure and innovation that would support their claims gained powerful momentum, lending to academic sociology the mien and accoutrements of the professional authority of hard science. Shortly after the war, institutes of survey research emerged at major American universities—the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, the Survey Research Center at the University of Michigan, the Bureau of Applied Social Research at Columbia, the Institute for Social Science Research at UCLA, the Survey Research Laboratory at the University of Illinois, and...

  8. 4 Social Theory and the Romance of American Alienation
    (pp. 68-87)

    The conception of sociology as a hard science ascended to become a primary element of professional sociological identity just as particular critiques of modernity came to enjoy widespread credence among the postwar generation of American sociologists. Influential scholars from leading departments, particularly those of Harvard and Columbia, subsumed the United States and Europe under the common rubric of “mass society,” so that by 1956 Daniel Bell would observe that, aside from Marxism, this paradigm constituted “probably the most influential social theory in the Western world today.”¹ This conception of mass society, more an indictment of modernity than merely a framework...

  9. 5 Theories of Mass Society and the Advent of a New Elitism
    (pp. 88-121)

    The roots of the postwar American sociologists’ linking of modern mass society and alienation to the threat of political tyranny lay in the works of conservative European social thinkers such as Gustave Le Bon and José Ortega y Gasset. Le Bon’s 1895 essayThe Crowdpopularized the Nietzschean idea of the modern individual as an irrational creature whose absorption into the mass rendered him incapable of independent judgment or will. The mass therefore constituted a “servile flock” that was “ever incapable of doing without its master,” an authority inevitably despotic in its exercise.¹ Ortega, in his 1930 essay,The Revolt...

  10. 6 Fads, Foibles, and Autopsies: Unwelcome Publicity for Diffident Sociologists
    (pp. 122-171)

    Early in 1946, Robert Lynd wrote a letter to Alfred McClung Lee, then the chairman of the Sociology and Anthropology departments at Wayne University, identifying what he perceived to be the source of American sociology’s future disciplinary progress. Lynd observed that sociology possessed three salient “levels,” each of which reflected a stage within its progress toward maturation. The first of these consisted of “non-quantitative, non-technically trained” scholars. The second included those who had had some exposure to modern empirical research techniques and therefore constituted “an intermediate group.” The third level Lynd identified as “a terrific crop of youngsters trained by...

  11. 7 Pseudoscience and Social Engineering: American Sociology’s Public Image in the Fifties
    (pp. 172-202)

    In November 1948, the American electorate returned President Harry Truman to office, confounding journalists, pundits, public opinion pollsters, and politicians who had expected Republican challenger Thomas Dewey to win the election. For social scientists in particular, the pollsters’ failure to predict the election’s outcome on the basis of their recent opinion sampling innovations proved deeply embarrassing at a critical moment in their struggle to forge a salutary public identity. In particular, this public relations crisis threatened to cast new and potentially more widespread doubt upon sociology’s scientific integrity.

    Once again, Merton spearheaded the effort to protect sociology’s scientific legitimacy in...

  12. 8 The Perils of Popularity: Public Sociology and Its Antagonists
    (pp. 203-232)

    While scholars such as Merton, Lipset, and Berger struggled actively and publicly against their nonsociologist critics during the 1950s and early 1960s, other sociologists fought a rearguard battle against those who would trespass upon the scientific authority sociology had declared for itself, as well as against those from among their number who had attracted, willfully or unintentionally, a broad popular audience. Taking aim at popular journalists and the few scholars who had attained a high public profile, these defenders of disciplinary integrity lamented the alleged simplification of sociological research that such accessibility necessarily engendered, citing the potential for such popular...

  13. 9 Conclusion: The Legacy of the Scientific Identity
    (pp. 233-252)

    The renowned French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu has characterized the period from the end of World War II to the beginning of the 1960s as a critical watershed in the evolution of sociology’s professional identity, asserting that “it is only after 1945 that the ambition to give sociology full respectability by constituting it into aprofessioncrystallized.” Bourdieu cites disciplinary leaders’ success during the 1950s in “imposing a true intellectualorthodoxy” upon sociology, one that served “tomimicwhat it took to be the major characteristic of a science worthy of the name—namely the surface consensus that was to bestow...

  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 253-276)
  15. Index
    (pp. 277-283)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 284-284)