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Notes on Social Measurement

Notes on Social Measurement: Historical and Critical

Otis Dudley Duncan
Copyright Date: 1984
Published by: Russell Sage Foundation
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Notes on Social Measurement
    Book Description:

    "A richly erudite history of measurement and an account of its current state in the social sciences-fascinating, informative, provocative." -James S. Coleman, Unversity of Chicago

    "Wise and powerful." -American Journal of Sociology

    "Personal and provocative-an excellent set of historical and critical ruminations from one of social measurement's greatest contributors." -Choice

    eISBN: 978-1-61044-165-0
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
    (pp. v-vi)
    Marshall Robinson

    In 1982 the Russell Sage Foundation, one of America’s oldest general purpose foundations, celebrated its seventy-fifth anniversary. To commemorate this long commitment to the support and dissemination of social science research, we departed from our customary publishing procedures to commission several special volumes. Unlike most Russell Sage books, which emerge as the end products of various Foundation-supported research programs, these Anniversary volumes were conceived from the start as a series of publications. In tone, they were to be distinctly more personal and reflective than many of our books, extended essays by respected scholars and authors on significant aspects of social...

  3. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-xiv)
    (pp. 1-11)

    Lycurgus, the legendary lawgiver of Sparta, is credited by Plutarch with instituting the senate, or Council of Elders, members of which he at first appointed. Subsequently he provided that each vacancy caused by death would be filled by electing the “most deserving” man over sixty years of age.

    The election was made in the following manner. An assembly of the people having been convened, chosen men were shut up in a room near by so that they could neither see nor be seen, but only hear the shouts of the assembly. For as in other matters, so here, the cries...

    (pp. 12-38)

    The earliest use of “metrology” recorded in theOxford English Dictionaryis in the title of the book by P. Kelly,Metrology: or an Exposition of Weights and Measures, chiefly those of Great Britain and France, 1816. The word may be a borrowing from the French, inasmuch as writing onmétrologieappeared in France in the late eighteenth century. In its narrowest meaning, metrology has to do with equivalences within and between systems of weights and measures, facilitating conversions required in commerce, the industrial arts, surveying, and so on. In a similarly restricted sense, historical metrology is concerned to establish...

    (pp. 39-118)

    My main purpose in the following notes is to suggest that social measurement should be brought within the scope of historical metrology, while that discipline learns to take advantage of sociological perspectives. I cannot hope to give even a well-rounded sketch of any part of the inquiry I am recommending, but only to document the existence of materials that could repay careful historical analysis. Nor can I demonstrate any historical thesis; but I do presume to give examples lending plausibility to heuristic principles suggested by some investigators who have opened up my subject. First, “measures” are “a key to the...

    (pp. 119-156)

    Measurement is one of many human achievements and practices that grew up and came to be taken for granted before anyone thought to ask how and why they work. There is a striking analogy—perhaps something more—in the history of mathematics. What we now take to be the “foundations” of that subject only began to be investigated in the nineteenth century. According to Nagel and New-man (p. 5), “Until modern times geometry was the only branch of mathematics that had what most students considered a sound axiomatic basis.” But what a marvelous superstructure had already been erected on the...

    (pp. 157-171)

    If one were to write an essay on measurement of social phenomena—even if “measurement” were to have only a metaphorical significance in such a phrase—it would seem prudent to become informed about what “measurement” means in the domain that is sometimes called the science of measurement, that is, physical science and its applications. Although I am not well informed about physics, it seemed important to consider how and why social measurement resembles and, especially, differs from physical measurement. There are two terms to the comparison, and I am as well qualified as your average physicist to discourse on...

    (pp. 172-199)

    With the publication of G. T. Fechner’sElements of Psychophysicsin 1860 (English translation 1966), the first of the four main histories of measurement in psychology identified by Boring was formally inaugurated, although experimental work on sensation and perception antedates Fechner by a century or so. Kelley quotes O. Klemm,A History of Psychology(1914, p. 218): “It is certain that there is not one of the methods of psychical measurement that did not exist in its broad outlines before the time of Fechner.” During the first several decades after Fechner’s epoch-making contribution, psycho-physics took rather little note of matters...

    (pp. 200-219)

    The quantitative study of individual differences in ability and mental processes is often considered to have begun with Francis Galton about a century ago, although as I mentioned earlier some nineteenth-century experiments in educational measurement preceded his inquiries into human faculties and their inheritance. E. G. Boring credits Galton with being the inventor of the mental test (the term itself, however, was coined by J. McK. Cattell in 1890), but Calton’s tests of sensory discrimination and reaction time were not much like the individual and group tests of intellect that were developed shortly after the turn of the century by...

    (pp. 220-240)

    We are close to the end of an oddly proportioned essay on social measurement and I have said precious little about the actual enterprise or industry of measuring things social. There isn’t room to list in small type the names of the various “measures” proposed by social scientists: “There are literally thousands of scales and indexes to measure social variables,” according to Miller (p. 207), who attempted something like an inventory and took over 250 pages to make annotations on “selected” and recommended scales, along with details on a few of them, under some 13 headings:

    A. Social Status


    (pp. 241-242)
    (pp. 243-252)
    (pp. 253-256)