1 The Chicago School

2 Chicagoans as ameliorists

3 Chicagoans as ethnographers

4 The quantitative tradition at Chicago

5 Chicagoans as atheoretical empirical researchers

6 G.H. Mead and the Chicagoans
7 Chicago dominance
8 Schools and metascience



About Myths of the Chicago School (1987)



© Lee Harvey 1987, 2018

Page updated 24 January, 2018

Citation reference: Harvey, L., [1987] 2018, Myths of the Chicago School, available at, last updated 24 January, 2018, originally published in Aldershot by Avebury, Gower Piublishing, all rights revert to author..


A novel of twists and surpises


Myths of the Chicago School

8. Schools and metascience

8.1 Introduction

In chapters three to seven five myths about the 'Chicago School' of sociology were examined. These myths occur both in introductory textbooks and in more advanced discussions of sociological theory. Commentators resort to taken-for-granted ideas about the 'Chicago School'. It is frequently seen as concerned with reform, as adopting ethnographic techniques with little concern for theoretical issues, and as having been dependent on the ideas of George Herbert Mead. Generally, the Chicagoans are portrayed as having dominated sociology in the United States up to the mid-thirties, before their isolationism and intransigence in the face of the growth of a more scientific approach to sociology led to a rapid decline in their influence.

Most of the discussions quoted to illustrate the myths about the 'Chicago School' are relatively brief and superficial accounts, rather than detailed historical case studies. These, as suggested in chapter one, adopt a rather casual approach to the concept of school. However, there are others who have used the 'Chicago School' as a critical case in the development of theories about the growth of sociological knowledge (Mullins, 1973; Tiryakian, 1979a, 1979b) or who have adopted a metascientific concept of 'school' when examining the history of the Chicagoans (Bulmer, 1984). Interestingly, with perhaps the rare exception of Bulmer, these more developed metascientific accounts lean heavily and selectively on secondary sources for their historical detail (Harvey, 1985).

Views of the 'Chicago School' are well established in the history of sociology, as can be seen by the large number of casual references to their work. The 'Chicago School', I have suggested, is surrounded by myths. This book has examined the major myths and has shown that most taken-for-granted views of Chicago sociology are misleading. There is a considerable amount of recent research, besides my own, examining elements of the taken-for-granted views of Chicago sociology, most of which have been referred to in this book. Perhaps more direct first-hand investigation and a wider dissemination of the results of these investigations will lead to a revised view of the 'Chicago School'. Maybe, such close scrutiny will reveal the superficial nature of the constructions of a 'Chicago School' (Kurtz, 1984) and result in the notion of a 'Chicago School' being abandoned altogether.

This, then, raises interesting questions about the efficacy of a 'school' approach to the history of an academic discipline. Do all schools evaporate under close inspection? Are schools inevitably liable to be the harbingers of myths? Or is there something intrinsic and vital for the history of social science in having research seen as located within a social network?

As indicated in Chapter one, several different metascientific concepts are in use, ranging from 'school' to 'invisible college'. The efficacy of a 'schools' approach to the understanding of the development of social scientific knowledge should, I suggest, be located within a general assessment of the role of metascientific units in the history and sociology of knowledge.

Next 8.2 The potential of a unit approach