The Chicago school: A metascientific study

Harvey, Lee Colin (1985). The Chicago school: A metascientific study. PhD thesis The Open University.



The value of the concept of 'school' in metascience is examined with reference to the 'Chicago School, of sociology during the period from 1900 to 1952. The notion of school is widely used by sociologists in accounting for developments within their discipline. However, the use of schools as a framework for documenting and interpreting the history of sociology tends to obscure the complexity and variety of intellectual development.

Five myths about the 'Chicago School' are identified: that its members were social ameliorists; that they were primarily ethnographers; that they exhibited little concern with theory; that they were heavily reliant on a framework provided by the social psychological perspective of George Herbert Mead; and that they were an insular group with little direct involvement in, or long term impact on, the development of sociology in the United States.

It is argued that sociological work at the University of Chicago was an integral part of American sociology throughout the period under study and that the 'Chicago School' did not display a distinct set of theoretical and methodological ideas. What was common to the the members of the sociology department of the University of Chicago was in large part also typical of American sociology as a whole.

In the light of this empirical study, the potential of the metascientific models proposed by Mullins (1973) and Tiryakian (1979a, 1979b) is examined in detail both in terms of their theoretical underpinnings and their approach to the case study material. 'Doubt is cast on the value of these models and the implications of this for a 'schools' or 'unit approach' to metascience are considered. It is suggested that a schools approach which concentrates on the knowledge transformative processes within a school rather than on identifying schools with a distinct set of ideas might be a more profitable way of developing a theory of the production of sociological knowledge and would be less likely to perpetrate myths.

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