American Sociology: From Pre-Disciplinary to Post-Normal by Stephen Turner (auth.)

By Stephen Turner (auth.)

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The execution of the survey required interviewers. Each element involved specialized skills, which students could be trained in. Each skill could be elaborated. Yet the basic results could usually be presented in a simple way in a table, so these products were user friendly. The basic statistics needed for analyzing tables were undemanding: the key points could often be made with percentages. Computation was easy, compared to the computation for correlations. The only technology needed was punch cards and a card sorter.

Maps were among the visual devices used. To some extent they resembled the community studies done prolifically by sociologists during this period – indeed Robert Park was hired in Chicago as an expert on social surveys – and community surveys complete with extensive mapping were common in rural sociology, as was the intention to feed the information back to the community and present it in accessible form. The second was ‘participant observation’. The original sense of this term was this: a participant in a welfare or reform organization would observe the organization and its effects and analyze and report on them.

Foreigners and émigrés, such as Kurt Wolff (Psathas, 2003, pp. 285–87), who had managed to survive in the margins of academia, were able, under the circumstances of the hot market of the late 1940s, to rise to positions of prominence, often on very slender credentials. This meant, among other things, that European social theory was represented in traditional Midwestern American sociology departments directly, rather than through interpreters like Parsons: Wolff was at Ohio State; Hans Gerth at Wisconsin, and there were others in less prominent places.

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