The sociologists Robert park and Ernest Burgess[iii]
I now want to discuss - with less detail because I still need to explore the University of Chicago Sociology Group more (e.g., Park, Burgess & McKenzie 1925; Abbott 1999) - two texts written by Robert E. Park (no relation to Thomas Park): his 1942 contribution to the Redfield Ecology-Sociology interdisciplinary volume and, more importantly, the 1921 textbook he prepared with Ernest Burgess. Let me immediately state that Park was probably the most important sociologist at the University of Chicago during the early 20thcentury, and his contextual, perspectival, interactionist, embedded, and survey-oriented sociology had a significant influence on American sociology (e.g., Abbott 1999, 208). He was also known for his ecological theory of sociology.
Park's sociology was thoroughly compositional. A metaphor he used is highly indicative of this. He noted that there is 'nothing so thoroughly rational and nothing so completely intelligible as a machine. Once one understands how to take a machine apart and put it together again, there is no longer any mystery about it. …its behavior is completely predictable' (1942, 231). He elaborated this metaphor and connected it to biology:
'This is …what is meant by making a thing intelligible, and since the task of science seems to be to make things intelligible, it performs this function by treating things as machines, that is, things that can be taken apart and put together. Where, as in the case of living organisms, science has been able to take things apart but has not been wholly successful in putting them together again, living creatures and life itself have remained, from the point of view of science, more or less a mystery' (1942, 232).
Intelligibility comes from understanding the compositional nature of a whole. This is not necessarily an espousal of aggregativity (see footnote 9 above), but it is an espousal of the fundamentally compositional nature of systems. It is unclear whether he thought that, in biology, we will succeed in attaining a full understanding of the system that will allow us to resolve the mystery of living creatures. It is clear, though, that he thought such understanding has thus far eluded us.
Let me now turn to his and Burgess' thoughts regarding society, as found in their 1924 (2nd edition) textbook. A brief explanation of the textbook and of my analytical methodology is in order. This sociology textbook was in wide-spread use for many years. The format of the book is an approximately 60 page introduction followed by 13 chapters on diverse sociological topics (e.g., Human Nature, Society and the Group, Social Integration, Conflict). For each chapter, they have a brief introduction followed by their rationale for choosing the texts they present from many diverse authors. After the rationale, they have brief excerpts from the work of various authors – for example, the authors in Chapter 3 include William M. Wheeler, John Dewey, Robert Park, Émile Durkheim, and Albion Small. This mix of biologists, philosophers, and sociologists is representative of the 1924 book. At the end of each chapter, they presented an 'Investigations and Problems' section, which includes further thoughts and reactions to the texts. After this section, they have a reference list, as well as brief, but useful, 'Topics for Written Themes' and 'Questions for Discussion'. This is a very creative textbook. For purposes of my paper, I focus on the main introduction to the book as well as Park and Burgess' subsequent introductions to each chapter. I am primarily interested in their views and not in the positions of the many other authors contained in the textbook.
Park and Burgess noted that there are some fundamental questions regarding the differences between humans and other organisms that need to be answered in order for us to determine what properly counts as sociology:
'In other words, the social organism, as Spencer sees it, exists not for itself but for the benefit of the separate organs of which it is composed, whereas, in the case of biological organism the situation is reversed. There the parts manifestly exist for the whole and not the whole for the parts.
…The fundamental problem which Spencer's paradox raises is that of social control. How does a mere collection of individuals succeed in acting in a corporate and consistent way? How in the case of specific types of social group, for example an animal herd, a boys' gang, or a political party, does the group control its individual members; the whole dominate the parts? What are the specific sociological differences between plant and animal communities and human society? What kind of differences are sociological differences, and what do we mean in general by the expression "sociological" anyway?
Since Spencer's essay on the social organism was published in 1860, this problem and these questions, in one form or another, have largely absorbed the theoretical interest of students of society. The attempts to answer them may be said to have created the existing schools into which sociologists are divided' (pp. 27-28).
They posed the question of what differentiates humans from other organisms in order to seek a proper delimitation and specification of sociology qua discipline. Sociology is concerned with how corporate and consistent action can stem from a set of parts. It stands in contrast to anthropology, which they took to be 'the science of man considered as one of the animal species, Homo sapiens' (p. 10). Sociology and history, unlike anthropology, are more concerned with 'man as a person, as a "political animal", participating with his fellows in a common fund of social traditions and cultural ideals'. (p. 10). Furthermore, sociology is distinct from history. History 'seeks to reproduce and interpret concrete events as they actually occurred in time and space' and also 'seeks to find out what actually happened and how it all came about' (p. 11). Instead, sociology 'seeks to arrive at natural laws and generalizations in regard to human nature and society' and also 'seeks to explain, on the basis of a study of other instances, the nature of the process involved' (p. 11). Unlike history, sociology is abstract. Furthermore, unlike anthropology it concerns our political, rather than biological, aspects.
Their own argument and thesis was specified later in the introduction. Their theoretical view was a compositional, interactionist, perspectival, embedded and pragmatist one:
'While it is true that society has this double aspect, the individual and the collective, it is the assumption of this volume that the touchstone of society, the thing that distinguishes a mere collection of individuals from a society is not likemindedness but corporate action. We may apply the term social to any group of individuals which is capable of consistent action, that is to say, action, consciously or unconsciously, directed to a common end. This existence of a common end is perhaps all that can be legitimately included in the conception "organic" as applied to society.
From this point of view social control is the central fact and the central problem of society. Just as psychology may be regarded as an account of the manner in which the individual organism, as a whole, exercises control over its parts or rather of the manner in which the parts co-operate together to carry on the corporate existence of the whole, so sociology, speaking strictly, is a point of view and a method for investigating the processes by which individuals are inducted into and induced to co-operate in some sort of permanent corporate existence which we call society' (p. 42, emphasis mine).
This is an explicitly compositional view in which corporate action of the parts is the defining aspect of a society. Later in the text they do note that a 'cardinal problem' is the one concerning 'the social one and the social many' (p. 161). They also claimed that: 'All the problems of social life are thus problems of the individual; and all problems of the individual are at the same time problems of the group.' (p. 57).20 Furthermore, their view regarding the 'touchstone of society' does not imply that there has to be a consensus among the parts in order for 'corporate action' to occur, but merely that sufficiently stable cooperation has to exist – cooperation does not necessarily require consensus. This cooperation grounds corporate action, which itself allows sufficiently common interests and preferences to be satisfied. It is also clear that they believed that parts do not always cooperate sufficiently well to achieve the desired outcome(s) and that is exactly where social control enters. I will not here flesh out their views on social control. For my interests in exploring what a compositional (biological) social science would look like, it is sufficient to observe what the main aspects of their view concerning social action are: (1) there is a clear part-whole relation, (2) action is done through cooperation, and (3) control, when necessary, is enforced.
In the above quote and elsewhere, Park and Burgess engaged in an important activity of line-drawing between the social and the biological. Above they noted that the only legitimate sense in which 'organic' can be 'applied to society' is by the existence of a 'common end', or what I interpret as purpose, design, and teleology. This is a notorious problem in the case of evolutionary biology and I will side-step it here, but it is interesting that they state here that they consider this the only link between the two realms. Elsewhere they observe:
'…Society now may be defined as the social heritage of habit and sentiment, folkways and mores, technique and culture, all of which are incident or necessary to collective human behavior. Human society, then, unlike animal society, is mainly a social heritage, created in and transmitted by communication. …Society viewed abstractly is an organization of individuals; considered concretely it is a complex of organized habits, sentiments, and social attitudes - in short, consensus' (p. 163).
Human and animal societies are differentiated in terms of 'social heritage', which is transmitted through communication. It is interesting that unlike, for example Emerson, they did not use the heredity metaphor to describe communication. The heredity metaphor was used primarily by those with a biological background.
Thus, it would seem that they did not hold that biological metaphors or theoretical perspectives have any merit in a social context. It is true that in a number of places they sought to explicitly draw a sharp line between human and animal groups (e.g., existence of culture as sentiments, mores, techniques, etc. that are transmitted). However, the compositional - and to a lesser extent, analogical - thinking that they adopted seems to permit them to import crucial concepts from the biological realm with which they further developed their sociological framework. There is a concern with organisms and biological phenomena throughout the book. For example, biological texts regarding competition and assimilation (Chapters 8 and 11, respectively) appear; groups of plants and animals are analyzed in addition to human social groups. Furthermore, they stated that the 'the economic organization of society, so far as it is an effect of free competition, is an ecological organization' (p. 508, emphasis mine). This metaphor is generative in that they used ecological knowledge to explore new ways of thinking about economic organization. Another generative use of a biological metaphor can be seen in their pithy description of two forms of social interaction: 'If mutation is the symbol for accommodation, growth is the metaphor for assimilation' (p. 736, emphasis mine). These metaphors provide the conceptual space to conclude that the former 'may take place with rapidity', whereas the latter is 'more gradual' (p. 736). This is a clear case of the generative use of biological metaphors. As I have shown is the case for the Chicago Ecology Group above, there existed a combination of fear and trepidation, together with an explicit endorsement, of the analogy and proximity of biological and social orders and processes.
In Allee et al.'s 1949 textbook there is an acceptance of laws as empirical regularities; in Park and Burgess's 1924 textbook there is an explicit distrust of laws. In their introduction, Allee and his co-authors wrote: 'We regard the so-called "laws of nature" as empirical, derived from the facts, and not the facts from the laws' (p. 5). In their introduction, Park and Burgess, in contrast, revealed a strong distrust in laws and abstract thinking of a certain sort:
'It has been the dream of philosophers that theoretical and abstract science could and some day perhaps would succeed in putting into formulae and into general terms all that was significant in the concrete facts of life. It has been the tragic mistake of the so-called intellectuals, who have gained their knowledge from textbooks rather than from observation and research, to assume that science had already realized its dream. But there is no indication that science has begun to exhaust the sources or significance of concrete experience. The infinite variety of external nature and the inexhaustible wealth of personal experience have thus far defied, and no doubt will continue to defy, the industry of scientific classification, while, on the other hand, the discoveries of science are constantly making accessible to us new and larger areas of experience' (p. 15).
There is a certain anti-theoretical stance in this quote, but given the rest of their book, and their intricate classification of the order and process of society, it is impossible to believe that Park and Burgess were fundamentally anti-theoretical. In fact, I believe that their selective opposition to theory stemmed from a deep suspicion toward mathematical abstractions and closed and rigid laws, whereas they continued to hold that conceptual classifications could be useful. With respect to their suspicion of mathematical abstractions, they wrote:
'Society is not a collection of persons in the sense that a brick pile is a collection of bricks. However we may conceive the relation of the parts of society to the whole, society is not a mere physical aggregation and not a mere mathematical or statistical unit' (p. 161, emphasis mine).
This expresses a clear distrust of conceiving society as merely a quantitative unit. Given that Park's research school involved surveys, etc., further work is required in order to explore exactly in which respects Park distrusted quantitative methods and the aim of finding quantitative relations.
The compositional social science research program Park and Burgess were developing contained crucial biological aspects. They also exhibited a deep resistance toward mathematical abstraction. In the next section I will provide, among other discussion, some concluding thoughts on the two Chicago Schools.