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Edward A. Ross on Urbanization and the “Country Soul” January 19, 2012

Posted by Christopher Donohue in History of Economic Thought, Uncategorized.
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Edward A. Ross

Edward A. Ross

Edward Alsworth Ross (December 12, 1866–July 22, 1951) was a professor at Stanford and University of Wisconsin, founder of the sociology of “social control,” and a forefather of the sociology of deviance and criminality systematized by Robert K. Merton. Ross was also an important author of sociological introductions and textbooks, of which Robert E. Park and Ernest W. Burgess’ Introduction to the Science of Sociology (1921) and W. I. Thomas’ Source-book for Social Origins (1909) were two important examples.

Although the function of the textbook in the standardization of social scientific knowledge and methodology is an important topic and has, in my opinion, not attracted significant scholarly attention, what I am most concerned with here is what I call the persistence of gemeinschaft in the American social sciences. What I mean by this is the construction of a dichotomous relationship between city and country. Ferdinand Tonnies in the nineteenth century believed peasants and the countryside to be dominated by tradition, kinship, and custom. The cities, on the other hand, were determined by the workings of capitalism and the market. It was in the cities, as Georg Simmel observed later, that individuals achieved an immense individual freedom, but consequently, remained strangers to one another.

This was one of the latent ideas in my post on Robert Redfield and has since become a more important element of my research. The persistence of gemeinschaft also serves to shed a light on the relatively unknown historical presence of rural sociology. As importantly, the the persistence of gemeinschaft concept also dovetails nicely with discussions of “urban selection” among social theorists.

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Viscount James Bryce on the Marketplace and the American Intellect August 25, 2011

Posted by Christopher Donohue in History of Economic Thought, History of the Human Sciences.
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The British social theorist James Bryce is chiefly known as a writer on the American party system (The American Commonwealth, 1888)  and may perhaps be one of the most tolerable early sociologists of modern democracy (Modern Democracies, 1921).  This will be the subject of a later post.

Bryce was quite indebted to European thinkers, even those from whom he tried to distance himself.   Perhaps nowhere is the influence of Tocqueville more apparent than in Bryce’s discussion of the effect of commerce and the marketplace upon the American intellect.  Here Bryce elaborates upon the conclusion of Tocqueville, that the materialism of American culture explained its lack of genius and refinement.

James Bryce, 1st Viscount Bryce (1838 1922)

In the nineteenth century, capitalism and art never mixed well in the minds of social theorists.  Consider for a moment the distaste of business and money expressed by John Ruskin or Matthew Arnold.  If not commerce, then the natural sciences or industry were the source of the ills of the present.

The market was another sign of modernity and its triumph over history. This caused many theorists — French, German, and English, from Rousseau and Gibbon and back again — to bemoan the discontents of progress and capitalist modernity.  Whether progress was worth the costs and what progress consisted of were the chief concerns of sociology at this time.  It was this sentiment which welded to together the works of Weber, Simmel, Marx, and Durkheim.  Bryce was no different.

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Richard Ely on Industrial Civilization and Socialism August 22, 2011

Posted by Christopher Donohue in History of Economic Thought, History of the Human Sciences.
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Almost every economist who wrote from the French Revolution to the interwar period (and perhaps even to today)  defined the principles of their economics or political economy along with a narrative of the development of civilization.  Richard Ely was no exception.

Richard Theodore Ely (1854–1943)

As with Smith and Malthus, in Ely’s economics the reader is treated to several prolonged discussions of why savages made tools, what herdsmen were really like, and how medieval towns came into being. Not only did economists from Adam Smith forward have to address the increasingly complexities of land, labor, and capital, as well as banking and finance, but also the emergence of a new kind of civilization, industrial civilization. Ricardo and Marx’s discussions of technology and machinery alone argue for their continuing relevance.

Ely’s Elementary Principles of Economics (1915), intended for students, began the discussion of the emergence of industrial civilization with the all-too-familiar conceit, the “hunting and fishing stage.”  In this initial stage of development, economic activity is “isolated.”  Ely considered the earliest stages to be “independent economy” with little exchange of goods or coordination among individuals.  Ely also distinguished between two fundamentally differing views towards the natural world in human beings’ march towards civility, namely, “between uncivilized man, who uses what he finds, and civilized man, who makes what he wants.” (more…)

Brooks Adams, The Law of Civilization and Decay, and Economic Determinism January 28, 2011

Posted by Christopher Donohue in History of the Human Sciences.
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Brooks Adams (1848-1927)

Russell Kirk (1918-1994) noted that Brooks Adams was “an eccentric.” Adams was disgusted with American society in his day and thought inertia was “social death.” He believed the only solution to the ills of society was progress and change, denouncing capitalists and bankers in much the same language as Karl Marx.  Adams, much like Marx, was to Kirk, an “economic determinist,” but unlike Marx, he “detested the very process of change which he urged society to accept,” and “longed hopelessly for the republic of Washington and John Adams,” condemning “democracy” as both “a symptom and cause of social decay.”  Adams’ “detestation” of capitalism stemmed from his aversion to “competition,” enjoining his fellow man to seek stability and order.  According to Kirk, however, Adams’ dream of harmony was subverted by his own understanding of historical laws, as “by the logic of his own economic and historical theories, permanence is never found in the universe.”  Kirk underscored that the persistent theme throughout Adams’ four works — The Law of Civilization and Decay, America’s Economic Supremacy, The New Empire, and The Theory of Social Revolutions — was man’s imprisonment by economic forces and civilization as the product of ceaseless centralization (The Conservative Mind, 367-9) (more…)

Systems-Thinking and Robert Redfield November 9, 2010

Posted by Christopher Donohue in History of the Human Sciences.
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Robert Redfield

Robert Redfield (1897-1958) earned his degree in sociology and anthropology from the University of Chicago in 1920.  More than any anthropologist of his generation, argues Clifford Wilcox, Redfield adopted a “pronounced sociological approach to anthropology.” According to Wilcox, two broad intellectual currents influenced Redfield’s development: “the deep-seated critique of civilization that emerged among European and American intellectuals following World War I,” and “his father-in-law, University of Chicago sociologist Robert E. Park ” (Social Anthropology, xiv.)

In contrast to the assertive Victorian belief in progress, in the period following the First World War, intellectuals began to “question the nature not only of Western civilization, but of civilization itself, particularly the equation of civilization with progress.”  Among those who penned withering critiques of civilization were Oswald Spengler and Edward Sapir. (more…)