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Ethical issues in sociological research.

The study of people ("human subjects") raises vital questions about ethical concerns in sociological [research. Researchers are required to obtain written "informed consent" statements from the persons they study — but what constitutes "informed consent"? Mow do researchers protect the identity and confidentiality of their sources? The American Sociological Association (ASA) Code of Ethics (19Ó7) sets forth certain basic standards that sociologists must follow in conducting research. Among these are the following:

1. Researchers must endeavor to maintain objectivity and integrity in their
research by disclosing their research findings in full and including all possible
interpretations of the data (even when these interpretations do not support their
own viewpoints).

2. Researchers must safeguard the participants' right to privacy and
dignity while protecting them from harm.

3. Researchers must protect confidential information provided by
participants, even when this information is not considered to be "privileged"
(legally protected, as is the case between doctor and patient and between attorney
and client) and legal pressure is applied to reveal this information.

4. Researchers must acknowledge research collaboration and assistance
they receive from others and disclose all sources of financial support.

In this lecture, we have looked at how theory and research work together to provide us with insights on human behavior. Theory and research are the "lifeblood" of sociology. Theory provides the framework for analysis; research provides opportunities for us to use our sociological imagination to generate new knowledge. Our challenge today is to find new ways of integrating knowledge and action and to include all people in the theory and research process to help fill the gaps in our existing knowledge about social life and how it is shaped by gender, race, class, and age and by the broader social and cultural context in which every­day life occurs (Cancian, 1992). Each of us can and should find new ways to integrate knowledge and action into our daily lives.

Basis of Sociological Thought. — In the last chapter a brief review was made of the early attempts to provide a theoretical basis of social relations. Conscious of the defects of society and seeing some ways in which these shortcomings could be remedied, social reformers and philosophical thinkers formulated a philosophy of society. These theories, although mere guesses at the riddle of social life, made necessary a well-defined and comprehensive science of society. As guesses they had value in calling attention to the necessity of a theory of society based upon a broader study of social facts and less influenced by individual and party prejudice. The ultimate fulfilment of these various social philosophies, however, is social science.

In the present chapter it is desired to present very briefly the principal elements which have entered into sociology and the successive steps in its development. The foundations rest primarily upon (r) the organic conception of society, (2) a recognition of the conscious, collective action of its members, and (3) upon the scientific analysis of the structure and the activity of the social body. Every systematic study of society involving one of these phases of thought, even though it be limited in scope, contributes to the formation of the science.

Forerunners of Sociology. — Many writers approaching society from a religious, political, economic, ethical, or psychological standpoint have contributed something to the study of social relationships. Wherever they have supported their theories by scientific data they have prepared the material for the construction of sociology. These writers may be called the forerunners of sociology, for their lines of thought prepare for a scientific conception. Perhaps five lines of thought, sometimes distinct and again blending in more or less confusion, have promoted scientific sociological study. These are the study of the biological sciences, the scientific conception of history, and the modern method of studying economics, philosophy, and ethics. Writers who have followed these lines, viewing society as a whole, have brought the thinking world into a semiscientific attitude respecting the activities of society.

Prominent among the men who have influenced this new attitude in some of these lines of study is Vico, who, declaring that history is governed by laws as fixed and regular as those which control the material world, gave a new direction to that study ; Montesquieu, who, in his Spirit of Laws, applied the new methods to a study of politics ; Turgot, in his evolutionary exposition of finance, economics, and politics ; Condorcet, who recounted the progress of the human mind and insisted on the indefinite perfectibility of social institutions ; Adam Smith, whose philosophical and economic writings emphasized the interdependence of individuals and classes; and John Stuart Mill, who asserted that there was need of a new science called sociology. The recognition by all these philosophers and writers that society presents a group of phenomena worthy of study, and that there exists a social organization needing adjustment, paved the way for sociology.

The Founders of Sociology. — August Comte coined the name " sociology," and laid the corner stone of its foundation. His work was that of a builder who should make the plans for and clear a place for a building, lay a stone in the foundation, and leave it for others to complete. Others had been contributing material of different sorts, not dressed for the builders, to be sure, but material which could be used when prepared. Comte's great merit lay in his gathering up these materials ready to hand in the shape of historical and scientific studies and outlining the method by which they could be built into the new temple which he first called sociology. In his " hierarchy of sciences," set forth in The Positive Philosophy, he gave an important place to sociology, for universal knowledge would not yield to classification without it. Social physics or sociology was given as one of the five fundamental natural sciences. Moreover, he perceived it was the latest addition to the hierarchy of ordered knowledge. The corner stone of the new science was the evolutionary conception of society.


Comte has been called a " herald" of sociology, and indeed, he was little more. Nevertheless, in insisting on classification and in making rules for that classification he left plans for the builders who followed him. His generalizations are suggestive, far reaching,. and valuable, although the details of his system are incomplete and sometimes seriously out of place. As Ward, referring to Comte, well says : " He seems to possess the rare power, everywhere manifest through his work, of weaving upon a warp of truth a woof of error. . . . He is a great general in the army of thinkers ; but when he descends, as he continually does, to meddle with the brigades, regiments, and platoons, he throws them into confusion by the undue severity and amazing stupidity of his commands."

But as Spencer, who built his sociology in part upon the corner stone laid -by Comte, says : " We must not overlook the greatness of the step made by M. Comte. His mode of contemplating facts was truly philosophical. . . . Apart from his sociological doctrines his way of conceiving social phenomena is much superior to all previous ways." 2 Comte's conception was all-embracing. To have pointed out the relation between biology and sociology, and to have outlined the plan of a science and suggested how to complete it was of incalculable service. In the accumulated, heterogeneous mass of social theory and speculation already in existence, unclassified, undifferentiated and without a general purpose, he established a fixed point about which the phenomena of society could be organized. In doing these things he can safely be considered the founder of sociology.

But in the beginning of a science, as in the beginning of a state, there is frequently more than one founder. Herbert Spencer built upon the foundation laid by Comte. Differing in many points as to philosophical doctrine, Spencer elaborated further the main principles of Comte, modifying them in accordance with new knowledge and restating them in terms of his evolutionary philosophy. He gave the new science an impetus and demonstrated by inductions from a wide collection of facts its possibility. Though his system is one sided, sociology, viewed from the present standpoint, owes more to Spencer than to any other sociologist. True, he constructed his theory of society upon the analogy of an animal organism, and carried too far the comparison between the biological and the sociological organism. Yet his main thesis, that the social organism grows like a biological organism by differentiation, was helpful in the beginning of an attempt to apply the scientific methods to society which has accomplished such wonders in the natural sciences. His error is easily accounted for when one considers that at the time he wrote his Principles of Sociology all eyes were fixed upon the great change which was occurring in biology and that his sociology is essentially a study of social structure alone. In pressing the biological analogy, Spencer overlooked the importance of integration, which has been correctly emphasized by later sociologists. He rightly insisted on the collection of social data and the construction of sociology from an inductive study of society. In the development of sociology his emphasis proved an excellent thing for sociology, but he failed to carry the investigation beyond a study of social structure, and he did not give proper emphasis to the psychological element of society.

Spencer's Descriptive Sociology is but a classified collection of social facts based on social activities and social structures. It furnished the basis of his Principles of Sociology which appeared later. These, together with an introductory book on The Study of Sociology comprise his formal contributions to the science of sociology, although many premises are laid down in First Principles and Social Statics. Sociology has advanced along so many lines since Spencer's labors that much of his work appears as a study of institutions and a description of ethnic society.

Progress of Sociology. — Since the writings of Comte and Spencer appeared, the main development of the science of sociology has been secured by the application of a scientific method to the study of human society. The progress of its development has been exceedingly irregular because each investigator has approached the subject from his own point of view, and has, therefore, contributed to the science according to his own peculiar theories, doctrines, and preconceived notions. Hence we find a large number of men — many of them of tremendous power — who have been trying to construct the science of sociology. But there has been little synthetic development. Even now there is just arising a consensus of opinion among sociologists as to the scope, boundaries, and essential principles of sociology. No one has offered a system that would be accepted by all. Yet there is sufficient agreement as to methods, enough data have been collected, enough principles have been demonstrated, and conclusions reached to promise rapid progress henceforth. In recent years the points of view are closer and the lines of thought converging. It is becoming clear that each of the great workers in this vast field has been studying a certain part of it and a synthesis of the results of their labors is at hand.

The Organic Conception of Society. — Comte recognized the unity of society and in a certain way its organic nature. But to Comte the structure was physical rather than biological. Spencer, as we have seen, based his sociology on biology and therefore conceived society as a physical organism. It is evident, however, in the unfolding of his thought concerning the development of society, that he changed his viewpoint from time to time. Sometimes he treated society as merely analogous to a biological structure and at others he asserted that it is more than an organism. But while upon the whole he recognized the physical unity of society, in considering the functions of the state, he seems at times to lose sight of his conception of society as an organic whole and to relapse into a crass individualism.

The Austrian economist, August Schaeffie, in 1874, began to publish his monumental work on structural sociology, called The Structure and Life of the Social Body (Bau und Leben des Socialen Körpers). As the title suggests, it describes the organs or parts of the social body and analyzes their functions or activities. It is a more complete exposition of the biological idea of sociology than that given by Spencer. Yet, it is quite remarkable that Schaeffie discussed the form of society with reference to its functional activity. For, in showing the activities of the respective organs or parts of society, he recognized and classified the social forces which are, to a great extent, psycho-logical, which would seem to indicate that the psychological principle underlay the formal structure which he elaborated. Essentially, nevertheless, Schaeffle must be classed among the biological sociologists. In the same group, although of less importance, are Jacques Novicow, René Worms, and de Roberty.

Influence of Economists. — The lines between political economy and sociology are sharply drawn, yet many of the methods used by economic writers, as well as their investigations, have influenced the development of a theory of society. This is especially true in regard to their use of the historical and statistical methods. The so-called historical school of economists have emphasized the development of economic ideas in connection with the industrial development of particular nations. While generalization has usually been one sided in that emphasis has been placed upon the economic life as a thing apart, the study of the origin and growth of one field of human activity has been of great service in interpreting social life in general. These economists have also shown the relation of classes and groups, and of economic organs and activities. In so doing they have set forth some of the motives actuating men to conflict and to cooperation, and thus have supplied concrete illustration for more general social principles. Roscher, Hildebrand, Knies, and Schmoller in Germany, Wolowski in France, and Cliff e Leslie and Posnet in England are the principal representatives of this school.

Le Play, in his Social Reform in France, used the statistical method with great skill. The possibilities of the statistical method were thus shown for sociological as well as for economic studies. He has been followed by Quetelet, Mayo-Smith, Bailey, Levasseur, and Leroy-Beaulieu chiefly in studies of the social population but with a decided tendency to extend the method to other fields of sociological investigation as illustrated by Galton and Karl Pearson in the field of eugenics and by Professor Benini of Pavia, Italy, and Professor Giddings, in the field of social psychology.

Durkheim, in De la division du travail social, expands the economic idea of the division of labor in society and makes it the basis of his system of sociology. He holds that socialization comes about because men broken into groups by diverse social interests find themselves dependent on each other for social completeness. The pressure of necessity for the preservation of the interests of each group leads to cooperation between them. While his work is sociological, it has been greatly influenced by the work of the economists.

This brief catalogue of writers who have indirectly influenced sociological thought must not omit the name of Thorstein Veblen, whose three books, The Theory of the Leisure Class, The Enterprise of Business, and The Instinct of Workmanship, have thrown a clear light upon the social motives which affect the economic life of man. Here economic results are shown to be produced, not alone by those motives which were dear to the classical economists, but by motives less simple and concerned with quite other things than getting enough to eat and wear — motives of social distinction, motives born of the social passions to excel and to dominate.

The study of industrial development in recent years has been of service to sociology in working out the processes of change and the principles of evolution in this particular field of associated life. Ely's Evolution of Industrial Society, is a good example. Professor Ely always having been an ardent student of society, his studies of economic development have supplied principles of development of much wider social significance. Likewise, Bücher's Industrial Evolution and Ashley's English Economic History throw light upon the development of society.

Recent Development of Sociology. — With all due credit to the earlier writers in this field, its really scientific development has occurred since sociologists have ceased to pursue the biological analogy, and viewing social phenomena without either biological or economic prejudices, have endeavored to apply scientific methods to them. From many sources and by a multitude of writers, each seeking the truth from his own point of view, the contributions to the science of sociology have been made. Only a few of the main lines of thought and, consequently, but a few of the chief writers may be mentioned here. The formal beginning of sociology in the United States was made by Lester F. Ward, in his monumental work, Dynamic Sociology, which appeared in 1883. Previous to the appearance of Ward's book, social science was considered by scholars as a collection of ideas on social reform. So little was the educational world prepared for the introduction of a new science that the Dynamic Sociology was received with much misgiving by those who paid any attention to it. It has grown in influence steadily since its introduction. Representing the dynamic aspect of sociology, it covers only a part of the subject, but it was unique in clearly delimiting the field of sociology and suggesting helpful divisions of the subject. Further, Ward's work was a rigid application of the scientific method to this limited field. Trained as a paleobotanist, fanciful analogies had no charm for his scientific spirit. While Ward sees human life as a part of the great whole of life, he insists that the basis of social activity is really psychological, and that the social forces are psychic forces. Ten years later Ward brought out The Psychic Factors of Civilization, in which he elaborated his social psychology, and developed his thesis that society is fundamentally psychical. Another ten years passed before the appearance of his Pure Sociology, which was followed by a volume on Applied Sociology. In the Pure Sociology, Ward makes the word " Pure " signify an account of the origin and development of society due to spontaneous, non-conscious causes. Indeed, the secondary title to this volume is The Origin and Spontaneous Development of Society. Upon this foundation is built the theory of social improvement by " telesis," or purposeful social action.

In 1886 appeared the first part of Introduction ŕ la sociologie by the Belgian sociologist Guillaume De Greef. This part treated of Elements, and was followed in 1889 by the second part on Fonctions et organes, and later by a third part on Structure général. A part of it has appeared serially in The American Journal of Sociology, translated into English by Eben Mumford. It is a systematic outline of social systems, organs, and functions. In the last part he uses the statistical method. The central idea in his system is social " contract," or as Small points out social " contact."

In 1894 a textbook was published with the title An Introduction to the Study of Society, written by A. W. Small and George E. Vincent. While sociology has made much progress since this book appeared, it has proved to be a valuable and suggestive working manual. However, Small's service to sociology is better represented by his discussions in The American Journal of Sociology on the nature of sociology and on methodology, and in his larger systematic work, General Sociology, published in 1904. Vincent previously had published his Education and the Social Progress.

Giddings's Principles of Sociology first appeared in 1896. The foundation of his system of sociology rests on the instinctive theory implied in Aristotle's dictum that man is a political animal. To him sociology is both a natural history of society and a psychological analysis of the structure, processes of growth, and the functions of society. He places " consciousness of kind " as the basic social force and the cause of human relation-ship. The recognition of kind, or mutual attraction, has built society through the processes of differentiation and integration. His critics insist that he has made too much of consciousness of kind. In his Inductive Sociology, which was published in 1901, Giddings has apparently given consciousness of kind a less important place, but really has analyzed its workings much more completely than in his previous work. In 1908 he published his Readings in Descriptive and Historical Sociology. In this work his system was further elaborated and some points developed which had been merely implied in his previous writings. Thus, his analysis of the kinds of societies went much farther than in any of his previous books, and the social differentiations and resemblances which grow up in the formation of the social mind were traced and illustrated much more completely than in his previous works. The treatment of the stages in the evolution of society which marked his Principles and Elements and which many think the most important contribution he has made to the study of society, was worked in as a minor feature in the part devoted to social organization. Perhaps his most important contributions to sociology are his theory that society has risen from the operation of the consciousness of kind, which in his use of the term includes not only consciousness of likeness, but also of difference, and his theory of social evolution. Consciousness of likeness makes for social integration, recognition of differences for social variation.

Professor Ross's Social Control, published in 1901, is a brilliant and original exposition of the influence of instinctive and conscious social restraint in the process of socialization. He followed this work with his The Foundations of Sociology, and his Social Psychology. Later Professor Ross has turned his attention from systematic sociology in one or more of its special fields to descriptive sociology in The Changing Chinese, Changing America, The Old World in the New, a sociological study of immigration, and South of Panama.

This brief catalogue of American sociologists would be incomplete without reference to the brilliant work of Professors Cooley and Ellwood. In his first work, Human Nature and the Social Order, Professor Cooley pointed out how those qualities of the mind which are distinctively human are socially conditioned, and the bearing of these qualities upon society. In his last book, Social Organization, he has analyzed the social mind with the primary emphasis upon its functioning in social relationships. Here we are shown how the social mind works itself out through certain primary groups in social ideals, how it develops through communication, giving rise in the end to the democratic mind. Yet, in that development the mind of a community operates through social classes, leveling some and causing others to emerge, sometimes leading to the disorganization of the social institutions characterizing a society which has not yet developed unity of opinion, and finding expression at last in the public will for the general welfare. In his recent book, Sociology in its Psychological Aspects, Professor Ellwood has made a systematic study of the field of social psychology, with special reference to the bearing of psycho-social principles upon social structure and function.

Much more than can be allowed here might well be written of the work of Thomas, who, in his Sex and Society, showed the part played by the difference between the sexes in social development, and whose monumental work, A Source Book for Social Origins, with its brief but lucid criticisms, has cast a. great light upon that hazy group of primitive activities and ideas which underlie and condition later social development.

Space will not permit more than the mere mention of a number of recent European sociologists, who have made important contributions to sociology. Gumplowicz, the Austrian Darwinist, and Ratzenhofer, the Austrian, both of whom saw in the struggle of groups or races the fundamental social fact out of which grew social order and progress ; Tarde,' the great French jurist, whose emphasis upon invention, imitation, and opposition as the important factors in the origin and development of social relations made sociology his debtor ; Le Bon,2 to whom we owe the theory of mob psychology and mob activity; Simmel,3 who has worked out most completely the psychology of differentiation of groups and their subordination to a dominant ideal represented by a valued common possession such as a common country, by a symbol of common feelings such as a flag or a shibboleth, by a common ruler, or by a common ethical and social code of action such as a code of honor ; — these are the names of a few of the most prominent men who recently in Europe have attracted world-wide attention in sociology.

The study of social pathology and the administrative care of " dependents, defectives, and delinquents " has contributed to the development of a true social science. The work of such scholars as Emminghaus, Warner, Henderson, Devine, Hun-ter, Kellor, Booth, Münsterberg, and scores of others in Europe and America, who have attempted to find out the true nature of society by studying the outcroppings of the ledge of character or the defects of socialization, and who have endeavored to apply sociological principles to the correction of social maladjustments, has been of great service to students working on the normal development of society. Aside from the field of descriptive sociology, in these fields more careful scientific work has been done in the endeavor to find out the exact social situation than in any other. Some studies of pauperism and crime have been alluded to in a preceding chapter, which are of the highest importance to the study of human relationships. Rapidly the practical interest of the administrator is being supplemented by the scientific interest of the sociologist in the questions of the extent and cause of these social phenomena.

The influence of the sociological journals and reviews must not be passed without brief mention. The American Journal of Sociology, edited by Professor A. W. Small, has done more to promote education in sociology than any other agency in the United States. Likewise, the foreign journals are performing a similar service in Europe. Of these the Revue internationale de sociologie, the Année sociologique, The Sociological Review, and the Revista Italiana Sociologia are especially worthy of mention. Popular journals and the newspapers are gradually adding this field to the wide range of subjects they cover. In fact sociology has a wider hearing to-day than ever before. While some of this interest is superficial, it signifies that the public realizes that the sociologist is no longer a creature who speaks and writes in a lingo beyond the comprehension of educated people, but one who has something vital to say about the social life of today, — how it came to be, its essential principles, its shortcomings, and whither it is tending.

Sociology is progressing rapidly as a science, especially as the points of agreement of different writers become more numerous and the varied nomenclature is reduced to an intelligible system. In dosing this brief sketch of the foundation and growth of sociology, the following inventory of synthetic progress is quoted from Vincent :1 " Sociologists have by no means reached a consensus comparable, for example, with that of the economists, but when variations in terminology have been eliminated a considerable and everwidening area of agreement emerges from the apparent confusion. Thus as to society in general all agree that it is (r) a product of physical and psychical forces, (2) working in an evolutionary process in which (3) at first predominantly instinctive activities later yield in some measure to (4) reflective and purposeful policies. This view regards society as (5) organic in the general, not specific, sense of the term. As to the social group as a type of common mental life it is further agreed that (r) individuals in their very personal growth unconsciously incorporate the standard of their group, by which they are, furthermore, (2) coerced into conscious conformity. The uniforming influence of imitation and group ascendency is counteracted by (3) leaders or authorities who initiate new ideas and activities to be selected and appropriated by all. Between such leaders with their followers a (4) struggle for ascendency ensues. This results ultimately in (5) a relatively permanent body of customs, and institutions embedded in feeling; i.e., group tradition or character. When the members of this group are aware of common ideals and purposes a (6) social consciousness is developed."

While some of these writers manifest the influence of the biological and psychological biases, the tendency has risen to study society without the help of that broken reed, the social organism, or that perhaps only less errant prejudice, that sociology is only a sublimated psychology. Not at all blind to the bearings of the biological and psychological sciences, and to the scientific methods developed in the natural sciences generally, especially in those which touch more specifically human relationships, the sociologists are trying to look the varied and complex social phenomena about them squarely in the face and to interpret them as a distinct class of phenomena, the social. Each may be investigating a particular field. One perhaps is interested in the psychological aspects of the social process, another in the biological which come out in a study of birth and death rates, of immigration, the age and sex classes, and still another may find his work in studying the social institutions and structures in which society embodies its ideals. Less and less do logical schemes dominate. Increasingly the workers in this field of complex relationships are finding that they secure results worth while only as they observe, describe, and interpret the facts of society without reference to any far-fetched analogy or any bias which their previous training in an older science or philosophy may have established.



The American Journal of Sociology, especially articles by Small, Ward, Vincent, Ross, Branford, and Ratzenhofer. SMALL. The Meaning of Social Science.



1. Read Adam Smith's chapter on Instinct in his Theory of the Moral Sentiments and show in what sense in that chapter he was a forerunner of sociology.

2. Look over Martineau's translation of Comte's Positive Philosophy and show in what sense he was the founder of sociology.


3. Compare Spencer's system of sociology in its essentials with that of Comte.

4. Show what is meant in the text when it is said Spencer's sociology is a study of social structure.

5. What is the fundamental social fact which is emphasized in his system of sociology by Spencer; by Giddings; by Tarde; by Le Bon?

6. What criticism can be made of the effort to find some one fact in social life on which to base a system of sociology?

7. What is meant by descriptive sociology? What is its value in the development of the science of sociology?

Date: 2015-02-16; view: 2246

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