The Word as Scalpel: A History of Medical Sociology

By Samuel W. Bloom | Go to book overview

4
The University of Chicago

In 1920, American sociology was still dominated by the University of Chicago. Not only was it the first university department of sociology in the world, it quickly became the single main source of both the intellectual and institutional development of the field, including research on the sociology of medicine.

Albion Small (1854–1926), the founding chairman, was from the same mold as the other leading American sociologists of that time: he was a Protestant clergyman, deeply concerned about the human consequences of the rapid industrialization and urbanization of post–Civil War America, with a “passion for reform” combined with pragmatic optimism that a systematic science of society would solve these problems. However, Small's leadership included no “party line. ” He is remembered to have urged his students “to proceed as quickly as possible to make everything he taught them out of date. ” Of even greater importance “was the intelligent perception by Small, accepted enthusiastically by his colleagues and successors, of the inhibiting consequences of doctrines, schools of thought, and authoritative leaders. ” 1

Chicago attracted a variety of adventurous minds, strong-willed and different but, in the open environment created by Small, able to work side by side. Sociology itself was, in the beginning, a haven for “well-trained students, unhappy with the fast hardening boundaries of the slightly older disciplines, [who]… settled upon sociology as a frontier field where professional ideology did not yet preclude experimentation. ” 2 But while the other pioneer sociology departments each came to be dominated by the doctrine of a founder—Columbia by Giddings, Yale by Sumner, Brown by Ward, Wisconsin by Ross—Chicago was for two full generations a department with a team of equally able men, with the metropolis of Chicago as their laboratory. Albion Small must be given much of the credit for this achievement.

Nor did this talent for institutional leadership end at the boundaries of the University. Small also assumed as part of his mission the establishment of sociology in America as a legitimate social science. In 1895, he started the AJS, and in 1906 he was a founder and subsequently the fourth president of the American Sociological Society. The AJS was made the official journal of the Society, giving to Chicago for the next thirty years extraordinary centrality in the institutionalization of American sociology.

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