Sumner, William Graham

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Sumner, William Graham

William Graham Sumner, 1840–1910, American sociologist and political economist, b. Paterson, N.J., grad. Yale, 1863, and studied in Germany, in Switzerland, and at Oxford. He was ordained an Episcopal minister and from 1872 was professor of political and social science at Yale. In economics he advocated a policy of extreme laissez-faire, strongly opposing any government measures that he thought interfered with the natural economics of trade. As a sociologist he did valuable work in charting the evolution of human customs—folkways and mores. He concluded that the power of these forces, developed in the course of human evolution, rendered useless any attempts at social reform. He also originated the concept of ethnocentrism, a term now commonly used, to designate attitudes of superiority about one's own group in comparison with others. His major work was Folkways (1907). The massive Science of Society by Sumner and Albert G. Keller, a colleague, was not completed and published until 1927 (4 vol.; Vol. IV by Sumner, Keller, and M. R. Davie).

See H. E. Starr, William Graham Sumner (1925); A. G. Keller, Reminiscences (Mainly Personal) of William Graham Sumner (1933); W. G. Green, Sumner Today (1940, repr. 1971); R. G. McCloskey, American Conservatism in the Age of Enterprise (1951, repr. 1964); M. R. Davie, William Graham Sumner (1963).

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