Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings

By Charles Lemert | Go to book overview

groups, and mixed groups including a large percentage of native Americans, with really important productive purposes. There is the enormous, almost untouched field of economic cooperation. A countrywide net of thousands, hundreds of thousands of small cooperative associations, with the active participation of various nationalities, coming together on a basis of real equality and united by serious common aims would do incomparably more for economic self-dependence, for the prevention of demoralization, for the development of active solidarity, and for a genuine Americanization of the immigrant than anything that has ever been done to achieve these aims. It would, besides, contribute in a measure to the solution of many of the most difficult problems which American society itself is trying to solve at this moment.

The prevalent general social unrest and demoralization is due to the decay of the primary group organization, which gave the individual a sense of responsibility and security because he belonged to something. This system has given way partly to the forces making for individual efficiency, and we have developed nothing to take its place--no organization which would restore the sense of social responsibility without limiting the efficiency of the individual. This new form is apparently destined to be the cooperative society, and all immigrant groups, among them perhaps preeminently the Poles, bring to this country precisely the attitudes upon which cooperative enterprises can be built.❖

Frederic M. Thrasher ( 1892-1962) was one of many American sociologists trained in urban studies by the University of Chicago. The Gang: A Study of 1,313 Gangs in Chicago ( 1926), like Thomas and Znaniecki Polish Peasant, is an exhaustive ethnographic study of an urban dilemma, resulting in important theoretical inventions. Also like Polish Peasant, Thrasher's study is one of the reasons why the Chicago School is known for its explorations of the urban underworld. In many of the studies in this tradition, one sees the early outlines of a strong theory of social deviance as a normal result of modern urban life. Here, the member's attachment to the deviant gang is explained as a normal search for social status. Though such insights are not surprising today, these early theories of deviance are important instances of social theory's willingness to study the other, darker side of modern life. Chicago was, in the interwar period, a vibrant urban center and a welter of social disorganization created by the conflicts of ethnic cultures, economic change, and class differences.


Personality and Status Within the Gang

Frederic M. Thrasher ( 1927)

The significance of the sociological conception of personality--namely, as the role of the individual in the group--comes out clearly in the study of the gang.

Every boy in the gang acquires a personality (in the sociological sense) and a name--is a person; that is, he plays a part and gets a place with reference to the other members of the group. In the developed gang he fits into his niche like a block in a puzzle box; he is formed by the discipline the gang imposes upon him. He cannot be studied intelligently or understood apart from this social role.

____________________
Excerpt from James F. Short Jr., ed., The Gang. A Study of 1,313 Gangs in Chicago, abridged ed. ( Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1963 [ 1927]), pp. 228-231. Copyright 1927 by The University of Chicago; abridged edition copyright 1963 by The University of Chicago. Reprinted by permission.

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