Sociology in America: A History

Sociology in America: A History

Sociology in America: A History

Sociology in America: A History


Though the word "sociology" was coined in Europe, the field of sociology grew most dramatically in America. Despite that disproportionate influence, American sociology has never been the subject of an extended historical examination. To remedy that situation- and to celebrate the centennial of the American Sociological Association- Craig Calhoun assembled a team of leading sociologists to produce Sociology in America .

Rather than a story of great sociologists or departments, Sociology in America is a true history of an often disparate field- and a deeply considered look at the ways sociology developed intellectually and institutionally. It explores the growth of American sociology as it addressed changes and challenges throughout the twentieth century, covering topics ranging from the discipline's intellectual roots to understandings (and misunderstandings) of race and gender to the impact of the Depression and the 1960s.

Sociology in America will stand as the definitive treatment of the contribution of twentieth-century American sociology and will be required reading for all sociologists.


Andrew Abbott, Daniel Breslau, Craig Calhoun, Charles Camic, Miguel A. Centeno, Patricia Hill Collins, Marjorie L. DeVault, Myra Marx Ferree, Neil Gross, Lorine A. Hughes, Michael D. Kennedy, Shamus Khan, Barbara Laslett, Patricia Lengermann, Doug McAdam, Shauna A. Morimoto, Aldon Morris, Gillian Niebrugge, Alton Phillips, James F. Short Jr., Alan Sica, James T. Sparrow, George Steinmetz, Stephen Turner, Jonathan VanAntwerpen, Immanuel Wallerstein, Pamela Barnhouse Walters, Howard Winant


In 1932, Helen Irene McCobb of the University of North Carolina sought to derive a definition of sociology from the titles of courses. It was a quixotic project. She surveyed forty universities around the United States. Two did not teach sociology at all, but the remaining thirty-eight offered 803 separate courses;only four of these were offered at as many as nine institutions: social problems, social progress, social institutions, race and nationality. “When all the offerings in the subject are considered,” McCobb was forced to conclude, “sociology appears to be some kind of glorified Irish stew in which are found liberal amounts of the usual ingredients and also a surprising conglomeration of other materials to give it variety and a spice to suit anyone's taste” (1932, 357).

McCobb wrote a few years before a major dispute in the discipline led to the 1936 founding of the American Sociological Review (ASR) and a sustained effort at professionalization. Disciplinary unitywas one of the goals; it was sought in an internal hierarchy tied to quality of scientific research, a growing emphasis on statistics, and the promotion of functionalism as a broad theoretical orientation. Sociology's boundaries with other disciplines were never entirely clear and settled; while some sought such demarcations, others sought to situate sociology within an interdisciplinary social science (famously in Harvard's Department of Social Relations). The relation of “general sociology” to what in the discipline's early years were called the various “special sociologies” or subfields—from race to crime to family to community—was always uncertain and often contested. When the ASA later divided into a growing range of sections, this rupture renewed the controversy, which has recurrently focused also on whether the ASR adequately represents the field as a whole (or in its diversity). In The Impossible Science, Stephen and Jonathan Turner remark that “the proliferation of sections of the ASA also has provided some organizational structures with some of the ambiance of a smaller organization, and sometimes the sections serve as an organizational base for a heterodox movement or specialty distant from the 'mainstream' that nevertheless wishes to preserve its claim on . . .

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