Since the American student is most frequently exposed to the field as it has been developed and interpreted in this country, the inquiry has concentrated its attention on American sociology. Although it is a product of both European and native intellectual influences, the discipline is uniquely American in organization and development. Foreign contributions are noted only as they have had demonstrable and significant impact on the American scene.
Understanding the peculiarly American character of modern sociology requires that the reader become familiar with some of the continuities throughout the early, intermediate, and modern periods of the discipline. The divisions of 1905-1918, 1918-1935, 1935-1954 are based on certain unique social events and changes in the development of sociology. Nevertheless, there are recurrences within the problems studied, methods used, and assumptions made about the nature of scientific methodology, the nature of human nature, and the nature of society. Their persistence has given the field its continuity and interrelatedness.
Perhaps the outstandingly persistent feature of American sociology is its voluntaristic nominalism. This term describes the assumption that the structure of all social groups is the consequence of the aggregate of its separate, component individuals and that social phenomena ultimately derive from the motivations of these knowing, feeling, and willing individuals.
The study also attempts to show that the intellectual content of sociology is related to and dependent on its social context--the organization of professional sociologists, broader intellectual currents, and the larger social and cultural setting. While it does not pretend to be a sociology of sociology, it does try to make the student aware that the nature of sociology is not merely the result of a self-contained development, unaffected by trends outside the discipline itself.
Finally, contributions of principal figures in sociology are related to the dominant currents in the field. Reference is made to leading personalities only as they have been involved in the fundamental polemics about the core-problems, the primary methods, and the basic assumptions pervading sociology during the last fifty years. Consequently, there is no attempt to present the entire range of intellectual work of any one of these major sociologists.
The preoccupation with major trends has obviously necessitated omissions. For instance, the incorporation and acceptance of the concept of culture from anthropology has not been explained. Nor has any effort been made to indicate the developments within such subfields as criminology, family life, social stratification, industrial sociology, public opinion, etc. Such descriptions are more appropriately the province of other studies.
The authors are both greatly indebted to Charles H. Page, editor of the Random House Studies Sociology. Not only has he made innumerable constructive suggestions about style and content, but from the very beginning he has shown untiring patience.
ROSCOE C. HINKLE, JR.
GISELA J. HINKLE