Understanding the World We Live in; THE Seething Cauldron of Humanity That Was Victorian Liverpool Spawned a Lasting Academic Legacy That Is Now Celebrating Its Centenary. Peter Elson Reports
Byline: Peter Elson
AS LIVERPOOL rose to become the second city of the British Empire, fortunes were made by many merchants, but millions of other souls suffered crushing poverty and social deprivation.
Others watched this human maelstrom with mounting concern and this provided an impetus for the creation of Liverpool University's Department of Sociology, Social Policy and Social Work Studies, which celebrates its centenary this year.
Now the third oldest such department in Britain, only Manchester University (founded a year earlier)and the London School of Economics, which started in 1902, can claim a longer lineage.
Liverpool, however, was the first to create a chair of social anthropology in 1907.This was initially occupied by James Frazer, the most famous social anthropologist of all, author of The Golden Bough. Frazer remained at Liverpool until 1922, when he moved to Cambridge.
Out of the Unitarian principles that drove Liverpool's merchants also came the humanitarian belief that the fortunate should help those less blessed.
Among these were Eleanor Rathbone (of the Liverpool banking dynasty)and her life-long friend Elizabeth Macadam, who were prominent figures in early social scientific history.
They were both deeply concerned about the extent of poverty in Liverpool. Rathbone, in particular, had a national profile and was one of Britain's first female Members of Parliament.
The department's centenary this year will be marked by a conference on September 8 and 9. The theme will be public function of sociology, showing the department's continual commitment of being rooted in real issues.
It will also feature as a key note speaker Crosby's most famous sociologist Prof Laurie Taylor. Prof Taylor, a writer and regular BBC Radio 4 broadcaster, was formerly head of Sociology at York University.
Prof Gerard Delanty, head of sociology at Liverpool University, says: "The department was set up to train social workers who could tackle the problems of Liverpool's rapid growth in the 19th century.
"Within two years it was reconstructed as a social science department, including lectures on social policy."
The first chair of sociology came from an endowment by another famous Liverpool family. Rich and famous, Charles Booth, owner of the Booth Line, that reached "a 1,000 miles up the Amazon", was a dedicated amateur social scientist of life and labour.
Booth established the tradition of the social survey when he undertook such a study in London, between 1886 and 1893.
The first person appointed to the chair was Alexander Carr-Saunders, who eventually became director of the LSE in 1937.
"The next major phase was in the 1950s when the department became an important centre for industrial sociology and in particular the study of work," says Prof Delanty.
"This was in line with the applied nature of social scientific research in Liverpool and social issues of the industrialised cities."
In 1965 the Eleanor Rathbone chair of sociology was established as an endowment by the Rathbone family and the first incumbent was Prof J B Mays. Now the department has an undergraduate intake of 140 students each year.
Prof Delanty, who has been at the department since 1996, took the chair of sociology two years ago. Originall y from Cork, he had previously lectured in Frankfurt and Hanover. He specialises in social theory and the history of social sciences.
He says: "Since those early years, the department has continued the tradition of critical social research, with a strong emphasis on social policy and applied social science."
Social research has increased with a particular focus on culture and regeneration; and alongside that the department has embarked on crime and social justice studies. It also will offer an MA in criminology from next month.
While the department continues the long tradition of critical social policy research, other concerns have emerged in the light of changes in the discipline of sociology. …