The Sociology of William I. Thomas
Emory S. Bogardus
University of Southern California
Within the past two years several presentations have been made by various writers of the contributions to sociology of William I. Thomas (1863-1947). Each of these summaries has been made by a person well qualified to discuss a particular approach. In this paper an attempt will be made to suggest within a brief compass as well-rounded a picture as possible of Thomas' sociology. Far greater space than is here available would be necessary in order to do justice to the subject matter under consideration.
As a student in Professor Thomas' graduate classes, 1909-11, the writer had an opportunity to observe what problems Thomas was interested in at that time, how his mind attacked these problems, his methods of gathering data, his analytical procedure, and his methods of teaching as well as research. In those years his first important book, Source Book for Social Origins, appeared and his sociological acumen was being shown in a variety of ways. Some of the experiences in Thomas' classroom will be utilized in one way or another in several of the succeeding paragraphs.
Thomas published a number of important articles. Some of these contained the basic ideas of his thinking which later appeared in his hooks. His first important book was Source Book for Social Origins (1909). It was followed by his best-known work, The Polish Peasant in Europe and America, with Znaniecki (1918-21), The Unadjusted Girl (1923), The Child in America (1928) , and his latest significant work, Primitive Behavior (1936). During the years immediately preceding his death he was at work upon an extensive study of Jewish culture and behavior.
Thomas occupies an outstanding place in sociology by virtue of his methodology and of his contributions to social-psychological concepts, such as social attitudes and values, social origins, social change and disorgani-
( 35) -zation, social situation, personality and related topics. He came upon the scene after the sociological pioneers had done a considerable amount of prospecting and had staked out the field in a broad and general way. He saw the need for firsthand inductive studies and for analyzing the origins of and changes in social life. He centered considerable attention at the points in primitive and peasant peoples where social relationships originate and where they function on less complicated levels than in so-called civilized life. As a result, he was able to make concrete contributions to the beginnings of an empirical social psychology. Instead of beginning with armchair generalizations he undertook "a program of empirical investigation of concrete facts," feeling assured that syntheses could later be made that would be reliable.
Thomas was born a Southerner. He became a college teacher of English before entering the sociological field. He is credited with an "intuitive sense for the dramatic in human experience and an unerring skill in literary expression." It was doubtless his inquiring interest in human experience, aroused in his studies of literature, that led him into sociology.
The fact that Thomas began teaching sociology at Oberlin College in 1894-95 and at the University of Chicago in the summer of 1894 would justify his classification as a founder of sociology. He would have disclaimed this distinction, although his position as a founder of social psychology as seen from the sociological viewpoint may be conceded. Some would consider him as the chief founder of the sociological type of social psychology, because most of the concepts that he defined and clarified were in that new and developing field. He responded to Dewey's pragmatic approach and Mead's social psychology without becoming a follower of either. His interest in primitive behavior apparently was first evoked by Boas' cultural analyses. His original and fertile mind, combined with a fresh consideration of concrete data about the behavior of preliterate peoples, resulted in distinctive contributions to sociology.
In Thomas' lectures to graduate students in sociology at the University of Chicago the writer as a class member was duly impressed by the note-taking methods and the unique lecture methods that Thomas used. Instead of well-organized papers as presented by Small, instead of a piece of chalk as used by Mead as a lecture-assisting device, or the carefully outlined lectures of Henderson, Thomas came to class with a wallet filled
(36) with slips of paper about four by six inches in size (he used the millimeter system). Notes taken verbatim from books and monographs were placed on slips of one color, Thomas' own comments had been placed on slips of another color, and bibliographies appeared on those of a third color. It was his procedure to read the copied data and then inductively to draw tentative conclusions. The reading of the copied materials was made interesting not only by the instructor's analyses and special remarks but particularly by the subtle humor that the materials often evoked.
The upshot of a great deal of the lecture presentations was that primitive people are one of a kind with modern people. The graduate student was made to recognize even some of his own behavior as being akin to that of his ancient, unknown, and unlearned ancestors.
Thomas' early work in ethnic psychology grew into a social psychology based on studies of particular ethnic groups of modern times. Having been born in Virginia and having received his baccalaureate degree from the University of Tennessee, he manifested a deep interest in the Negro. His work based on the Polish peasant gave him his main reputation. His later years, which were spent in the study of Jewish life and culture, carried forward his main ethnic theme. In all this work there was one basic observation, as summarized by Dr. Burgess, namely, "that all races of mankind have the same mental endowment and that differences in intelligence are largely a matter of culture and education and not of heredity."
Thomas developed a number of concepts out of his special studies of ethnic groups. These concepts took on a general nature and achieved a universal applicability. For example, such concepts as attitudes and values, the four wishes, social origins, social change, and social institutions, related not alone to ethnic relationships but to all human relationships. As such they did not constitute a complete conceptual system, but they laid the foundations for the new discipline of social psychology as later developed by sociologists. His work provided methods for developing social psychology on both factual and logical bases. He was objective and inductive, but not mathematical or statistical. He did not contribute to an experimental social psychology through the use of experimental and control groups. He was not interested in V curves, S curves, or normal frequency curves, but he gave a logical basis for an inductive social psychology.
In 1913 Thomas visited Warsaw and, according to Znaniecki, he "wanted concrete factual materials about sociocultural backgrounds of various immigrant groups in the United States from Central and Eastern Europe: e.g., Poles, Russians, Rumanians, Czechs, Hungarians, Jews.
( 37) He gave up his ambition to consider all these peoples and concentrated for several years on the Poles and later on the Jews. In Poland he met Znaniecki, whom he invited to become a collaborator in the capacity of translator and editor. Thomas and Znaniecki worked together in obtaining biographical materials, including letters that reflected the backgrounds and the adjustment problems of Polish peasant immigrants. Some of these materials appeared in Immigrant Heritages (1919) under the names of Park and Miller. Says Znaniecki of Thomas: "Never have I known, heard, or read about anybody with such a wide, sympathetic interest in the vast diversity of sociocultural patterns and such a genius for understanding the uniqueness of every human personality." A chief characteristic of Thomas was, in the phrase by Znaniecki, "creative intellectual experimentation."
THE FAMOUS FOUR WISHES
Of the various concepts to which Thomas contributed personality is one of the most important. He treated it from the viewpoint of its constituent parts. He specialized upon one aspect after another of this complicated concept. His emphasis was placed on the four wishes, on attitudes and values, and so on. His original plan was to use the term desires, but, following Freud's stress upon wish, he decided to use the latter term, although he did not accept the significance that Freud attached to the term.. Thomas' main concern was to supplant the term instinct with its biological connotation and develop a concept with indefinite biological origins but with specific development in various directions according to the individual's responses to environmental stimuli.
It is interesting to note that Thomas' first elaboration of the four wishes began with (1) the desire for new experience and for fresh stimulations. He placed next (2) the desire for recognition, which ranges from sexual response to general social appreciation secured by such devices as the display of ornaments or the proclaiming of one's scientific attainment by one's friends. Third, interestingly enough, is (3) the desire for mastery or the will to power as found in ownership, domestic tyranny, political despotism. Fourth is (4) the desire for security, which is based on fear and which may be exemplified negatively in the person who withdraws from social participation and lives in solitude.
A revision of these desires took the form of wishes for new experience, for security, for social response, and for recognition. (1) New experience means heightened states of stimulation, physiological expansion, change, adventure, thrill. Interest in reports of the sensational, of hunting game, of pursuit in any of its various forms contains the pattern. (2) Security is the opposite of new experience. These contrasts are often in work as against play, in utility as against pleasure, in saving as against spending. Youthfulness seeks new experience; old age, security. (3) Desire for response is found in love, in intimate privileges, in companionship. (4) Desire for recognition is satisfied in the achievement of status, of fame, in approval in a large way.
In his early treatment of personality Thomas and Znaniecki attached to "control" a far-reaching importance. They referred to control as "a useful concept into which all activity can be translated, or to which it can at least be related." Control is "the object, realized or unrealized, of all purposive activity."
The purpose exhibited by any organism is to have some control over its environment. An animal's legs mean the ability to get off of an exhausted environment. "The head goes first not because it is the head but because the part which started first became the head." Man according to Thomas, is a kind of economical reform, for he didn't need four legs. His upper extremities enabled him to gain still more control over his environment than four-legged animals possess. The brain of man gives him superior control. Observing, remembering, and inhibiting give opportunity and time for calculating and planning.
Control of environment comes through attention, and attention of mental functioning is focused when something goes wrong, when established ways of doing fail, when new experiences arise. These developments create "crises," arouse attention, and result in revised methods of adjustment of the organism to the environment. This process is a major explanation of growth, even of personality growth. The human ideal, according to Thomas, is "to control environment entirely."
The power of abstraction leads to symbols and signals. Life is regulated by signals from within and without. Language creates beliefs and wants. It involves meanings which arise out of one's experiences and which may be different for given signals according to the differences in human experiences and in culture patterns.
"The level of culture of the group limits the power of the mind to meet crises and to readjust." Culture is fundamentally connected with the operations of the mind. A people cannot advance far beyond their cultural level. Knowledge thus plays a leading role in the control that a person can obtain over his environment. Preliterate man tries to control his environment through magic and supernatural religion; civilized man tries to control his environment through science and ethical religion. When the controls become very rigid change is impeded, and society is in danger of becoming stationary except as disturbances are introduced from the outside world. Vicissitudes lead to change in control. To the extent that cultural conditions afford the mind more truth and a richer assortment of materials to work with, to that degree may improvements in the lives of people be expected.
Moral control is "the modification of the natural disposition and behavior of men" in view of the fact that they are members of groups. The problem of moral control is to get the individual to assume responsibility for others as well as for himself. "If all were Jane Addams' there would be no need for government." Morality is "control in the social world."
The chief difference between primitive man and civilized man is not biological but cultural. "We are as stupid to expert mathematicians as savages are to us." A child of primitive parents and one of civilized parents are equally human when born. Because of his more cultural environment, the latter develops further than the former.
ATTITUDES AND VALUES
Thomas made the concept of attitudes vital in sociology and a major or central theme in social psychology. An attitude is defined as "a process of individual consciousness which determines the real or possible activity of the individual in the social world." It is a tendency to action, "whether
(40) this action is a process of mechanical activity producing physical changes in the material world, or an attempt to influence the attitudes of others by speech and gesture, or a mental activity which does not at the given moment find a social expression or even a mere process of sensual apperception."
Every attitude has an objective counterpart in a value. A social value is defined as "any datum having an empirical content accessible to the members of some group and a meaning with regard to which it is or may be an object of activity." Values thus are the objective data which have their counterparts in attitudes. Neither comes first. Neither causes the other. Each is at one and the same time an antecedent of the other. The interrelationship may be explained by saying that a value is the result of "an attitude acting upon or influenced by some pre-existing social value."
The connection link between subjective attitudes and objective values is behavior. "Activity in whatever form is the bond" between an attitude and its related value. Activity is an attitude being expressed with reference to some value.
Thomas' emphasis on attitudes led to widespread acceptance of this concept as central to social psychology. In 1931, for example, appeared a volume, edited by Kimball Young, which bore the inscription : "To William I. Thomas, whose concept of social attitudes has been so significant in the contemporary analyses of human behavior, this volume is dedicated by former students and colleagues." The book included fifteen papers by as many different sociological writers on as many different aspects of attitudes. A few of these topics were the concept of social attitudes (Faris) ; human nature, attitudes, and the mores (Park) ; attitudes and the redirection of behavior ( Bernard) ; and social attitudes of superior boys in an interstitial community (Thrasher). In the discussion by Faris, the idea expressed by Thomas to the effect that there is an attitude-value-attitude sequence is criticized. Faris claims that the attitude and the value (or object as Faris would say seem to exist always "as two aspects of a single unity of organization." In other words, neither precedes the other, but Faris does not indicate what precedes both the attitude and value. Could it be another attitude-value unit of relationship ? 
Thomas brought the concept of social situation to the center of social psychology. "The situation is the set of values and attitudes with which the individual or the group has to deal in a process of activity and with
(41) regard to which this activity is planned and its results appreciated." The situation includes three varieties of data. First, there are "the objective conditions under which the individual or society has to act, that is, the totality of values . . . which at the given moment affect directly or indirectly the conscious states of the individual or the group." Second, there are the pre-existing attitudes of the individual or of the group which at the given moment have an actual influence upon his behavior. Third, the definition of the situation, that is, "the more or less clear conception of the conditions and consciousness of attitudes." In this explanation it will be noticed that the definition of the situation is very important. To understand a person's behavior in any situation it is necessary to know how he defines the situation, that is, what attitudes does it arouse in him, what values if any function in it for him, in short, what meanings does it have for him. "It is these meanings which determine the individual's behavior."
Thomas summarizes the functional and processual aspects of defining the situation as follows: "An adjustive effort of any kind is preceded by a decision to act or not act along a given line. Further, this decision is preceded by a definition of the situation, that is to say, an interpretation or point of view, and eventually a policy and a behavior pattern." Thus, the definition of the situation is seen to play a vital role in every human decision involving interpersonal relationships.
In order that one may become a social personality the individual learns how to relate these meanings to the needs of society. Meanings imply conscious thought which in turn suggests that one can adapt himself to life by conscious reflection. Further, this adaptation of personal meanings to social needs involves the development of what is called character, while the parallel development of intellectual methods of controlling social reality leads to a life organization.
The character of a person, according to Thomas, may be viewed from four different angles. (1) Character may be determined on the ground of temperament. "Theoretically any possible character might be evolved out of any temperament." An individual may have an aspect of his temperament suppressed by the group, or the individual may suppress some aspect of his temperament in order "to attain a character that he wants." An individual may be isolated from or isolate himself from experiences that give him undesirable stimulation.
(2) Character may be found in the constitution of a life organization which permits a more or less objective expression of the various constituent attitudes. (3) Character may develop out of the indirect or direct social demands placed upon personality. In each group specific characters develop in line with the group's particular interests, e.g., a family person, a religious person, a sportsman, a drunkard . (4) Character also develops as an adaptation of the individual's life organization to social organization. There is a growing difficulty of maintaining a stable social organization "in the face of the increasing importance which individual efficiency assumes in all domains of cultural life."
Thomas distinguished between three types of life organization of personality. By life organization is meant "a set of rules for definite situations which play be even expressed in abstract formulas." (1) One type of life organization is the Philistine, whose set of attitudes constituting his character map be such as practically "to exclude the development of any new attitudes in the given conditions of life, because the reflective attitudes of an individual have attained so great a fixity, that he is accessible to only a certain class of influences-those constituting the most permanent part of his social milieu." The Philistine type usually accepts "social tradition in its most stable elements."
(2) The Bohemian type of person has not completely formed his character. His behavior depends at least at times on his momentary reactions, which in turn may be determined either "by some outburst of a primary temperamental attitude or by some isolated character-attitude which makes him subject to some indiscriminately accepted influence." The Bohemian type is unorganized in a number of aspects of personality and is continually undergoing considerable change in his attitudes. His "possibilities of evolution are not closed."
(3) The creative type of person is one whose character is organized to a definite extent but which may undergo further evolution because "the reflective acts constituting it include a tendency to change, regulated by plans of productive activity." He continues open to such development as will be in line with his open-mindedness. The term creative type is somewhat misleading, for it suggests originality and inventiveness, even
( 43) creativeness, which the definition does not necessarily include. Thomas is careful to state that no one of the three afore-mentioned types of personality is ever "completely and absolutely realized by a human individual in all lines of activity."
On the subject of leaders Thomas comments that leadership is connected with prestige, but that prestige is "not the result of a rational judgment of each member of the group individually about the leader as he is, but the complex product of a half-intellectual, half-emotional attitude of each member of the group toward the leader as seen by other members." The most promising leaders are those who grow up within a class, who, having achieved an intellectual and social superiority, "remain members of their class and continue to share all the interests of this class."
Thomas significantly points out that sometimes "the work of great leaders decays after their retirement" because they "have carried social reconstruction beyond the point where it should be taken up by minor leaders growing up from the masses." When social construction is carried on by leaders with relatively little prestige it is slower but "has an uninterrupted progress."
A social institution is given a special psychological interpretation by Thomas: "The rules of behavior and the actions viewed as conforming or not conforming with these rules constitute with regard to their objective significance a certain number of more or less connected and harmonious systems which can generally be called social institutions." Further, "the totality of institutions in a concrete social group constitute the social organization of this group." A social institution can be really understood only "if we do not limit ourselves to the abstract study of its formal organization." It is also necessary to "analyze the way in which it appears in the personal experience of the various members of the group" and to "follow the influence which it has on their lives." A study of the formal organization of a social institution can yield statistically tabulated mass-phenomena which, taken in themselves, are "nothing but symptoms of the unknown causal processes." In considering social institutions it is basic to reach
( 44) "the actual human experiences which constitute the full, live, and active social reality beneath the formal organization." In these and related statements, Thomas penetrates the formal administrative aspects of institutions and puts his finger on the interpersonal experiences which are the essence of institutional life.
As early as 1918 Thomas showed favorable appreciation of a type of social institution found in practically all democratically controlled countries of the world and that was originated a century earlier in the British Isles, namely, cooperative institutions, or cooperatives as they are sometimes called. Thomas pointed out that the main slogan of the cooperative movement is "the harmony of social and individual interests." The individual member of a cooperative becomes interested "in social welfare and progress simply by actively pursuing together with others ends which, as he is continually made to understand, contribute to social welfare and progress." The growth of cooperatives is based on "the assumption that a social system which the individual voluntarily helps to realize must acquire gradually in his eyes a much greater importance and desirability than a system which is imposed on him." The cooperative method thus is much sounder than the coercive method of totalitarianism. Although the applications of the cooperative ideal have been limited and imperfect, this ideal "is eminently capable of becoming the leading principle of a social order whose possibilities of expansion and improvement are practically unlimited."
Considerable importance is attached by Thomas to the concept of social disorganization. He refers to it as "being due to a decrease in the influence of existing social rules of behavior upon individual members of the group." It is a universal phenomenon because "always and everywhere there are individual cases of breaking social rules which exercise some disorganizing influence on group institutions and if not counteracted are apt to multiply and to lead to a complete decay" of these institutions . Sonic social disorganization cannot be avoided when a community conies in contact with outside communities and when its members learn of standards different from its own.
Social disorganization involves (a) the decay of group opinion, (b) the decay of community solidarity, and (c) the causal explanations of these decaying tendencies. Vital questions are: Why do individual members neglect community obligations? Why do individual members engage in antagonisms with other members to the extent of breaking the community solidarity?
Sometimes social disorganization starts with youth. The younger members dissent from the decisions and requirements made by the older members. Social disharmony may also develop within the older generation. Thomas asserts that social disorganization never goes so far as "to destroy entirely in the group the demand for a regulated, organized, and harmonious life." There are always those who want for themselves and those who think like them a degree of social organization.
Universal causes of social disorganization, or laws, cannot be found. "We can only hope to determine causes which always and everywhere produce certain definite attitudes." These are the attitudes which explain the objective, superficial evidences of disorganization. A social group in its attempt to resist disorganization will try to reorganize the attitudes of some or many of its dissatisfied members. It will at least develop attitudes that will counterbalance the new divergent, discordant ones.
A revolution involves the demand for new values for a whole group---community, class, nation . A revolt does not aim at' a complete change in a traditional system of attitudes, but a revolution is inclusive in its demand for a change in the traditional system. A revolution seeks a more or less complete and apparently sudden change in the established attitudes of the members.
Social reorganization may avoid a revolution, but it evolves new schemes of behavior and even new institutions that are better adapted than the old ones to the changed demands of the group. Social reorganization means that some of the members of a group have not become individually disorganized, but "have been working toward a new and more efficient life-organization" and have sought to produce new social institutions. Thomas uses social reorganization and social reconstruction somewhat synonymously.
Thomas made a major contribution in the field of methodology, particularly in connection with documentary materials. He began with social psychological interpretations of concrete, ethnological materials but later changed to the analysis of data obtained from various sources "in terms of a conceptual framework." He developed one concept after another which looked toward the formation of a social-psychological conceptual system. He continually sought concrete data and empirical evidence. He interpreted the behavior of persons as reported in human documents. He worked with human documents of five kinds: (1) Letters, thousands of them (particularly with the aid of Znaniecki). He interpreted the contents of letters in terms of a conceptual framework that gave them meaning. (2) Life histories. The life history is a free and frank and personal uncovering not only of a person's experiences but also of his reactions to his experiences. It is valuable in that it observes the whole process of a personality evolution, ascertains the nature of social personality and characterizes it as a type. (3) Intimate newspaper accounts. (4) Court records. (5) Records of social agencies. Undoubtedly Thomas made the most of the first three types of materials. Of these the second, or life history, yielded the most significant results under Thomas' analytical procedures.
In introducing the lengthy and now almost classical life history of a Polish peasant the following explanation is made. "We shall presently follow the life-history of an individual who living amidst this process of change, finds in his environment no place for himself, because his fundamental attitudes correspond entirely to the old type of social organization whereas by his social status he no longer belongs to this organization and is thrown without any permanent guidance into various new conditions to which he can adapt himself always only partially and imperfectly."
Thomas gave life histories a high rating. He spoke of them, when they are as complete as possible, as constituting "the perfect type of sociological material." Even in searching for abstract laws "life-records of concrete personalities have marked superiority over many other kinds of materials." For the characterization of attitudes and values "personal life-records give us the most exact approach." They enable one "to trace the career of an attitude and follow its evolution through a series of experiences."
Thomas faced the practical difficulty of how to recognize the data which are important. He analyzed his data into their elements and systemized the elements. He worked with two kinds of data: (1) "the objective cultural elements of social life" and (2) "the subjective characteristics of the members of the social group." The first-mentioned he considered as values and the second as attitudes. The values are stimuli and the attitudes are action tendencies.
Since a life history of one person when fully recorded is an extended document requiring hours and days to obtain and record, it is necessary to limit this type of research to "a few representative documents whose study will yield results as nearly applicable as possible to all other types concerned." Thomas recognized the difficulty in selecting representative cases in the social science field. He never used statistical procedures, although in his later life he showed an appreciation of social statistics. "Only by a widespread statistical comparison of various situations can any adequate inferences be drawn."
Thomas endorsed the idea that the ultimate object of scientific study is prediction, for, as he said, "with prediction we have control." However, he held that the sociologist cannot set up experiments with the precision found in the chemical laboratory. It is not possible for the sociologist to hold the various factors consistent "while he measures the influences of the variation of some particular factor, and everywhere the complications of the data have led to difficulties in the way of objective analysis." While supporting the method of verification through statistics in most fields of human behavior, Thomas urged the "continual and detailed study of case-histories and life-histories." Any behavior reaction can be studied only in connection with the whole context, that is, "the situation as it exists in verifiable, objective terms." But the total situation cannot be defined satisfactorily, for it is too complex. It involves "the interaction of language and gesture and gossip and print and symbols and slogans and propaganda and imitation," and so on. Thomas used the term measurement in a special sense as indicated in his statement that by "comparing the histories of personalities as determined by social influences and expressed in various
( 48) schemes of life we can establish a measure of given influences." He summed up his idea of scientific method in the social sciences in the processes of analyzing, comparing, and interpreting (in terms of the total social situation that is involved).
Social psychology was defined by Thomas as being "precisely the science of attitudes and that while its methods are essentially different from the methods of individual psychology its field is as wide as conscious life." In social psychology the importance of an attitude is "proportionate to the number and variety of actions in which this attitude is manifested." In other words, "the more generally an attitude is shared by the members of a given social group and the greater the part which it plays in the life of every member," the greater is social psychology interested in it  Thus, social psychology is viewed as performing the role of "a general science of the subjective side of social culture." Thomas even referred to it as "the science of consciousness as manifested in culture." The field of social psychology comprises the attitudes of the individual toward all cultural values of a given social group, while sociology is the science of social organization in its relation to individual attitudes.