Abstract: The Problem and Method in Social Psychology

Ellsworth Faris

If social psychology be defined as the subjective aspect of culture the two main problems are: (1) the analysis of the undivided whole of behavior into the constituent components of culture and physiology; (2) the problem of the mechanism involved in changing one attitude into another, which is the theoretical aspect of all practical efforts to deal with social pathology. The first of these problems is most difficult and the search for method still goes on. There is no doubt of the fact of inheritance but there is great difficulty in discovering its limits.

Several more or less conscious methods may be discovered by a careful reading of current authors. Animal psychology offers relevant facts though the fundamental differences in structure and the total absence of culture limit but do not destroy its value. An uncritical archeology appealing to experience of primitives also appears but more often than not this material is used as explanation and not as concrete data. Modern ethnology with its monographic method is accumulating a wealth of material for the social psychologist. Abnormal psychology is a field whose value is increasingly apparent and when stripped of preconceptions is destined to con-tribute even more in the future than in the past.

All of these methods, however, are open to the criticism that the subject matter of their science is not the material with which the social psychologist is chiefly concerned. Light from all these is welcome but the real data must be the actual events in the normal life of human beings. In the " Polish Peasant," by W. I. Thomas, is one instance of a method which must be widely used if our problems find solution. Life histories of individuals whose cultural setting is fully known must be studied with a patience and detail not hitherto attempted. The social psychologist must also devote himself with great patience to finding out what there is of scientific value to be had by comparing the works of all the artists, but particularly the writers of biography and autobiography.


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