American Sociology
Charles Horton Cooley

Howard Odum 

Some students of American sociology have been inclined to add Ross and Cooley to the roster of Ward, Sumner, Giddings, and Small as the "fathers of sociology" because of the dynamics and range of the Ross and Cooley books. This is clearly not the case, although as authors these two rank high and their work may very well be commensurate with that of the first four. As we point out in a number of places, Cooler's work has been more nearly accepted by a larger number of sociologists than perhaps any other. Their work and contributions, however, were on a different time sequence and on a different frontier. This may be indicated by Ross's long and painful rise to the attainment of a department of sociology and the fact that, when Cooley's examination for the doctor's degree at Michigan required a minor in sociology, the examination questions were sent to Michigan by Giddings from Columbia. So, too, Cooley's dissertation on transportation and his studies of children as well as his pioneering work in social psychology were in the second era of American sociology. Cooley was always bantering to the effect-that perhaps neither Giddings nor anyone else ever read his examination.

Cooley, like Ward, Vincent, Ross, and Weatherly, was native to the Middle West, but unlike them he never left its domain except once for a short interval abroad, and once with the United States Bureau of the Census. Born in 1864 at Ann Arbor just at the ending of the American Civil War, by the time he was twenty-three he had been graduated from Michigan and at thirty, in 1894, he had received his Ph.D. at Michigan in economics with a minor in sociology. He was assistant in political science from 1892 to 1895, assistant professor of economics from 1899 to1904, and professor of sociology after that until his death in 1929.

In some ways Cooley as a sociologist might be said to resemble Giddings in what he did and the way he did it more than any of the other older pioneers. For instance, his deep and wide reading covered much of the same ground as Giddings', and his keen analysis, discrimination, adaptation of his reading to his own work, and his critical interpretation reminded one somewhat of Giddings whose work influenced him greatly. Then again, he was early interested in political science, as was

( 110) Giddings, and much of his best work was on the level of the psychological approach as also was Giddings'. Also, his ability to systematize his work and to create new terminology were comparable to much that Giddings did.

Concerning his background of reading and the sociologists who influenced him in turning to sociology Cooley wrote on pages 5 and 6 of his Sociological Theory and Social Research, edited by Robert Cooley Angell, that "as regards the academic possibilities of sociology I had been awakened by the papers of Professor Giddings which appeared about 1890, dealing with the province of the subject, its relation to political economy and its suitability for university study. I may add that I had made the acquaintance of Giddings, probably at the 1890 meeting of the American Economic Association at Washington, where, at least, I remember hearing him speak, and that he had given kindly encouragement to my sociological aspirations. It was he more than any other who led me to believe that sociology might become a university subject, and myself a teacher of it.

"Lester F. Ward was also at the Washington meeting and was most courteous to me, complimenting me on a paper that I read on what would now be called the ecology of street railways, and giving me a ticket to the Cosmos Club, which, however, I neglected to use. I knew hardly anything of his works at that time but read later, with profit, what I found to be the more readable of them, and had an interesting correspondence with him regarding Galton's views on genius. I had and have the greatest respect for Ward, and concur heartily as to the high rank assigned to him in American sociology, but it would be untrue to say that his writings had any large part in forming my own conceptions of the subject.

"With this preparation, and a very ardent purpose to share in that new development of social knowledge that seemed about to begin, I offered sociology as one of my minor subjects for the Doctor's degree, and set myself to study the accredited authors. I read enough of Comte to give me a general idea of his system, Ward's Psychic Factors of Civilization and part of his Dynamic Sociology, Darwin's Origin of Species and Descent of Man, and more or less in Gumplowicz, Quételet (statistics was my other minor), Sir Henry Maine, Morgan, McLennan and Westermarck; also in Jane Addams and other philanthropic writers. But

(111) more time and labor than I put on any of these went to an arduous perusal of the first volume of Schäffle's Bau and Leben des socialen Körpers. I was looking for a view of the social system that should be more satisfactory than Spencer's and it seemed to me that Schäffle offered the best prospect of it. Indeed, from my recollection of it, I have no doubt that his was in many respects a very good view indeed, but just how much it helped me in working out my own conceptions I am unable to say."

Cooley's main books include his Personal Competition, 1899; Human Nature and the Social Order, 1902; Social Organization, 1909; Social Process, 1918; Life and the Student, 1927; Sociological Theory and Social Research, 1930. In addition to his books his bibliography contains some twenty-five articles of which twelve were republished in his last book, Sociological Theory and Social Research.

Barnes, ranking Cooley high in his catalogue of American sociologists, page 835, points out that Cooley's "generalizations, keen and scholarly as they are, were derived chiefly from books perused thoughtfully in the comfortable setting of the library. His own books draw quite as much upon the great monuments of general literature as upon technical treatments of sociology." Perhaps no other sociologist, unless it was Giddings, has shown such mastery of the art of dignified expression as to give his writings a high degree of literary merit not only in content but also in the form of expression.

Two broad fundamental assumptions characterize Cooley's approach to social phenomena. The first was his comprehensive and practical view of the organic nature of history and society. The second was the organic view of the social process, in which the central theme of Cooley's psychological sociology is the doctrine of the inseparable and complementary nature of society and the individual. This elucidation of the interaction and interrelationships of the individual and society, Barnes pointed out in Chapter XLIII of his Introduction to the History of Sociology, entitled "Charles Horton Cooley: Pioneer in Psychosociology," furnishes the subject matter of Cooley's books and constitutes a coherent system of social philosophy.

Cooley's methodology is discussed and quoted at length in Chapter-15 of this book. From our inquiries it seems clear that perhaps no other sociologist has been and is still quoted with such generous commendation as Cooley. In both the number of references in some fifty textbooks

( 112) and in selections in source books, Cooley leads, the details of which are given in Chapter 15. It is often said, too, that his great trilogy, Human Nature and the Social Order, Social Organization, and Social Process, presented the most acceptable socio-psychological theory yet evaluated on that level of study. And certainly no sociologist or other social scientist has presented the public such a literary gem: he "left himself in imperishable form in Life and the Student as it is the fortune of few mortals to do." One of the best ways to compare Cooley's concepts, style, methodology, with those of Ross is to compare Cooley's Life and the Student with Ross's Capsules of Social Wisdom published for him by Social Forces in 1948, and upon which Ross was still working in 1950. Cooley's work is also further evaluated in Chapters 16, 17, 18, and 22. It is pointed out that while Cooley is most often quoted for his primary face-to-face groups and for his "looking glass self," he estimates in his Sociological Theory and Social Research that his main contribution was in the field of what he sometimes called organic sociology in which the frame of reference was the inseparability of the individual and the group, the interaction processes between society and the individual. Cooley would have agreed, however, that his realistic studies of behavior through the observation of children, his special exposition of the social processes, and his foundations of social psychology were all part and parcel of his contributions which, still in 1950, are required readings of several sub-areas of general sociology as well as in general sociology.

Cooley's presidential address in 1918, printed in the Publications of the American Sociological Society: Papers of the 13th Annual Meeting, Volume XIII, was on "A Primary Culture for Democracy." For Cooley, "culture means the development of the human and social, as distinct from the technical, side of life." His concept of culture was functional in a different way from that posited by some of the later anthropologists. That is, culture was necessary to democracy, and especially at the post-war 1919 period when the new sweep of technology and economic advance challenged society anew.


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