The Future of Sociology
ALBION W. SMALL
University of Chicago
When I accepted the invitation to submit a paper on this subject I had in mind a line of argument that would keep close to a central thought. Reflection led me to abandon that idea, and to present some snapshots at certain important phases of our situation. I have not tried to organize them into logical relations.
In the first place, there can be no plausible doubt that sociology has a future. The readiest way to assure this conviction is to recall our past and to survey our present. We are often told that the ultimate criterion of science is its power to predict. Whether or not sociology has won a mandate to predict, our past furnishes us almost irresistible stimulus to believe. We are here. We are at work. It is inconceivable that anything short of our own defection can abort our future.
There could scarcely be a sharper contrast than that between the sociological outlook of today and of thirty years ago. At that time a handful of men in this country were challenging fate by declaring their independence of the older social sciences, and by proclaiming their faith in a potential something dormant in the facts of life, which they proposed to quicken under the name sociology. Two time-worn symbols fit our adventure. We early dissenters from the traditions of social science were like Abraham faring forth to seek an unknown country. We were still further like Saul on the errand which started to retrieve his father's asses but ended in founding a kingdom.
Today in hundreds of institutions, from academy to graduate school, sociology is a peer in academic rank of all but the elements, language and mathematics. Nothing but unthinkable failure of sociologists to use their occupied standing ground can nullify this achievement. All the signs are that this gain in a single generation is not a passing spasm, but that it is the beginning of a mighty growth.
Again, sociology has a future not alone because it has won academic recognition. That is merely an external sign of an invisible fact. An underlying reason for this fact and an essential assurance of the future of sociology is that people are insatiably interested in people. Sociology and psychology together have opened up vistas of facts about people which a few decades ago were not within reach of imagination. These facts grade up from the most tangible concreteness to the most comprehensive generalizations that do not go out of bounds among the nebulae of speculative philosophy. To our present outlook these types of fact present inexhaustible varieties of details and combinations. Each of them is cause and effect of situations which make or mar people's fortunes. They range from relations of the milk supply to infant mortality, and from the relations of venereal disease to infant blindness to the most involved problems of social psychology. They are all, however, questions of real people about real people. Their interest is not chiefly academic; it is vital. There is something somewhere in this gamut of questions to pique the curiosity of all sorts and conditions of men. It is incredible that people will place a diminished estimate upon inquiry into these facts which so largely compose the human career. It is as easy to believe that our bodies will outgrow need of water as that our minds will outgrow interest in these realities that are the substance of our larger life.
In the second place, the plainly discernible future of sociology deploys along three routes, viz., (1) teaching in the wide sense, including all sorts of publicity, (2) research, (3) social control.
So far as numbers go, the third of these routes is likely always to be chosen by the vast majority. They may not only call themselves sociologists, but they may have a valid claim to that title, although only a small fraction of them may ever make out more than a dim adumbration of the scope of sociology as a cardinal division of social science. The limits of this paper will not permit discussion of this tendency, although one phase of it will be noticed later. At this outset I merely record my confession that sociologists of my own type of primary interest—the methodological—have not been good pragmatists in our attitude toward the direct-action wing of the sociologists. We have accused that tendency of
(177) making programs without taking thought. Its representatives have accused the methodologists of taking thought without affecting programs. There has been both truth and error in each position. Not merely social practice but sociological theory will tend to stability in part through adjustment of these complementary attitudes. I shall return to this subject.
Next in order of numbers are the sociologists who approach the subject from the teaching side. The indications are almost demonstrative that throughout any future in which children already born can be actors, all along the line, from no one can foretell how early in the grades to institutes of research, the demand for competent teachers of sociology will exceed the supply.
From the academic angle we might rest our assurance to this effect on the fact that the sociologists have already accumulated a body of knowledge which contains educational material of incomparably superior value to much now in our curricula.
At the arbitrarily chosen date 1895 the one common factor in the belief of the small group of American sociologists was conviction that something was lacking in the procedure and findings of the traditional sciences of human affairs, and that we were destined to develop a science that would supply the lack. We were naïve enough not only to confess this creed but to propagate it. Beyond this minimum of formal belief, our outlook pointed in various directions, our conceptions of objectives differed, and our ideas of method were heterogeneous. A divinity seems to have shaped our ends more wisely than any of us could have planned. It preserved us from dispersion, and it determined us into a convergence which has arrived at a common center of orientation. From this center there is prospect of radiating activities which, even in the next generation, must do much to vindicate the pioneering of a generation ago.
We might press the Freudian term "psychoanalysis" into service in a wider than the Freudian sense to indicate the whole field of individual and social psychology. We might find it convenient to indicate the whole range of structural aspects of groups by the companion term "socioanalysis." Psychoanalysis and socioanalysis so understood have already brought to light aspects
(178) of people in comparison with which much that previously passed for knowledge about people already seems casual and trivial. Whether we hold that present findings of psychoanalysis and socioanalysis are precise and final or approximate and provisional, the essential situation is occupied, viz., an advanced interest has been aroused in those types of relations to which the attention of psycho- and socioanalysis has been directed. We have gone beyond that, however. Whereas in our attempts a generation ago to see "society" as it is we succeeded in little more than seeing "men as trees walking," we have meanwhile adjusted our focus so that we see many things more objectively, and so that we realize much better than we did what is more and what is less worth seeing. We have become more distinctly conscious that our primary task is analysis of groups, beginning with their immediately resented factual phases, probing back into their physical and psychical energizings and searching forward toward discovery of norms and means for control.
Claiming unlimited license of mixed metaphor, we may partially indicate the rudiments of our present insight into human experience by saying that we have found it to be a turbulent tide of incessantly reforming group situations. These vortices of social movement result from the innumerable atomicities of human wants compounded into the infinity of human circumstances. Such beginnings as finite minds may make at all in understanding this incomprehensible will be most promising if they start with analysis of the most obvious and frequent of these reactions and then, to the limit of ability, add acquaintance with the more obscure and rare. In short, almost from the beginning American sociologists have been bound together, wittingly or unwittingly, by an instinctive urge to create an interlocking and concentric apparatus for formulating, interpreting, and controlling group aspects of human processes.
In the course of arrival at this general outlook we have assembled and organized, from somewhat different points of view, masses of facts, and insights into the relations of facts involved in the human lot, which are furnishing forth textbooks each of which tends to make the oldest teachers of sociology for very envy
( 178) regret that they cannot start once more and again try to co-ordinate what is known about human groups into a more convincing showing than any one has been able to organize. These accumulations comprise knowledge both of generalized relations and of special conditions. Accordingly our curricula are made up of courses which run the whole scale between such ambitious attempts as Schäffle's Bau und Leben and such segments of specialization as Warner's American Charities.
This situation reflects tendencies in our society which are bound to become more influential for an indefinite future. There was a time when standards of education were prescribed by the educated classes themselves. For a long time to come the public to be educated will exercise an increasing influence both absolute and relative upon the subjectmatter of education. This in part explains why so many schools are already teaching, not in sociology alone, but in other fields, so much which their constituencies demand, instead of things which teachers think the pupils ought to have.
Men of the theorizing, systematizing type tend to despise all sorts of concrete knowledge as mere information, and we tend to exalt all sorts of dealing with principles, the more general the better: because we presume that they qualify for understanding all details which conform to the principles. The broader the scope of our generalizations, therefore, the more are we inclined to respect schemes of education directly as the diameters of the relations which they are supposed to train the mind to control. I am not an exception to this rule. So far as I could influence educational programs, from lowest grade to highest, in public or private institutions, I should always do my utmost toward the adoption of curricula sanctioned by these valuations. I should do so in the belief that training in the understanding of principles will in the end lead the largest number of people soonest to higher planes of intelligence and capacity for co-operation.
At the same time I sympathize with the popular refusal to accept Plato's idea that an oligarchy of philosophers would be the best sort of society. If the world were the kind of world which Platonic philosophy presupposed, Plato might be right. As the
( 179) world is not a logical world, according to Plato's notion of logic, an autocracy of logic would be a less progressive situation than a free struggle of all types of interest, each fighting for its place in the sun. For myself, I think that in our own country, rough, raw, and crude as it is, we have reached something better than Plato ever imagined. I think it is better in this respect. When we are not temporarily suffering from shell-shock we believe in allowing each interest to have its proportional say about how the common affairs shall be conducted. Under this scheme there is a hearing, although sometimes a less considerate hearing than we might wish, even for the foolishness of preaching, whether by the clergy or the professors; and then there is a ,hearing for all the other sorts and conditions of men. According to the logic of evolution, not of the academy, it is right, and will prove in the end to be expedient that these other sorts and conditions of men should prevail—modulated as may be by the clerics and academics till the average comes to rest nearer than at present on a completely objective level.
We may translate all this into terms of our interest in sociological education. No doubt many members of this Society have experienced onsets of panic after glancing at catalogues of schools which schedule courses entitled "Sociology." To some of us the situation looks like outlawry of principles and a dictatorship of details. The thought has, no doubt, frequently occurred: "Would not reversion to any old kind of standardized dogma be better than this anarchy ?"
We might well be awed by the different ways in which amateur social consciousness is already demanding its version of the sort of education fit for citizens. A typical case is in the pages of the Century Magazine for September, 1920. A writer who does not employ the word sociology and who has apparently been very little influenced, at least consciously, by the historical literature of our subject, quotes John Milton's formula: "I call, therefore, a complete and generous education that which enables a man to perform justly, skilfully and magnanimously all of the offices, public and private, of both peace and war." He then elaborates this idea (p. 654) :
All this means that in the midst of modern complexity the achievement of socially right conduct requires more than good intentions; it requires good intelligence that will enable a man to keep up a continuous moral analysis of his political, social and industrial relations. Otherwise it is impossible for a man to assess the rightness or wrongness of his acts and policies in the modern world. No man can be said to be liberally educated until he has achieved a comprehensive and realistic understanding of the tangled network of modern relations, an appreciation of the endless ramifications of every act today. It is not the business of liberal education to determine moral standards in any religious sense, but it is the business of liberal education to give a man full knowledge of the modern stage upon which the play of human conduct is acted and to train his mind to follow his every act to its ultimate social effect. An education that leaves a man cold to the social implications of his professional or craft conduct, or fails to train him to see these implications, is illiberal and inadequate.
The sociologist might well exclaim: "Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, Him declare I unto you!" The sociologist's wiser second thought might better be: "Who then is sufficient unto these things!" For a generation American sociologists have been addressing chiefly their academic colleagues in the endeavor to convince that the most important things for members of human society to know are the things of which the quotation contains a version. Our experience with scholastic coldness on the one hand, and the rising tide of popular interest on the other, might justify us in a further adaptation: He has hid these things from the wise and prudent, and has revealed them unto babes.
The incontinence with which the miscellaneous public has demanded something in the name of sociology in all but the primary grades is less pathetic, however, than the fatuity of a president of the United States. During a long academic career he had used his large influence to inhibit the type of education which we know to be timely, and which an increasing public confusedly demands. Then in a national crisis he issues a proclamation to teachers to convert the schools into nurseries of good citizenship. As though a stamp of the presidential foot could conjure a socially adequate teaching profession any more than it could extemporize military preparedness! Yet here we are, with the public in a state of semiconscious requisition for socialized and socializing education. For a long time to come this demand is bound to be irregular, often
(181) whimsical and unintelligent. In response to this demand teachers will not be able to work wholly in the lines of their own convictions, but they will have to impart instruction that appeals to their constituencies. Under the circumstances I believe wisdom dictates watchful opportunism. Sociologists should never lose sight of the goal they know it is urgent to reach—principles interpreting particulars—and they should try to make academic curricula do their utmost toward reaching that goal. Meanwhile they should not despise even the most indirect approaches to their ideals, if those approaches are the best that the circumstances permit. They should magnify such opportunities as trustees and school boards allow to teach any sort of social reality. Two considerations should always be heartening: first, it would be hard to find any real facts about real people less important than the accidents of dead languages which had come to be the staple of so-called "higher education," when the academic revolution of the mid-nineteenth century began; second, if we make the most of our opportunities to teach any sort of real social relations, trustees and school boards will presently be recruited from the grandchildren of our pupils. Partly from us and our successors, partly direct from life itself, they will have learned the importance of giving the then rising generation more searching looks into social reality.
I pass to the second of the three routes along which the future of sociology is sure to move, viz., research.
Signs are multiplying that before long sociologists must call upon themselves for an accounting with this idea "research." A writer in the October, 1920, Atlantic observes: "In academic circles a hobby is called a `research.' " It would be well for sociologists to take the hint and safeguard their researches against falling into the hobby class. When we talk about "a technique of research" we may use the phrase "advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God." I have grave suspicions, however, that some of us are falling into a mode of using it "unadvisedly or lightly." I seem to see evidence that some sociologists are thinking of "research" as a sort of ritual, a performance of mystical or ceremonial merit, detached from any objective utility. The term "research" seems to me to be taking on a cant use among certain sociologists very much like the cant
( 182) sense in which we prostitute such words as "etiquette" or "patriotism." We imply that there is a content for the words isolated from situations in which alone they can have a meaning. "Etiquette" is simply a blanket term for answers to the question covering all conceivable social situations: How is it proper to behave ? So with "patriotism" and all conceivable political situations considered on the side of their demands upon citizens. "Research" is merely a blanket name for all the different proprieties of behavior in the course of finding out things. Research in finding out how many people live in a given block is very different from research in finding out whether there is a connection between the death-rate and the water supply of a given town. Research into the connection between high prices and the marketing system is very different from research into the significance of the race factor in American politics. Research into causes of delinquency among boys is very different from research into the connections between theological beliefs and business morals. Each of the topics suggested for investigation by Dr. Gillin's or Dr. Eaves's committee, for instance, invites its special application of the principle. In short, a different technique must be mobilized for each type of fact and each type of situation about which something is to be learned. The differences in technique vary with the differences in the phenomena to be investigated. In another connection, referring to the fact that for the present the majority of social scientists will have to find their opportunities for research in more or less close connection with teaching, I have said:
It is impossible, therefore, to speak with precision of the entire category "research." In a general discussion we must deal with it only approximately. We may assume that for the present the majority of men trained for research in the humanities will find their vocation somewhere in the teaching profession. We may assume as a minimum formula of the "research type" a man qualified and equipped with ability and impulse to organize or to increase knowledge of his subject, or possibly both to organize and to increase it, in such ways that his expressions to his students, not only of ascertained knowledge, but of visible problems of knowledge, and of methods for getting knowledge along the frontiers of his field, will add something in the way of content or in the way of lucidity to presentations of the subject-matter in extant textbooks.
Research is not an esoteric liturgy, like the symbolic observances of a secret society. Research is mobilization of those ways and means of discovery which are appropriate to the sort of knowledge desired. The precondition of research is the shaping-up of a problem. The eye must be fixed upon some gap in our knowledge. Resolve must be formed to fill up that gap. Then the question must be answered provisionally: By what processes may knowledge to close up that gap be gained ? There must follow procedure according to the answer. This action should test the validity of the answer. It should reach the aim proposed. If it fails, incidental to the failure should be minor discoveries bearing upon the feasibility in principle of the proposed search, and upon more adequate methods of conducting it. Educationally it would pay to film the story of Peary's different preparations for dashes to the Pole, as illustrative of scientific research in general. Peary's problem was not the problem of a canal through the Isthmus, nor of making Havana Harbor sanitary, nor of modeling a Liberty motor, nor of generating a mare deadly gas, nor of testing the authenticity of alleged messages from the dead. Peary's technique of research was accordingly not identical with the technique appropriate to either of the other problems. In a word, each sort of problem demands a technique of research after its kind. Research and problem are to each other as the specific combination to each particular lock. There is no such thing as a universal pass-key to knowledge.
These remarks are so trite in themselves that it might seem to be an affront to this Society to call its attention to them. I should not have taken the risk if I did not believe that the caution is timely. Such terms as "scientific" and "research" are still too frequently used as shibboleths no less sterile than the incantations of any ancient superstition.
As to real research by sociologists, it will doubtless develop in two forms. On the one hand the ideal proposed for the physical sciences by the National Council of Research should stimulate social scientists to undertake co-operative inquiries on a large scale. On the other hand, as in the physical sciences, some social investigators will continue to follow out individual inquiries, not
( 184) bothering themselves about the chances of absorption of their results by science in general. Wisdom seems to dictate that we sociologists should lend all the encouragement in our power to both tendencies, and that we should avoid anything like coercion of individuals to choose the one method of work rather than the other. Co-operative investigation will accomplish much that would be impossible for segregated workers. On the other hand, abridgment of the freedom of scholars to pick their own problems and work in their own ways would ultimately reduce "science" to mass production of flivvers. There are times and tides in the affairs of men which call for greater mobility of mental labor than mass enterprise alone can assure. Individual watchmen are needed upon the high places, with liberty to follow clues which might not seem significant to the many. Very likely an abstract calculus of social resources would decide that unorganized action is wasteful. Since, however, we have punctured the pious fiction that nature never wastes, we have begun to study the economy of waste as an investment. Conceivably the world might have been wiser today if since the close of the Middle Ages all its intelligentsia—the cranks, the colorless "pass men," and the geniuses together—had been organized into co-operative knowledge mills. Conceivably, on the other hand, the incubus of standardization might have rested so heavy on those plants that there would have been less insight in the world than there is now. Possibly it is a higher economy in the long run to forego some of the ideal advantages of organization so that there may be no smothering of an occasional Socrates or Jesus, or Galileo, or Voltaire or Edison. To bring the matter nearer home, how much better off would social science have been today, if a couple of decades ago the Census Bureau had swallowed up that disturbing young man Ross of California ?
No! Let us both organize and individualize. And let us hold up to organizations and detached workers alike the constant demand that they shall center their attention not on pedantic interests, but on studies which deserve the right of way because they promise to contribute to the general welfare. I know this is a difficult standard, and I would not interpret it dogmatically. I
( 185) would mean by it at least that each worker, individual or collective, should try to choose between alternatives not the one that offers the most to private interest, but the one by which his or its particular kind of equipment might hope to contribute most to general knowledge.
As to the subject-matter of research, it seems to me that Professor Giddings was keenly prophetic yesterday, when he gave us samples of problems he would have investigated. On what-ever other levels we may pursue knowledge, we shall have stopped far short of the requirements of our function until we have done our best upon problems of the order which he suggested.
One promotion of research is possible without appreciable increase of our financial resources, and the idea is already in process of incubation. Each of our social science societies might commission a standing committee of outlook, with the duty of surveying its field and reporting on priority of problems calling for research. These committees of the several societies might well arrange for periodical conferences with one another in order to get light on the relative urgency of the same or similar problems from the several points of view, and in order to promote convergence of research forces upon investigations which a single technique cannot cover.
There are areas of knowledge which can be explored only by use of the techniques which the historians have developed for authenticating and evaluating evidence about past situations.
There are areas of knowledge which can be explored only by use of the techniques which the economists have developed for analyzing and interpreting the primarily acquisitive activities of human groups.
There are areas of knowledge which can be explored only by use of the techniques which the political scientists have developed for analyzing and interpreting the machineries for control of civic bodies.
There are areas of knowledge which can be explored only by use of the techniques which are in process of development among
( 186) structural sociologists on the one hand, and psychological or behavioristic sociologists on the other for analyzing and interpreting human group phenomena in general.
Up to the present time we have developed very few consistent technologists of either of these sorts anywhere in the world. A few hundred years from now, if science does not meanwhile pass into eclipse, a consensus among scholars is likely, to the effect that the social scientists of our day, with rare exceptions, held allegiance to specialization only in spots, while for the most part they were irresponsible amateurs. In other words, in most cases, the technique of which we have responsible control would suffice to verify only a small arc of the periphery of our pronouncements. I wish I might take the time to elaborate the proposition that much which passes for specialization throughout the entire range of the social sciences, is not operation of the peculiar competency ostensibly in action; it is merely canny use of library technique.
One does not need to overdraw even the smallest deposit of prophetic reserve to put into circulation the forecast that a clearing-up of our consciousness about the distinctness of the various research functions, and about their reciprocal interdependencies will be a progressive incident in future social science.
I have long since abandoned my earlier belief that sociology was foreordained to be the co-ordinating functionary in social science. If I may even hint at an organic analogy, the early physiologists were more nearly correct when they asserted that the human body is a republic, than if they had tried to express the human body in terms of empire. So of human society and of techniques for explaining human society. They must co-operate as peers, and share as equal partners in responsibility and results. Ultimate correlation of their results will have to come about more through some kind of action comparable with that of the development of public opinion in a state than through action in the form of subjection of citizens to a Grand General Staff. If there was a mathematical society in Alexandria twenty-two hundred years ago, Professor Euclid and his colleagues doubtless consumed many sessions confirming themselves in their previous conviction that geometry is the master-science. At the same time,
( 187) if the engineering association sitting in a hotel near by was made up of members with the same sorts of professional astigmatisms which have been typical since, it was doubtless interspersing its discussions of the decadent art of pyramid-building with demonstrations that geometry is nonsense.
Meanwhile the human race has been obliged to live and move and have its being in space. All its operations have had to be adaptations to space relations. Facilitation of these operations has demanded increasingly precise and rigorous interpretation of the relations. Thus it has come about that geometry has vindicated itself by furnishing basic calculations for engineering, while engineering has realized itself by achieving authentic expressions of geometry.
The same is an allegory which I need not labor.
I return to the third route along which the future of sociology is destined to move, viz., experimentation, or attempts at social control.
Ever since there has been laboratory science it has made the most of every opportunity to exploit its supposed superiority to the pretended sciences of human affairs, in that it can experiment while they cannot. There are certainly differences on the score of experimentation between some of the physical sciences and the social sciences, but they are not precisely the differences most often alleged, and it remains to be seen how decisive are these differences in determining grades of service among sciences.
All life is experimentation. Every spontaneous or voluntary association is an experiment. Every conscious or unconscious acquiescence in a habit is an experiment. Every adoption of a mode of sexual, economic, political, intellectual, or religious conventionality or innovation is an experiment. Every institution of every society developed enough to have institutions is an experiment. Each civilization in the world today, each mode of living side by side within or between the several civilizations is an experiment. Each adoption of a constitution, or amendment, or law, or by-law by each group, from the League of Nations down to a camp of Boy Scouts, is an experiment. Herbert Spencer, having no babies of his own, thought that other people's babies should not be deprived of opportunity to learn empirically that falling downstairs is not
( 188) the thing to do. When Great Britain fell downstairs in the course of learning that this, that, or the other was or was not the thing to do, he called it "the sins of legislators." All the laboratories in the world could not carry on enough experiments to measure a thimbleful compared with the world of experimentation open to the observation of social science. The radical difference is that the laboratory scientists can arrange their own experiments while we social scientists for the most part have our experiments arranged for us. It remains to be seen further, to what extent this difference amounts to a disadvantage for the social scientists.
However this may turn out to be, two prospects are open to social scientists of all sorts. Each of these prospects stretches away beyond the range of present vision; viz., first, the prospect of progressively comprehensive, instructive, and constructive interpretation of experiments, past and present, of which we can be only witnesses; second, the prospect of extending our advisory and executive share in organizing and conducting social experiment. Of the former prospect I need not speak further. Of the latter I wish I had the time and the imagination to speak adequately. If the social sciences could furnish a personnel incarnating the wisdom and the discretion which social science is presumed to confer, the world's concrete experimentation would be put in charge of people trained for it at a rate never yet approached. From diet kitchens to premierships—outside of Russia and the Chicago City Hall—there is such a tendency as never was before for jobs to seek persons fitted for the jobs. Much of this tendency may be entered on the credit side of the war. All along the line of actual and desirable social experimentation the demand factor seems to me much more assured than the immediate competence of social scientists to satisfy the demand.
In this connection it would be a serious oversight to omit mention of perhaps the most importunate of all visible social research problems, of the theoretical sort, viz., the rôle, past, present, and future, of the legal factor in group processes. Both on the side of science and on the side of practice the world is ripening for the work which Dean Pound and Dean Wigmore and a few like-minded men have been prospecting. Within the latest
(189) generation American sociologists have emancipated themselves from the conception of human society as an entity. They are now free to get acquainted with the reality hidden under that conception by exploring human activities as an interminable complexity of processes. The challenge is up to men of legal training to liberate themselves, and then the rest of us, from the parent superstition that the state is an entity. After we are clear in our minds that the reality behind that symbol is the most complicated mechanism and procedure of social control which design and accident combined have ever produced, we shall thereby for the first time have achieved freedom to adopt an intelligent attitude toward all our problems of control. We shall be at liberty to realize that "the state" is merely a short-cut way of referring to the totality of the co-ordinating activities sustained by the members of that type of civic group which is designated by superstition or courtesy as "sovereign." We shall be free to perceive that "politics" is not a privileged mystery, set apart from all the rest of human behavior by exceptional foreordination and franchise. We shall have become sophisticated enough to see that politics is merely small group connivance writ large. It is merely Mrs. Grundy and the schoolmaster wielding weightier words or a bigger stick. Politics is that aspect of human activities, from leadership of a boys' gang to primacy in a Versailles conference, in which the exercise of power, or the endeavor to exercise power over others is the distinguishing characteristic, i.e., the control phase of every sort of group activity.
Thereupon we shall be in a favorable position to consider our implicit problems of control. Whether in the nation or in less inclusive groups, the perennial need is agreement upon valuations convertible into kinds of control that will make for a minimum of reciprocally nullifying human actions, and toward choices which will turn out to be reciprocally reinforcing. All this of course is algebra. It does not solve problems; it merely states them. It does, however, indicate the one creative attitude. The attainment next in order for civilized peoples is will to realize this through legal control, if voluntary action is inadequate, in preference to lapse into a nervelessness that would end in anarchy.
Three suggestions of a quite different nature may complete my message.
If I had dictated this summary after having heard Professor Giddings' paper of yesterday morning, my next paragraph would have been somewhat differently expressed. I let it go as written, with this interpolation. I most heartily fall into line with the spirit of Professor Giddings' lofty conception of sociology as the science of human adequacy. I should want to carry out what seems to be necessary implications of the description in two ways: First, I should want to add that, as to its substance, in our present state of knowledge such a formula must be used rather as a means of inquiry than as the statement of a finality. It is virtually more interrogative than indicative. Human knowledge will have accomplished its most decisive result when it is able to put a precisely itemized content into such a conception of the ultimate goal of life; second, accepting, with that understanding, the term human adequacy as the algebraic symbol of the end to be reached, I must confess that, as I have already intimated, in recent years I have found myself less and less inclined to the belief that sociology has an exceptional order of function with reference to that consummation. On the contrary it seems to me that the nearest approach to it which men will ever reach will be through concerted action of social science as a whole. In my judgment the other divisions of social science will not fully find themselves until they return from their dissipations among impersonal husks and harlots, and together with sociology resume their duty of developing their proper patrimony–the personal possibilities of people. To my mind there is nothing but frustration and sterility ahead of any division of social science, unless it realizes itself primarily as a hierarchy of techniques, each making toward a common achievement in what I should be glad to join in calling human adequacy. With this confession of faith I return to my text.
In the early days most of the sociologists in this country, among other things, made much of the distinction between wealth and welfare as centers of attention, and as criteria of social value. We phrased our ideas of the basis of discrimination between ourselves
( 191) and the economists in particular very largely in terms of this distinction. We have all along, and never more confidently than at present, prided ourselves upon being interested in human beings as such, while we have accused other types of social scientists of centering their interest not upon people, but upon certain of the appurtenances and auxiliaries of people—their gear, their chattels, their mental or moral or physical machineries. On the whole, I still believe the claim to have been, and still to be justified in this sense, namely, at the time of the emerging of sociology as a distinct division of knowledge (and it is true even now, though happily in a diminished degree) the persons who were pursuing other divisions of social science as a profession had unconsciously allowed their center of interest to shift from actual people to some of the circumstances, or behaviors, or institutions or products of people. The cardinal interest of the early sociologists, on the other hand, was in the distinctively and essentially human, both actual and potential, and in problems of promoting the intimate fortunes of people as personalities.
As it now appears to me, however, this fact was sheer accident, and I see no assurance that this particular distinction between sociologists and other social scientists will remain a fact. So far as I am aware, there is nothing in the nature of things to prevent historians or economists or political scientists from shifting their emphasis in any generation, so that they might begin to operate their technique with the uppermost aim of making it tributary to personal accomplishment, and with as intensive interest in that aim as we have ever realized.
To put it more generally, an inevitable incident of specialization in social science is a drag toward abstraction as a finality; that is, toward dehumanizing of the specialty. Sociologists have no right to assume that they will prove exceptions to this rule. Indeed, I foresee rather the certainty that in proportion as we sociologists become critically class-conscious and efficient in the application of our technique, the tendency to exalt the immediate end at which our technique should arrive, viz., analysis of group phenomena as such, will show itself overmastering us, as their form of the same temptation overmastered the specialists of whom we took warning.
Groups and their phenomena may be abstracted in thought from vital persons by precisely the same logical or sublogical processes which led to the dehumanizing and desocializing of techniques that made war or diplomacy or administration or economic production or fiscal stability their center of attention. In the long run, whether or not we preserve the balance of our interest oriented chiefly with reference to evolving humanity, or chiefly with reference to some detached aspect or incident or by-product of that evolution, will depend less upon the species of technique which we serve than upon the setting of our vocational peculiarity in our entire antecedent make-up as persons supposedly bigger than our profession.
It is not at all difficult for me to imagine a stage in the growth of social science in which there will be sociologists no more concerned about anything beyond certain abstracted group phenomena, regardless of their meaning for human fortunes in general, than some biologists now are about anything beyond selected freaks of vegetable or animal evolution. In order for sociology to steer a course in the future which will be consistent both with its achieved insight into its instrumental subordination in the methodological aspect to social science as a whole, and with its professed dedication in its substantial aspect to persons in contrast with abstractions, sociologists will do well if they keep danger signals constantly displayed at points where abstraction threatens to lead away from the central human reality.
Second, in proportion as sociology becomes responsibly objective it will leave behind its early ambition for a hegemony over social sciences, and it will realize its destiny of functioning within a federation of scientific activities. With widening and clarifying of social consciousness, it must become progressively evident that a single technique, no matter how penetrating, can at most lay bare only certain constituent aspects of the total social process. While, therefore, sociology is certain to increase absolutely, yet relatively, in comparison with social science as a whole, like each of the other tributary techniques it must and should decrease. I mean that in this sense: So long as men study human experience for means of more intelligently guiding future experience, the demand for sociologists as teachers of rudiments of social
( 193) relations, and the distinctness of the function which sociologists must perform, cannot fail to increase. On the other hand, our contributions to available knowledge, and to wisdom in turning knowledge into fortunate social control, must depend at last upon the sagacity of the different divisions of social science in merging their resources.
Finally, we may well congratulate ourselves upon the complete absence from our horizon of signs that the near future of sociology is to be sectarian. Differences of opinion there are among us in plenty. We differ about emphasis, about method, about vocabulary, about choices of immediate programs. All this makes for health. On the other hand, there is nothing among us remotely parallel with the quarrels in the eighteen-eighties between the economists of the "classical," the "historical," and the "Austrian" communions, not to speak of the minor sects. We are not a jangle of party proclamation—" I am of Paul, and I of Apollos, and I of Cephas." Various as our expressions are in outward appearance, we are bound together by common consciousness of a vocation to see that group aspects of human experience receive their dues in all attempts to interpret or to control human affairs.
Probably I might count on your tolerance if for a moment I should revert to type and should relive an adolescent impulse to exhort. I will compromise upon a final reflection which might well be shaped into an appeal: The zeal of the pioneers in American sociology has been more than justified. The particular achievement which was their aim has not been realized, and it should not have been, in its literal form. More questions which people ask about people are unanswered today than when American sociologists began to propound their peculiar problems about people. There is more consciousness now than ever before that people need answers to the kinds of questions which sociologists ask. The day is past for waste of more time over the settled question, Is sociology needed? The question that remains is, How nearly can sociologists qualify themselves to satisfy the demand ?