Social Attitudes

Introductory Note

Kimball Young

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THE study of social attitudes in social psychology and sociology was first made prominent in this country by William I. Thomas. During the years of his connection with the University of Chicago he spent much of his time collecting and analyzing case materials of personalities from various racial, immigrant, and delinquent backgrounds with a view to uncovering the fundamentals of social behavior. Those familiar with his monumental work, The Polish Peasant in Europe and America ( 1918-1920) realize how the concept of social attitude played an important part in his analysis.

The present volume represents a collection of varied papers written from a point of view similar to that of Mr. Thomas. The authors were all at one time associated with Mr. Thomas either as graduate students or as collaborators in his research. These men have developed divergent interests in the subsequent years and yet they remain essentially fairly close together in their conception of sociology. They stand for a certain viewpoint. In common with Mr. Thomas they recognize the need of a conceptual framework in their research and teaching which takes into account the interaction of the personality and its environment-physical, social, and cultural. While most of them have worked largely with non-quantitative materials, they do not discount the statistical method. They do find, however, in the analysis of social process and social structure that for the present much of their material does not lend itself to statistical treatment. Most of it exists frankly in qualitative form. It is true that important beginnings are underway among psychologists and sociologists, especially by such men as Allport, May, Rice, and Thurstone, to devise methods of treating certain aspects of social attitudes by statistical techniques. But the material here is of the case study or historical-genetic series and in dealing with these data we have not yet discovered adequate quantitative instruments for collecting the essential facts nor mathematical terms in which to couch the concepts necessary for their adequate interpretation.


The writers of this volume desired to put together out of their varied interests a group of papers in honor of Mr. Thomas which would represent the divergent aspects of sociological and social psychological materials wherein the concept of social attitudes made the analysis meaningful. There was no effort to set any specific framework in which any author should write. Naturally the papers themselves represent a certain divergence of interests. This gives some idea of the wide range of investigations in which the concept of social attitudes is found useful for analysis. Nevertheless, the papers do fall into certain natural divisions.

Professor Ellsworth Faris presents a general introduction to the whole study of social attitudes. He indicates the peculiar significance which this type of analysis has for sociology and social psychology.

The chapters by R. E. Park, L. L. Bernard, E. F. Young, and K. Young furnish a background for an analysis of personality in terms of social attitudes. Professor Park shows the interplay of three factors in the study of personality: biological, social psychological, and cultural. Human nature is an outgrowth of the modifications of the biological organism under the impress of social interaction. This social intercourse gives rise to social attitudes in the person which reflect his social experience. The mores represent what the anthropologist would call a certain aspect of non-material culture. They are the precipitates of social interaction and, in turn, powerfully affect the attitudes which the person may develop. And, out of social attitudes, the mores themselves are created and modified. Professor Bernard discusses the importance of attitude in the re-direction and control of behavior, especially in terms of our societal demands. He emphasizes the significant place of the higher mental functions in determining the course of our behavior into these socially acceptable patterns. Professor Erle Fiske Young exposes the interplay of ambivalent balancing tendencies in the personality. These trends get organized as attitudes around certain social objects and the whole conception of life organization must reckon with the direction which these balancing factors in the personality take. Professor Kimball Young reveals the influence of the content and meaning of language upon behavior. He indicates the place of so-called

(ix) subjective reality in forming the values associated with the social objects of attention. The important function of language, then, in exposing the attitudes, becomes apparent.

The papers by R. D. McKenzie, F. J. Steiner, and E. W. Burgess together show certain wider and narrower ranges of the interplay of attitudes with culture and with cultural change. Professor McKenzie treats the interaction of racial and cultural factors in the stratification of certain groups in terms of economic and social demands in an area of high mobility and extensive economic exploitation such as the Pacific Basin. Occupational participation in these various classes is a matter of attitudes and habits. Professor Steiner shows the nature of the changes in social attitudes in the rural community under the influence of industrialism and modern communication. The strain of consistency noted by Sumner in The Folkways is neatly illustrated in the conflict of the older with the younger generation of village inhabitants. Professor Burgess' chapter richly illustrates the profound influence of variant cultures upon the personality as these forces are brought to bear on the child through the older members of his family, especially the parents.

The papers by Stuart A. Queen and F. M. Thrasher discuss certain techniques of social control in reference to the personnel of agencies dealing with poor relief and delinquency problems. The former analyzes the conflict situations which arise between the social worker and the client who "fails to coöperate" with the agency. This reflects a deep antagonism which may develop between institutionalized and non-institutionalized patterns of behavior. This discussion is important for the social relief worker and for the general student of behavior both of whom are concerned with the wider aspects of the social interaction between those who represent the conventionalized standards of the community and those who need assistance, financial and otherwise. Professor Thrasher pictures the interaction of personality factors and community situations which produce problem cases among adolescents. He also suggests a novel technique for employing socially superior boys in the collection and analysis of adolescent behavior.

 Professor Znaniecki's chapter furnishes a contrast to the modifications in attitudes shown by the undirected changes il-

(x) -lustrated in the cases of Steiner, Burgess, Queen, and Thrasher. He shows what happens when a community deliberately creates a crisis situation with all that this implies in the alterations of attitudes and behavior.

The group of papers by E. S. Bogardus, H. A. Miller, and E. B. Reuter discuss the rôle of social attitudes among the immigrant and Negro groups in American society. Professor Bogardus examines the conflict of social attitudes between the Mexican immigrant and the American community in which the former finds himself. Professor Miller contrasts and compares the social attitudes of the European immigrant with those of the American Negro. He shows that the position of inferiority produces certain effects, which effects, however, are always modified in terms of desire for status and past experience. Professor Reuter's brief but critical paper challenges the whole conception of a distinctly Negro contribution to American culture. He doubts that the Negro qua Negro has anything of significance to give American culture. What the Negro does produce will be within the framework of the wider white culture to which he is exposed on every hand. The contemporary talk in certain circles of a unique Negro contribution in America, at least, is pure mythology, probably based on compensatory wishes.

In the final chapter Professor Sutherland offers an incisive criticism of the whole intelligence testing program as it has been applied to prison and reformatory populations in this country. His study exposes the influence of the social attitudes of the mental testers upon their findings and their interpretations. The implication of this chapter is apparent. Without a recognition of cultural and social factors, mere intelligence tests of prisoners give us a very inadequate picture of criminal behavior. Without a study of social attitudes, ideas, and habits in reference to the social situations in which the anti-social conduct takes place, we cannot arrive at any real understanding of the problem of crime in our contemporary society.



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