American Sociological Association

Rhoades History Chapter 5

 Chapter 5: Organizational Domain Disputed

An effort to establish the American Sociological Society as a scientific society was one of three major currents dominating organizational activities of the Society in the 1930s.

Besides this quest for scientific legitimacy, major attempts were made to commit the Society to greater involvement in applying sociological knowledge to New Deal programs, and develop the Society as a national organization aimed at promoting, safeguarding, and extending the common interests of sociologists throughout the country.

The multiple goals these currents proposed for the Society also implied different conceptions of the organizational structure of the Society. Consensus did not exist on either the goals or the organizational structures emerging from these efforts.

Throughout the 30s, these currents of change became embodied in a variety of groups and committees. And it was the interaction among these bodies that set the course of the Society in that decade and beyond by (1) emphasizing scientific sociology rather than applied sociology; (2) formalizing relationships with regional and specialized scientific societies within sociology; (3) producing a new Constitution, and (4) establishing the American Sociological Review as the official journal of the Society.


Scientific Sociology

The major drive to establish the Society as a scientific society was made by a group of sociologists for whom Maurice Parmelee acted as spokesman. In a letter to the membership, Parmelee identified group members as "M.R. Davie, F. H. Hankins, R.M. MacIver, N. L. Sims, P.A. Sorokin, U.G. Weatherly, H.B. Woolston and other sociologists."

The group stated its position in a memorandum distributed to members during the 1931 Annual Meeting in the following manner:

"While the ultimate purpose of science is its utility for mankind, it is equally true that science can develop only in accordance with the facts of nature, whatever may be its practical application. Hence the scientist qua scientist should not be influenced by the practical significance of his work, whatever he may think, say and do in other capacities. This is not so difficult for the physicist, the astronomer and the mathematician. But the social scientist is subjected not only to the inward urge to solve problems which interest him vitally, but also to external pressure from numerous persons who demand a speedy solution of problems of great human importance. It is not surprising that many sociologists succumb to this pressure, and that some of them consider hopeless the attempt to develop sociology like the physical and biological sciences.

"Article II of the Constitution of the American Sociological Society states that 'the objects of this society shall be the encouragement of sociological research and discussion, and the promotion of intercourse between persons engaged in the scientific study of society.' In spite of this statement, the programs and publications of the society are devoted in considerable part to practical rather than to scientific problems. Owing partly to pressure from outside, the Society is now divided into various sections, several of which are devoted almost exclusively to social problems (e.g., Social Work, Religion, Community, Family, etc.).

"The immediate result from this situation is that the public is given the impression that the Society is a religious, moral and social reform organization rather than a scientific society. A more serious result is that in the program of the principal organization of the sociologists themselves, sociology as the science of society is almost smothered under the discussion of practical social problems. Thus the Society has become in large part a society of applied sociology.

"The undersigned members, animated by an ideal of scientific quality rather than of heterogeneous quantity, wish to prune the Society of its excrescences and to intensify its scientific activities. They believe that this means, in the first place, a membership of sociologists and of persons genuinely interested in the science. This may result in a reduction of the membership and revenues of the Society, but this is preferable to having many members whose interest is primarily or exclusively other than scientific. In the second place, it means limiting its programs and publications to the problems of our science without including numerous melioristic and propagandistic activities which however interesting and valuable as furnishing sociological data, do not in themselves constitute the science. In order to attain these ends, they submit for consideration the following proposals."

The proposals were presented during the first special business meeting in 1931 by Parmelee. A proposal requiring new voting members of the Society to be "professional sociologists, namely, persons engaged in sociological research, writing and teaching, and persons who have taken a higher university degree in sociology" was referred to the Special Committee on the Scope of Research of the Society. The proposal allowed persons "interested in sociology" to become associate members.

Another proposal calling for the Society to conduct "a plebiscite for nominations for each of the elective offices" was referred to a committee composed of J.E. Cutler, George A. Lundberg and E.B. Reuter which recommended against the plebiscite in 1932.

A third proposal requiring the Society "to assume control of the official journal and its other publications" was assigned to a Committee to Consider the Publications of the Society composed of F.E. Lumley, Stuart A. Rice and Weatherly, Chair.

Two other proposals were accepted. One called for the creation of a Program Committee; the other based the sectional division of the Society "upon a classification of sociological problems in accordance with the annual program planned by the Program Committee."


Applied Sociology

The drive to commit the Society to greater involvement in applying sociological knowledge to New Deal programs was carried on by the Special Committee on the Scope of Research and its successor, the Research Planning Committee.

The Scope of Research Committee was created in 1930 when William F. Ogburn, who was shortly to direct the Recent Social Trends study, presented the Executive Committee with an invitation from the Social Science Research Council to "undertake the preparation of a plan for the promotion of sociological research." The invitation had also been extended by SSRC to its other constituent societies.

The Executive Committee accepted the invitation and appointed Ernest W. Burgess, Neva R. Deardorff, M.C. Elmer, J.H. Kolb, Robert M. MacIver, Howard W. Odum, Arthur J. Todd, Malcolm M. Willey, and Rice, Chair, to the committee.

Over the next two years, the Committee conducted the most comprehensive examination of the Society to date. Its study went far beyond its "original assignment related to the Society's research activities include broad questions relating to the organization of the Society."

In 1932, the Research Committee submitted its final report which contained "recommendations compatible with the present retention in the Society of all of the viewpoints and interests now comprised" in the hope that its report "will aid in forestalling premature departures of subgroups from the parental roof."

The Committee called attention to the informal survey conducted by President L.L. Bernard which indicated that many members thought the Society should promote the following four purposes: (1) teaching, (2) training new sociologists, (3) attracting public

attention to questions of sociological interest, and (4) research. This ordering is "without suggestion of relative importance."

The Committee continued, "It may be that as sociology increasingly develops a substantial scientific status, the interests of members will become more centered upon research problems; but it is unwise to attempt an artificial and premature forcing of development in this direction."

Although the Committee did not hold "a critical attitude toward" the organizational concerns expressed by the Parmelee group, "it felt obliged to point out its bearing upon the problem of the Society's research function" which the Committee advised should concentrate on efforts "to improving, making available, and providing information concerning, basic research data."

The report continued, "The history of democratic government has long disclosed ...the difficulty of reconciling diffuse control, checks, and balances with efficiency of functional operation. This dilemma now confronts the Society. If it desires to assume a wider and more active responsibility for the promotion of sociological research, it must make of itself an efficient instrument for that purpose ...There must be greater centralization of responsibility, and greater continuity of authority, than are pro vided within the Society at present. The alternative is to leave to other bodies the activities which the Society is unwilling to prepare itself to exercise. But this would involve a growth and eventual monopoly of control over research in our own field by these other, more efficient, agencies."

The Committee believed that the membership would chose a more efficient organization because "the structure of western society has become so complex that its ability to continue functioning without serious modification is today being questioned. Have we-students of society-anything to contribute to the clarification of the issues involved? If so, the next quarter-century may show tremendous development in sociological interest and study ...The present stage of development and the future prospect, alike, offer us an opportunity and a challenge: Shall we organize in such a way as to supply some of the accumulating and crying demands of society for scientific sociological knowledge and for social leadership?"

The Committee offered thirteen recommendations in support of its program, including a new Constitution. Six recommendations were passed; the remaining seven which were central to the reorganization were handled in the following manner: The proposed Constitution was referred to another committee; another recommendation was substantially amended, and five recommendations were tabled.

The applied effort was maintained by the Research Planning Committee which was mandated by the new Constitution adopted in 1933. The committee was composed of President E. W. Burgess, Secretary-Treasurer Herbert Blumer, both ex officio, plus W.I. Thomas, Ogburn and Rice.

In 1934, the Committee reported the "recognition of sociological research for the solution of practical problems is evident not only on the part of governmental agencies but also by our social institutions and welfare agencies."

The research program recommended by the Committee contained the following provisions:

(1) Closer integration of sociologists with the sociological work of government; (2) a more complete and discriminating canvass of research in progress; (3) research conferences; (4) emphasis on the region as a unit of research because of developments in social planning; (5) more publication outlets for dissertations and monographs; and (6) a clearing house of sociological research. To implement the program, the Committee recommended the hiring of a full-time secretary and locating the headquarters of the Society in Washington.

The report was accepted, but no funds were allocated by the Society. The Committee did not acquire outside support. It continued to exist, but had little influence on the Society.


Regional Societies

The third major current also began flowing in 1931 when John L. Gillin moved that a committee be created "to consider the matter of establishing branch units" of the Society. President Bogardus appointed a committee composed of Louis Wirth, Weatherly and Ogburn.

In 1932, the Committee found "several local and regional organizations of sociologists in this country" and recommended a Constitutional amendment to encourage the formation of others.

The amendment authorized the Secretary, with the approval of the Executive Committee, "to issue a charter to local or regional groups of ten or more persons at least one of whom shall be a member of the American Sociological Society." Annual dues were ten dollars. Each chapter received a copy of the Society's publications. They had no vote in the affairs of the Society and were subject to the general regulations of the Executive Committee.

This arrangement, however, did not last long. The regionals wanted representational rather than affiliated status and they did not want to pay the fee. In 1936, President H.P. Fairchild appointed "a special committee to study the question of affiliation and cooperation between regional sociological organizations and the national body."

The Committee on Regional Societies was composed of Jerome Davis, President, Eastern Sociological Conference; Wilson Gee, President, Southern Sociological Society; W. E. Gettys, representing the Southwestern Social Science Association; C.N. Reynolds, President, Pacific Sociological Society; L.G. Brown, Chairman, Program Committee of the proposed Midwest Sociological Society; A.A. Johnston, President, Ohio Sociological Society; Forrest LaViolette, representing the Society for Social Research, and as members-at-large: Kimball Young, Howard B. Woolston, Donald Young, and E. T. Krueger, Chair.

Besides the organizations already mentioned, the Committee found the following organizations in existence: National societies: United Chapters of Alpha Kappa Delta, Sociological Research Association; State societies: Indiana Academy of Social Sciences, Iowa Association of Economists and Sociologists; and Local societies; Lester F. Ward Sociological Society, George Washington University; District of Columbia Chapter of the A.S.S.; Sociology Clubs at the universities of Cincinnati and Chicago; Toynbee Society, DePauw University; Johnson C. Smith Sociological Society; University of Utah Sociological Society, and 26 local chapters of AKD.

The Committee reported "a very real desire that our sociological organizations stand united and harmonious with each other and a deep conviction that the regional societies need a strong and vital national organization to promote, safeguard, and extend the common interests of sociologists throughout the country."

The Committee also found "a strong emphasis in the regional societies upon maintenance of autonomy, with some fear that affiliation might affect local autonomy." Regionals also expressed concern about the easterly location of Annual Meetings and the lack of a service orientation on the part of the Society.

Generating greater cooperation between regionals and the national, however, was a major problem because of "the differences of opinion and motivations which underlie two approaches." The Committee said:

"Merely to raise the question, hence, precipitates a divergence of opinion between those persons who desire a more exclusive national organization and a closely knit interorganization of all societies, with a staggering of such societies from the top down, and those persons who desire a looser, freer national organization, with no gradations of membership, and a merely nominal relationship between the national society and subsidiary groups, as more likely to promote the welfare of sociologists."

The Regional Committee recommended the relationship be strengthened by (1) a representational rather than an affiliate relation; (2) elimination of dues; (3) representation on Executive Committee; and (4) promoting the interests of regional societies in every possible way through the development of mutual and advisory relations.

The Committee further recommended that a regional society be recognized as eligible for representational status (1) when it represented three or more states (later amended to "parts of at least five states"); (2) when it has a membership of forty or more persons, at least fifteen of whom are members of the national society; and (3) when a majority of its officers and members of its governing board are members of the national society.

In 1939, the Committee on Organization, the successor to the regional committee, chaired by James H.S. Bossard, made the following recommendations concerning regional and specialized societies and the professional qualifications for individual members:

1. Creation of two classes of members: Fellows-persons engaged primarily in the advancement of sociology as a science, and Members-persons interested in the advancement of sociology through research, teaching or practical programs.

2. Affiliation with regional and specialized societies that maintained autonomy for all societies and only required affiliated organizations to coordinate their programs with the national society if they met at the same time and place.

3. Provided for representation elected by affiliated societies on the Executive Committee and creation of an Administrative Committee within the Executive Committee composed only of Fellows to act when the Executive Committee is not in session.

4. Approved the principle of election of officers of the Society by a vote taken by mail of all members of the Society rather than at the Annual Meeting.

In 1940, the membership provision was tabled, but the other three were approved. Another committee was appointed to revise the Constitution in accordance with the approved recommendations.



The Constitution was a stable framework for the Society during its first 25 years. Except for changes in the dues structure, the only formal amendment came in 1914 to provide for the selection of a managing editor for publications of the Society.

In the 1930s, however, Constitutional revision was in the air. In 1931, there were the Parmelee proposals as well as the addition of one member to the Executive Committee "to be chosen annually by the Section on Rural Sociology."

In 1932, the Scope of Research Committee offered a new Constitution that (1) kept membership opened to interested persons; (2) recognized Sections; (3) created a Board of Directors as the general governing body; (4) assigned the Executive Committee specific responsibilities for research and financial policy; (5) authorized the establishment of funds and endowments; (6) created the position of full-time Executive Secretary; and (7) raised the approval of amendments from a majority to a two-thirds vote.

In 1933, the Committee on the Revision of the Constitution composed of E.W. Burgess, L.L. Bernard, W.E., Gettys, M.C. Elmer, C.E. Lively, H.A. Miller, and Jerome David, Chair, produced the version that was adopted by the Society. It followed the model suggested by the Research Committee except for the following: (1) established divisions as well as sections; (2) deleted the Board of Directors; (3) retained the Executive Committee as the general governing body; (4) created a Research Planning Committee; (5) deleted the position of Executive Secretary; (6) required the appointment of a nomination committee that would solicit nominations from the membership; (7) returned to a majority vote for approving amendments, but required any amendment to be read at one business meeting before it could be passed at another; and (8) required the President and Secretary to meet with the chairmen of sections to consider plans for the next annual program.

Amendments kept coming: In 1935, to establish an editorial board for ASR; in 1936, to limit the service of Past Presidents on the Executive Committee; in 1938, to allow an "independent society or association devoted to a special field of sociology" to become a Section. The last one was apparently not passed. It was submitted by C.E. Lively, Carl C. Taylor, J.H. Kolb, W.A. Anderson and Dwight Sanderson, members of the Rural Sociological Society.


American Sociological Review

The founding of the American Sociological Review in 1936 fulfilled an aspiration of the Society that went back, if not as far as the charter meeting, at least, as far as the appointment of the Committee on Advisability of Issuing a New Publication in 1919.

The publication question came up again in 1929 when a quarterly schedule was approved for the Publication of the American Sociological Society: (1) annual proceedings; (2) papers and abstracts of the Annual Meeting; (3) membership list; and (4) annual program.

When Parmelee raised the journal question in 1931, the Committee to Consider the Publications of the Society was created. Reporting for the Committee in 1932, Rice said, "...since the launching and support of such a journal does not at present time appear to be possible, it may justly be urged that the Society should at least have a more active and responsible share in management of the American Journal of Sociology."

Rice urged the Society to exercise its rights under the existing agreement to name five to seven advisory editors, one of which would serve as review editor. These editors were to constitute the majority of the board. Rice further urged the Society to appoint another committee to study problems associated with the establishment of a separate journal.

Sims moved that another committee be appointed to look into all the factors associated with the publication of a journal. The Committee to Consider a Plan for the Control of the Official Journal and the Other Publications of the Society was composed of Read Bain, Howard Becker, W.P. Meroney, Bernard, and Sims, as chair.

In 1933, Ellsworth Faris, Editor-in-Chief of AJS, suggested a new publication arrangement. Faris suggested that membership dues be used to "give members the option of a subscription to the American Journal of Sociology, Sociology and Social Research and Social Forces or any other recognized journal in the field of sociology and that in addition, the privilege of subscribing to other journals than the one selected under their dues, at such reduced rates as may be secured." The arrangement which was to begin January 1, 1935 was not employed. Notification was given that AJS would be discontinued as the official journal in December 1934.

In August 1934, the Committee reported that in view of the low bids received and the payments the Society was making for AJS "a bi-monthly journal equal to the AJS in every respect could be published by the Society and sold to its membership for the price now paid to the University of Chicago Press." The Publications, however, would have to be merged with the new journal. The contract for the Publications was cancelled effective January 1, 1936.

In 1935, the Committee, presented its plan and recommended the establishment of a bi-monthly journal called The American Sociological Review, with a subtitle, "The Official Organ of the American Sociological Society."

In February 1936, the first issue of ASR appeared under the editorship of Frank H. Hankins.

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