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American Sociological Association: Ellsworth Faris
September 30, 1874 - December 19, 1953
Ellsworth Faris served as the 27th President of the American Sociological Society. His Presidential Address "The Promise of Sociology" (PDF, 211 KB) was delivered at the organization's annual meeting in Atlantic City, New Jersey in December 1937. Upon his death in 1953, an obituary was published in the American Sociological Review (ASR 19:226) (PDF, 243 KB).
In his 1951 book, American Sociology: The Story of Sociology in the United States through 1950, Howard W. Odum provided the following biographical sketch of Ellsworth Faris (pages 180-186):
As chairman of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Chicago following the great pioneer, Small; then, as chairman of the separate Department of Sociology, and editor of The American Journal of Sociology, Ellsworth Faris, twenty-seventh president of the Society in 1937, recapitulated magnificently the frontier method of American sociology in making its way through great difficulties in the rapid growth of American universities. For here was the first great department with its powerful heritage of Small, Vincent, Henderson, and Thomas, closely allied with Mead and Angell in psychology, so completely depleted as to have only the old "Master," incapacitated with time and the weakening of a strong heart, and with one young but promising assistant. The problem there was to rebuild the department which had led all others in both distinguished professors and number of Ph.D. graduates, without the momentum or money of the early university and President Harper under whose auspices Small had worked. Add to this the fact that Faris had not even the direct heritage of the Small mantle but came dichotomously through psychology and anthropology to undertake such a task and was under both personal and financial difficulties and we have a situation and achievement that will rank Faris high up in the final hierarchy of those who achieved most for American sociology.
In a relatively short time through Faris, Chicago had reached dominance perhaps above its former status, with Faris and Park, Burgess, Ogburn, Stouffer, Wirth, and Blumer. Here also was a preview of the new anthropology-sociology, in which the work of Ralph Linton and Edward Sapir, Fay Cooper-Cole and Robert Redfield, set a new pace from its genesis with Faris' first organization efforts. Then add to this the continuing stream of graduate students, their enthusiasm and loyalty to Faris in the light of his stimulating, albeit sharp, and driving direction of many studies and we have almost a fair estimate of Faris' ex officio rating in the catalogue of American sociologists. If he is not recorded as author of many books, neither were such prominent dynamic professors as Adams of Hopkins, Edwin Gay of Harvard, Burgess of Columbia, and others in other fields of academic endeavor. Only the total record of Faris can tell the story.
From his birth in Salem, Tennessee, in 1874, up to 1950, as emeritus professor, his seventy-six years reflect the biography of an era. He was graduated from Texas Christian University in 1894 and received his M.A. there in 1896. Then from 1897 to 1904 he was missionary to the Congo and, being then invalided home, he had to begin life all over again. He took up teaching when the president of Texas Christian University sent him a telegram offering an appointment. He had spent two quarters at the University of Chicago while on furlough from Africa in 1901-2, and so he went again in 1906 for two quarters for "refresher courses" to prepare for his work in Texas. He was professor of philosophy and sacred history for five years until he broke away, feeling the necessity of advanced graduate work. In 1913 he had completed his work for the doctorate in psychology but accepted a one-year appointment in the Department of Philosophy at the State University of Iowa. The next year, 1914-5, he was in Chicago in the Department of Psychology, after which he was called back to Iowa in psychology. When World War I broke out, he became Director of the Iowa Child Welfare Research Station. In 1919 he was called to Chicago as successor to W. I. Thomas in the Department of Sociology on the basis of his interest in the ethnological material which his African experience had intensified and made concrete. His chief interest was in social psychology, and it was the plan of Professor J. R. Angell that he should be a sort of liaison man between the departments of psychology and sociology.
Faris' task in rebuilding the Department of Sociology was a difficult one. Albion W. Small was almost a valetudinarian by that time and had to go softly on account of a heart condition. The department was designated in the catalogue as "Sociology and Anthropology." Frederick Starr was the lone anthropologist, out of favor with the administration and embittered. When he did retire, the president was quite content to let anthropology fade out of the picture but Faris busied himself, securing Ralph Linton, then F. C. Cole, and afterwards Edward Sapir and Robert Redfield. Since there had never been more than one man in anthropology, all these finally became a bit restless with their growth. Consequently, the hive swarmed and a separate department was organized with Cole at the head.
In the meantime, sociology had grown very fast. When Faris came to the department in 1919 there were only two others, Small and Burgess. The others had either left or were in wartime activities. He persuaded Park to return to the campus and in due time Faris succeeded to the chairmanship, first of the combined departments and later of sociology. Stouffer, Wirth, Blumer, and others were added to the staff to take care of the flood of students that came after the war. The securing of Ogburn from Columbia was a triumph and it became a landmark in Chicago's history. Where formerly no one was competent to give a course in statistics, Ogburn and Stouffer both contributed distinguished teaching in the department. Faris points out that "Men of the Park school were scornful of statistics and the statisticians seemed at times to have a superior air because they got the answers in exact figures though whether exactness always corresponded with accuracy was sometimes a question." It was Faris' pleasant duty to try to keep the peace between the strong-minded rivals, prophetic of what would happen again at Chicago, at Columbia, and other places.
At Chicago, Faris devoted his energies chiefly to social psychology giving several undergraduate and also graduate courses in that general field. He also had a lively interest in the origin of social institutions, inheriting the courses of Thomas on social origins. He gave courses in the ethnology of Africa and had several courses on various aspects of what we used to call primitive behavior. Faris succeeded to the editorship of The American journal of Sociology and for ten years carried on there till he persuaded Burgess to take over.
In the meantime, Faris had his routine limitations to production. His salary in 1919 was $4000, the sum which Thomas had been receiving only a year before. And though the amount was raised from time to time yet a large and expensive family and invalidism in it made it necessary for him to supplement the basic amount by outside activities. He taught straight through the year, autumn, winter, spring, and summer, for eleven consecutive years — leaving no leisure to write during a three-month vacation, for there was for him no vacation. In addition he taught in the downtown University College twice a week in the late afternoon or evening and this he did for many years. He managed to publish an article here and there from time to time, often working over a paper as-signed to him at some meeting and sending it to a learned journal.
Faris could tell how several books he planned to write got only as far as a few chapters but remained unwritten; and how, spurred by his friends, he finally published some of his contributions in a book called The Nature of Human Nature, after twelve years out of print. Faris could also point to a row of books on his shelf in his library which were cooperative volumes, and in which he is represented by one chapter among the others. He also edited some three volumes, each involving much work but not contributing very much to his output of separate titles. But if Faris did not write much he inspired a number of good books, several of which were outstanding contributions that took form as doctoral theses under his direction and involved much work on his part, the sweet reward of which was to feel that he had trained and inspired a promising scholar. Concerning his matured appraisal of the field and methods of sociology, Faris wrote as of 1950, "I have greater enthusiasm for sociology than ever before. And this is not on account of what has been done but because of my belief in what will be done and the supreme desirability that it may be done. A basic science of human nature we do not have, but our welfare, if not our survival, depends on its discovery or creation. The blunderings of managers of industry, the stupidities of labor leaders, and above all, the colossal mistakes of politicians — these would not be, had we a mature sociology. The `field' is very hard to define, for an examination of the programs of the American Society reveals that new fields of interest and concentration are constantly appearing. The accepted conventional `fields' are enough to refer to at the moment. It is difficult and even undesirable to set limits. My own interest is in what is known as Social Psychology and my effort has been to make a contribution to the understanding of the nature of personality and the antecedents of deviant conduct. This has led me into studies of persons, crowds, mobs, religious sects, preliterate magic, and child behavior. But my colleagues have chosen many other aspects of human life for their study and I rejoice at every earnest effort."
On the other hand, the old-time fire, humor, and satire is reflected in his comments on method, "As to the methods of sociology, I think they are lousy — they stink! Not that some of the men do not have sound ways of investigating their problems. I mean that there is no method so well developed and so highly perfected that the tyro in sociology takes it on in humility and modesty, as do our students in physics, chemistry, biology, or astronomy. Our young bucks spend much of their time writing in a horrible jargon to tell what they think is the matter with sociology. They should tarry in Jericho till their beards be grown." This verdict reminds one of Harry Elmer Barnes's mood early in 1950 when he said that when Giddings or Ward or Small said "The cat is in the hat," they said it in so many words and the cat was in the hat. But it takes some of the younger boys two or three pages to try to say it in figures, and in the meantime, the hat has tipped over and the cat is out and gone. In his progressive work with students, Faris propounded a new theory of imitation that brought students all the way from Paris to Chicago to study. He was among the first to attack the McDougall doctrine of instincts, although there was a spontaneous revolt by many scholars at about the same time. And he was fighting in the ranks of the men who opposed the extremes of Watson and the now obsolescence of Freud. Faris regretted that his magnum opus was never written. It would have set forth an account of human nature and personality that would find a place for all the older categories called mental, as growing out of action and conduct. A systematic and consistent theory of human nature, the origin and development of personality as emerging from the activity of the human being in the presence of and in contact with his fellows — this had been his chief concern. Unfortunately, the whole has never been published. In his presidential address in 1937 Faris discussed "The Promise of Sociology." This speech was printed in the American Sociological Review, February, 1938, Volume III, No. I. He pointed out that sociology has come far in the short time that it has been under study. Social thought has changed from the conception of the Middle Ages that the world was immobile, fixed in all aspects, to the modern idea of change and emphasis on opinion of men as the basis of truth. There is no longer one doctrine accepted as truth.
Comte's three stages may be used as a basis for a new division into five stages: (1) preliterate, or primitive, (2) literate, (3) theological, (4) metaphysical, (5) scientific, which may be divided into two, one of which is getting off to a promising start, and the other of which is well advanced. The scientific attitude was until recent decades limited to the physical world. But today people are as bewildered in the face of the forces of human nature as they once were by physical forces. We assume the laws of human nature can be known, and understood, and accepted, and predicted as natural. The scientific stage with regard to mankind is beginning. It is no longer helpful to erect a hierarchy of sciences; they must be studied as interdependent.
Faris contributed some forty articles to various journals, including approximately half in The American journal of Sociology, and others in Social Forces, The Journal of Religion, Sociology and Social Research, American Sociological Review. In his introduction to The Nature of Human Nature, Faris presents a baker's dozen of premises: 1. The reality of culture as a body of phenomena with laws of its own. 2. The priority of culture, meaning that the most important aspects of a person are to be traced back to influences existing in the culture into which he comes. 3. The inertia of culture; that is, that it changes slowly and tends to produce itself indefinitely. 4. Culture is a phenomenon of nature, or a result of the activities of man the animal in the pursuit of food, the rearing of children, etc. 5. The actions of men are prior to their thinking, and reasoning is an attempt to overcome the difficulties that impede action. 6. Imagination is a phase of events; a wish is the beginning of an act. 7. A human being is a being which has a self, a characteristic possessed by no other being. 8. Personality is relative to groups. It is a dramatic role played to others and can be understood only in social terms.9. An organized personality consists of tendencies to modes of action, called attitudes, and is the result of social living. Io. The object of education is the production of approved and useful habits and attitudes. II. The study of the origin and nature of cultural formulations and cultural changes is the only way to understand, appreciate, and deal with differing cultures. 12. Conflicts between nations, races, classes, and sects must be regarded as problems demanding solution, which an adequate science of human nature is capable of solving. 13. Values are non-rational in origin, but are capable of modification either by reason or by force. An adequate science of human nature would aid in finding world community values without recourse to machine guns.