Chicago School of Sociology

The Chicago school of sociology is a school of thought that originated at the University of Chicago and whose work was prominent in the early twentieth century.
Chicago School of Sociology Sociology Definition


The Chicago school of sociology is a school of thought that originated at the University of Chicago and whose work was prominent in the early twentieth century. They utilized the city as a social laboratory, their approach to social connections was very qualitative, and they were meticulous in their data analysis. In 1892, the University of Chicago created the nation’s first graduate sociology department.


The University of Chicago’s ground-breaking Chicago School urban sociology research and theory was created during the interwar period.

The work of professors and graduate students at the University of Chicago between 1915 and 1935 is called the “Chicago School of Urban Sociology.”

First Chicago School of Sociology 

Edwin Sutherland, Frederic Thrasher, Florian Znaniecki Nels Anderson, George Herbert Mead, Walter C. Reckless, W. I. Thomas, Louis Wirth, Edward Franklin Frazier, Roderick D. McKenzie, Robert E. Park, Ernest Burgess, Everett Hughes, and Ruth Shonle Cavan were significant figures in the founding Chicago school. In addition, several students developed and maintained strong relationships with activists, social scientists, and Nobel Peace Prize recipients.

Second Chicago School of Sociology 

A “second Chicago School” emerged after World War II, whose members used symbolic interactionism and field research techniques (now called ethnography) to produce a new body of work.  Erving Goffman,  Howard S. Becker, Richard Cloward, David Matza, Lloyd Ohlin, Robert K. Merton,  and Frances Fox Piven are notable alumni of the second Chicago school.

History of Formation 

One must first be aware of the time and location. The Chicago School’s heyday was between the First World War and the conclusion of the Great Depression; both were times of significant expansion and change. Its important years lasted from the beginning of the century until the late 1950s.

The increasing population transfer from the rural, homogenous, agricultural society to the large, diverse, industrial city was one notable development during this time. Chicago, which became an “instant” city, was one of several American cities undergoing rapid expansion. A new university was established in the middle of this urban dynamic based on cutting-edge research and committed to iconoclastic innovation. The University of Chicago, founded in the manner of Athena, housed the nation’s first sociology department when it opened its doors in 1892.

It is critical to recognize that the Chicago School’s principles were a clear response to the condition of American sociology at the time. Famous academics like Giddings and Sumner’s “armchair” philosophizing, often subjective, produced inconsistent social policies. A paradigm change in sociology was necessary.

The Chicago School used a more formal, systematic method of data gathering and analysis, which had been a tendency in Germany to produce a “science” of sociology while embracing many of the issues of American sociology (such as urban deterioration, crime, racial relations, and the family).

The Central Themes of the Chicago School of Sociology

The primary tenet of the Chicago School was that the study of urban and social phenomena was best served by qualitative approaches, particularly those based on naturalistic observation. The Chicago study gained much depth and richness from this anthropological proximity to the material. But later on, the school’s biggest liability was its over-dependence on qualitative techniques at the expense of good quantitative metrics.

The city of Chicago was of the highest significance to the Chicago School as a laboratory for studying social interaction. The Chicago School academics believed this complex social construct was the greatest place to see actual “human nature.” The first topic that biological metaphor and ecological models were suitable framing methods for the consideration of urban social interactions is introduced by the idea of “man in his native environment.”

These social structures may be seen as a complex web of dynamic processes developing towards maturity, much like an ecosystem’s parts. Although these models were effective explanatory tools, they were severely oversimplified when they were first developed. When subsequent scholars discovered that the conditions were substantially more varied, it was all too often considered that the structures were homogeneous.

The Chicago school is most known for urban sociology and the development of the symbolic interactionist method, particularly via the work of Herbert Blumer. Instead of focusing on genetics and personality traits, it has examined how social structures and environmental variables influence human behavior.

Biologists and anthropologists accepted the idea of evolution as proof that creatures can adapt to their surroundings. Members of the school held that the city serves as a microcosm and that when applied to humans who are thought to be responsible for their destinies, the natural environment in which the community lives is a significant factor in shaping human behavior.

The second set of topics examines particular group relationships within a more comprehensive network of settings. The early Chicago School proposed the concept of “social worlds” to investigate the most effective way to represent the intricate inter-group social interaction patterns within parts of the city.

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