Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Study of Community in American Sociology, c.1900 - c.1975: Part IV - Hillery and Hollingshead: Two Conceptions of Past Sociological Studies

    If community is not something lost, but something transformed; and if the modernity of the social relations of capital has ripped it from its historical foundations in nature and collapsed the binary of community and society, then how is community to be defined, arranged and classified?  For George Hillery the answer lay in identifying and classifying the commonalities of all previous sociological definitions of community.  He understand community as a vital yet mysterious aspect of modern social life.  The task Hillery set for himself was to in some way measure the “extent of agreement among definitions of community” (1955:111) and this task ultimately proved to be too difficult.  In sociology, conceptions of community had by then reached such a degree of “heterogeneity” that it had become “difficult to determine whether any one of the existing definitions, or even any one group of definitions, affords an adequate description” (1955:111).  He pointed out that even the best of the previous classifications ---e.g., Hollingshead (1948), Reiss (1954), Gillette (1926), and McClenahan (1929)--- demonstrated conceptual differences rather than supplying genuine classifications.  Hillery attempted to bring order to this anarchy by compiling and classifying all of the definitions he could identity the sociological literature.  He based his classification on morphological descriptions and the discursive regularities within those definitions.  In so doing, Hillery sought to demonstrate the fundamental importance of classification to the study of community in sociology and created a work that became a ubiquitous reference in the study of community.  Any early 19th Century Natural Historian would have looked approvingly on Hillery’s use of comparative morphology and extinct varieties as the basis for his work of classification.

    In the few years leading to Hillery’s essay, the meaning of community became a persistant problem in sociology.  During his presidency of the American Sociological Association, Lewis Wirth created a committee to review the state of research on “the “community” as exemplified in rural and urban sociology and in ecology... in light of 1. background; 2. division of labor, and 3. theoretical problems.”  Hollingshead’s essay (Hollingshead 1948) was one product of this committee’s  work.  The sociological study of community was the “empirical study of socio-cultural phenomena in localized areas, variously referred to as neighborhoods, towns, cities, communities, [and] regions” which are “assumed to be an organized structural and functional entity with spatial, temporal, and sociological dimensions” (1948:136).  Looking back over fifty years of the formal sociological study of community, Hollingshead identified three distinct periods in the study of community and the construction of community as an object of knowledge. 

    The first period stretched from Giddings taking the newly created Chair of Sociology at Columbia until sociology as a science of society separated from the activist/reformist commitments of social work and the social survey movement.  Despite the fact that these reformist approaches would “gradually gave way to the analytical” approach of social science, the early normative-meliorative approach influenced the later analytical study of community.  The studies of rural communities undertaken by Giddings and his students identified community as a “field laboratory to which the sociologist must turn for inductive study if he is to develop a “science of society”” (1948:138) supporting “the conviction of social actionists that American farm, village, town, and city life was changing rapidly and – in their judgment – for the worse” (1948:128).  These students emphasized the disorganizing effects of modern communications on small communities, and showed how “people and institutions made successive adjustments to the expanding urban world” (1948:138).  Soon the city became “the natural laboratory of social science” (1948: quoted from an announcement issued by Columbia University in 1894 when Frankling Giddings was appointed to the newly created chair of sociology).  Sociologists approached community with:

a set of implicit assumptions as a guide to what they thought community life ought to be; they compared what they saw with an ideal construct and found the concrete realities were not congruous with their cherished abstractions.  Therefore since the ideal was assumed to be the normal, the real must be abnormal.  Value judgments were implicit in this frame of reference, one of which was the assumption that the role of the investigator was to “expose” the situation he investigated and “improve” it, that is, to make the real [community] like the ideal community (1948:137).

Hollingshead maintains that the normative-meliorative period of the study of community came to an end,, when the reformism of the “actionists” could no longer be reconciled with the scientific approach of the discipline of sociology.  This reorientation “eventuated in the separation of social work from sociology” (1948:138).

    Hollingshead’s second period has its origins in the publication of Charles J. Galpin’s Social Anatomy of an Agricultural Community and Robert E. Park’s “The City: Suggestions for the Investigation of Human Behavior in the City Environment” and his monograph The City (1925).  Galpin’s work in particular inspired a popular line of research during the 1920s “characterized generally by the assemblage of masses of detailed facts, usually statistical in nature, on some particular phase of problem of rural life, usually without explicit orientation or clear-cut conclusions” (138).   Galpin’s  work exemplifies the tensions between the normative-meliorative and the social scientific approaches.  He wanted to define community empirically and thus map the territorial limit of social interactions and reform the rural communities by bringing a kind of enlightenment and cosmopolitanism to the everyday life of the farmer.  He warned against being pessimistic in the face of the new “rurban problem” by resolving the antagonism between the city and the farm through civilizing the farm so that it might survive in an increasingly urban world.   Meanwhile in Chicago, Park’s work provided the basis for human ecology “as a new approach to and interpretation of communal life” (1948:139).  In general, the study of community in “the 1920’s  was characterized by an assiduous accumulation of multitudinous facts about rural and urban life, the coinage of terms (“rurban”), the enunciation of concepts (“natural area”), the formulation of hypotheses (the Burgess zonal hypothesis of city growth), and the investigation of processes believed to underlie communal growth and structure (competition, invasion --- succession, segregation)” (1948:139).

    The third period was inaugurated by the publication of Middletown in 1929. “Middletown focused attention upon a viewpoint that had been largely neglected by ecologists, namely, the interrelations between the daily life of people, their institutional organizations and function, and the social structure of the community” and these sociologists “framed their work around [the] organizing concepts [of] social change, institutional organization and function, and social stratification.  In the intervening seventeen years since Middletown, the sociological study of community could still be divided into three categories: ecological, structural, and typological, but the ecological work had been eclipsed in favor of structural and typological studies.  “Although little in the way of theory has been developed in the past decade, the idea persists that there is a legitimate place for human ecology in the social sciences” (1948:140). 

    Hollingshead gave great credit to the ecologists for freeing themselves from thinking of the world as divided between cultural and non-cultural forces.  Neither the social determinist nor the “instinctivists and geographical determinists” positions were uniquely “theoretically justified, since man is both an animal and a member of a socio-cultural community, and any particularistic explanation which arbitrarily excludes the natural environment, the individual, society, and culture is untenable” (1948:141).  In the uncritical acceptance of core ideological constructs as the true measures of social life, the structuralist errors resembled the errors of the ecological tendency   Hollingshead separated his “stratificationists” into social anthropologists and sociologists, differing only in the former’s  use of caste and the latter’s  adoption of class “to explain away the complexities and contradictions in human behavior in a way very reminiscent of the early ecologists” (1948:143).  The structuralists are further distinguished from the typologists in their attempt to use culture, relations with other communities, geographic and economic bases, size, and “population composition... to determine how these factors organize and give meaning to the activities and interpersonal relations of its inhabitants” (original emphasis, 1948:144).  The typologists sought to construct “ideal-typical community types” (1948:144) on the assumption that “a given complex of population, culture, and communal organization gives rise to a characteristic way of life, with a correlated complex of meanings and personality types” (original emphasis, 1948:144).  Hollingshead associated this approach with “formal models of this type of thinking” (1948:144) such as Durkheim’s “sacred and secular” and Tonnies' Gemeinshaft and Gesellschaft

    In his early, but certainly more insightful analysis, Hollingshead does not so much propose a classification as characterize the kinds of sociological and typological studies that displaced the ecological studies of the earlier period.  It is not surprising that Hillery’s  classification of concepts bears out Hollingshead’s  view that typological studies had in his time become central to the study of community and Hillery’s classification remains widely referenced in the sociological study of community.

    Hillery noted that more than half of the definitions included in his classification appeared between the time of McClenahan’s 1929 study and his own.  The importance of a precise definition of community was recognized, but the study of community had not been organized or systematized.  His classificatory scheme sought to overcome this by generating a new definition based upon a consensus of sociological opinion.  Where previous authors had set up a priori classificatory schemes to justify their own definitions, Hillery let the morphology and regularities of the definitions determine the number and extent of the classes that make up his scheme.  He maintained a “strict prohibition against discarding any definitions.  If they would not “fit,” then a separate class was created---though that class might have only one occupant” (1955:117).  If we are correct in understanding that community exists as the consensus of sociologists, then Hillary’s method expresses this perspective quite nicely.

The 94 definitions used in this analysis are not all of the definitions of the community.  However, it is believed that the picture given is a fairly representative one, as indicated by the method of obtaining the definitions.  Beginning with a few definitions already known, the writer traced the references given by these authors, referred in turn to those sources furnished by these references, and so on, collecting the definitions in various works as the search progressed.  As a supplementary procedure, to decrease the possibility of limiting definitions to any “school” or “schools,” all of the promising titles on the library shelves adjacent to those works already located were checked in the same manner.  When no further references could be obtained by this method, the search was halted.  Thus, the coverage given is wide, but no measure is available as to how wide; the author may only claim more conclusiveness than has hitherto been available, not finality (1955:112).

    Hillery found that sociologists agree on the general definition of community, and that the greatest variation in definitions tended to be found amongst those working outside of the discipline of sociology.  Internally, the consistency of opinion rested on three characteristics of community: territoriality, common ties, and social interaction.  The ecologists in Hillery’s sample offered only what he characterized as “deviant” definitions because they did not find social interaction necessary to community. 

    Implicit in his study is the assertion that community had not been lost, but that it had undergone evolutionary transformations.  Hillery traced the literature up to 1950 but Talcott Parsons brought an end to the era with his introduction of the concept of “societal community” ---a theoretical alliance of evolution, classification, modernity, organicism, and community was intended to reconcile the binary of community/society.  For Parsons, the recapitulation of the social order in the social subject is accomplished through the internalization of social limits.  This social subject is a creation of the community.  He experiences these internalized limitations as essential or natural, and if the process is successful, he behaves as a good citizen.  Normative behavior comes at a cost, and we are constantly called upon to admit to or proclaim to which community we belong, identity we elect and to submit to the ideological practices that maintain social equilibrium. 

Next: "The Societal Community" of Talcott Parsons
Previous posts in this series:
Part I: Introduction
Part II: Understanding Community
Part III: The Reception of Tonnies Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft [Community and Society]