The large influx of European immigrants to America during the late 19th Century, along with the urbanisation of America led to a booming era of metropolitan cities arising throughout the country. The city of Chicago became the heart of urbanization during the late 19th Century. Due to the large number of unskilled migrants proceeding to America and Chicago, the metropolitan city experienced social disorganisation including, crime and prostitution. The Chicago School, funded largely by the American philanthropist J.D Rockefeller was established in order to try and find the root means of these social ills which had become prevalent in this new urban environment. The Chicago School and the academics empirical and pragmatic research methods that dominated at the school laid the foundations for modern communication studies.
This essay will discuss the important elements which led the development of Chicago in the late 19th Century, such as the large migrations of Europeans to America, urbanisation after the American Civil war from country to city, the rise of industrial labour force and the developments in communication which made Chicago the largest metropolitan city of its time. Most importantly, the essay will discuss the establishment of the Chicago school and the scholars and theorists who were most influential: Georg Simmel, Charles. H. Cooley, William. I. Thomas, George. H. Mead, John Dewey and Robert E. Park. These scholars had similar research views on communication and played significant roles in developing communication studies and helped lay the foundations of modern communication and theory which are still being incorporated in communication studies today.
Migrations from Europe to America had been on going since the early 1800's, however the largest influx occurred from the mid 1800's to the early 1900's where an approximated 55million Europeans descended on America seeking a better life and the opportunities that America presented. (Hatton & Williamson, 1998) This large influx of European immigrants coincided with the American shift from rural to urban environments. The end of the Civil War in America was one of the contributing factors that led many African Americans from the south to migrate north to Chicago in search of manual work in this newly developing metropolitan city. With industry booming in Chicago many unskilled manual labour jobs were created and Chicago became the largest city at the time. This resulted in both positive and negative effects; crime, poverty, alienation, prostitution, incredible economic growth, wealth and the large disparities in wealth. With such a large population of unskilled migrants from a multitude of different countries, cultures, languages, religions and ethnicities in Europe, the urban environment that had been created in Chicago began to experience social problems regarding the assimilation to American urban life. Not only were there problems for immigrants adjusting to urban life, but Americans began to experience the difficulty of living in this environment, without losing the previously established strong values and sense of democracy that had been present in there rural lives. (Schaap, 2005: Week 4) There were also major advances in communication at this time which contributed to the booming city of Chicago. The regular printing of newspapers, telephones and the telegraph all became aspects of daily life that changed the constructs and functions of communication forever.
The city of Chicago and the social problems of assimilation and unified culture led to the development of the Chicago School, which was funded by the wealthy oil magnate J.D Rockefeller. The Chicago school was established in order to create a place of higher learning that would attempt to study and repair the social problems that were arising out of this booming metropolitan city. It was the first of its time in America to study sociology and recognize it as a legitimate field of study and research. It excelled and became the most prestigious school of sociology in America. It was most famous for its pragmatic and empirical methods of research that often involved students and the scholars venturing to the inner slums of Chicago to study and interview the people who were part of this urban environment. The school was
“..seeking to improve the world by studying its social problems. At issueâ€¦was whether American democracy, born in a society of rural communities could survive in the crowded immigrant slums of rapidly growing cities.” (Rogers, 1997, p.137)
The Chicagoans saw communication as central to the development and cohesive sustainability of society and central to human interaction and behaviour. It was this centrality of communication to society that sociologists at Chicago studied and further laid the foundations of modern communication studies.
Although the study of sociology had not been prevalent in America until the Chicago School, it was the study and thoughts of Georg Simmel from Germany, who was often described as one of the cofounders of modern sociology and impacted strongly on Cooley, Mead and Dewey of the Chicago School. Simmel's studies on sociology did not involve empirical research from which the Chicago School followed. However it was Simmel's theoretical perspectives on sociology and society consisting of communication among individuals, as well as the interaction between individuals and its reciprocal effects on the individual, also, that particular forms of communication can become stable in society and represent culture, which strongly influenced the minds and teaching of those at the Chicago School. (Rogers, 1997)
Charles Horton Cooley was a professor in sociology, and although he did not teach at the Chicago School his theories and research regarding the understanding of personality socialisation were influential. Cooley was interested in the way an individual builds their character through the influences and contact with other individuals and mass media and culture. He developed two concepts which were important to gaining further understanding of how communication functions in an individual, and how that individual then functions as a member of society. The first concept the “Primary Group” involves two essential parts of personality socialisation. Cooley developed a theory from his observational research that the individual is formed through the primary group with whom the individual interacts with on an intimate level. Primary members of their environment include: parents, siblings, peers and teachers, those people with whom an individual interacts with intimately from a young age. The secondary group is also important in developing a person's social nature, and it involves development at the social level. It also is on the basis that those of the secondary group interact with one another for private benefit for the self, rather interacting on the basis of the primary group whom does so out of affection or sympathy for one another. This can be demonstrated in the relationships between husbands and wives, parents and children, relatives and friends who will willingly sacrifice self-interests if it interferes with their responsibilities to the primary group they belong to. They will view each other on the basis of intrinsic characteristics rather than in instrumental terms of the secondary group. (Coser, 2005) Cooley's Social Organisation argued that society is tied to together by the mass media and he utilised this concept of the primary group to argue this. Cooley's second theory “the looking glass self” is based on the notion that the social character of an individual is reflected by the environment around them and what they perceive others to perceive them as. “I am what I think you think I am”. The self to Cooley is “â€¦not first individual and then social; it arises dialectically through communication. There is no sense of 'I' without its correlative sense of you, or he, or they. ". (Coser, 2005) These concepts of the self later influenced the work of Mead. These two concepts influenced the way Chicagoans viewed the self in relation to socialisation and the impacts this had on communication. It was additionally his research methods that involved empirical research and observation which became characteristic of the Chicago School and largely impacted the method of teaching at the Chicago School.
William I Thomas and his work from The Polish Peasant in Europe and America regarded the migrations from Europe to America and were based on empirical studies of sociology. Thomas and Florian Zaniecki co-wrote the book and released five volumes between 1918 and 1920. The book was fundamental in establishing the discipline of sociology in America and focused on the concept of social disorganisation which had become prominent in Chicago and other flourishing metropolitan cities. The work of Thomas and Zaniecki in the Polish Peasant in Europe and America influenced the Chicago Schools studies of sociology from a foundation on â€¦“humanitarian interests in social problems toward an analysis of the sociological processes of disorganization which caused them.”(Rogers, 1997, p.155)
George Herbert Mead was one of the most significant figures at the Chicago School teaching for thirty seven years. His work was strongly influenced by the teachings of the self that Cooley had established. Meads work in Mind, Self and Society displayed strong correlations to the work of Cooley. Mead similarly argued that an individual's personality is developed through communication with individuals and society, and that the individual also constructs and perceives themselves on the views of how others perceive and interact with them. This is similar to Cooley's view of the looking glass self, however the main distinction here it that Mead was able to clarify the formation of the self. Mead argued that “the self is developed though a social process of interaction with others”. (Rogers, 1997, p.168) Mead went on to suggest that we generalize the other and adapt and change our character depending on who we are communicating with, and the significance of them to us. They too change their attitude and response to you. This helped explain the difficulty that had arisen in Cooley's explanation in the looking glass self, where an individual would change become a different person with each person they interacted with, rather than generalising the other remaining the same person at core. It was Mead's daily experiences and research of living in the city of Chicago which also played an important role in developing his ideas relating to the formation of the individual in society through communication. From these influences Mead developed a broad perspective, known as symbolic interactionism. This perspective was concerned with learning how interpersonal communication was central to founding the social character of an individual. It argued that human communication and the formation of the self are established through the interpretation of symbols and their meanings. Therefore human behaviour can be learnt and understood via learning how an individual gives meaning to symbolic information during the exchange of information with others. (Shook, 2005) Meads pragmatic research and perspective regarding social interactionism played a large role in influencing the thought of the Chicago School. Through symbolic interactionism Mead established communication as the core of sociological studies and helped lay the foundation of modern communication studies.
The pragmatic research and philosophy of John Dewey had strong influences throughout the Chicago School, however did not strongly influence the study of American mass communication. Dewey experienced life in the city of Chicago and taught at the school for ten years. In his time there Dewey worked closely with Mead and he too believed that individuals develop and understand themselves through interaction and communication with others. Dewey was a scholar in Philosophy, and he believed that community was essential to democracy, and seeing as individuals were formed by interactions with others and the community, he believed that communication was central to actively involving people in society. Dewey held strong perspectives on pragmatism and believed in educational progression of society, and that this was capable through scientific experimentation as a basis for understanding the world. This became vital to the thought of the Chicago School. (Rogers, 1997) Dewey contributed mainly to Psychology at the Chicago School and observational research at Hull House. Hull House was located just north of the Chicago School and had become an overcrowded slum of European immigrants. Many of the scholars visited the house to observe the problems of social disorganisation and assimilation. It was the research he gained at Hull house and his emphasis through practical learning that made him a significant figure at the Chicago School. Dewey hoped that newspapers and mass communication would help connect and assimilate the disorganised city and people of Chicago. It was hoped that through mass communication American democracy could survive and flourish. Dewey's hopes of American democracy adapting to the newly urbanised environments were influential on scholars such as Mead and Park.
Robert E. Park, largely influenced by Simmel, has been considered one of the most influential figures contributing to sociology at the Chicago School and to the modern field of communications study. Taught and influenced by Dewey, Park was recognised for his empirical and quantitative research methods. Dewey's influence shaped Parks strong perspective that communication mediums like the newspaper and telephone were central the integration of society. It was Parks experience in producing the publication Thought News that sparked his interest in public opinion and how the press contributed to this. Parks sociological career began late and he believes that it was his previous work as a newspaper reporter which gave him an understanding of the importance of the social survey as an instrument to understanding society. (Cortese, 1995) The work Park produced whilst at the Chicago School laid the foundations for further study in mass communication, race relations, human ecology and collective behaviour. It was Park who led the change in sociological and communication research methodology that was based on the American tradition of pragmatism and spearheaded it towards a more scientific quantitative methodology. The social sciences and communication research methods had moved away from the social progressive stages that had once been dominant at the Chicago school to a more scientific method that focused on communication being instrumental, providing a means to an end. This shift was mainly due to the concerns that sociologist being labelled “social workers” and the growing support of a more scientific approach. Park still believed in the empirical and progressive nature of research to solving social problems that were characteristic of the Chicago School; however he did not believe in engaging in ameliorative activities as he believed it would distract sociologist from conducting objective research. Park became the forbearer in changing and founding the future research methodology of sociology and communication.
The migration of Europeans in the late 1800's to America and the urbanisation of America gave birth to a new industrial and metropolitan era in America. Chicago had become the biggest city in America and with a vast number of immigrants from all over Europe, assimilation to the new American urban environment caused much friction. Crime and social disorganisation had become common, and the Chicago School was established in order to study the causes of social disorganisation prevalent in Chicago. The school and its key scholars helped create the basis for sociological and communication theory in America. Simmel, Cooley, Thomas, Mead, Dewey and Park all had strong influences on the Chicago School and contributed to foundations of modern communication study, which moved from a empirical and pragmatic basis in its earlier years to a more scientific quantitative emphasis under the direction of Park. All of these elements have been vital in establishing the modern communication theory and research still being utilised today.