History 47

#13 Behaviorism, Scientism and the Rise of The "Expert"


[ See notes at end]

*Scientism, like antiformalism from which it stemmed, may be examined at three different levels: (1) intellectually, as a radical variant within antiformalism, through its impact of the social sciences and related disciplines; (2) institutionally, in its relation to the restructuring of the agencies involved in the formulation and dissemination of knowledge, specifically, a further stage in the professionalization/bureaucratizing of knowledge; and (3) ideologically, in its manifestation at the level of public policy.

**intellectual manifestations. In philosophy "scientism or "neo-positivism" manifested itself in the referent linguistics of Charles A. Ogden and I.A. Richards, and later logical positivism; in jurisprudence, in the legal realism of Roscoe Pound, and later of Karl Llewellyn and Jerome Frank; in psychology, in the behaviorism of John B. Watson; in political science, in the early transactionalist analysis of Arthur F. Bentley's The Process of Government (1907) , and finally in the public opinion surveys and other empirical work of Harold Lasswell and Charles E. Merriam; and in economics, in the institutionalism of Wesley Mitchell.[1]

***definition. The term "scientism" itself was applied to a series of developments in the social sciences from the 1910s through the 1950s, and was meant to be derogatory in that it applied an excessively narrow reading of the "methods of science." Related terms include "objectivism" (also derogatory, by implying that human beings and social institutions are treated as inert "objects"); "behaviorism (applied more narrowly to psychology);"neo-positivism," with reference to its roots in the postivism of Comte; and "the natural science" method (the term preferred by practitioners).

(a) At its core, this view held, not only that science can provide mankind with an all-embracing philosophy of life and the solution to all problems, but that the techniques used in the physical sciences can be used to solve any problem. Accordingly, those disciplines that do not use the same research techniques as the physical sciences are not really scientific. To be sure, the social scientists definition of "science," as Friedrich van Hayek later noted, was not necessarily that which scientists of the 1920s [2] themselves followed in their work, but rather that which Ogburn and others believed they employed.[3] But in the enthusiasm of the moment, these fine points tended to get lost.

(b) A"scientific" approach to society and ethics , as thus defined, was to be objective in three quite special senses.

(i) it must confine itself to the observable externals of human behavior. In sociology, for example, this goal meant an end to the cataloguing of "feelings," "interests," or "wishes," a principal activity of pre-war sociologists.In psychology, it meant abandoning the search =for "motives" and "intentions," or even "consciousness."[4]

(ii) social scientists must apply rigorous methods in the production of social scientific knowledge. During the twenties, this injunction occasioned vigorous debate over the "case study," the "participant observer," and the "comparative" methods, although by 1930, statistics was the method-of-choice.[5]This goal, In Ogburn's view, required a "wholly colorless literary style" and a rigorous method, preferably statistical.

(iii)they should thus observe strict neutrality in matters of ethics and public policy. "Sociology itself passes no moral judgement," the argument went, "and sets up no ethical standards for human conduct."[6] In his presidential address to the American Sociological Society in December 1929, William Fielding Ogburn of the University of Chicago outlined for his colleagues what he termed "The Folkways of a Scientific Sociology." Sociology, he announced, was "not interested" in improving the world. "Science is interested directly in one thing only, to wit, discovering new knowledge,"

****implications. From these premises, certain predilections followed naturally, if not inevitably. Among them was a focus on individual behavior rather than the formation and transformation of social structures; an emphasis on an inductive and incremental model of science; and, in the long run, a bureaucratic vision of team research and social science institutes.[7] The truly scientific sociologist was a service intellectual rather than a policy maker. He (and the model was male) would not pretend to "guide the course of evolution," Ogburn continued in the address noted above, but rather would generate the "information necessary for such supreme direction to some sterling executive who will appear to do the actual guiding.[8]

At the institutional and policy level, scientism thus fed upon, and in turn nourished at least three major developments that had also been underway for several decades: (1) the rise of what Burton Bledstein has called the "culture of professionalism," and with it the emergence of heirarchially organized institutions involved in the production and dissemination of knowledge; (2) the development of national corporations, and with them, the growing separation of ownership and control, and a concomitant "deskilling" of the industrial labor force; and (3) the triumph of consumerism, wherein not only the products of ones labor, but finally, politics and society itself assumed the character of "commodities." As part of these developments, and especially the first two, scientism was a final phase of the modernization process that the historian Robert Wiebe has termed "the search for order."[9]

I. .Scientism (behaviorist psychology and sociology as case studies)

A. Theory

1.John B. Watson and the Development of Behaviorism in Psychology.

Entering graduate school at the University of Chicago in 1901, John Broadus Watson (1878-1958) finished a doctoral dissertation on Animal Behavior (1903) in record time, becoming the youngest Ph.D the university had to date. In the decade following its publication, his reputation had grown steadily both within the profession and among the public at large--the latter thanks to his considerable skill at self-promotion. Appointed to the staff at Johns Hopkins in 1908, he announced his behaviorist program in 1913 in an article "Psychology as a Behaviorist Views It," later expanded in a book of the same title (1919). Although personal scandal the following year drove him permanently from academia into advertising, he continue to crusade for his cause in lectures and publications throughout the twenties. [10]

2. Ogburn, F. Stuart Chapin, and Luther L. Bernard and "Objectivist" sociology

a. In sociology, scientism appeared in what may loosely be termed "nominalist" and "realist" variants.[11]For William Fielding Ogburn, F. Stuart Chapin and their allies, a scientific sociology was nominalist, statistical, and advisory, that is, it was concerned with means rather than ends.

b. (i) Nominalist. Since society was essentially a name for the collective responses of individuals, sociology should confine itself to the measurement and tabulation of environmental change and responses to it. Social class, in one of Chapin's better known studies, could be reduced to a point system for different items of home furnishing, rather than being a matter of self-cum-community perception or of power-relationships.[see Paul Fussell, Class for later send-up] The sociologist as scientist was limited to the how rather than the why of public policy, studying "trends" rather than "causes." One of Ogburn's major efforts was to supervise a massive two-volume study titled Recent Social Trends (1932) sponsored by a Presidential Committee on Social Trends.[12]

(ii) For Luther Bernard , in contrast, scientific sociology was realist and presumptively radical in that it provided an "objective standard of social control," and hence absolute standards for social reconstruction. Although Bernard shared the fashionable enthusiasm for quantification, he insisted that true science required a "projective logic," akin to imagination, whereby an ideal state is posited as a basis for further analysis.

Significance: The rise of scientism marked an important turning point in American culture around 1910, roughly from the brief financial panic of 1907 to the election of Woodow Wilson in 1912. How sharp a break it constituted from the antiformalism of the previous generation of sociologists, and within antiformalism generally, may be seen by returning again to its three major tenets.

(i) The emphasis on observed behavior, rather than the "instincts" "wishes" or "wants" --to take the first of these tenets--involved considerably more than a change in technique from armchair theorizing to the controlled observation of stimulus and response. Behind the earlier study of "social forces," "interests, ' "likemindedness," and even "instincts" lay the assumption that some connection existed between human feeling, values , and needs, and the existing social order. For the earlier functionalists, social institutions arose to satisfy needs in ways compatible with the well-being of the individual and the survival of the group. Hence, for example, monogamy serves to satisfy the sexual instinct and to provide care for the young and preservation of the race. Whether called "interests" or "instincts," these social building blocks were typically defined so as to honor traditional assumptions, and set in the warm embrace of progressive evolutionism. Although ostensibly scientific, prewar sociology, in this sense, was also historical and humanist.

Scientism, in contrast, repudiated not only the inner self, but with it all customary ways of doing and feeling. Human volition and the subjective consciousness henceforth had no place in social science. Objectivity, that is, lay not simply in the lack of bias, but the elimination of the psychological dimensions of experience, and finally of the willing, feeling self.[13]In his doctoral thesis An Objective Standard of Social Control L.L. Bernard repeatedly denounced feeling as unreliable. Behind behaviorist prescriptions for childrearing lay the assumption that custom was equally untrustworthy in this area. At the Columbia Teacher's College, , lesson plans and increasingly arcane pedagogy replaced experience and even common sense in teaching. For Taylor's scientific managers, traditional work habits were worse than useless. Although feeling remained an undeniable aspect of the human experience, it was henceforth to be relegated to a private, unchartable sphere, reflecting the growing separation of work and leisure that became a permanent feature of American life in the 1920s.

(ii)The emphasis on ethical and political neutrality also flew directly in the face of the overt reformism of the previous generation. For Lester Ward and Albion Small, for example, sociology was both scientific and reformist. Although Ward died before objectivism reached flood tide, , and Albion Small was on too many sides of most issues to notice, Charles Ellwood spoke for many of the founders in decrying the new "Emasculated Sociologies.[14]

(iii) The celebration of method, in turn heralded a consensualist conception of science that differed significantly from previous conceptions. To 19th century American "science" was also an idol of sorts. But the science was the narrowly inductive, often-crude empiricism that its practitioners dignified with the label "Baconian." Thus defined, as Alexis de Tocqueville noted in the 1830s, science and democracy were natural allies. "Those who cultivate the sciences among a democratic people ," he wrote, ". . . mistrust systems; they adhere closely to facts and study facts with their own senses." For the objectivists, science meant something different. For the "fact-gathering" of naive empiricism they substituted a consensualist quest for "hard data." In the first, the test of truth was the perception of the individual; in the second, the agreement of experts. Thus, as the sociologist Michael Schudsen has written of journalism in the same period: a "person's statements about the world can be trusted [only] if they are submitted to established rules and values deemed legitimate by a professional community." Crude empiricism never entirely disappeared from American sociology, witness Robert Park and his students. But for the would-be professional it threatened not only to bring in its wake the reckless or undisciplined reformism of the academic radical or social worker, but also to undermine the professional's own authority, resting as it did on the discovery of patterns of which the layperson is unaware.[15] Implicit in this view was a distrust of individual judgement, whether exercised in the voting booth or the market place.[16] As the sociologist Alvin Gouldner has written of the cult of objectivity more generally, it betrayed a distrust of self and alienation from society--"the way one comes to terms and makes peace with a world one does not like but will not oppose."[17] A further consequence, as the historian John Higham has noted, was that the United States, from being perhaps the least credentialled society in the western world in the 1830s became the one most bound to experts and expertise a century later.

B. Scientism, professionalism, bureaucratization. Social Science Research Council and the rise of the educational foundation.

C. Scientism in Practice At the institutional or applied level, scientism took various forms.

1. Childrearing. Within the family, childrearing became a "science" to be conducted with the help of such guides as the U.S. government best-selling pamphlet. See Christopher Lasch. Haven in a Heartless World, chs. 1-2 for examples.

2. Educational Psychology. In education (as already noted) Edward L. Thorndike and his disciples at the Columbia Teachers College outlined a pedagogy based on behaviorist assumptions. Educational testing became something of a rage: first in the I.Q. testing which gained prominence during W.W.I, and later in the still-dreaded Student Aptitude tests (SATs) that increasingly determined who would and would not attend the more prestigious college and universities. In journalism, the crude empiricism of "muckrakers" enthusiasm for "facts, facts piled to the point of dry certitude," gave way to an ideal of "objectivity" based on adherence to professional norms.[18] .

3. Scientific Management In the industrial sphere, "experts" also became increasingly prominent, first in the "scientific management" program of Frederick Winslow Taylor, and gradually in the proliferation of "research and development" as described in David Noble's America by Design (1977). [19]

At the level of public policy, scientism sustained a growing interest in "social control a term first popularized at the turn of the century in a book of this title by the Wisconsin sociologist Edward A. Ross. Between 1910 and 1930, this impulse underlay the Prohibition amendment, the National Origins Act of 1924, Jim Crow laws, and an increasingly shrill eugenics movement. Not coincidentally, the careful measurements of scientistic social science were invoked in support of these laws.[20]

III. Explanations.

What caused this departure? Various causes have been proposed

* For many social scientists the explanation lay in the logic of science itself. Positivists had long postulated that intellectual progress consisted in the movement from the theological, through the natural to the positive stage of knowledge. The complexity of modern society, not to mention advances in medical and other scientific technology seemed to support the view that "science" had a logic of its own, with professionalization and the increasing organization of knowledge being an inevitable consequence. In the case of sociology, which was a discipline before it had either an agreed-upon subject matter or methodology, such a whiggish view of science is obviously inadequate, however much it served the professionalizing strategies of the participant themselves. [21]Moreover, other recent studies have suggested that it also fails to explain the development of the other social sciences, of law or medicine, or even the natural sciences themselves.

Scientism rather was the result of a a convergence of various factors that shaped the culture of the United States from the 1910s through the 1930s.

A. Socially, it was nourished by the fluid individualism, and resulting absence of tradition and community that increasingly characterized American life toward the end of the 19th century. Emphasis on "status" and "nostalgia" ignore a more basic element in the lives of many Americans--the lack of the institutional density that in more stable societies defines rules, mediates meanings, and induces the comfortable feeling that society and shared values are a natural and enduring aspect of the human condition. For Small, the early Giddings and most of the founding generation, this growing rootlessness of many Americans was obscured by the comfortable associations of their youths. For rootless westerners like Ward (and Ross), or William Graham Sumner, the offspring of recently arrived immigrants, this absence was a daily reality, only partially offset by the cult of "individualism" that was already crumbling by the 1880s.

For the objectivists, the most prominent of whom were born in the 1880s and reached maturity in the years immediately before World War I, it assumed new urgency reflecting a growing sense of social fragmentation and the absence of common values and standards in the late progressive era. Among the Founders, those who most anticipated the spirit of scientism were also socially the most marginal, as noted above. So also did the leading objectivists come from backgrounds that differed significantly from the comfortable middle class ones of most eastern and midwestern progressives half a generation older: Ogburn, the small-town Georgian raised by a widowed mother; Bernard, the son of a neer-do-well, meanspirited Texas farmer; and Chapin, the scion of New York patricians whose fortunes were temporarily in decline. Whereas the celebration of "community" and "social cohesion," one of the several languages of progressivism, incorporated a nostalgic longing for a past social order, the language of efficiency, rationalization, and social engineering judged the past irredeemably irrelevant.[22]

1.William F. Ogburn is a case in point:Born in Butler , Georgia on June 29, 1886, Ogburn was heir to a tradition of family life he loved but never quite understood. Simon Ogburne, the first American ancestor, arrived in Virginia in 1651. Ogburn's mother was also descended from an old and distinguished family, the Wynns, and was distinctly proud of the fact. Both Ogburn's parents remained close to brothers and sisters throughout their lives. Yet to Ogburn it seemed like another world. "They lived in a face to face community," he wrote, using the phrase Charles H. Cooley had coined. "I have known the point intellectually, but I never quite got the feel of it. It is still something of a mystery."[23]

Ogburn's lineage alternately fascinated and embarrassed him. When at the faculty table at the University of Chicago someone casually asked him if a Miss Jane Ogburn were his sister, he answered, somewhat to his own surprise: "No, my original ancestor came over in 1658 [sic] and her original ancestor did not get here until 1684." Repeating the incident to Read Bain, he confided: "There were two or three men around the table whose fathers were born in Europe, and it did not take long for someone to crack down upon me with a remark about my blue blood, which increased my confusion." One day toward the end of his life, he spent an afternoon tracing the genealogy of the original Simon, only to recognize the absurdity of the enterprise. Had not "modern studies" shown that one's personality was the product of the "social environment," he wondered? Had not the same studies "taken all--or nearly all meaning--from a study of ancestry?[24]

Ogburn's own youth was a sharp break from this family past. After his father died while he was quite young, he lived with his mother and an aunt in circumstances that required taking in borders to make ends meet. "As a boy I carried a good deal of responsibility [and had] little money which I had to stretch for the family," he recalled. Under these circumstances, family pride became extreme sensitivity to reputation, and a compulsion to conform. On the streets of small-town Georgia, gossip was a deadly weapon, and a good name "the most valued of possessions."[25]In later years, Ogburn's concern for normality and his distrust of eccentricity amounted to an obsession. "The truth is I love (I think) to be ordinary, to be like my fellow man, not to be an extreme deviate," he once wrote in his diary. This view shaped his attitudes toward matters great and small. Of success in one's career, he commented:

...all 'big shots' do things appropriately. But a sense of appropriateness is a distinct asset....I have known a few people who might have been 'big shots' if they had not been awkward, inept, and given to saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.

After an evening in the company of Edward Ross and his new wife, he commented: "Nothing queer or eccentric about either." And of a Christmas card from a friend: "less eccentric than any they have sent." In a self-critical mood, he speculated that this same attitude probably explained his penchant for research that earned prestige rather than money, when more profitable opportunities beckoned. "The big idea is that we do the things that are highly socially valued. And research is the goal we must all strive for.[26]Like Bernard, Ogburn translated this concern for reputation into the view that human behavior was a "response to stimulus," rather than the organization of habits around a preexisting or socially-created self. "All members of the human species do not respond exactly to the same material stimulus," he noted. But all actions are nonetheless "responses to stimuli." So persuaded, he sometimes spoke of himself and his professional activities as objects over which he had little control. Despite sometimes frenetic professional activity, he frequently commented on his lack of "ambition." Rather, he was "driven on by a sense of duty, or in response to the general idea, inculcated in youth, to do the immediate job ahead, rather well....But no great ego, no great desire to leave my mark on the world.[27]

As a southerner, when such things mattered even more than today, Ogburn also inherited other traditions that seemed somehow archaic in the New Era--"regarding women, chivalry, honor, money, courage, etc." Like many of his generation, he absorbed these virtues from reading the Victorians--Thackeray, Dickens, and especially Sir Walter Scott. "One ideal I recall was that it was not good for a strong man to talk much," he added. "A brave, courageous man was a man of few words. Too much talk was feminine. To be garrulous was to be a sissy." Remembering this wisdom, Ogburn years later urged fellow-sociologists to cultivate a no-frills literary style and to eschew the conventional graces.[28]For the rest of his years, Ogburn's life was a battle between illusion and reality, youthful ideals and a world that that seemed to render them meaningless. Nowhere was this more pronounced than in his view of women. As a southerner, he got a double dose of the Victorian cult of true womanhood. "I started off in my youth with a strong sense of chivalry," he remembered. "I never had any sisters and I reverenced my mother." Converted to feminism, he supported total sexual equality, but premised on the belief that women were "unselfish angels." Reality again checked this fantasy. Many modern women were "narcissistic, self-centered--interested only in themselves," he decided. Although they demanded equality, most women wanted men "to dominate them, to take responsibility, even to bully them." The result of this realization was a frank lament: "Here I have been treating them as superior beings who want freedom and rights! But so many of them do not." In face of the erosion of traditional sex roles, "facts" were sternly masculine, and "speculation" a dangerous feminine allurement.[29]

2. For many objectivists, the sexual revolution of the late -progressive era was the critical element in their confrontation with the "big city" and modern life. Two examples will suffice:

(a) John B. Watson is exhibit A. Like Ogburn's objectivism, Watson's behaviorism was the product of a variety of factors quite apart from gender, among them the twin shock of the urbanization and secularization of American society. Born in rural South Carolina, Watson also found his southern background and religious training little help in dealing with the secular ideals and temptations of modern life. Among the latter, sex was high on the agenda. As an undergraduate at Furman University, Watson became interested in one of the three coeds on campus (or so he later claimed), although whether he consummated this or any other affair during his college years remains a matter of conjecture. Not in doubt is that any suspicion of sexual irregularity would have made him a pariah on campus, and within his own family. Possibly for this reason, possibly because Watson was already questioning his religious faith, his brother Edward called him their black sheep. For better or worse, Watson's departure from Furman in 1899, and his mother's death a year later, freed him from a dual threat of censure. In later years, he argued that college campuses should allow pre-marital sex as part of a student's experiment with living. But neither at the time nor later did he view his college years or his hometown with pleasure or even nostalgia.

When Watson arrived in Chicago to study philosophy in the summer of 1900, he entered the world of Thorstein Veblen's Theory of the Leisure Class (1899) and Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie (1901), two "Chicago" books that together chronicled the ostentation and temptations of modern urban life. Although philosophy soon proved a poor choice, the methods of animal psychology were more attractive. An objective approach to behavior provided a way of dealing with a new permissiveness that at once attracted and repelled him. In the big city, "consciousness" no less than "conscience" seemed ultimately a hindrance. To treat all human activities as external to the self--as objects--was subtly to diminish the discomfort of guilt-producing behavior while at the same time to allow mastery of a threatening situation-- a guilt made all the worse in Watson's case by the fact that he had abandoned planned study for the ministry almost immediately after his mother's death in 1900 to pursue a career playing with rats.[30]

For the attractive if unsocial Watson, sexual behavior remained the crucial issue. Translating spirit to matter, the psychological to the physiological, the behaviorist might take a neutral "scientific" approach to this tabooed area. The result, in one sense, was an escape from his Fundamentalist religious past. But more profoundly, it also marked an extension of the Calvinist's impulse to control. By policing the flesh (whether rat-pups in a maze, or the chaotic passions of humankind), the behaviorist replaced the behaviorist replaced the Calvinist God who, if obeyed, promised protection of a sort from the terrors of the flesh.The role of gender in shaping Watson's thought, however, was more than a matter of sexual behavior (or misbehavior, given Watson's much publicized adultery).

Given his mother's overwhelming influence in his early years, and her role in inculcating religion, Watson's search for masculine identity almost inevitably combined the religious and the sexual. If some contemporaries were smothered by motherly love, young Watson was suffocated by repression. Denied physical caresses as a child, the he was also barred on penalty of extreme punishment from physical exploration through masturbation. The result was a severe retarding of the normal process of individuation. "Watson's identity as a separate physical being," writes the sociologist Paul Creelan, "remained tentative alongside his immersion in the identity of his mother." [31]

Watson's interest in rats, so viewed, was not simply a case of policing the flesh by surrogate, but of of exploring physical existence, and ultimately of coming to more integrated balance of the spiritual and the physical. Years later, the shadow of Watson's mother remained apparent to his co-workers. "He is more childish than I had imagined, "the sociologist W.T.Thomas wrote in 1921. "He has the mother complex that the Freudians glorify, and has it for fair." [32] A recent analyst agrees:"Watson's ambivalence about a final acceptance of his own physical existence is also indicated by the very fact that he encounters this aspect of himself only as projected onto an external being, never directly through introspective analysis of his experience of physical existence."[33]

These concerns surfaced in Watson's behaviorism. Sometimes the influence was direct, for example in tying "shame" to masturbation, and in prescribing a rigid regimen to avoid it, as in a 1928 book on childrearing. More often it was indirect. The "Little Albert" experiments (wherein a child was conditioned to fear rats through the use of a loud sound) can thus be read as a warning against playing with the flesh, the sound itself replacing the moral injunctions of Fundamentalism. More basically, Watson's analysis of thought as "implicit speech" may be interpreted as an attempt not only to make the physical larynx the center of the physical world, but in effect to make it a substitute for the genitals that he rarely mentioned in his analysis. Such an interpretation finds support, not only in recent psychological literature showing the phallic associations of speech, but by the fact that Watson tied his announcement of the doctrine of implicit speech was the theory that "affection" was really only a swelling of the genitals.

(b) A second is Luther Bernard:... Born in west Texas, he was the awkward provincial in every regard: from ill-fitting suits to censorious reactions to the world of Chicago, where he arrived for graduate school in 1907.At Chicago, Bernard found or imagined evidence of a moral decay that at once excited and repelled him. In an analysis of the then fashionable cult of aestheticism, apparently written for one of Small's classes , he lamented that the "moral motif" was virtually absent from modern letters. As example, he cited "a certain well-known play" in which the heroine, after willingly being seduced by a "rake," becomes a prostitute and "dope fiend" when her husband refuses to take her back. The intended moral was that the husband was to blame, whereas in Bernard's view the women was entirely at fault. To make matters worse, some academic colleagues with whom he discussed the play, saw it only in terms of style and technique, the lone exception being a fellow sociologist who saw its moral viciousness for what it was. Whereas the rest found only humor in questions of "present social morality," Bernard and his sociological confrere understood the "functional importance [of traditional standards] for the moral welfare of society."[34]Bernard's conversion to behaviorism was rooted in these experiences. For the awkward provincial, the Chicago "environment" was a stark reality rather than an extension of the socially interacting self. The goal was "adjustment," as he made his way painfully from ill-clothed farm boy to successful academic. As the behaviorist later put it: "the integration of personality depends primarily upon ...adjustment to...environment." Among the many responses conducive to adjustment, none ranked higher than those that were "themselves conditioned by the behavior of others serving as stimuli."[35]

So viewed, Bernard's behaviorism reflected a cultural as well as a personal crisis. In the big city, "consciousness" no less than "conscience" seemed ultimately a hindrance. By explaining human activity in terms of stimulus and response, behaviorism subtly relieved urban newcomers of moral responsibility, while at the same time allowing mastery of an otherwise threatening situation.[36]Sex was the crucial issue. Translating spirit to matter, the psychological to the physiological, one might take a neutral "scientific" approach to this tabooed area. The result, in one sense, was an escape from the Calvinist past. But more profoundly, it also marked an extension of the Calvinist's impulse to control. By policing the flesh (whether rat-pups in a maze, or the chaotic passions of humankind), the behaviorist replaced the Calvinist God, who if obeyed, promised protection of a sort from the terrors of the flesh.


By the 1920s, Bernard had developed virtually a split personality in his public and private affairs. Publicly, he was the model Puritan, abjuring smoking and drinking and condemning those who did. More curiously, given his popularity with female students, he treated his classes to misogynous attacks on the "new woman" even shriller than those of the Chicago days. After one such harangue, one woman student could take no more. "Can't you see how unfair, how unmanly, it is to take such advantage of a group of fairly intelligent women?," she demanded. "You had me so angry I was trembling and I had to get out so as not to scream."[37]

The irony was that in off-hours, Bernard had become a womanizer of almost olympic stature, typically with much younger companions. Although his philandering had begun well before he arrived at Minnesota, it was during these years that one such relationship devastated him personally, and almost ruined his career. Although the details are unimportant, and in any case difficult to decipher in the tangled web of accusation and self-justification that followed, the situation was roughly as follows. Sometime in 1922, shortly after his divorce was final, Bernard began a live-in relationship with a young woman who, as he described her to a colleague, "at the time seemed to me to have those qualities of domesticity and affection which my former wife so largely lacked." After two years of what he later termed a "common law marriage," the two planned to wed in the summer of 1924, much against the will of the young woman's parents. When in June of that year, she fell ill, Bernard was forced to go to a summer school job at Chicago alone, only to have her break off the relationship in his absence. The young woman then refused absolutely to see him, and soon after married a physician to whom she had been previously engaged.[38]

Although more awkward than today, such liaisons were not in themselves remarkable. What made them so in this case was the exquisite detail in which Bernard recorded his sexual encounters. For almost a decade, in diaries large and small, fat and thin, he chronicled dates, times, and places. In the Minnesota affair he outdid himself in a volume he titled "The Journal of an Intimate Affair." In descriptions that rivalled such classics as My Secret Life, no detail was beneath notice. What he said, what she said. How garments were removed. The finest anatomical details from arousal to ejaculation. How it was for him, and how for her. Yet unlike most pornography, Bernard's purpose was not the arousal of passion but its reification. In his developing behaviorist logic, attitude and act were one and the same. Since an attitude was an act in the process of becoming, it was impossible to believe one thing and do another, however much one's guilt suggested otherwise. By an unstated corollary, the careful chronicling of behavior somehow legitimated guilt-producing behavior.[39]

On this point, Bernard himself bore witness of a sort. Early in their relationship, Miss X, although proclaiming her love, refused to consummate it sexually. To Bernard, such talk was nonsense. "It is your love I want," he explained in support of his entreaties. "Of course I don't think one can separate love from the expression of it. You see I'm a behaviorist!" [40]


B. Objectivism thus also represented both a rejection and secularization of 19th century American Protestantism. From Giddings onward, battles over scientific sociology pitted individuals who in one fashion or other had rejected their childhood religion against those who remained faithful to it. For this reason, it is tempting to ignore the continuities between religious tradition, and particularly Calvinism, and scientism.As suggested above, the rejection of the Christian conception of "soul" translated to the behaviorists' repudiation of the "self." But in this very opposition, objectivism was also a secular attenuation of the Protestant spirit in several ways. Its vision of an "efficient" social order contained more than a little missionary zeal. So also, the celebration of "hard facts" and the "rigors" of research brought the Protestant Ethic into the era of modern professionalism. Finally, by reifying experience in the manner of behaviorism, the objectivist gained control over self and others, in effect having the exquisite pleasure of playing God while denying His existence.

Protestant denominationalism also shaped different readings of Darwin, and finally definitions of "science" and conceptions of sociology. Roughly speaking, Small and Bernard the Baptists[41]Sumner the Anglican, and even Ward, the Calvinist-turned-Unitarian never entirely escaped the Baconianisn belief that the direct observation and classification of experience is the essence of scientific method. The stricter Calvinism of Giddings, Chapin, and Ogburn, in contrast, disposed them to accept the idea that there was an order in nature and society despite the fact that its "causes" cannot be known. Thus the latter three took Darwinian selectionism more seriously, and from it proceeded to a nominalist and statistical conception of natural and social law.

(C) Objectivism was also a byproduct of the professionalization of scholarship, although neither the only nor the inevitable one. Among the many impulses that shaped 19th century professionalism, a prominent one, as Burton Bledstein has argued, was the desire to consolidate and control. From their fascination with "words" (the jargon of the different specialities) to their claims of autonomy," professionals embodied the Victorian effort "to set apart, regulate, and contain" the different elements of an increasingly chaotic experience, and to transcend the partisan strife that threatened to destroy society and to undermine the recently-won power of the WASP middle class. Offering more than psychic comfort (although this too), the all-embracing standard of science, in Bledstein's words, "provided the raison d'etre of the middle class...and justified its standard of living.[42]Viewed in this light, objectivism appears, in one sense, to have been an extreme of professionalism, indeed almost a caricature of its open-ended demand for work, organized procedures for obtaining credentials, and claim of disinterested service. But the fact that the objectivists in their private lives were less than the model of professional rationality suggest that this regimen exacted its own price. At its most benign, the professionals' bifurcation of self into public and private, scientist and citizen led to escapes in poetry, painting, sports, or travel. At its worst, the jargon of objectivity and disinterested activity masked chaotic inner lives that led Ogburn at one point to psychoanalysis and Bernard to compulsive philandering. For the "profession" as a whole, the pretense of superior rationality, as one younger sociologist ruefully observed, did not rule out often vicious squabbling and backbiting.

The institutionalization and specialization of scholarship, first within the university and later within foundation-sponsored institutes, also played a part. Within the universities, several factors together narrowed the scope of the discipline, including the need to defend and define the newcomer against the other social sciences (a circumstance that differed from one university to another); the need to devise easily reproducible "methods" for the training of graduate students, as early evident in the case of Giddings; and perhaps even the practical realization that grand theory on the style of Spencer or Ward assumed more knowledge that the average undergraduate commanded in the age of free electives. To these pressures, the First World War gave the still-marginal sociologists new incentive to prove their professionalism and public worth, as illustrated particularly in the careers of Ogburn and Chapin.[43]Political pressures as filtered though university administrators also put a premium on "objectivity" in some form, although again objectivism was only one possible strategy.

The emergence of objectivism, however, also underlines the danger of a too-exclusive emphasis on the professionalization-institutionalization model, particularly in unilinear versions that typically overestimate the strength and success of the process.[44]Objectivism, rather than being the end product of a unilinear professionalization, was a symptom of a perennial volubility within the discipline. American sociology began as a discipline with no agreed-upon theory or coherent research area; it never dropped the appeal to utility; and it altered its initial boundaries in dramatic ways, first in the triumph of the "group" concept in the 1910s, later with the ascendency of structural-functionalism in the 1950s, and finally with the near-anarchy that has obtained since the 1960s.

Other examples:

(1) Engineering and Scientific Management

(2) Applied psychology: Carol Gruber, Mars and Minerva

D. Ideologically, scientism is related to underlying economic changes, but here two quite different possibilities.

a. Corporatism: the emergence of objectivism coincided with growing interest in efficiency, adjustment, and social control. These slogans, in turn, reflected a growing concern with order over freedom, and with how society shapes the individual rather than vice versa. This process began with Ward's concessions concerning the restraining role of religion in the late nineties, and found full expression in the behaviorism of Ogburn, Chapin and Bernard. Convinced that the tradition of natural law and natural rights was bankrupt, the prewar founders sought various bases for social order: from Charles Horton Cooley's interactionist "social self" to Ross's "social control," a list that also included "interests," "likemindedness," and the "mores." What distinguished the objectivists was not their concern for order, or even a basis of authority in science, but their implicit conviction that this order must be imposed from outside, ideally with the help of experts of one sort or other.

Did sociology thus contribute to the "corporatism" that took shape during the twenties?[45]For the founders, the answer is clearly no, despite some pervasive, common assumptions concerning the benefits of "organization."[46]

For the leading objectivists the situation is more complicated. If one may distinguish theories of corporatism (whether "liberal" or otherwise) from its emergence in practice, none of the three leading objectivists deserve the label, in the sense of advocating that decisions on social policy be left to a coalition of government and corporate leaders, or that the corporation be the model for governmental organization or policy-making. Bernard certainly not, however vague his notion of a policy-making body of social scientists. And Chapin and Ogburn also not, in that their position was precisely that the sociologist as scientist should not prescribe in the first place. After a year with the N.R.A., Ogburn reported that government-business cooperation was a leading feature of New Deal policy, speculating that it might be the wave of the future. But he also reported that it raised the perennial question of the balance between freedom and order, an issue upon which he would venture no opinion.[47]

As to the emergence of corporatism in practice, however, the case is different. The entire conception of the world as a possible object of prediction and control presupposes that someone will use knowledge to this end, making politics an exercise in finding the most effective means to given ends.[48] In assuming that someone other than the scientist will determine these ends, Ogburn's objectivism appeared to put sociology at the service of the highest bidder, thus setting the stage for a service-intellectual conception of the discipline, which, in the eyes of its critics, had unfortunate consequences in later years[49]But this creed of value-neutrality reflected neither a reasoned corporatist ideology, nor an uncritical fondness for New Era capitalism. From Sumner to Bernard, Giddings to Ogburn, the celebration of objectivity, not coincidentally, was the other side of disillusionment over the workings of American democracy, often compounded by the huckstering excesses of the advertising age. The result was profound doubt in the ability of the average person to know what is good for the individual, let alone for society.

b. Consumerism. See separate notes on rise of advertising and its implications.

E. Sexism. To these factors, other could be added, notably in the gender implications implications of scientism (explain). A brief set of examples will give the flavor.

*"I was glad to hear...that you are projecting a 'He-Book,' on Sociology," the sociologist Albert Keller wrote to Edward Ross in 1916; "Lord knows there are enough 'It-Books,' not to mention the 'She-Books.' If some scientific virility can be injected into this sadly emasculated subject, the sociologists will not need to climb a tree every time a real scientist heaves into sight." Measured by this standard, Folkways (1906) by Keller's mentor William Graham Sumner promised a more manly era in American sociology. "Spencer was something of an old maid and perhaps a little feline now and then," Keller wrote on another occasion. "But Sumner, with all his hard hitting . . . ought to appeal to anyone who, in these times, prays: "O God, give us a Man!"[50]

Final evaluation. In retrospect, it is easy to criticize the scientistic sociologists, and their fellow spirits in the other professions: : for ignoring the realities of power, exploitation, and class conflict; for narrowing the focus of their discipline to parochial and often trivial concerns; for failing to see the cultural, class, and gender biases of their conception of scientific neutrality; perhaps even for promoting an a-political and a-moral vision of the role of the sociologist. For these same reasons, it would also appear that, as a component of the search for order in modern America, scientism represented an effort on the part of WASP, upper middle class, male America to retain control of an America that seemed to be getting away from them.

But the spirit behind their program also obviously had a strong appeal, particularly in the United States in the interwar years, and possibly even among groups who in historical hindsight would appear to have suffered from its consequences, whether indirectly through class and gender definitions of "objective" science and exclusion from the professions, or more directly from legislation that segregated, or otherwise restricted their role in American life. On the reasons for this appeal we can only speculated: perhaps it was because a "scientific" standard, however narrowly defined, proposed to eliminate the arbitrary and subjective from public life and policy; perhaps because the future for many Americans seemed an improvement on the past; or perhaps because, whatever its own class or cultural biases, "science" seemed the only possible standard in an increasingly pluralistic and fragmented America.


*much of the text is adapted from Robert C. Bannister, Sociology and Scientism (UNC Press, 1987)

1. Purcell, Edward A. The Crisis of Democratic Theory: Scientific Naturalism and the Crisis of Value. Lexington, Ky., 1973

2. Freidrich von Hayek, The Counterrevolution of Science, p. 1

3. Epistemologically, it rested on the conviction that experience is the sole source of knowledge; ontologically on a distinction between objects accessible to observation (about which knowledge is possible) and those not accessible (about which there can be no knowledge).For elaboration of this point see Giddens, Positivism and Sociology pp. 3-4; and Bryant, Positivism, pp. 1-10.

4. For example see Read Bain, "Trends in American Sociology," pp. 413-22, quoted in Bryant, Positivism, pp. 4-5.

5. Eubank, "Errors of Sociology," p. 181 quoted in Hornell Hart, "Value- Judgements in Sociology," p. 862.

6. Bryant, Positivism, pp. 141-45.

7. Ogburn, William F. "The Folkways of a Scientific Sociology." ScientificMonthly 30 (1930) pp 300-306.

8. Robert Weibe, The Search for Order 1877-1920 (New York, 1967). For discussion of what has since ben called the "organizational synthesis" in American historiography see Louis Galambos, "The Emerging Organizational Synthesis in Modern American History,"

9. On Watson's life see David Cohen, John B. Watson: the Making of a Behaviorist (London, 1979)

10. For "realism" and "nominalism" in sociology see Park and Burgess, Science of Society, pp. 36-44; Lewis and Smith, American Sociology and Pragmatism, ch. 6; and Bryant, Positivism, pp. 4-5.

11. For example see Ogburn, "Folkways," pp. 300-306.

12. For discussion of confusion between "bias" and "psychological" in definitions of "subjectivity see Rudner, Philosophy of Social Science, pp. 73-83.

13. llwood, Charles A. "Emasculated Sociologies." Social Research (1933): 109-14, reprinted from Sociology and Social Research 17 (1933): 219-29; and "Objectivism in Sociology." AJS 22 (1916): 289-305.

14. On this point, see Bledstein, Culture, p. 88.

15. Schudsen, Discovering, pp. 7, 121-22.

16. Gouldner, Coming Crisis, p. 103.

17. See Michael Schudsen, Objectivity and the News

18. To this list could be added the growing reliance upon doctors and on hospitals in childbirth, and on medical technology more generally. See Paul Starr, The Transformation of American Medicine.

19. For example, in the passage of the restrictive National Origins Act. See Kamin,

20. For example, see Small, The Origins of Sociology.

21. On the three "languages of discontent" during the progressive era, see Rodgers, "In Search of Progressivism," pp. 123-27.

22. Ibid., November 27, 1952, November 30, 1942.

23. Ogburn to Bain, January 9, 1934, RB; "Journal," November 3, 1946, November 30, 1942, WFO.

24. Ibid., November 30, 1942.

25. Ibid., June 4, 1946, January 17, 1949, December 26, 1946, March 11, 1948.

26. Ibid., August 2, 1952, July 4, 1946.

27. Ibid., March 24, 1944. E.T. Thompson, a graduate student of Ogburn spoke frankly of his own experience in this regard: ..."I sort of turned against everything southern I could think of....That was part of my excess zeal to be objective." Thompson, [interview], March 27, 1972, p. 9, SDI.

28. Ogburn, "Journal," March 12, 1948.

29. For the following analysis see David Bakun, "Behaviorism and American Urbanization," Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences," 2 (1966), 5-25; and John Creelan, "Watsonian Behaviorism and the Calvinist Conscience," ibid. 10 (1974), 95-118. For additional details see also David Cohen, , J.B. Watson: The Founder of Behaviorism (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1979).

30. Paul Creelan, "Religion, Language, and Sexuality in J.B. Watson," Journal of Humanistic Psychology 15 (1975), p. 62. This analysis is drawn entire from Creelan.

31. William I. Thomas to Ethel Dummer, January 1, 27, 1921, Ethel Dummer Papers, Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe.

32. Creelan, "Religion, Language, and Sexuality," p.

33. Bernard, "The Pragmatic Significance of Small's Classification of Interests," ms. 6 pp. [n.d.: attached to Bernard to Small, October 12, 1910], BPPS.

34. Bernard, "Social Psychology Studies Adjustment Behavior," pp. 1-9.

35. For a similar analysis of the more extreme behaviorism of John B. Watson see Bakun, "Behaviorism," pp. 5-25; and Creelan, "Watsonian Behaviorism," pp. 95-118.

36. Student to Bernard, November 24, 1922, BPPS.

37. Jessie Ravage [Bernard] to Bruce Melvin, ca. May 1925; Bernard to Melvin, May 4, 1925, BPPS.

38. Bernard, "The Journal of an Intimate Affair," ms. BPPS.

39. Bernard to Miss X, August 20, 1921, BPPS. Bernard continued: "but what I fear most is that if you deny yourself its expression you will grow away from me."

40. Vidich and Lyman, American Sociology, pp. 169, 177 state without evidence that Bernard represented "midwestern Lutheranism." Although I have found no direct evidence of the family sectarian connection, the Texas background, and his attendance at the Pierce Baptist College, makes a Baptist affiliation more likely. The connection suggested here, in any case, is admittedly speculative and in need of further investigation.

41. Bledstein, Culture, chs. 1-3.

42. For an extended treatment of this theme see Gruber, Mars and Minerva.

43. For the following I am indebted to H. Kuklick, "Restructuring the Past," pp. 5-21. Higham, "Matrix," pp. 3-18. 3-18.

44. On corporatism see Hawley, "Discovery," pp. 309-20; Lustig, Corporate Liberalism; and Panitch, "The Development of Corporatism," pp. 61-90. 45. Ward's radical subjectivism remained closer to the sexual radicalism of Herbert Marcuse than to the corporatism of Adolph Berle or other post-New Deal theorists, despite his latter qualifications of this position. Small's blue-print for an ongoing struggle of interest groups pictured the "wealth" interest as one of many. Giddings and Sumner, in their lingering sympathy for laissez faire, were troubled by precisely the proto-corporatist elements of progressivism. 46. Ogburn, "The Future of the New Deal," pp. 842-48.

47. For this criticism see Keat, "Positivism and Statistics," Demystifying Social Statistics, ed. Miles and Irvine, p. 84.

48. For example, Horowitz, "Project Camelot," pp. 3-7, 44-47. and Professing Sociology. 49. Keller to Ross, October 17, 1916, Ross Papers, Wisconsin Historical Society; Albert G. Keller, Reminiscences (Mainly Personal) of William Graham Sumner (New Haven 1933), p. 55.


Written by Robert Bannister, 1/98. May be reproduced in whole or part for educational purposes, but not copied or distributed for profit.