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Understanding Social Change
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Ihe Ogbu~n Vision Fifty Years Later NEIL J. SMELSER The occasion for the symposium on which this volume is based was to note trends in knowledge in the behavioral and social sciences since the publication in 1933 of Recent Social Trends in the United States. That massive book was the report of a special committee of social scientists commissioned in 1929 by President Herbert Hoover to conduct a survey on the subject. It was a monumental undertaking, the last in a series of efforts of the Hoover administration to augment the knowledge base for social policy. My assignment is to try to capture the main vision of the report and to indicate the ways in which that vision has changed in the half- century since its publication. President Hoover's own account of the reasons for deciding to launch the commission is terse. He spoke of the requests of "a number of interested agencies" (Myers, 1934:193), and he said that "the country [in 19291 was in need of more action in the social field." He added, however, that "our first need was a competent survey of the facts in the social field." Then, upon its completion he described it as "the first thorough statement of social facts ever presented as a guide to public policy," adding, however, that "the loss of the election prevented me, as President, from offering a program of practical action based upon the facts" (Hoover, 1952:312~. Hoover's account reveals his engineering view of social life: first the facts, then application based upon the facts. Later I will show how closely this mentality corresponded to that of the Ogburn committee itself. 21
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22 NEIL J. SMELSER READING THE OGBURN COMMITTEE REPORT TODAY As indicated, my main task is to interpret the broad vision of the Ogburn committee reports and the subsequent vicissitudes of that vision. I should like to begin, however, by reporting a few reflections that occurred to me while plowing through the 39 chapters and 1,568 pages of the report. First, some things apparently never change. In a chapter on "Recreation and Leisure Time Activities," J. F. Steiner (President's Research Com- mittee on Social Trends, 1933:931) assured the reader that football can hardly be regarded as a passing fad which will soon give way to something else. The huge investments in stadia, which must be paid off in future years, make almost inevitable the continual approval of the game by college administrative author- ities. Its capacity to generate gate receipts and its value as an advertising medium are assets that cannot be ignored. In his chapter on "Education," Charles H. Judd quoted with approval Henry Pritchett's condemnation of the consequences of competition in sports (p. 3771: =.,__. ~11~ ~;~rA_~;t~r lactic' fat A Inning trim lively ~11~O U1 UlllV~lalL' tw''so Eva ~ ~AA111AAA~ _. . . . The coach is on the alert to bring the most promising athletes . . . to his college team. A system of recruiting and subsidizing has grown up.... The system is demoralizing and corrupt ... the strict organization and the tendency to commercialize the sport have taken the joy out of the game. Second, and in like spirit, there were many other statements that also might have been written today, even though we know how much things have changed in 50 years. In one of the chapters, entitled "The Activities of Women Outside the Home," S. P. Breckinridge concluded that "wom- en's role in the American community has undergone redefinition during the past thirty years" (p. 7091. She mentioned industrial advances, the rise of specialized services, and the decreased size of the family as having elim- inated many of women's household activities. As a result, she noted that "large numbers of women through necessity or choice are seeking a new place in the economic system." Moreover, the shift is not being made without revolutionary changes in attitudes with regard to women's responsibilities under the changed surroundings of their lives. Their new position . . . is giving women a share in the entire life of the community. Third, and with the aid of historical hindsight, the reader cannot fail to The report was identified with the name of Ogbu~n even at the time of its publication (Duffus, 1933).
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THE OGB URN VlSlON FIFTY YEARS LATER 23 notice some obviously slighted topics. The committee acknowledged that the Great Depression of the time "is not explained," though apprehensive mention of its ravages appears from time to time. A generous interpretation of this is that the Great Depression struck only a few months before the committee was formed, and that the committee was as confused as the rest of the nation by the tragedy. Also, many ideas (Keynes's theory of un- employment) and measuring techniques (national economic accounts), help- ful in understanding depressions, were not yet invented. In addition, however, the Depression was the largest political issue of the day, and Ogburn was insistent on presenting facts neutrally and avoiding politically sensitive issues, whether by temperament or out of deference to the President.2 The same reason might account for the virtual absence of materials on race and ethnic relations- though one chapter dealt with racial conditions- which seems surprising in light of the presence on the committee of Howard Odum, the day's leading sociologist of the South. It is inconceivable that such a report could be written today without major attention devoted to racial and ethnic issues. In addition to the possibility that race and other controversial areas were soft-pedaled, it should be remembered that race relations were then still largely regional rather than national, that the political mobilization of blacks was in its infancy, and that neither politicians nor social scientists had begun seriously to challenge the racist foundations of American social life all of which would contribute to the low visibility of racial problems. THE OGBURN VISION OF SOCIAL PROCESS One reviewer of Recent Social Trends remarked that "the Committee findings are so unified and eloquent as to give the impression of single authorship" (Mallery, 1933:2111. That authorship was largely Ogburn's. It is remarkable to observe the degree to which he dominated the committee report. Its main statement echoes his perspectives and theories published earlier and later, and the chapters by others frequently echo those perspec- tives and theories. It is generally fair, therefore, to treat the report as manifesting the Ogburn vision of the social sciences. How best to characterize this vision? It is a view that begins with the identification of social anomalies and problems that arise through irregular 20n this subject, and on Ogburn's conflicts with fellow committee members Wesley Mitchell and Charles Memam on the question of the independence of the committee from presidential involvement, see Harold Orlans (1982) and Baby D. Karl (1969, 1974). Among the chapter authors, Robert Lynd broke most conspicuously from Ogburn by insisting on stressing normative and political issues.
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24 NEIL J. SMELTER social change and ends with the informed amelioration of the anomalies and the consequent improvement of society. It is possible to produce a graphic representation of what I have extracted as the main ingredients of that vision: Social ~ Social ~ Documer~ta- ~ Social change (dis- problems lion by oh- invention continuity jective facts and lags) Application Social by policy amelioration change Each ingredient leads to the next, and thus constitutes a more or less articulate theory of change. In the remainder of my remarks I intend to take up each ingredient (as well as the transitions between the ingredients) and present a capsule statement of the committee's view, then indicate how that view has altered over the decades, mainly as the result of ongoing social science research and theory development. SOCIAL CHANGE One of Ogburn's most notable contributions as a social scientist is the notion of "cultural lag," which enjoyed great influence in the social sci- ences for a long period and is still important in the literature on social change (Ogburn, 1922~. The kernel of this theory finds expression early in the report itself (p. xiii): Not all parts of our organization are changing at the same speed or at the same time. Some are rapidly moving forward while others are lagging. These unequal rates of change in economic life, in government, in education, in science, and religion, make zones of danger and points of tension. More particularly, Ogburn saw changes in technology as well as economic and governmental organization leading the way of change in modern times, with the family and church having declined in social significance. The image of society evoked by this notion is what sociologists call "the functionalist view," namely, that the different parts of social organization stand in systematic whether harmonious or disharmonious relationship to one another, and that changes in one call for changes in another. This view of society, in various forms, dominated a number of the social sciences for several decades and still represents a major theoretical position. Sub- sequent research and theory development, however, have demonstrated it to be both overdrawn and incomplete. Comparative research on the rela- tionships between economy and family, for example, have demonstrated that even in the face of very rapid industrialization, some traditional family forms, far from being "zones of danger and points of tension," persist and
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THE OGB URN VISION FIFTY YEARS LATER 25 even facilitate economic development through recruitment and other mech- anisms. The Japanese family is the classic case in point. The implication of this kind of research is that the notion of "fit" among the various parts of society is weaker than the functionalist view would imply, and that many more diverse combinations of structures are possible. A second line of criticism and reformulation runs as follows: It is not so much the "fit" or "misfit" between different structures that account for pressures for persis- tence and change as it is the power positions of groups or classes with vested interests and the outcomes of political struggles among these groups. This second line of development is seen as exposing and correcting for the political naivete, if not conservatism, of the functionalist position. SOCIAL PROBLEMS According to the Ogburn vision, social problems emerge as manifesta- tions of objective social situations-i.e., discontinuities and lags. For ex- ample, the automobile, a material advance, generated an outward drift of the population into suburban areas; the consequent problem was that the central districts were "left to the weaker economic elements and sometimes to criminal groups with resultant unsatisfactory social conditions" (Presi- dent's Research Committee on Social Trends, 1933:xlii). In another ex- ample, the committee attributed increasing divorce rates to the fact that the family had fewer economic and other functions, which weakened personal ties among its members. In the ensuing decades social scientists have become more sophisticated in their understanding of what constitutes a social problem. We now see that social problems emerge as a complex process of interaction between "objective" social conditions, the criteria people bring to bear in evaluating those conditions, and the success or failure of efforts of interest groups to push their particular criteria forward. Consider another example from the report. In their chapter on "The Population of the Nation," Thompson and Whelpton brought up the topic of the quality of the population. They argued that the differential birthrate among the social classes had resulted in "some deterioration in the biological soundness of the national stock" (a social problem). Their position on this matter was simply that "as soon as any agreement can be reached about the method by which 'undesirables' can be selected from the population, they should be prevented from propagat- ing" (President's Research Committee on Social Trends, 1933:561. We would now regard this view as hopelessly naive. The quality of the pop- ulation is not some kind of objectively given problem. It is a problem for some (eugenicists) and not a problem for others (the right-to-life movement) because the ideological priorities of the two groups in the name of which
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26 NEIL J. SMELSER problems are identified are different if not contradictory. Whether the quality of population gets officially identified as a social problem calling for action depends on the outcome of a political struggle among these and other interested groups in society. Social problems, then, can be defined by the presence of "objective facts" only if there is consensus about the meaning and significance of those facts. The Ogburn committee, in regarding social problems as the objectively determinable result of objectively observable lags and discon- tinuities, was, in effect, imposing a kind of imagined consensus on society. That kind of consensus rarely exists. We now know that social problems are not matters of objective fact but matters of an uncertain, disputed set of both facts and principles. Recognizing this, we can appreciate why such a large proportion of the debates about social problems are debates not about the existence of facts but about symbols, about the legitimacy of the competing sets of criteria by which a factual situation will or will not qualify as a genuine social problem. DOCUMENTATION BY OBJECTIVE FACTS In his introduction to Recent Social Trends, Herbert Hoover spoke of his desire "to have a complete, impartial examination of the facts" in the report. In a way this phrase encapsulates the mentality of the social sciences in the early twentieth century the acme of positive science, which regarded empirical facts as objective things, waiting to be observed, recorded, and quantified. This mentality manifested itself in a variety of different ways. To name a few: · the pioneering efforts to develop measures in psychology and education, including the work of Thurstone on measurement of attitudes and Terman on the measurement of intelligence. · the reaction of the institutional economists (among them Veblen and Commons) against what they regarded as the abstract, disembodied theory of classical economics; as part of this polemic they insisted on the empirical study of economic life in concrete institutions. · in anthropology the reaction of He diffusionists (especially Boas) against classical evolutionary theory, and their insistence on detailed, empirical studies of the movement of cultural items and artifacts from culture to culture. · Ogburn's own dismissal of classical evolutionary theory as speculative and wrong,3 and his insistence that the study of evolution must rest on the 30gburn wrote that the theory of "the inevitable series of stages in the development of social institutions has not only not been proven but has been disproven" (Ogburn, 1922:57).
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THE OGB URN VISION FIFTY YEARS LATER 27 "actual facts of early evolution" (Ogburn, 1922:661. Ogburn (1929) cel- ebrated the rise of scientific social science in his presidential address to the American Sociological Society in 1929, stressing its emphasis on objective measurement, verification and truth, and its separation from methods in other areas such as ethics, religion, education, and propaganda. Not everybody found comfort in this position. Pitirim Sorokin, sociologist at Harvard, in a savage review of Recent Social Trends in 1933, bemoaned what he called "holy and immaculate quantification": In the future some thoughtful investigator will probably write a very illuminating study about these "quantitative obsessions" of a great many social scientists, psychologists, and educators of the first third of the twentieth century, tell how such a belief became a vogue, how social investigators tried to "measure" everything; how thousands of papers and research bulletins were filled with tables, figures and coefficients; and how thousands of persons never intended for scientific investigation found in measurement and computation a substitute for real thought....4 Be that as it may, Ogburn's preference for stressing objective facts, apart from opinions and value judgments, held sway in the report itself. The chapters and monographs, the committee said, "present records, not opin- ions; such substantial stuff as may serve as a basis for social action, rather than recommendations as to the form which action should take" (President's Research Committee on Social Trends, 1933:xciv). The contributors, more- over, were "bound strictly by the limitations of scientific methods," and if they occasionally strayed beyond these limitations the reader could see clearly when they were giving their own opinions (p. XCV).5 Even at the time, this "factual-statistical" representation of the world was regarded by others besides Sorokin as wanting. Adolph Berle, a member of Franklin D. Roosevelt's brain trust, commented that the report "has the barrenness of . . . statistical measurement . . . the desire for objectivity has been carried entirely too far." And Charles Beard, the historian, re- marked that "the results [of this report] . . . reflect the coming crisis in the empirical method to which American social science has long been in bondage" (Orlans, 1982:91. And in the decades since the acme of Ogburnian positivism we have come to view the world of empirical facts not so much 4Throughout his review Sorokin assaulted the Ogburn committee report for its multiplication of meaningless quantitative tables and citations. In a rejoinder Ogburn countered with the assertion that "only one-tenth of the space is taken up with tables," a statement that constitutes a kind of ironic confirmation of Sorokin's plaint. SOgburn wrote a short methodological "note" on the necessity to separate facts and opinions sharply from one another, but this was not published as part of Recent Social Trends, probably because not all of the members of the committee subscribed to his position (Bulmer, 1983).
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28 NEIL J. SMELTER as a realm of observable and measurable things but rather more as the purposeful creation of human agents and investigators. This realization, moreover, has resulted from developments both at the level of theory and of empirical research. At the theoretical level, early critics of positivism, such as Talcott Parsons (1937), argued that facts could not be viewed apart from the conceptual framework by which they are evoked. In his influential work on the history of science, Thomas Kuhn (1970) argued that both scientific facts and scientific knowledge are relative to the kinds of para- digms invented and employed by scientists. And more recently critics like Jurgen Habermas have hammered away at exposing the ideological and political foundations of "objective science." The cumulative effect of these kinds of intellectual development has been to effectively erode the positivist dream of the early twentieth century. At the level of social research our assessment of "facts" has also become more sophisticated. The dominant approach, of course, is still that the behavioral and social sciences are empirical sciences above all, and we have improved our measurement techniques and data bases enormously. But social scientists no longer conceive, as a Durkheim or an Ogburn might have done, of the crime rate as a "social fact" to be observed. We know, on the basis of empirical research, that a "crime rate" is a vastly different phenomenon, depending on whether the investigator consults police records, observes police in action, asks people whether they have ever been victims of crimes, or whether they have ever committed crimes. We know also that every one of these measures is defective in different ways. We know that there is no such "thing" as public opinion, which can be measured scientifically by randomly sampling a portion of the population and interviewing them on a given set of issues. Research has shown that results of such surveys vary significantly depending on how the questions are asked, what kinds of people do the asking (whites or blacks, men or women, investigators dressed in suits or investigators dressed in dirty jeans), and how people distort their responses on sensitive issues (such as how much they smoke, drink, or use drugs) (Cannel! and Kahn, 1968~. We have also come to acknowledge that certain ideological assumptions or biases are built into some of the measures we use. For example, the fact that, in the sample suney, we give equal weight to all respondents in analyzing data reflects a kind of "democratic" assumption that each person's voice counts as much as another-an unrealistic assumption given what we know about actual patterns of participation, influence, and power, even in democratic societies; it is the (perhaps unwitting) translation of the electoral principle of a democracy into a "one-person, one-response" assumption. Interestingly, these kinds of acknowledgments make simultaneously for both greater humility and greater sophistication on the part of social ~n
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THE OGB URN VISION FIFTY YEARS LATER 29 vestigators. We are cognizant of the many sources of measurement error that are generated in the creation and study of social data and in its as- sessment by investigators (Turner et al., 19841. By the same token, how- ever, investigators are now equipped systematically to take measurement errors into account when representing and statistically manipulating data, by using techniques that would not come to mind within a simple positivistic perspective. SOCIAL INVENTION According to the Ogburn vision (President's Research Committee on Social Trends, 1933:1xxi) the massive accumulation and description of social facts can reveal the broad range of social problems generated in a society undergoing rapid and irregular social change. These problems, moreover, "can be solved only by further scientific discoveries and practical inventions." The imagery of a scientific invention as well as its application per- vades the Ogburn vision of social reform and the amelioration of social problems. In the chapter on "The Influence of Invention and Discovery," Ogburn and S. C. Gilfillan wrote that "there are social inventions as well as mechanical ones, effective in social change" (p. 1621. They gave as examples the city manager plan, group insurance, installment selling, the passport, and universal suffrage. The committee (1933:1xxiv) envisioned the need for a massive effort in the field of social invention: If one considers the enormous mass of detailed work required to achieve the recent decline in American death rates, or to make aviation possible, or to increase per capita production in farming, one realizes that the job of solving the social problems here outlined is a job for cumulative thinking by many minds over years to come. Discovery and invention are themselves social processes made up of countless individual achieve- ments. Read today, this link between knowledge about social problems and social invention appears somewhat mechanical and politically naive. First, little attention is given to the exact mechanism that provides the transition be- tween the accumulation of knowledge and social invention. In his presi- dential address to the American Sociological Society in 1929, Ogburn (1929:5-6) outlined a simple model. Science, he said, is an accumulation of thousands of verified "bits and pieces of new knowledge. " He envisioned that this would occur through careful, patient, and methodical work, much of which could and would be carried out by "dull and uninteresting per- sons." Once in a while, "one of these little pieces of new knowledge
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30 NEIL J. SMELSER becomes of very great significance, and it is then called a great discovery or a great invention." Ogburn predicted that when the social sciences became truly cumulative, all social scientists would be statisticians, and social theory "will have no place in a scientific sociology, for it is not built upon sufficient data." This account of what constitutes a scientific discovery does not square with our more contemporary understanding. We appreciate that the "very great significance" of an empirical finding derives from the fact that it demands a substantial change in the way we formulate our general under- standing of the world- in short, in the way we formulate theory. Typically a "discovery" is the verification of findings that cannot be accommodated by an accepted scientific framework. Or, alternatively, a "discovery" in- volves a reformulation at a theoretical level, such that heretofore unrelated empirical findings can be related to one another and explained within a new framework or by a new principle. Put another way, scientific discovery always involves a relation between empirical findings and theoretical for- mulation, not an accumulation of empirical findings (Kuhn, 19701.6 Furthermore, with respect to "social inventions" a different set of processes needs to be invoked. Consider the social invention of universal suffrage- one of Ogburn's examples. It is an invention in the sense that it is a contrivance designed to facilitate the operation of the democratic process. But the role of knowledge in the crystallization of such an invention is a limited one. Much of the "knowledge" involved has not been scientific in the sense of having been proven or verified; it has been more in the nature of lore associated with democratic philosophies, which takes the form of assumptions about the workings of political influence and power. Furthermore, the dynamics of the invention were not the dynamics of assembling knowledge so much as the historical struggles of different kinds of classes and groups for access to the political systems of democracies. More generally, social inventions appear to be the invocation of estab- lished or imputed knowledge in relation to some desirable social goal or social value. Consider the historical "invention" of desegregated education by the United States Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. In that decision, justices cited a wide variety of social-science findings to the effect that separate facilities engender feelings of inferiority in blacks. 6For an earlier statement of the relations between empirical findings and theory in the social sciences, see Robert K. Merton's two essays, "The Bearing of Sociological Theory on Empirical Research" and "The Bearing of Empirical Research on Sociological Theory" (Melton, 1968:139- 171).
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THE ORB URN VISION FIFTY YEARS LATER 31 But as Judge David Bazelon (Eisenberg, 1969:374) argued, reliance on these findings might have misstated the true basis for the case: In 1896 the court had approved the '~separate but equal" doctrine. While the country might then have lacked the sophisticated studies available in 1954, any honest person would have conceded at the time of Plessy v. Ferguson that segregation undoubtedly would have made Negroes feel inferior. The assumption of inferiority was the rationale for the practice; no black man could help but perceive that separate train cars and separate schools kept him in his place. Since we already knew what Kenneth Clark and others told us, the public could justly ask of the Supreme Court in 1954, why the law had changed. The answer, of course, was that our values had changed. Plessy v. Ferguson was discarded not because social scientists told us that segregation contributed to feelings of inferiority, but because by 1954 enough people in this country believed what they did not in 1896 that to thus insult and emasculate black people was wrong, and intolerable, and therefore, a denial of the equal protection of the law to blacks. In the area of social inventions, as in other areas, the committee's in- sistence on the neutrality of scientific knowledge and on its separation from matters of opinion involved a cost. In this case the cost was to miss a great part of the intricate interplay between knowledge whether imputed or established-and the political and cultural dynamics of society. APPLICATION BY POLICY CHANGE Toward the end of its main report, the committee (p. [xxiii) noted with approval the "increasing penetration of social technology into public wel- fare work, public health, education, social work and the courts." In ad- dition, it called for the formation of groups through the Social Science Research Council to bring technical advice to decisionmakers, and perhaps the formation of a national advisory council to focus on "the basic social problems of the nation." We have seen, in the discussion immediately preceding, that to invoke the imagery of technology in the formation of social policies is both limiting and misleading. The same can be said when that imagery is carried over to the implementation of social policies. Two observations are in order on this score. The first has to do with the adequacy of knowledge in the name of which policies are implemented. The putative knowledge cited in the Brown v. Board of Education case was that integrated school facilities would lead to a decrease in feelings of inferiority on the part of blacks. Scores of studies on the self-esteem of black children in diverse settings tell us that so many contingencies affect self-esteem-class, neighborhood, the behavior of in- dividual teachers, the fortunes of the movement to improve conditions for
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32 NEIL J. SMELSER blacks in the larger society, to name a few that it is impossible to posit a single, direct link between type of schooling and the self-esteem of its pupils (Smeller and Smelser, 19811. Speaking more generally, most sci- entific knowledge of all sorts is organized in the form of contingent predictions, that is, connections between variables (such as government deficit-spending and rate of inflation, or type of educational arrangements and self-esteem), with other things held constant. This is the way knowledge is generated by holding various factors constant, whether by experimental or statistical manipulation, in order to establish precise causal linkages. But in the ongoing flow of social life, other things are not constant, and precise prediction of consequences is impossible because of the interaction among multiple forces. A second complexity arises through the fact that any kind of policy, when implemented, is likely to generate a variety of unanticipated side effects, not all of which are predictable or likely to be beneficial. Consider only one example, that of attempting to ameliorate the incidence of suicide in society. One feasible policy would be to attack intensively the social conditions of certain high-risk groups, such as the elderly, with the aim of reducing feelings of isolation, desertion, and despair. In implementing this kind of policy, a community might embark on a program of establishing senior citizen clubs as social centers, and making individual agencies, such as suicide prevention centers, more available to them. Integrating the elderly into more meaningful social communities might decrease the incidence of suicide. But in addition, it might facilitate the formation of more definite political groups among the elderly, which are traditionally antipathetic to educational programs that call for the passing of school bonds, as well as to community health programs such as the fluoridation of drinking water- to programs, that is, that represent the implementation of other social goals, usually considered also worthy by the planners sponsoring the suicide- prevention efforts. Knowledge of the diversity of consequences of different programs may in fact result in more intelligent setting of priorities in plan- ning. In any event, it provides a different and better model for planning than that of the direct application of bits of knowledge toward the solution of specific problems. SOCIAL AMELIORATION The last link in the chain of social process is the ultimate impact of knowledge on society's welfare. As indicated earlier, the committee (pp. xlii- xliii) was apprehensive about the trend toward higher divorce rates in American society; "our culture may be conducive to further increases in divorce unless programs are instituted to counteract this tendency." The
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THE OGB URN VlSlON FIFTY YEARS LATER problem arising for society is "how . . . to make marriage and the family meet more adequately the personality needs and aspirations of men and women and children." And in pointing the way to dealing with such a problem, the committee once again turned to the importance of knowledge: "the study of marriage and divorce may not only aid in stabilizing the family but may also help us on the road to happiness." My comments up to this point should indicate how many unstated, un- acknowledged, and contingent steps there are between the objective study of a social state of affairs and its improvement. But it should also be pointed out that "happiness" or improvement as a consequence of purposive plan- ning and programs is itself a contingent matter. Just as the Ogburnian vision of what constitutes a social problem rests on the committee's imagined consensus on values, so does its notion of amelioration. In areas where widespread consensus on values obtains in society for example, the health of the population-programs like mass immunization are likely to be un- controversial and widely regarded as ameliorative. When, however, such consensus is lacking, one group's amelioration is another group's deteri- oration. Even the Ogburn committee's invocation of the value of "family stability" as a consensual matter could be and has been challenged by those committed to communal and other arrangements believed to be superior to the traditional family. When consensus is lacking, moreover, debate comes to focus not only on the consequences of programs but on the relative legitimacy of the competing cultural values by which we judge those con- sequences. In this respect, the assessment of consequences is as deeply embedded in the political and cultural dynamics of a society as is the identification of social problems. 33 A CONCLUDING NOTE We end with a kind of paradox. Even though the Ogburn report seeks legitimacy mainly from the framework of positive science, its vision of the social process is characterized by a number of items of faith: faith in the capacity of objective knowledge to identify social problems, faith in the capacity of cumulative knowledge to result in social inventions, and faith in the capacity of those inventions to solve the social problems. That par- ticular set of faiths permitted the committee to be simultaneously naive and pretentious at least as judged by our contemporary understanding about We role of the behavioral and social sciences in social policy. The same set of faiths permitted the committee to define social and behavioral sci- entists as simultaneously disembodied from the political process and es- sential ingredients to that process. Such are the paradoxical consequences of the positivist-utilitarian view of the relations between science and society.
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34 NEIL J. SMELSER Today I believe we would acknowledge the tremendous importance and utility of the social sciences in the social and political life of the nation. In its first report (Adams et al., 1982), the Committee on Basic Research in the Behavioral and Social Sciences acknowledged this and pointed to three areas in particular: technical contributions in the information-generating process, such as sample surveys and standardized testing; changes in the way we do things, such as administer therapy, predict economic trends, and run organizations; and changes in the way we think about things such as poverty, race, social justice, and equity in society. Yet the present committee, mindful of the kinds of complexities and contingencies that have been touched upon in this discussion, regarded these not as utilitarian applications of bits of scientific knowledge, but rather as arising from and intertwined with the social purposes and cultural aspirations of Me nation as a whole. As a result of change in our Winking about the relations between science and society, I believe we have become, paradoxically, bow more sophisticated in our research design and measures and less pretentious in our aspirations Man we were 50 years ago. REFERENCES Adams, Robert McC., Smelser, Neil J., and Treiman, Donald J., eds. 1982 Behavioral and Social Science Research: A National Resource. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press. Bulmer, Martin 1983 The methodology of early social indicator research: William Fielding Ogburn and "Recent Social Trends. " Social Indicators Research 13 (2): 109- 130. Cannell, Charles F., and Kahn, Robert L. 1968 Interviewing. Pp. 526-595 in Gardner Lindzey and Elliot Aronson, eds., Handbook of Social Psychology. Vol. II. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley. Duffus, R. L. 1933 Whither? A survey of the nation's course. New York Times. January 8. Eisenberg, L. 1969 Judge David L. Bazelon. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 39:372-376. Hoover, Herbert 1952 The Memoirs of Herbert Hoover, the Cabinet and the Presidency, 1920-1933. New York: Macmillan. Karl, Barry D. 1969 Presidential planning and social science research: Mr. Hoover's experts. Perspectives in American History 3:347-409. 1974 Charles E. Merriam and the Study of Politics. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Kuhn, Thomas 1970 The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Mallery, Otto T. 1933 Review. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 166. Merton, Robert K. 1968 The bearing of sociological theory on empirical research. The bearing of empirical
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THE OGB URN VISION FIFTY YEARS LATER 35 research on sociological theory. Pp. 139-171 in Robert K. Merton, Social Theory and Social Structure. New York: Free Press. Myers, William Starr, ed. 1934 The State Papers and Other Public Writings of Herbert Hoover. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Doran & Co. Ogburn, William F. 1922 Social Change: With Respect to Culture and Original Nature. New York: B. W. Huebsch. Ogburn, William F. 1929 The folkways of a scientific sociology. Studies in Quantitative and Cultural Sociology. Washington, D.C.: Publications of the American Sociological Society 24:1-11. Orlans, Harold 1982 Social Scientists and the Presidency: From Wilson to Nixon. Unpublished draft dated 5/17/82. Parsons, Talcott 1937 The Structure of Social Action. New York: McGraw-Hill. President's Research Committee on Social Trends 1933 Recent Social Trends in the United States. New York: McGraw-Hill. Smelser, William T., and Smelser, Neil J. 1981 Group movements, sociocultural change, and personality. Pp. 625-652 in Morris Rosenberg and Ralph H. Turner, eds., Social Psychology: Sociological Perspectives. New York: Basic Books. Sorokin, Pitirim A. 1933 Recent social trends: A criticism. The Journal of Political Economy 41(2). Turner, Charles F., and Martin, Elizabeth, eds. 1984 Surveying Subjective Phenomena. 2 vole. Panel on Survey Measurement of Subjective Phenomena, Committee on National Statistics, National Research Council. New York: Russell Sage Foundation-Basic Books.
Representative terms from entire chapter: