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Our History

Sociology Faculty 1959

Sociology at the University of Michigan has a long and distinguished intellectual history. The campus was introduced to the emerging discipline through the teachings of faculty member John Dewey, the eminent philosopher, whose graduate courses in the last decade of the nineteenth century covered many of the now‐classic works in the field. One of Dewey’s students, Charles Horton Cooley taught the first class bearing the name sociology, teaching both Principles of Sociology and Problems of Sociology in 1894‐95. Although Cooley taught out of the more established political economy department, he was instrumental in laying the ground work for sociology at Michigan and beyond, becoming a co‐founder of the American Sociological Society and one of its early presidents.

Cooley had a major impact on the new discipline. He rejected the views of his American contemporaries who saw sociology as a branch of the natural sciences with the goal of discovering natural laws. Cooley’s lasting contributions include the concept of the “looking glass self,” the idea that society and the individual are interwoven and codetermining, or in his words, “twin‐born,” and his recognition of the inherently meaningful character of social practice. Sociology, for Cooley, was at once science, philosophy, and art. Under his leadership, Michigan was the only major American sociology department that was initiated on a non‐scientistic footing. 

Cooley never pushed to form a separate department of sociology during his lifetime, although he supervised the PhD dissertations of several scholars who went on to play major roles in sociology. Upon Cooley’s death in 1929, Roderick McKenzie was lured away from the University of Washington to become head of Michigan’s newly created department of sociology in 1930, which was granted budgetary autonomy from economics the following year. McKenzie introduced the human ecology perspective which would remain a cornerstone of the department’s strengths in the decades to follow. Against the backdrop of the Great Depression, sociology at Michigan grew dramatically during the 1930s, doubling its undergraduate enrollments, developing a more serious graduate curriculum, and expanding the size of its faculty.

Robert Cooley Angell

McKenzie’s successor as Chair in 1940 was Robert Cooley Angell (the nephew of C.H. Cooley) who presided over the department’s dramatic post‐war growth and transformation. Angell positioned sociology to capitalize on the two major developments shaping the national discipline. The first was influenced by an interdisciplinary and more explicitly comparative model of sociology, best represented at the time by Harvard’s department of “social relations,” which Angell sought to emulate at Michigan by hiring such outstanding comparative scholars as anthropologists Horace Miner and David Aberle, along with sociologists Guy Swanson, Gerhard Lenski, Morris Janowitz, Edward Laumann and others who contributed to the department’s leadership in comparative and macro sociology.

The second postwar development, spurred in part by the expansion of research funding from government and private foundations, was the introduction of more rigorous methods of data collection and analysis, which led in 1946 to the formation of the Survey Research Center, a precursor to the Institute for Social Research, still the world’s leading center for quantitative social scientific research. Driven by such distinguished hires as Theodor Newcomb, Rensis Likert, Leslie Kish, Angus Campbell, and Ronald Freedman, and with the addition a few years later of Philip Converse, Hubert Blalock and Otis Dudley Duncan, Michigan emerged after World War II as a leading center for survey research, social psychology, and quantitative methods.

Anchored solidly in both traditions of sociological scholarship, Michigan continued building over the next few decades a truly world‐class, methodologically diverse scholarly community that included such influential former faculty as Charles Tilly, Albert Reiss, Howard Schuman, Reynolds Farley, William Gamson, Mayer Zald, and William Sewell Jr. Current faculty have contributed additional historical and ethnographic methods to the department’s existing menu of research strategies while providing national leadership in several vital areas, including comparative international sociology, social demography, social theory, historical and cultural sociology, economic sociology, stratification, race and urban sociology, gender and family, and health.

Sociology Faculty 2017