Pure versus applied
Alongside the exclusion of women for being women, there was an issue about where the boundaries of sociology, as opposed to social policy, social work, home economics, charity work, socialism, and political campaigning, were to be drawn. The women of the Chicago School were a polluting, contaminating factor both because they studied topics which were defined as social policy, social work, and home economics and because they were campaigning activists, who wanted to work with labour organisations, anti-poverty campaigners, and socialists to change America. Florence Kelley corresponded with Engels until his death, Edith Abbott and Sophonisba Breckinridge were active in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Frances Kellor studied the ‘justice’ system in the American South. In the years when such ‘political’ and ‘radical’ causes were seen by the silverbacks as dangerous pollutions of a science, or would-be science, those who wanted to harness sociology to activisms had to be driven out.
There have also been fashions in what empirical topics are seen as legitimate for sociological enquiry. Some topics have been legitimate for sociological enquiry, then re-defined as not sociology, then re-defined into the disciplinary frame again. For example, no one reading this book would be surprised, or disconcerted, to see a publisher’s advertisement for a book called Food as a Factor in Student Life. It might be listed as a sociology book, or as one on higher education, but if it were listed as sociology we would not be startled. In 1960 or 1970 it might have raised eyebrows, because there was little or no sociological work
on food, or other aspects of consumption. In 2000 it would be seen as a perfectly plausible contribution to the discipline. In fact, that book was published in 1894 by two of the Chicago women Ellen Richards and Marion Talbot. It was sociology then, it could be sociology now: but between 1920 and 1970 it could not have been. In the purified ‘scientific’ discipline it was a research topic for home economics or social policy or education: not for sociology. Student anomie, yes: student diet, no.
However, there is a wider meaning to the term purity, which has deeper and greater explanatory power. Rossiter (1982, 1995) made a historical study of how American scientists and social scientists professionalised their disciplines during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. To create the disciplines as we recognise them today, the men purified them. They excluded amateurs, those without formal qualifications, women, ethnic minorities, and polymaths. By creating the learned societies, and the departments in the top universities as mutual citadels, they excluded those who were not paid lecturers and researchers, those without doctorates, and other undesirables. A chemist became a paid expert with a PhD in Chemistry from one of the few doctoral-granting universities who was a member of the self – perpetuating American Chemical Society. Rossiter shows in detail how this was done by physical and biological scientists, and by social scientists such as anthropologists and sociologists. A pure academic discipline, like a profession, had to police its boundaries; control its entrance, and be free of women, ethnic minorities and amateurs. The purification strategies are a classic example of Mary Douglas’s (1966, 1970, 1982) ideas about purity and danger, and, in her later work, group and grid. The exclusion of W. I. Thomas for his political (and possibly sexual) activities, and of the Chicago women, can be seen as classic exclusionary tactics undertaken as part of the professionalisa – tion of American sociology. In that light, the histories of American sociology, without any awkward women, are the heroic origin myths of a discipline. Cluttering the heroic myths by adding women into the legend, especially if those women disputed the boundaries of the sacred kingdom or promised land, merely damages the deviant bard. Rewards come from repeating the known story which gains prizes for the teller of tales, while complicating the legend merely marginalises the teller. Deegan’s work has only been written into the origin myth by Abbott (1999) and he is selfconsciously arguing an unpopular and uncanonical line.
Britain has not yet produced an equivalent to Deegan about the women at LSE or Leicester, but when one is done, the author will be ridiculed, the scholarship ignored, and the heroic origin legends will continue unabated. Discovering, rediscovering or trying to reinstate founding mothers is like washing the kitchen floor. It has to be done,
but no one important ever notices, and if the result is loudly proclaimed, the author or floor washer is despised as a neurotic obsessive.
The work of Deegan, and the others who have challenged the malestream histories of Chicago, is a thought-provoking example of the search for founding mothers. It is a vital part of building feminist sociology, but those who do it are not thanked or revered for the labour. Britain needs its Deegan, and it needs a McDonald (1994) and a Lengermann and Niebrugge-Brantley (1998) to search out and champion its founding mothers.