Applied Sociology

What are your thoughts on the readings? Do you see an applied tradition running through the discipline, and if so, can you give an example?

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APPLIED SOCIOLOGY

HARRY PERLSTADT

Michigan State University, East Lansing

Applied sociology is the oldest and most general
term for what Lester F. Ward (1903) identified
more than 100 years ago as “the means and meth-

ods for the artificial improvement of social conditions on
the part of man and society as conscious and intelligent
agents” (p. vii). Applied sociology uses sociological
knowledge and research skills to gain empirically based
knowledge to inform decision makers, clients, and the gen-
eral public about social problems, issues, processes, and
conditions so that they might make informed choices and
improve the quality of life (Rossi and Whyte 1983; Steele,
Scarisbrick-Hauser, and Hauser 1999). In its broadest
sense applied sociology encompasses evaluation research,
needs assessment, market research, social indicators, and
demographics. It would also include directed sociological
research in medicine, mental health, complex organi-
zations, work, education, and the military to mention but
a few.

Today, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, this
concept of applied sociology fits nicely with the National
Institutes of Health’s (Zerhouni 2003) and the National
Institute of Mental Health’s (2000) new funding initiatives
in translational research, which require that scientists tie
their research to practical applications (Dingfelder 2005).
Translational research aims at converting basic biological
and behavioral science research into forms that can address
pressing issues in health care diagnosis, treatment, and
delivery. By extension, this means that applied sociologi-
cal research will produce descriptions, analyses, and find-
ings that can be translated into ideas and lessons learned
from previous activities or programs to be used by action
organizations, including citizens groups, foundations,

business, labor, and government. It is likely that in the near
future, more public and private funding will continue to
shift from basic to translational or applied research and
from researcher-initiated grants to funder-defined con-
tracts as universities become more engaged in community-
based research and application (Petersen and Dukes 2004).

Early in the twentieth century, Ward (1906:9) separated
applied sociology from civic and social reform. The rela-
tionship between applied sociology, on the one hand, and
deliberate interventions based in sociological reasoning by
social engineers and clinical sociologists, on the other, has
been a source of contention ever since. This chapter will
focus on the history and development of applied sociology
as a research endeavor undertaken on behalf of clients or
funding agencies in contrast to the more direct interven-
tionist approach of clinical sociology.

This chapter divides the past 150 years into four peri-
ods: (1) from the origins of sociology through the end of
World War I—1850 to 1920; (2) the struggle between aca-
demic sociology and applied sociology—1920 to 1940; (3)
the growth of federally sponsored research from the
Second World War through the end of the War on
Poverty—1940 to 1980; and (4) the emergence of a more
independent and professional applied sociology since
1980.

ORIGINS OF APPLIED
SOCIOLOGY: 1850 TO 1920

Auguste Comte (1798–1857), who created sociology,
divided it into social statics, the study of the conditions and

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preconditions of social order, and social dynamics, the
study of human progress and evolution. Comte ([1854,
1896] 1961) wrote that the statical view of society is the
basis of sociology but that the dynamical view is not only
the more interesting of the two but more philosophical,
since social dynamics would study the laws of the rise and
fall of societies and furnish the true theory of progress for
political practice. Comte (Barnes 1948a:101) envisioned a
corps of positivist priests trained as sociologists, who
would not possess any temporal power but rather would
influence through teaching and provide informed direction
to public opinion. They would impart useful scientific
knowledge and social advice on all aspects of civil life.
They would suggest action to the civil authorities but
would never undertake such action on their own responsi-
bility or initiative. It appears that Comte’s applied sociolo-
gists would be neither basic researchers nor social
activists/interventionists but rather occupy a translational
role between the two.

In contrast, Herbert Spencer (1820–1903) argued
against any form of artificial interference and that sociolo-
gists should convince the public that society must be free
from the meddling of governments and reformers (Coser
1977:97–102). He was very skeptical of the possibility of
generating progress through legislation since such legisla-
tion is not based on the widest possible knowledge of the
sociological principles involved (Barnes 1948b:134).
Spencer was a strong advocate of laissez faire and coined
the phrase “survival of the fittest” several years before
Darwin wrote Origin of the Species. As a result, he is con-
sidered the founder of Social Darwinism. Spencer thought
societies evolved from coercive militarism to peaceful
industrialism in which individuals are free to move about
and change their social relations without destroying social
cohesion. The change from militarism to industrialism is
an evolutionary process that depends on the rate of inte-
gration, and the slower the rate, the more complete and sat-
isfactory the evolution (Giddings 1909, cited in Tilman
2001). Therefore, evolution is a wholly spontaneous
process that artificial human interference could in no way
hasten but might fatally obstruct or divert (Barnes
1948b:129).

Within academic circles, one of Spencer’s early sup-
porters was William Graham Sumner (1840–1910).
Sumner introduced the first serious course in sociology
in the United States at Yale University in 1875, adopting
Spencer’s The Study of Sociology as the text. Sumner pro-
moted a sociology marked by conservative politics,
descriptive accounts of societal evolution, and the nature
of normative systems that define and control behavior
(Perdue 1986). In “The Absurd Effort to Make the World
Over,” Sumner ([1894] 1911) strongly supported the idea
that social evolution was almost entirely an automatic,
spontaneous process that cannot be extensively altered by
social effort (Barnes 1948c:160). He favored laissez faire
policies and saw state activity as “ignorant social doctors”
telling the Forgotten Man, that is, the hard working middle

class, what to do for those who had failed in the struggle
for existence (Barnes 1948c:164).

Spencer was popularized in the United States through
the efforts of Professor Edward Livingston Youmans, a
chemist, educator, writer, and eventually an important
agent and editor for D. Appleton and Company (Versen
2006). In 1860, after reading the prospectus for Principles
of Psychology, Youmans arranged for the first American
publication of Spencer’s works, and in 1872, became the
founding editor of The Popular Science Monthly, which
promoted science generally and evolution in particular. For
Youmans (1872), science was not limited to natural and
biological phenomena but included the intelligent observa-
tion of the characters of people, the scrutiny of evidence in
regard to political theories, the tracing of cause and effect
in the sequences of human conduct, and the strict inductive
inquiry as to how society has come to be what it is.

Spencer’s ideas on evolution, antimilitarism, and peace-
ful industrialism became the focus of some adult education
courses in the Second Unitarian Church in Brooklyn, New
York. Youmans was acquainted with its minister, John
White Chadwick. This group eventually formed the
Brooklyn Ethical Association, and one of its objectives
was “the scientific study of ethics, politics, economics,
sociology, religion and philosophy, and also of physics and
biology as related thereto” (Brooklyn Ethical Association,
Certificate of Incorporation, cited in Versen 2004:9;
Skilton 2005:4). The Association devoted its 1881–82 ses-
sions to Spencer’s The Study of Sociology. Within 10 years,
the Association created a class of Honorary Corresponding
Members, which included Herbert Spencer himself;
Thomas H. Huxley ([1893] 2004), President of the British
Royal Society, who argued that humans created an ethical
process that deviated from, and worked counter to, the nat-
ural course of evolution; Minot J. Savage (1886), Unitarian
minister in Chicago and Boston and author of Social
Problems; Andrew Dickson White, historian and first pres-
ident of Cornell University; Eliza A. Youmans, a pioneer in
the field of botany and sister of Edward Youmans; and
Joseph Le Conte, geologist, President of the American
Association for the Advancement of Science in 1891, and
author of “Race Problems in the South” (1892), published
in the Association’s Man and the State.

In 1892, the Brooklyn Ethical Association published
Man and the State: Studies in Applied Sociology and in
1893, Factors in American Civilization: Studies in Applied
Sociology. This may be the first use of the term applied
sociology in the title of a book. The association considered
sociology to be the science of social evolution and sought
to apply “evolutionary philosophy and ethics to the study
and discussion of the pressing problems of politics and
statesmanship to come before the people of the United
States” (Skilton 2005:4).

The preface to Man and State (Brooklyn 1892:v–vi)
reaffirmed Spencer’s views that societies grew in a regular
and orderly way according to inherent laws that were not
mechanically imposed. It noted that while a priori schemes

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of social reformers can stimulate thought, promote altruis-
tic endeavor, and educate the individual, enacting these
schemes into legislation would not abolish poverty or
crime, or speed the renovation of society. The preface saw
the role of sociology as a safer and wiser way of individ-
ual enlightenment and moral education. Sociology would
subject the schemes of social reformers to the operations
of the principle of natural selection, identify what is
instructive and good in each, propose practical forward
steps, and substitute the method of evolution for that of
violent and spasmodic change, thereby, slowly promoting
the permanent welfare of societies and individuals.

Lester F. Ward (1841–1913), who brought the term
applied sociology into the discipline, spent most of his
career as a paleontologist with the United States Geological
Survey, joining the Sociology Department of Brown
University in 1906 when he was 65. His early work focused
on the relation of fossil plants to geological location in strata
and this undoubtedly reflected an interest in evolution. In
1876, he published “The Local Distribution of Plants and
the Theory of Adaptation” in Popular Science Monthly,
which brought him to the attention of its editor, Edward
Youmans. In addition, Ward’s mentor, the noted geologist
and explorer John Wesley Powell, wrote to Youmans in sup-
port of Dynamic Sociology or Applied Social Science, which
was published in 1883 (Ward 1883:iii–v; Scott 1976:29).

Dynamic Sociology was the first major American work
on sociology and although not intended as a text, was on
the reading lists of early sociology courses. Ward differed
sharply from Spencer and Sumner on laissez-faire individ-
ualism, and he argued for the efficacy of government as an
agent of social reform, if it could be put on a scientific
basis and purged of its corruption and stupidity (Barnes
1948d:182). As a career government scientist with a legal
background, Ward understandably took up Comte’s idea of
sociocrats, believing that government can directly improve
the conditions of society in a conscious or “telic” manner
if the legislators will only become social scientists or have
gained knowledge of the nature and means of controlling
the social forces and be willing to apply this knowledge
(Barnes 1948d:183 citing Dynamics). Scientific lawmak-
ing would be based on a greater use of social statistics
(Ward 1877), with sociology as the chief source of infor-
mation that is essential for any extensive development of
scientific government (Barnes 1948d:185).

On the other hand, Ward (1906:10) was very skeptical
about the efforts of utopian social reform and socialist
movements that favored radical and abrupt changes in
social structures. He was a “meliorist” who thought that
much could be accomplished through education of both
the public and government leaders. Ward (1906) wrote,

Applied sociology is not government or politics, nor civic or
social reform. It does not itself apply sociological principles;
it only seeks to show how they might be. The most that it
claims to do is to lay down certain general principles as guides
to social and political action. (Pp. 9–10)

He added, “A sociologist, who takes sides on current
events and the burning questions of the hour, abandons his
science and becomes a politician.” Ward came to this
mainly as a reaction to Spencer’s writing, which Ward
thought was prejudiced, not scientific, and not in harmony
with Spencer’s system as a whole and well before Max
Weber ([1913] 1978) called for value-free sociology.

Youmans was disappointed with the initial sales of
Dynamic Sociology or Applied Social Science and sus-
pected that the title, which was drawn directly from
Comte’s classification, was too close to Spencer’s
Descriptive Sociology, which in turn derived from Comte’s
social statics (Ward 1897:v). Ward, who would become the
first president of the American Sociological Society (later
renamed American Sociological Association, or ASA),
was a participant in many intellectual and scientific
societies (Odum 1951), including the Philosophical
Society and Cosmos Club in Washington, D.C. (Scott
1976) and the Metaphysical Club (Menand 2001:301). He
may have come across the term applied sociology as a
result of attending a meeting of the Ethical Association, at
which Dr. Felix Adler, professor of Hebrew and Oriental
Literature at Cornell University and founder of the ethical
culture movement, among others, dealt with different
methods of relieving human suffering and promoting
human welfare. Ward (1906:28) wrote that this congress
(possibly of all the ethical societies in America that was
held in St. Louis in 1896) talked applied sociology from
first to last. He was familiar with the new ethics that
inquired into social conditions and sought to introduce
modifications that would prevent existing evils and render
their recurrence impossible (Ward 1906:29).

This may have included the Brooklyn Ethical
Association’s two volumes of Studies in Applied
Sociology. By the early 1890s, Ward (1903:vii, viii, 6) also
knew that several European sociologists were using the
term pure sociology. He may have first used the terms pure
and applied sociology in the titles of two summer school
courses at the University of Chicago in 1897, which he
repeated at the University of West Virginia in 1898 and
then at Stanford University in 1899. He published Pure
Sociology in 1903 and Applied Sociology in 1906.

Ward himself did not do any sociological fieldwork or
empirical research. Reformers at Hull House in Chicago
did the earliest applied research in the United States.
Despite his dislike for social reformers, Ward would prob-
ably have been pleased that it was done primarily by a
group of women since he was a strong advocate of gender
equality (Odum 1951). Like Ward, Jane Addams was crit-
ical of socialism and abstract theories that impeded social
learning by their inflexibility and tendency to divide
people. She also thought that science could guide social
reform through the patient accumulation of facts about the
lives of the working poor.

The key activist researcher was Florence Kelley
(1859–1932), the daughter of a U.S. congressman, who
studied at Cornell University and the University of Zurich

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and, in 1887, translated Engel’s The Conditions of the
Working Class in England. She came to Chicago in 1891
with her three children and became a resident of Hull
House. Kelley, Addams and the other Hull House activists
were convinced that once the overwhelming suffering of
the poor was documented and publicized, meaningful
reforms would be quickly put into place (Brown 2001).

In 1892, the Illinois Bureau of Labor Statistics hired
Kelley to investigate the “sweating” system in the Chicago
garment industry. Then, in 1893, when the U.S. Congress
commissioned a nationwide survey to investigate the slums
of great cities and assess the extent of poverty in urban
areas, she was selected to lead the survey effort in Chicago.
Kelley and others conducted a door-to-door survey in the
Hull House district and, following the lead of Charles
Booth’s maps of poverty in London, created maps showing
the nationality, wages, and employment history of each
resident. Published in 1895, The Hull-House Maps and
Papers offered no explanation for the causes of poverty
and social disorder.

For Addams, practice was a priority over theory
(Schram 2002). In the preface, she claimed that this was
not a sociological investigation to test or build theory but a
constructive work that could help push the progressive
agenda to address the injustices of poverty. As such, it
simply recorded certain phases of neighborhood life and
presented detailed information that might prompt a
humanitarian response from the government (Brown
2001). Kelley authored two chapters, one on the sweating
system and another with Alzina P. Stevens on wage-
earning children. Interestingly, the authors of two
other chapters, Charles Zeublin, “The Chicago Ghetto”
and Josefa Humpal Zeman, “The Bohemian People
in Chicago,” were forerunners of the Chicago School
of Sociology of the 1920s. Zeublin joined the faculty of
the University of Chicago Sociology Department a few
years later.

Kelley earned a law degree from Northwestern
University and in 1899 moved to New York City to head
the National Consumer’s League (NCL) where she worked
with Josephine Goldmark, director of research at NCL, to
prepare the successful “Brandeis brief” defense of 10-hour
workday legislation for women in Muller v. Oregon
(1908), which like the Brown v. Board of Education (1954)
school desegregation case almost 50 years later, used soci-
ological evidence to support its case (Sklar 1985; Deegan
1986).

Jane Addams (1860–1935) followed her own applied
and activist track in Chicago. Throughout her career, she
maintained a tenuous relationship with academic sociol-
ogy. In 1892, she taught a summer course on applied phil-
anthropy and ethics with sociologist Franklin Giddings,
and, in 1893, presided over a two-day conference at the
Chicago World’s Fair sponsored by the International
Parliament of Sociology. She declined at least two offers to
join the Sociology Department at Chicago, apparently over
concerns about the limits on speech and political activism

associated with university settings. Addams, however, did
become a charter member of the American Sociological
Society, was an invited speaker at several meetings, and
published in the American Journal of Sociology (AJS) as
well as other scholarly and popular journals. Two of her
books (Adams [1902] 1964, [1916] 2002) received favor-
able reviews in the AJS (Deegan 1986).

But by 1920, a combination of backlash against social
activism, the development of social theory to explain the
causes as well as the effects of social problems, and gen-
der discrimination marginalized Addams and other women
sociologists from regular academic departments into what
would become schools of social work (Deegan 1986).

If Addams and other social workers charted an inde-
pendent course, Seba Eldridge (1885–1953) worked in
social services before discovering sociology. Initially
trained as a civil engineer, he came to New York City
around 1907. He held a part-time position with the Bureau
of Advice and Information of the New York Charity
Organization Society investigating and appraising civic
and social agencies appealing for aid and occasionally
resided at various East Side settlement houses, becoming
familiar with the conditions of the people in the neighbor-
hoods (Ream 1923; Clark 1953; McCluggage 1955).
Eldridge knew of the work of Felix Adler and the Ethical
Culture movement. In 1911, he began graduate study at
Columbia University in social philosophy and finished his
dissertation under John Dewey in 1925. But he also stud-
ied with both Franklin Giddings and William F. Ogburn
and learned of their interests in scientific sociology, quan-
titative methods, and objectivity. From 1913 to1915, he
served as secretary of the Department of Social Betterment
of the Brooklyn Bureau of Charities.

Eldridge (1915) wrote Problems of Community Life; an
Outline of Applied Sociology in which he classified New
York’s social problems according to the attention given
them by reformers and the general public along with the
general plans that various philanthropies, social reform
groups, and municipal agencies put forward for the better
organization of reform activities in the city. His sugges-
tions for reform were few and emerged from the logic of
the situations under analysis rather than from partisan
interests (he was politically active on the side of anti-
Tammany forces). In 1921, Eldridge joined the sociology
faculty at the University of Kansas where he remained for
the rest of his life. Much of his subsequent work focused
on methods of improving the quality of citizenship, and he
was well ahead of his time in advocating that social
science departments should give students actual practice in
the skills of citizenship through participation in commu-
nity activities.

Not only was sociology being applied in social welfare
and social policy, but it also gained an early toehold in
industry. In January 1914, Henry Ford created a “profit
sharing” plan that would pay workers up to $5 a day, when
the average wage for an unskilled automobile worker was
$2.40. The “profit sharing” was not a Taylorist scientific

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management bonus for additional quality work and was
not directly tied to Ford Motor Company profits. Rather, it
depended on workers maintaining good habits and taking
care of their families and dependants. This was a radical
concept and challenged the general belief that a sharp
increase in the wages would have a bad effect because the
workers would spend the additional money on drinking
and gambling. Ford, however, wanted every worker to have
a comfortable home and be able to own a Ford automobile.
To select workers for the program and monitor their behav-
ior as well as test this “theory,” he created a “Sociology
Department” within Ford Motor Company (Loizides and
Sonnad 2004).

The Department was headed by John R. Lee who was
asked to identify which workers were qualified to partici-
pate in the “profit sharing” and then help the others to
become qualified. This meant gathering information from
the workers, and occasionally friends or neighbors, on
their background, family situation, financial state, and per-
sonal habits through informal, semistructured interviews.
Recorded data included basic demographics; financial
information, including life insurance and bank name, loca-
tion and balance; and health information, including family
doctor and habits such as smoking or drinking. In early
1914, investigators and interpreters, selected from among
existing Ford employees, were highly visible as they drove
Ford automobiles to the homes of the workers who were to
be interviewed. The result was that 60 percent of the work-
ers qualified for the “profit sharing” (Loizides and Sonnad
2004).

However, the investigators were aggressive and some
questions were intrusive. In addition, many non-English
speaking workers did not qualify, possibly because of
translation difficulties, and they and their families were
angry. (The cause of these negative reactions would be
recalled in the mid-1930s when Ford adamantly opposed
unionization). Lee then conducted a second phase, in the
spring of 1914, to verify the initial findings and use better-
prepared translators. He told the investigators not to go
into a home in a way that they would not want someone to
come into theirs and cautioned them about delving into
strictly personal matters. At the end of this phase, 69 per-
cent of the workers were eligible. The company then began
to Americanize its immigrant work force. In May 1914, it
opened the Ford Language School, which taught English
to workers after the first shift. Classes also stressed
American ways and customs, encouraged thriftiness, and
good personal and work habits. By the end of 1914, 87 per-
cent of the workers qualified for the “profit sharing”
(Loizides and Sonnad 2004).

In 1916, Lee left Ford to develop the field of personnel
management. Lee (1916) wrote a paper on the Ford profit-
sharing system for the Annals of the American Academy of
Political and Social Sciences. About 10 years later,
Shenton (1927:198) noted in his Practical Application of
Sociology that “certain businessmen have already made
beginnings in sociological research and a number are

conducting experiments under the observation of trained
sociologists.”

ACADEMIC VERSUS
APPLIED SOCIOLOGY: 1920 TO 1940

In 1916, sociology students at the University of Southern
California started a journal, Studies in Sociology, but in
October 1921, they changed its name to Journal of Applied
Sociology. Alice Fesler (1921) explained that the name was
taken from Ward’s threefold classification of pure sociol-
ogy, applied sociology, and social reform. The journal car-
ried short pieces by students and well-known sociologists.
A 1924 issue included “The Major Ills of the Social
Survey” by Seba Eldridge, “A Race Relations Survey” by
Robert E. Park, and “Social Psychology of Fads” by
Emory Bogardus. But in 1927, the JAS was combined with
the Bulletin of Social Research to become Sociology and
Social Research. An editorial note explained that since
productive research was the very basis of applied sociol-
ogy, the journal would now publish significant pieces of
research, although descriptions and analyses of social
problems and the process, whereby they are reduced and
solved, would still be printed. The journal would combine
research and practice (Lucas 1927).

World War I marked the beginning of the end for the
Progressive Era of social reforms to improve the lives of
workers and immigrants, to conserve natural resources,
and to make government more effective and less corrupt.
In the social sciences, the acceptance of statistical thinking
and quantification spurred the emergence of scientific
methods, which in turn supported a growing dominance of
the academic discipline over practical sociology and social
activism. Social work was considered to be a technique
and an art, not a science (Shenton 1927). In contrast,
applied sociology was a science that could contribute to
the development of an objective description of social prob-
lems and an understanding of their causes (Bossard 1932)
and could be used to guide social planning and social engi-
neering (Odum 1934). Applied sociology would attempt to
keep an even keel of objective, value-free, social research
amidst cross-currents of political ideology and social
activism.

In 1916, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, a former
Princeton professor of political science, supported a
request by the National Academy of Sciences to create a
National Research Council (NRC) to organize research
and secure the cooperation of military and civilian agen-
cies as a measure of national preparedness (Cochrane
1978). In 1918, after the United States entered the war,
Wilson (1918) issued an executive order under which the
NRC was

to stimulate research in the mathematical, physical and
biological sciences, and in the application of these sciences to
engineering, agriculture, medicine and other useful arts, with

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the object of increasing knowledge, of strengthening the
national defense, and of contributing in other ways to the
public welfare.

(Social sciences would not be explicitly added until
George H. Bush did so in a January 1993 executive order.)

In 1921, Congress passed the national origins immigra-
tion Quota Act that discouraged immigration from eastern
and southern Europe. The next year, the NRC asked for
social science representation on a study of human migra-
tion (Rhoades 1981). The sociologist member of the
Committee on the Scientific Problems of Human
Migration was Mary Abby van Kleeck, the director of the
Russell Sage Foundation’s Department of Industrial
Studies. Van Kleeck was a pioneer in industrial sociology,
having conducted studies of unorganized workers and
sweatshop labor. Other sociologists who attended a spon-
sored conference on migration, included Edith Abbott,
Henry Fairchild, William Ogburn, and Robert Park
(Wissler 1929).

On taking office in 1929, President Herbert Hoover
established the President’s Research Committee on Social
Trends in the hope that social issues and problems could be
scrutinized in the rational manner that had characterized
his earlier efforts that reduced domestic consumption of
food by 15 percent without rationing during World War I
and his organization of flood relief work and health
improvement in 1927 (Odum 1933; Volti 2004; Hoover
Archives 2005). The Rockefeller Foundation funded it for
three years at $560,000, and William F. Ogburn
(1886–1950), who coined the phrase “cultural lag,” was
named study director (Rhoades 1981). He would also serve
as director of the Consumers Advisory Board of the
National Recovery Administration (NRA).

In his 1929 ASS Presidential address, Ogburn (1930)
declared that “sociology as a science is not interested in
making the world a better place in which to live.” On the
surface this appears to be a rejection of Ward’s ameliora-
tion and a revival of Sumner’s laissez-faire position. But
Ogburn’s main purpose was to ensure that scientific meth-
ods would be the basis for applied research and to distance
it from ethics, religion, journalism, and propaganda. Like
Ward, he did not believe that the sociologist as scientist
should hold office or lead movements. Ogburn encouraged
sociologists to be wherever data on significant social prob-
lems were to be found: on the staff of the courts, in
factories, at political party headquarters, and in community
centers. He wanted the sociologist to be there to discover
new knowledge and relationships rather than as an execu-
tive, leader, or social worker who puts to use the informa-
tion which the scientific sociologist furnishes. He even
predicted that a great deal of research would be done out-
side of universities by government, trade unions, employ-
ers’ associations, civic bodies, political parties, and social
service organizations. Ogburn recognized that this
research would be done for a specific purpose to prove a
particular hypothesis or to gain a desired end. He asserted

that to do this, the researchers should be free to follow the
evidence and that they therefore must be sharply distin-
guished from the executives or policymakers.

This was already happening. The most well-known pri-
vate sector applied research began in April 1927 at the
Western Electric Plant in Hawthorne, Illinois. It would cul-
minate with the publication of Management and the
Worker (Roethlisberger and Dixon 1939), which described
worker behaviors and interactions in the experimental
Relay Assembly Test Room and the Bank Wiring
Observation Room. A few years later in 1933, J. L.
Moreno, in collaboration with Helen Hall Jennings, began
consulting at the New York State Training School for Girls
in Hudson, New York, where he developed his sociometric
system and began the Sociometric Review, which was
renamed Sociometry.

Ogburn also drew an interesting distinction between
sociologists who are research scientists and social engi-
neers who, like physicians, are not scientists but who apply
reliable scientific procedures and relatively exact knowl-
edge. The concept of social engineering was developed by
William Tolman ([1909] 2005), who thought that industri-
alists should assume more social responsibility for their
workers and should hire social engineers to be the primary
intermediary between the industrialist and the employees.
Andrew Carnegie liked the idea and wrote an introduction
to the book. Tolman also advocated that employers become
involved with the workers and their families through pro-
grams for social insurance, profit sharing, and savings
(Östlund 2003). These ideas may have led Henry Ford to
set up the “Sociology Department” to support his “profit
sharing” plan and John Lee to leave Ford and start person-
nel management.

But the term social engineering was about to take on an
ominous and decidedly negative connotation. In 1928,
Stalin introduced the first Soviet five-year plan, and the
Third Reich would soon adopt social engineering and use
applied urban and rural sociology in their plans for the
reorganization of an expanded Germany and the expulsion
and annihilation of the populations of conquered territories
(Klingemann 1992). These developments were noted by
several American sociologists, including Robert K. Merton
(1936), who advocated that scientists repudiate the appli-
cation of utilitarian norms and quipped that “an economy
of social engineers is no more conceivable or practicable
than an economy of laundrymen” (p. 900).

In 1934, Social Forces asked 23 prominent sociologists
to contribute to a Round Table Symposium to address
questions such as “What is the role of sociology in current
social reconstruction?” Arthur E. Wood (1934) recounted
that Charles Cooley said that in his early days he had the
greatest difficulty in trying to tell his colleagues the differ-
ence between sociology and socialism. Borrowing terms
from William James, Wood then identified three types of
sociologists: (1) the tough minded who are all for objec-
tivity but sit on the sidelines when it comes to the hard con-
tests over practical issues; (2) the tender minded or welfare

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sociologists who come from a background of religion or
social work and tinker around the edges without much
knowledge or insight into the nature of the structure which
they would change; and (3) the radicals, that is, those
active in partisan or revolutionary movements, who have
an analysis of the social order and a blue print of what
should be done but whose strength lies in their dogmatism
which does not qualify them as social scientists. Without
using the term applied sociology, Wood concluded that
sociology could use descriptive analysis of social struc-
tures and processes involving critical evaluations to guide
the tendencies of social change in the interest of reform.

The issue of the relationship between academic sociol-
ogy and applied sociology in its various forms was part of
a five-year struggle within the American Sociological
Society over what Marklund (2005) calls the scientific
detachment versus political involvement dilemma or as
Stuart A. Queen (1934), who worked for the American Red
Cross and the Detroit Community Fund as well as teaching
sociology at Kansas and Washington University, put it,
“How to steer between the Scylla of academic isolation
and the Charybdis of partisan activity.” (p. 207–208).

At the 1931 annual meeting of the American
Sociological Society, Maurice Parmelee, an early behavior-
ist and criminologist, Robert MacIver, and Pitirim Sorokin
among others, distributed a memorandum in which they
claimed that the programs and publications of the Society
were devoted in considerable part to practical rather than to
scientific problems, that as a result the public has the
impression that the Society is a religious, moral, and social
reform organization rather than a scientific society, and that
the Society has become in large part a society of applied
sociology. To remedy this, they proposed that voting
members have a higher university degree in sociology and
be engaged in sociological research, writing, and teaching
and that the Society assume control of the official journal, at
the time the American Journal of Sociology controlled by
the Chicago Sociology Department (Rhoades 1981).
Martindale (1976) interpreted this as a conflict between the
more populist and progressive midwestern departments that
were receptive to Ward’s Comtean view of science as social
reconstruction and the more academically conservative east-
ern departments linked to Sumner and Social Darwinism.

In 1934, the Society’s Committee on Scope of Research
reported that New Deal and other social welfare agencies
were using sociological research for the solution of practi-
cal problems. It recommended a closer integration of soci-
ologists with the sociological work of government, a more
complete and discriminating canvass of research in
progress and an emphasis on the region as the unit of
research because of developments in social planning. Two
years later, in 1936, the Committee on Opportunities for
Trained Sociologists recommended the creation of a new
permanent committee for the promotion of the profes-
sional (as opposed to the disciplinary) interests of sociolo-
gists. The new committee would get sociological training
and field experience recognized as a qualification or

substitute qualification for certain Federal and state civil
service positions, expand graduate training in sociology to
meet the need for equipping students for technical posi-
tions, and involve sociology in state planning commissions
and the reorganization of state welfare systems, as well as
publicize sociology (Rhoades 1981). The Society, how-
ever, did not take up these recommendations. Applied soci-
ology was set adrift in stormy seas as the academics opted
for a narrower disciplinary and scientific learned society
and the reformers moved into administrative positions in
New Deal agencies.

FEDERAL FUNDING FOR
APPLIED SOCIOLOGY: 1940 TO 1980

Applied sociology received a substantial boost from World
War II and then the War on Poverty. In both cases, research
and observations collected in natural settings for applied
purposes would generate new knowledge and contribute to
sociological theories and concepts, as had been called for
by Ogburn (1930) in his Society presidential address. Fifty
years later, Peter Rossi (1980) in his ASA presidential
address noted that many pieces of client-initiated applied
work would, over time, be presented in the sociological lit-
erature as primarily basic research.

In November 1941, the War Department established a
Research Branch in the Information and Education
Division to provide the army command quickly and accu-
rately with facts about the attitudes of soldiers. Samuel
Stouffer (1900–1960) became the director of the Troop
Attitude Program and with the assistance of more than 100
sociologists, seven of whom would serve as presidents of
the ASA, conducted more than 200 surveys during the war
years with more than half a million soldiers. Topics cov-
ered included practices associated with trench foot, what
articles were read in Yank Magazine, determining attitudes
toward promotion and job assignments in the military, the
attitudes of Negro soldiers, and the point system for per-
sonnel demobilization after the war (Bowers 1967).

In December 1942, a compendium of troop-attitude stud-
ies was published for limited army staff distribution, but
each succeeding issue was more widely distributed, eventu-
ally down to the company level. Stouffer saw the research
branch as doing an engineering job, not a scientific one. The
reports not only emphasized that problems could be treated
at the local command level but also that they were of value
in planning and policy activities, for example, estimates of
the number of veterans who would go to college if federal
aid were provided led to the GI Bill and accurately predicted
the actual postwar experience. Nevertheless Stouffer noted
that the channels of communication between the policymak-
ers and the actual study directors in the Branch were often
very unsatisfactory and the potential effectiveness in policy
making of some of the research was lost (Bowers 1967).

Stouffer’s applied research efforts, however, would
make an impact on sociological theory and methods,

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initially in the four volumes of The American Soldier, and
then in extensive secondary analyses published in
Continuities in Social Research: Studies in the Scope and
Methods of “The American Soldier” (Merton and
Lazarsfeld 1950). Chapters by Hans Speier, Edward Shils,
Robert Merton, and Alice Kitt (Rossi) supported and
developed theories and understandings of primary groups,
reference groups, and military organization. Also working
for the Research Branch was Louis Guttman who made
significant contributions to attitude research, particularly
the technique, which bears his name, for demonstrating the
unidimensionality of scales based on a small number of
items. Further study of its properties by Lazarsfeld led to
latent content analysis. Finally, a number of sociologists,
including John Useem, George C. Homans, Ralph Turner,
Morris Janowitz, and Edward Shils used their military
experiences in their sociological writings (Bowers 1967).

Applied research was also conducted on the home front.
In the fall of 1941, an Office of Facts and Figures was cre-
ated in the Office of War Information (OWI) to collect sur-
vey data on public attitudes and behavior concerning a
broad range of war-related problems, including civilian
morale and the effects of wartime regulations. The OWI
needed a contractor and asked George Gallup who recom-
mended Harry H. Field who had worked for him when they
were both in the market research department of the adver-
tising firm of Young and Rubicam (Marklund 2005).
Through Gallup, Field was introduced to Hadley Cantril,
Paul Lazarsfeld, and Samuel Stouffer who helped him
establish the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at
the University of Denver in the fall of 1941 (NORC would
move to the University of Chicago in 1947). NORC got the
contract for the civilian surveys and established a New York
office in the building used by OWI. Early in 1942, Paul B.
Sheatsley, who was working for Gallup at the time, headed
the survey research efforts. Many of the OWI surveys were
simply fact-finding endeavors (how people disposed of
their waste fats or how they were using their ration
coupons), but others were pioneering efforts such as the
first national measurement of racial attitudes (NORC 2005)

The OWI employed Paul Lazarsfeld (1901–1976)
among others. Lazarsfeld had come to the United States as
a Fellow of the Rockefeller Foundation and served as
director of the Foundation’s Office of Radio Research,
which moved to Columbia University in 1939 and became
the Bureau of Applied Social Research (BASR) in 1944
(now the Lazarsfeld Center for the Social Sciences in the
Institute for Social and Economic Research and Policy).
Over the years, Lazarsfeld and his students would conduct
applied research for clients that would later contribute to
modern market research, mathematical sociology, and
mass communications research (BASR 2005). His work on
personal influence (Katz and Lazarsfeld 1955) stemmed
from applied work financed by a magazine publisher to
convince would be advertisers that placing ads in the
magazine would reach opinion leaders, and a BASR study
for a pharmaceutical company on the adoption of a new

drug revealed the roles played by professional and social
ties among physicians (Coleman, Katz, and Menzel 1966).
In 1983, three of Lazarsfeld’s former students would be the
directors of social research for the three major networks:
CBS, ABC, and NBC (Sills 1987).

Just before the war, the U.S. Department of Agriculture
appointed Rensis Likert (1903–1981) director of the
Division of Program Surveys in Bureau of Agricultural
Economics. Likert had already developed his five-point
scale and taught at New York University before becoming
director of research for the Life Insurance Agency in
Hartford, Connecticut, in 1935, where he conducted stud-
ies on the effectiveness of different styles of supervision.
During the war, Likert and his colleagues conducted sur-
veys of farmer’s experiences and opinions. At the end of
the war, Likert contacted Theodore M. Newcomb, who had
worked with him during the war. Together they formed the
Survey Research Center (SRC) at the University of
Michigan to conduct publishable studies for businesses,
foundations, governmental and other agencies on all kinds
of economic, social, and business problems.

To complement the survey focus, Likert suggested that
the Research Center for Group Dynamics (RCGD), then at
the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, join SRC to
form the Institute for Social Research (ISR) in 1948. The
RCGD was founded by Kurt Lewin (1890–1947) and then
headed by Dorwin Cartwright who had worked with Likert
in the Division of Program Surveys. Likert had served on
the Committee on Food Habits of the National Research
Council, which funded Lewin’s experiments demonstrat-
ing that food shoppers were more likely to change their
buying habits as a result of a discussion followed by a
public commitment than after a lecture by an expert. This
led to his field theory involving food channels and the con-
cept of gatekeepers (Wansink 2002). Lewin used the term
action research and intended his research to result in guid-
ing the actions needed to solve social problems, reducing
the gap between social science knowledge and the use of
that knowledge.

Early SRC research included an objective evaluation of
a program to encourage acceptance of minority groups
within the United Autoworkers Union and a study of
morale at a telephone company that led to improved pro-
ductivity and job satisfaction. RCGD and the Tavistock
Institute in London jointly published the journal Human
Relations. In New Patterns of Management, Likert (1961)
summarized the principles and practices used by highest
producing managers and proposed a more effective system
of management.

By 1960, these and other university-based social
research centers were producing empirical findings that
had a considerable impact on sociological theories, meth-
ods, and concepts. In 1961, the Society for the Study of
Social Problems under the leadership of Alvin Gouldner
focused its meeting on the topic of applied social science
and major papers were published in Applied Sociology:
Opportunities and Problems (Gouldner and Miller 1965).

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The papers explored practitioner-client relations and case
studies in a variety of areas, including law, family, com-
munity, race relations, and delinquency. Years later,
coeditor S. M. Miller (2001) revealed that he regretted the
use of the term applied sociology because it was highly
ambiguous—did it refer to sociologists employed outside
academia, to academic sociologists who did studies for
nonprofit and voluntary organizations whether paid for or
not, to social activists or to public policy critics and
intellectuals?—and because he saw little linkage between
applied work and sociological study.

When Paul Lazarsfeld was elected ASA president, he
proposed that the theme for the 1962 meetings be
“Sociology in Action” or “Applied Sociology” to highlight
the contribution of applied and case studies to theoretical
and methodological advances. The ASA Executive
Council, however, changed it to “Uses of Sociology,”
which also became the title of an edited volume of 31
invited papers. The term uses went beyond applied sociol-
ogy to encompass where and to what extent sociological
findings and perspectives were used by professionals, busi-
nesses, voluntary agencies, the military, schools, and
public bodies. Authors were asked to address the difficul-
ties of translating practical issues into research problems
and to discuss the intellectual gaps between research find-
ings and advice for action (Lazarsfeld, Sewell, and
Wilensky 1967:x). According to Gollin (1983:444), most
authors had problems doing the latter—that is, identifying
concrete applications of sociological ideas or findings.

In a provocative essay, Robert C. Angell (1967:737)
raised some ethical issues concerning applied research. He
worried that since such research is used to further the prac-
tical ends of business, voluntary associations, or govern-
ment, it would take only a slight distortion in the sampling
procedure or in the phrasing of questions to obtain findings
desired by the client. Because they do not have the high
calling of developing abstract scientific knowledge, he
argued that the applied researcher cannot claim the special
privileges that are sometimes enjoyed by those who do.
For example, while it may be sometimes ethical to deceive
subjects for the purpose of obtaining important new scien-
tific knowledge, provided they are later debriefed, this jus-
tification cannot, in Angell’s opinion, be used for applied
research because the ends are not scientific ones.

These edited volumes on applied sociology written
from the perspective of disciplinary sociology, however,
failed to take the wind out of the sails. In fact, in his ASA
presidential address, Rossi (1980) noted that from 1960 to
1980 applied social research enjoyed a boom period in
which sociology, as a discipline, had not really shared.
Essentially the War on Poverty generated large-scale
applied research involving needs assessments for program
planning, demonstration and pilot services, and program
evaluations, which were risky, controversial, and could not
easily be translated into academic publications. Dentler
(2002) estimated that, from 1960 to 1975, approximately
100 social science research and development firms were

established, a third of which were located in the
Washington, D.C., suburbs. Finally several specialized
applied social research centers were created, such as the
Disaster Research Center at the Ohio State University in
1963, now at the University of Delaware.

In 1964, the U.S. Office of Education commissioned
James S. Coleman to determine how educational opportu-
nity, defined as condition of school buildings, trained
teachers, and curricula, were distributed by race and eth-
nicity. The Report, Equality of Educational Opportunity
(Coleman et al. 1966), which studied all 3rd-, 6th-, 9th-,
and 12th-grade students in 4,000 schools, not only docu-
mented the pervasiveness of segregation in the schools but
went beyond the rather narrow Congressional mandate to
explore how parental education and social status as well as
peer pressures effected student achievement (Rossi 1980;
Rossi and Whyte 1983; Dentler 2002). If the findings were
controversial, the subsequent implementation of mandated
bussing and the flight of white families from city schools
were even more so. Coleman (1976), who originally sup-
ported school integration, changed his mind in the 1970s
when he concluded that the policies that focused wholly on
within-district bussing actually increased rather than
reduced school segregation.

The Coleman Report (Coleman et al. 1966) belies the
argument that doing applied research for government
agencies substantially limits intellectual and political inde-
pendence and that applied researchers are at the beck and
call of decision makers and policy implementers (Dentler
2002). Rossi (1980) pointed out that the applied researcher
could negotiate and in some cases broaden the scope of the
study to include sociological variables and factors. On the
other hand, it also illustrates Rossi’s points that applied
social research may be used in policy formation and
become embroiled in rancorous controversy in which the
work is attacked, misused, or misapplied, and that sociolo-
gists are ordinarily not directly involved in decision mak-
ing, policy formation, or program implementation. Like
Ward and Ogburn before him, Rossi warned that applied
social research is not for would-be philosopher kings.

During this time, studies continued to bridge the gap
between pure and applied research. For example, Benjamin
Bloom’s (1964) work on stability of IQ during early child-
hood later provided Head Start with data on where best to
intervene with compensatory preschool educational programs,
William Sewell’s study (Sewell, Hauser, and Featherman
1976) on status attainment began as a state-sponsored sur-
vey of Wisconsin high school seniors, and Rosabeth Moss
Kanter (1977, 1983) published her own research on corpo-
rations for a broader audience.

PROFESSIONALISM AND TRAINING IN
APPLIED SOCIOLOGY: 1980 TO PRESENT

The late 1970s witnessed an increase in the production of
M.A. and Ph.D. sociologists at a time when sociology

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departments were not hiring (Koppel 1993). A large
number of new sociologists took positions outside acade-
mia in professional schools and in research units in gov-
ernment agencies, nonprofit organizations, and private
consulting firms. Many wanted to present and publish their
findings in sociological venues.

In the late 1960s, Alex Boros (1931–1996) established
what is believed to be the first graduate program in applied
sociology at Kent State University. In 1978, a dinner con-
versation about the lack of applied sessions at the North
Central Sociological Association (NCSA) meetings led to
the formation of the Society for Applied Sociology (SAS;
Steele and Iutcovich 1997). In 1979, SAS held sessions in
conjunction with the NCSA. SAS was formally incorpo-
rated in 1984 with Boros as the first president, and it began
publishing the Journal of Applied Sociology. In 1994, SAS
approved a code of ethics for Applied Sociologists. Over
the years, the presidency of SAS has been fairly evenly
divided between applied sociologists who worked in acad-
emic institutions and those who either owned their own
consulting firms or were employed by governmental, non-
profit, or business entities.

The late 1970s also saw the creation of the Clinical
Sociological Association (renamed Sociological Practice
Association) and the ASA Section on Sociological
Practice. Then, in 1980, Peter Rossi became ASA presi-
dent followed the next year by William Foote Whyte, both
of whom considered themselves applied sociologists. An
ASA Committee on Professional Opportunities in Applied
Sociology, chaired by Howard Freeman, held a workshop
in December 1981 titled “Directions in Applied
Sociology.” The papers presented were published in
Applied Sociology (Freeman et al. 1983) and explored the
then current status of applied sociology, the range of
applied sociology roles in diverse settings, and the acade-
mic training of applied sociologists (Rosich 2005).

ASA also started a journal, the Sociological Practice
Review, to provide a discipline sponsored publication for
applied, clinical, and practicing sociologists, and to dis-
seminate knowledge on how sociology can be applied to
practical problems. Reviewed in 1992 during its third year,
it was found to have had difficulty attracting sufficient
manuscripts along with falling subscriptions. Despite
opposition by the majority of editors of other ASA jour-
nals, the publications committee, by one vote, recom-
mended that it be supported for another three years. The
Executive Office and Budget Committee, however, recom-
mended discontinuance and the ASA Council agreed
(Dentler 1992; K. G. Edwards, personal communication
from ASA Director of Publications, June 28, 2005).

In 1991, ASA was awarded funds to establish the
Sydney S. Spivak Program in Applied Social Research and
Social Policy with the purpose of enhancing the visibility,
prestige, and centrality of applied social research and the
application of sociological knowledge to social policy. The
Program supported a Congressional Fellowship and policy
briefings by sociologists on topics such as HIV/AIDS,

youth violence, immigrants, and reactions to terrorism. It
also offered Community Action Fellowships of up to
$2,500 to cover direct costs of sociologists working with
community groups to conduct needs assessments, evalua-
tion studies, and empirical research of community activi-
ties and planning, or to produce an analytical literature
review to address the community group’s goals (Rosich
2005).

The introduction to the Uses of Sociology (Lazarsfeld
et al. 1967:xxii) noted that a Ph.D. in sociology did not
really train students for employment outside academia. It
asked what type of professional training would be needed,
what role university research bureaus, centers and insti-
tutes would play, and whether sociologists should create
programs within departments or separate schools of social
research. Freeman and Rossi (1984) proposed that some
departments having appropriately trained and motivated
faculty, add applied training as an option for their graduate
and undergraduate students. Such a program would pro-
vide a solid general grounding in the history, current
trends, theories, and range of research methods in sociol-
ogy, with additional practical and pragmatic skills of how
to administer sample surveys and field research, how to
select and work with a survey research organization or
train others to collect data, and how to write a response to
a request for proposals as opposed to a journal article.

In her SAS Presidential address, Jeanne Ballantine
(1991) reported on a study of where sociology majors were
employed after graduation, what employers were seeking,
and what undergraduate applied programs were providing.
She found a variety of efforts ranging from one or two
courses, to an internship or field experience, to a complete
track or concentration. The demand for training generated
a set of texts and supplements by Sullivan (1992), Steele,
Scarisbrick-Hauser, and Hauser (1999), Du Bois and
Wright (2001), Dentler (2002), Straus (2002), Steele and
Price (2003), and Dukes, Petersen, and Van Valey (2004).

SAS president Stephen Steele conducted a needs
assessment survey of SAS members in 1992 and found an
interest in strengthening training programs at the graduate
and undergraduate levels. He appointed Harry Perlstadt to
pursue this. In 1995, with the support of Joyce Iutcovich,
SAS President and David Kallen, president of the
Sociological Practice Association (SPA), they formed the
Commission on Applied and Clinical Sociology (Perlstadt
1995, 1998). The commission created standards for under-
graduate and graduate programs (CACS 2005) and, by
2005, had accredited three undergraduate programs (St.
Cloud State, Minnesota; Our Lady of the Lake, Texas; and
Valdosta State, Georgia) and two masters level graduate
programs (Humboldt State, California and Valdosta State,
Georgia). Accreditation standards help programs provide
quality training with adequate resources and the
Commission itself serves as a clearinghouse for the
programs.

In August 2000, SAS and SPA met together in
Washington, D.C., with the theme Unity 2000. Both

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recognized they were small and could benefit from
combining their resources and efforts. As the result of hard
work by, among others, Ross Koppel and Joan Biddle of
SPA and Augie Diana and Jay Weinstein of SAS, the two
groups merged in 2005 to become the Association for
Applied and Clinical Sociology (AACS), with a combined
journal.

Since 1970, many Ph.D. sociologists have conducted
applied research in a variety of settings. A 1995 National
Science Foundation survey of Ph.D. sociologists found
that less than half (45.8 percent) of all sociologists taught
sociology at the postsecondary level and 27.1 percent of all
Ph.D. sociologists were employed outside educational
institutions (Dotzler and Koppel 1999). Unfortunately,
only a few Ph.D. sociologists can be mentioned here.
Michael Quinn Patton, one of the leading experts in evalu-
ation research, wrote Utilization-Focused Evaluation
(Patton 1997) and was president of the American
Evaluation Association. Terence C. Halliday is a Senior
Research Fellow at the American Bar Foundation and
President of the National Institute for Social Science
Information. He helped found and was chair of the ASA
Sociology of Law section and served as editor of the inter-
disciplinary journal Law and Social Inquiry. Lola Jean
Kozak, with the job title of health statistician/senior health
researcher in the National Center for Health Statistics,
Centers of Disease Control, has done applied research on
avoidable hospitalizations that has affected the Centers for
Medicare and Medicaid Services (Kozak, Hall, and
Owings 2001). Sociologist William W. Darrow was the
sole nonmedical scientist on the CDC Task Force in the
early 1980s that did the initial investigations of what would
be identified as the HIV/AIDS epidemic (Darrow et al.
1987; Lui, Darrow, and Rutherford 1988).

APPLIED SOCIOLOGY
IN THE 21ST CENTURY

Over the years, applied sociology has bridged sociological
theory and sociological practice, bringing theory and ideas
to professional practitioners and decision makers while, in
return, contributing to the knowledge base of sociology as
a science and discipline. To some extent, the history of
applied sociology has been embroiled in what Andrew
Abbott (1988) would identify as clarifications and disputes
over jurisdictions between the academic discipline and the
practice of the profession. Applied sociology has tried to
steer clear of entanglements with social philosophy and

ethics, on the one hand, and social engineering, reform,
and activism on the other. But the very nature of applied
sociology, and the interests of those who choose to do it,
will mean that such jurisdictional tensions will continue
well into the twenty-first century as they have for the past
150 years.

But the demand for applied sociology is not likely to
slacken. The U.S. government has been commissioning
social surveys and studies for over a century, and at the
beginning of the twenty-first century, the NIH and NIMH
roadmaps for research continue to look to and fund the
applied side of the social and behavioral sciences. As
Ogburn (1930) predicted, business, labor, community, and
nonprofit service organizations all have a need for reliable
and accurate data, needs assessments, and evaluations that
applied sociology can provide. Evidence-based decision
making and accountability will continue to be stressed as a
rational necessity. Of course, decision makers and admin-
istrators will highlight those findings that meet their ends
and ignore those that do not. In a few instances, applied
findings will, unfortunately, be used for nefarious purposes
as they were by the Soviets and Nazis.

Although the primary focus of ASA will remain on
basic research and academic positions, applied sociology
will continue to be recognized as a specialty/derivative
field. The newly formed Association for Applied and
Clinical Sociology may professionalize sociology by
bringing more practitioners into contact with disciplinary
sociology, thereby following a pattern that already exists in
economics, psychology, and political science. This may be
strengthened as more departments develop applied
research and sociological practice training programs at the
undergraduate and graduate levels in response to societal
demands. This would be accelerated if these departments
consciously pursued their common educational interests
through the Commission on Applied and Clinical
Sociology.

Applied sociology is very resilient. The term has sur-
vived for more than a hundred years despite vague defini-
tions and attempts to ignore or replace it. While sociology
as a discipline and perspective may have increasing diffi-
culties being appreciated in a culture of expanding indi-
vidualism, personal liberty, and self-actualization, people,
and especially social organizations and government agen-
cies, will need to choose wisely on the basis of evidence.
The heart of applied sociology is social research, and as
long as decision makers want to know the social facts and
people are trained to provide them, applied sociology will
flourish.

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