Robert E Park


At Michigan studied with John Dewey. Started career as journalist. 1890s decides he needs to learn some philosophy so goes to Harvard and studies psychology with Muensterberg and philosophy with Royce and James. After his masters, he heads off to Germany where he sits in on lectures by one Georg Simmel, his only formal coursework in sociology. Inspired by a book by Russian sociologist Kistiakowski who had been a student of Windelband. Park goes off to study with Windelband and wrote his Ph.D. thesis, entitled Masse und Publikum, under him in 1904.
Worked as secretary to Booker T. Washington at Tuskegee Institute.

Took a PhD in 1904 at Heidelberg

Main Concepts

Social distance = derived from Simmel = refers to the degree of intimacy that prevails between groups and individuals." The degree of intimacy measures the influence which each has over the other." The greater the social distance between individuals and groups, the less they influence each other reciprocally.
Sociology as “science of collective behavior.” Social control, i.e., social organization/control as what makes the social.
Importance of symbolization (cf. Durkheim’s “collective representations”) for human society
Connections – interactions – are what matter. Cf. Simmel : Wechselwirkung.
Gesture – an act is a gesture, that is, it means something. Human interaction as exchange of gestures. Cf. Weber’s interest in “meaningful social action.”
We live a dual life – public self and “real self” – cf. Simmel here. And later Goffman (much of whom we find anticipated in the early Chicago sociologists). Once we have defined a conception of our self we feel compelled to live up to it (cf. Goffman’s notion of “taking a line”). There is an element of control here – we are coerced to be who we say we are (again, cf. Goffman), but there is also the issue of the socially available symbolic vocabulary. Weber had it that our behaviors are symbolic of our motives and intentions. Park, here, is adding the collective aspect – in order to be able to use action to reveal motives (and vice versa) we have to have access to a shared symbolic system. Park differs from Goffman here in that he allows for the idea of a “true self” – who we want to be. This resonates, I think, with Simmel’s idea of the idealization of the self or other.
Consider the problem of “integral selves” in Park as we’ve just described it as over against Freud and Simmel, and, perhaps, Durkheim and Marx. Freud definitely sees the self as being able to disagree with itself, to have “inner conflicts” between its components. And Simmel? He suggests this “social part” and “individual part” which sounds on the surface to be like Durkheim: a fraction of what is in our heads is not personal but collective. And Marx? You might not want to put him here because we don’t normally think of him as having articulated much of a social psychology, but the concept of “false consciousness” gives us an opening. If consciousness can be misled as to “its” (that is the owner of that consciousness) true interests, must there not be some disjunction between the self that is conscious and the self that has the actual interest? We would probably land on the idea that the individual has a dual nature: her individual nature and her “class nature.” We are united “laterally” with others with whom we share a class position.

Park vs. Behaviorism

Behaviorism = stimulus and response. Organism as “black box.” A sort of psychological version of logical positivism?

Behaviorism is a theory in the philosophy of mind which maintains that talk of mental events should be translated into talk about observable behavior. Behaviorism parts company with dualistic traditions which hold that mind is a distinct substance from material bodies. Further, behaviorism resists attempts to define mental expressions such as "pain" in reference to introspective reports by the subject. There are different degrees of behaviorist conviction which are often described as hard and soft behaviorism. Hard behaviorism is an ontological position that immaterial minds do not exist. Soft behaviorism is the view that mental events (whether an immaterial mind exists or not) cannot be characterized independently from overt physical behaviors. [The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy]

Behaviorism leaves “consciousness” out of the picture.

The “stimulus” is not a simple construct but rather “the situation” and the “response” is not a mere reflex but is organized as a meaningful whole, the ACT.

Like Weber, he wants sociologists to understand social ACTion. Documents and actions are artifacts of subjective motives.

Like Thomas, the analytical framework has to be expanded beyond the atoms of behavior and include elements of the life history in which the behavior is embedded (DJR)


“…subjectivity is at once a condition and a product of collective life”


  1. 1927 "Human Nature and Collective Behavior," The American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 32, No. 5 (Mar., 1927), pp. 733-741. [JSTOR off-campus | on-campus]
  2. 1921: Introduction to the Science of Sociology (with Ernest Burgess) Chicago: University of Chicago Press
  3. 1925: The City: Suggestions for the Study of Human Nature in the Urban Environment (with R. D. McKenzie & Ernest Burgess) Chicago: University of Chicago Press
  4. 1928: Human Migration and the Marginal Man, American Journal of Sociology 33: 881-893
  5. 1950: Race and Culture, Glencoe Ill: The Free Press, ISBN 0-02-923780-7
  6. 1952: Human Communities: the City and Human Ecology Glencoe, Ill: The Free Press
  7. 1967: On Social Control and Collective Behavior, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, ISBN 1-135-54381-X
  8. 1975: The Crowd and the Public and Other Essays, Heritage of Society

Sources and References

Robert Park on Wikipedia
Robert E. Park at University of Chicago Faculty: A Centennial View
Robert Park in the Notable Names Data Base (NNDB)
Brown, Nina "Robert Park and Ernest Burgess: Urban Ecology Studies, 1925" at Center for Spacial Integrated Social Science
By Nina Brown

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