Social Science in the Crucible

The American Debate over Objectivity and Purpose, 1918–1941

Social Science in the Crucible

Book Pages: 360 Illustrations: Published: September 1994

Author: Mark C. Smith

American Studies, History > U.S. History

The 1920s and 30s were key decades for the history of American social science. The success of such quantitative disciplines as economics and psychology during World War I forced social scientists to reexamine their methods and practices and to consider recasting their field as a more objective science separated from its historical foundation in social reform. The debate that ensued, fiercely conducted in books, articles, correspondence, and even presidential addresses, made its way into every aspect of social science thought of the period and is the subject of this book.
Mark C. Smith first provides a historical overview of the controversy over the nature and future of the social sciences in early twentieth-century America and, then through a series of intellectual biographies, offers an intensive study of the work and lives of major figures who participated in this debate. Using an extensive range of materials, from published sources to manuscript collections, Smith examines "objectivists"—economist Wesley Mitchell and political scientist Charles Merriam—and the more "purposive thinkers"—historian Charles Beard, sociologist Robert Lynd, and political scientist and neo-Freudian Harold Lasswell. He shows how the debate over objectivity and social purpose was central to their professional and personal lives as well as to an understanding of American social science between the two world wars. These biographies bring to vivid life a contentious moment in American intellectual history and reveal its significance in the shaping of social science in this country.


“A well researched and well written book. . . . Smith has done us a good turn by reviewing a debate whose effect has been misleading and whose secondary implications have often outweighed its primary implications.” — Roger Cryan, Journal of Economic History

"As a collective intellectual biography of some of the foremost social science thinkers of the early to mid-century, this book provides perhaps the clearest picture yet of the dilemmas facing the scholar-as-democratic reformer. Smith manages a judicious blend of the personal biography and individual career path with a penetrating account of the subject's main writings and intellectual contributions. His book should be read by a large, interdisciplinary audience." — Leon Fink, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

"This is a superb piece of work. There is nothing quite like this book in the available literature and it will nicely supplement the best of previously published accounts of the history of social science in the United States. It is also an important intervention in the current debate about the decline of the public intellectual." — Robert Westbrook, University of Rochester


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Mark C. Smith is Assistant Professor of American Studies and History at the University of Texas, Austin.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Introduction 3

1. American Social Science: Moralism and the Scientific Method 13

2. Wesley Mitchell and the Quantitative Approach 49

3. Charles Merriam and Technical Expertise 84

4. Robert Lynd and Knowledge for What? 120

5. Charles Beard and Activist Social Science 159

6. Harold D. Lasswell and the Lost Opportunity of the Purposive School 212

Conclusion 253

Notes 271

Index 336
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-1497-4 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-1484-4
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