Sociometry and the two Social Psychologies

First published in jimsresearchnotes 21 Jan 2011

Introduction: Social Psychology sub-divided at a relatively early stage into two sub-disciplines, sociological and psychological (see the two Wikipedia entries on social psychology (sociology) and social psychology.

Sociological social psychology and psychological social psychology was for a while a major issue in social psychology that for some time threatened to become something of a boundary dispute between the two mother disciplines. A comparison of the two Wikipedia entries clearly suggests that the overlap is considerable. The Miligram Experiment will be familiar to many from Stanley Miligram Obedience to Authority: an experimental view (1974). I was surprised, though, that sociometry was not given any prominence in either Wikipedia entry, as its journal of the same name was a founding factor in social psychology.

My interest in this area in the mid-1970s was related to the articulation of sociometry with micro-macro levels (1976 “An Interactionist Approach to Macrosociology” (doctoral dissertation) University of Gothenburg, Sweden, Sociology Monograph No.10

and “Perspectives on the Micro-Macro DistinctionThe Sociological Review 1976).

Sociometry was first developed by Jacob Levy Moreno, who was also its first editor. His retirement as Editor nearly 20 years later, in 1956, marked the transition of the journal to a broader social psychology. Here I provide an overview of the journal and how it changed down the decades, focusing in particular on the editorial changes made to the journal and its shifting focus.

Given that the journal is approaching its 75th year, this is a general analysis. I don’t claim it is anywhere near an exhaustive classification of the perspectives of various members of the editorial boards or of authors. The long time span and the shifting interests of individuals make such a detailed analysis impossible in a research note. So this discussion is only general and schematic. But this kind of widely available material has a place in studies of changes in approach and perspective that could be made much more use of in sociological studies of the tidal changes in thinking and how they play out in the longer run, relating long-term social change to the individual level.

Sociometry – the pioneering bridge between the social and the psychological: The journal Sociometry was probably the earliest systematic attempt at examining interpersonal interaction in networks. It was a very fruitful conceptualisation that had a remarkably long life, and, as I will suggest later, in some respects continues today though less formally defined as sociometry.

The change can be simplified as the growing influence of symbolic interactionism during this period. Symbolic interactionists have been involved as editorial board members from very early on. Herbert Blumer, Erving Goffman and Howard Becker were among the first.

The second editor of Sociometry was Lennard Cottrell (1956-9) under whose editorship it was formally subtitled a journal of research in social psychology. This looser definition of the journal’s focus that is implied by the subtitle clearly broadened the publishing agenda of the journal, and editors with symbolic interactionist interests began to be appointed, like Ralph Turner  (1962-4) and Sheldon Stryker (1967-9).

The Editorial Board and Editorial Advisor membership also changed during the late 1950s and through the 1960s. When associate editors were appointed Herbert Blumer briefly became one, followed by Erving Goffman, and from around 1960 Harold Garfinkel, David Mechanic, Tom Scheff, Gresham Sykes and John H. Kitsuse became consultant editors, joining and leaving at various times.

From Sociometry to Social Psychology: In 1977 – three years after Moreno’s death at the age of 85 and 40 years after the journal was founded – Sociometry had its first name-change under the editorship of Howard Schuman. This made the sub-title that had been introduced by its second editor, Lennard Cottrell, into the journal title, with a new subtitle mentioning its origins in sociometry. So the journal’s name became Social Psychology with the subtitle Formerly Sociometry to indicate its origins. The new Editor’s statement in the March 1978 issue introduced the change as follows:


Sociometry becomes Social Psychology with this issue, as resolved by the Council of the American Sociological Association. For those of us who have become attached to the former title (whatever its present descriptive inaccuracy), or who would have preferred a name change different from the new one (and there were several attractive alternatives), Social Psychology will take a while getting used to. But it does reflect the present nature of this journal, as measured by content, submissions, and readers. The front cover now carries a reminder of our former title, and a note on the inside of that cover acknowledges our history as Sociometry, founded in 1937 by J.L. Moreno, so that our origin and descent are not forgotten. We hope that the new title will be interpreted broadly in terms of substance, method, and type of article, as indeed the present issue to some extent illustrates; and that we can in future issues represent well the scope, variety, and importance of research and writing in social psychology.”

A second name-change was made the following year, 1978, to Social Psychology Quarterly (SPQ), it would seem at the initiative of the American Sociological Association (under the auspices of which the journal is published). The Editorial Board of SPQ included two prominent symbolic interactionists: Howard Becker and Lyn Lofland. SPQ remains the name of the journal to this day.

But from the late 1970s  fewer symbolic interactionists were involved with the journal. I can only speculate that one reason for this may be the changes taking place then as I described in jimsresearchnotes of 7 August 2009: The birth of the Society for the Study of Symbolic Interaction. The formation of this Society in the mid-1970s and the first issue of its journal Symbolic Interaction no doubt drew many papers that otherwise might have been submitted to SPQ.

The continuing debate between the two social psychologies: Every now and again the debate over sociological social psychology and psychological social psychology came to explicit expression in SPQ debate articles. An early one was “Crises in the two Social Psychologies: a critical comparison” by Robert G. Boutilier, J. Christian Roed and Ann C. Svendsen (SPQ March 1980, 43, 1, 5-17).

In addition, there have been two symposia, one in 1995 and the other in 2000, each marking the definitive and final shift from the two social psychologies to sociological social psychology.

The 1995 Symposium on Sociological Perspectives on Social Psychology in SPQ (58, 4, 1995 pp. 321-338) a Review Symposium was published on Karen S. Cook, Gary Alan Fine and James S. House (eds) Sociological Perspectives on Social Psychology Allyn and Bacon, Needham Heights, 1995. The Symposium comprised review essays of the book by Elizabeth G. Menaghan (pp. 321-5), Sheldon Stryker (pp. 326-31) and Morris Zelditch (pp. 332-5), followed by a reply by the authors (pp. 336-8).

A natural comparison was made by reviewers between the above Symposium book and an earlier book by Morris Rosenberg and Ralph H. Turner (eds)  Social Psychology: sociological perspectives Basic Books, New York 1981. Rosenberg and Turner (1981) was strongly influenced by symbolic interactionism. Cook, Fine and House (1995) included gender,  and methods as well as reflecting other changes in sociological social psychology, in particular the growth of sub-specialisms that had developed in the 1980s.

The Millenium Special Issue Symposium on the state of sociological social psychology: The December 2000 issue of SPQ returned to an appreciation of sociometry and the contribution of Moreno as well as looking forward to future directions in the development of SPQ. As indicated by the title of the symposium it is clear that sociological perspectives had by this time become dominant, a situation reflected in the issue’s articles. The Editors, Lynn Smith-Lovin and Linda M. Molm, introduce the special issue with an overview of the published articles.

Here I propose to consider just one of these, that by Brooke Harrington and Gary Alan Fine “Opening the ´black Box`: small groups and twenty-first century sociology” SPQ (64, 4 312-23). Fine would himself become editor and extend the analysis he and Harrington made in this symposium.

Smith-Lovin and Molm in their editor’s introduction to the special issue summarise the above article as follows:

“Harrington and Fine begin with an assertion that might take many sociological social psychologists by surprise: they argue that small groups have been ignored to a large extent in our theoretical and empirical research. Given that the study of group processes is one of the three major faces of our field this claim might seem audacious. The authors actually want to focus our attention on a relatively neglected aspect of the study of groups. They note that most of our well-known work in group processes has taken the relation as the unit of analysis, and has looked at the operation of social processes (like status or exchange) within the group. Instead, they urge us to use the small group as a unit to be studied in its own right. They suggest five areas in which we can usefully pursue their mandate: the controlling, contesting, organizing, representing and allocating features of groups.” (Smith-Lovin and Molm p. 282)

The Gary Alan Fine Editorship (2007-2010): Gary Alan Fine became editor in 2007 and confirmed the commitment to its focus on both psychology and sociology as reflected in the new SPQ two-tiered sub-title.

Social Psychology Quarterly


The Journal of Microsociologies

This was reasserted in the December 2010 special issue of SPQ Bridging Social Psychologies by Alice Eagly and Gary Alan Fine “Bridging Social Psychologies: an introduction” SPQ (2010) Vol. 73, No. 4: 313-15). The abstract of this article as well as abstracts of other contributions can be read here.

In his first (2007) editorial, Fine is concerned over the journal having a 90 percent rejection rate “fetishizing rejection rates as guarantors of quality…in which 90 percent of our products are deemed unworthy…what a bunch of bozos we must be”. He also introduced a crossover between printed journal and the internet, establishing the SPQ website, in which he has envisaged debate and other interactive communication to supplement and enhance the four-issues-a-year printed journal. Websites are increasingly being adopted by other journals as an extension of the traditional paper journal.

Labels: Gary Alan Fine, Micro-Macro, Social Psychology Quarterly, Sociometry, Symbolic Interaction

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