Martindale’s Book on Minnesota Sociology 1970-1973

Don Martindale’s Book: Long after leaving Minnesota I began to wonder whether there was any published discussion on Minnesota symbolic interaction and what happened to it in 1971. Finally, I put a question on the email SSSI-talk list (in October 2011) to find out what happened, and the reaction surprised me. I was emailed “off-list” with the reference of a book first published in 1976 with a Second Edition in 1986, which I ordered. Authored by Don Martindale (who I remembered from my time in Minnesota): The Romance of a Profession: a Case History in the Sociology of Sociology (Intercontinental Press, New Delhi, India), it is an authoritative account of the whole sorry business. I learned much that I knew nothing about at the time. One thing that was going on both among graduate students and staff was partner-swapping (or wife-swapping as it was called then). I didn’t want anything to do with it.

First, let me state that there is nothing in the book about the shift of focus from symbolic interaction to quantitative statistical analysis. It is not about that, but about the political maneuverings in the department and the moral chaos that accompanied it. All first year graduates were expected to do basic sociology and methods, which is reasonable enough. I did expect, though that symbolic interaction would have a much more prominent place in the first year syllabus than in the form of one optional course in the first year.

The first six chapters cover the early period. Chapter 1 Genesis Minnesota Sociology to 1910 (pp.1-18) covers the period 1890 to 1910. These chapters told me little about the late 1960s and early 1970s, only that Minnesota was one of the earliest American sociology departments. Chapter 7 The Power Brokers 1970-1973 (pp. 135-163) covered my time in the Department.

My sense of the way this was handled was that decades later it remained a subject of great sensitivity. Don Martindale’s book roused angry reactions among the staff. Martindale was scathing in his critique of the U-turn by the Department. Chapter 3, The Power-Brokers: 1970-1973 (covering the three years of Bohrnstedt’s chairmanship) took me back to many questions I had not asked. Martindale provided some of the answers. It is clear that there was division among the staff over what to do about the new regime in the department. Martindale’s book and the reactions to it make that clear enough. Chapter 8 “The Arrogance of Power: the war on students in the old graduate program”. Martindale gives details of specific cases, and they make grim reading. I doubt if I would have passed.

But what the book does not go into is the revolution that took place within the department and what this did to research and teaching for those preparing for the Ph.D. The really big revolution was the switch from symbolic interaction to statistical methods in the first year of graduate studies. Bohrnstedt, the Chair of the Department, was himself a statistical sociologist, as was Theodore Anderson who taught the Statistical Methods course. Much of it was on different ways of measuring correlations, including multivariate statistics. There were other methods courses in addition, to provide a thorough covering of methods. There may have been more than the two statisticians to be able to change the graduate programme of a Department that up till then had been one or the major symbolic interactionist schools in the USA. Both Harvey Farberman and Peter M. Hall were prominent in that school, a school that was much more interested in power than later symbolic interactionism. I learned in 1974 that Harvey Farberman had written an article on criminogenic markets and Peter M. Hall had specialised in a symbolic interactionist approach to the study of politics.

There is a link to an internet page headed Data for Statistical Analysis by George W. Bohrnstedt significantly sub-titled “Indoctrination by Statistical Methodology“, and it is very angry:

For academic philosophers of science sociology is not a paradigm of successful science. Earlier Bohrnstedt had enforced his ersatz philosophy of social science as editor of the journal Sociological Methods and Research. Now in this book, Statistics for Social Data Analysis, Bohrnstedt, Knoke and Mee attempt to indoctrinate students in this same ersatz philosophy of science. 

Gary Fine became Editor-in-Chief of the renamed Sociometry as Social Psychology Quarterly 2010-2013 and gave the journal a new sub-title Formerly Sociometry – the journal of microsociologies.

Why did I become interested in Sociometry? It happened while writing my Gothenburg Ph.D. and I wanted to see if Sociometry would be a suitable micro-macro approach to discuss. Much later I wrote a paper about this in jimsresearchnotes, tracing the history of Sociometry changing into Sociological Social Psychology, and can be read here: Sociometry and two soc psychologies.


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