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The Berlin Großstadt-Dokumente: A forgotten precursor of the Chicago School of Sociology

Dietmar Jazbinsek, Bernward Joerges and Ralf Thies

No FS II 01-502, Discussion Papers, Research Group Metropolitan City Studies from WZB Berlin Social Science Center

Abstract: Between 1904 and 1908, there appeared in Berlin 51 volumes called collectively Großstadt- Dokumente, which presented a vast mosaic of the modern metropolis. While the Berlin series was ignored by proponents of contemporary academic sociology in Germany, it was well received by the founding fathers of the Chicago School of Sociology. Chicago's adoption was aimed at filtering out the sociological components from the mixed genre of journalistic, literary and research styles of writing which is so characteristic of the Großstadt-Dokumente. The descriptive material compiled by the series editor, Hans Ostwald, and his co-authors was translated by Louis Wirth into the terminology of American urban sociology. Other members of the Chicago School adapted theoretical fragments from the Dokumente to their own studies. The distinction of social types developed by Julius Bab in his studies of the Berlin bohemia, for example, has been taken up by Thomas and Znaniecki in their classic The Polish Peasant and from there invaded American sociology. More significant than occasional theoretical borrowing is this: The Großstadt-Dokumente constitute at the outset of the 20th century a model research style which would later become the hallmark of the Chicago School—the exploration of urban milieus, based on collective collaboration and devoted to an ethic of urban ethnography. This style of research was branded Americanism by early German sociology and was discounted for a lack of theory.

Date: 2001
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