Multiculturalism and Sociology as Fields: Durkheim, Weber, and Mead: An analysis of theories

This thesis will show the parallel histories of sociology and multicultural studies. The contributions of Durkheim and Weber will serve as a monitor of how both sciences were born, and have survived as in a symbiotic synergism which continues to develop until today.  The works of Margaret Mead will mirror the importance of social culture, and her impact on the study of sociology in terms of how ethical research and responsible analysis of diversity influences the validity of sociological work.  On and all, this paper will declare the uniqueness of multiculturalism within the study of sociology, and will argue that further studies and preparation will be needed to fully comprehend the extent to which society continues to change. 

A Brief Look into the History of Sociology

France, nineteenth century.  The French are barely recovering from the destruction and chaos brought in by the French Revolution: The rebellion initiated by the growing middle class, or bourgeoisie, against the oppressive aristocratic class (Popkin, 2002). The result of it was the elimination of the monarchy as a form of government, and the introduction of a society with ideals of equality, freedom, and opportunity. The transformation is not easy.  The French experiment with different government systems to reincorporate their society, but many of them fail (Popkin, 2002).

The radical changes taking place prompt philosophers to examine the obvious unrest and disorganization that are taking place. They study each situation hoping to predict what the future held for their newly-formed country. It is in the cradle of Romanticism, France, where sociology finds its birth. Its development is provided by philosophers who try to find formulas that would quantify how human groups form, what rules do they follow, what behaviors are expected from their relationships, and what expectations could be anticipated from their diverse compositions (Popkin, 2002). The knowledge of human connections, the rules and regulations that define groups, the ranking systems and support mechanisms that keep a community together: Those are the elements that encompass sociology, and the parameters by which sociologists analyze human groups (Levi-Strauss, 1945).

Sociology Taken Seriously: The Contributions of Emile Durkheim

Emile Durkheim
Emile Durkheim

     Thompson (2002) offers that Emile Durkheim was the shaper of sociology as a science.  He states that there were two factors which made Durkheim more effective as a trendsetter in sociology than his predecessors such as August Compte, and even Karl Marx (Thompson, 2002 p. 3).

According to Thompson,

                            The first sort might be loosely termed “organizational” factors.

They relate to Durkheim’s abilities as leader of an intellectual school, particularly his achievement in founding a superb scholarly journal, recruiting and knitting together a group of talented contributors, and drawing up programmatic statements that shaped the development of sociology in France and abroad. Secondly, and perhaps the most important factor in his success, was the effectiveness of his own works in demonstrating that he had developed an adaptable analytical method capable of being used in a wide variety of subject-areas (Thompson, 2002  p. 5).

Emile Durkheim’s created a “Sociological Method” (1938). In this method, sociology was that of a formula that would:

     use of empirical methods to study social phenomena; sensitivity to the infinite complexity of the facts; the epistemological independence of sociology from biology; and an insistence on the specific reality of society as more than the sum of its parts, as a “real thing”, analogous to an organism (Durkheim, 1938 p.52).

In other words, Emile Durkheim’s main contribution to sociology is the way in which he moved its paradigms from the philosophical to the scientific. Durkheim, however, was not a scientist looking for an absolute answer. (Lincoln, 2005) Within his writings there is evidence of deep, sensitive  views on what society should be: A cohesive group that should embrace each other’s differences and tolerate each other’s inequalities. This integration of a social whole is what he coined as “solidarity.” (Durkheim, 1938 p. 58)  Durkheim defined society in his own words as:

     A category of facts with very distinctive characteristics: It consists of ways of acting, thinking and feeling external to the individual and endowed with a power of coercion by reason of which they control him…they consist both of shared representations and actions. (Durkheim, 1938, p. 59)

Durkheim had a preoccupation with the order of things. His sociological method aimed to predict and measure the growth and interactions of groups. Yet, he also offered arguments against disorder and lack of organization.  In The Division of Labour in Society (1893), Durkheim specified that there are two ways in which society develops: From a simple group, which he coined “mechanical” into a “complex” group, which he called “organic” (p.29). A society develops mechanically when every member within it shares common interests; they also feel as equal members of the group. This demonstrates homogeneity. In contrast, when individuals begin to develop their own personal views of life, and creates individual goals, the members of the society fight for a unity within their differences, where this complex society exhibits an “organic solidarity” (Durkheim, 1893, p.29). Here, society and mutual commitment are maintained by peoples’ perception of each other as different, with complementary roles. Each carries out a different task that contributes to the whole.

Therefore, it is imperative that all societies set clear goals of rules and objectives as a group. If a group loses its common goal and dissolves the rules that binds their behaviors together, it will turn into a state of “anomie” or a chaotic state where rules are not abided and purpose is forever lost (Durkheim, 1893).

Durkheim’s contributions are ageless. The sociological method is not only limited to the quantitative and qualitative explorations of sociology: Its contribution resonates in today’s changing world. The influx of immigrants from all over the world prompts for a methodology of research that can trace the changes in the countries that are host to other multicultural groups. Being able to point out the changes in society, the trends in behaviors, and the shifts in the economical and political views of the residents can help predict whether communal life in a diverse group is possible (Lincoln, 2005).

However, Durkheim wrote during the times of the French Revolution.  In the year 2006, the influx of multicultural populations has reached an all-time high (US Census, 2006).  It is the trend of multiculturalism what makes his theory debatable.  Before analyzing the Durkheimian approach to multicultural studies, let’s explain the concept of multiculturalism.

Multiculturalism: The secondary thread

While sociology arose from the social unrest of France, multicultural sociology, or the study of multicultural groups, arises from a number of environmental and demographic factors that result in the influx of diverse populations. These influxes often occur as a result of warfare, religious persecution, political and civil unrest, and changes in the economies of countries. (Ramsey, Williams, Vold, Falmer, 2002). Hence, it should be concluded that multicultural studies should be considered a continuous parallel that co-exists with sociology. (Ramsey, Williams, Vold, Falmer, 2002).

Just like the advent of sociology, multicultural studies in America can be rooted back to the nineteenth century, during the time of one of the biggest influx of immigrants came from Europe to California in the 1890’s Gold Rush.

According to Kowaleski (1997),

     In 1848 before the discovery of gold, California had a population of some 12,000 Mexicans – including Californians of Mexican descent, called Californios – in addition to about 20,000 Native Americans and only 2,000 Yankee frontiersmen, soldiers, and settlers. In the next two years, thousands upon thousands of Easterners who might never have thought about migrating to such a remote territory would pour into the region. By 1850, there were more than 100,000 immigrants (Kowaleski, 1997 p. 77).

Multiculturalism is at an all-time high. According to the U.S. Census Bureau (2006), American demographics are made of 75% whites, 12.5% Latinos, 12.3% African Americans, 4% Asians, 0.1% Pacific Islanders, and 6% categorized as “other race.” This indicates a marked social pluralism that has increased throughout the years.  Multiculturalism today is defined as:

     A society characterized by cultural pluralism—as in the cases of the United States and post-war Britain.  As an ideal, multiculturalism celebrates cultural variety (for example linguistic and religious diversity), and may be contrasted with the assimilationist ideal assumed in many early studies of race, ethnicity, and immigration. (Guitierrez, Rosegrant Alvarez, Nemon, Lewis, 1996 p.500)  

The continuous increase of diverse populations calls for further efforts to

include social diversity in sociological research. It is imperative to gain a perspective on sociological trends in order to met the needs of all those who compose the group. Changes do pose one challenge: Inequality among the members of a community. (Guitierrez, Rosegrant Alvarez, Nemon, Lewis, 1996 ]p. 501) The way to reduce inequality is by increasing opportunities for community development; to promote a diverse methodology to work with diversity by enforcing policies and common practices. This is also known as inter-group solidarity. This is how multiculturalism and sociology are sciences go hand in hand, and should be researched in a parallel way (Guitierrez, Rosegrant Alvarez, Nemon, Lewis, 1996 p. 501).

Research on social culture has developed nearly hand-in-hand with political changes, religious influences, warfare, and economic shifts. (Ramsey, Williams, Vold, Falmer, 2002, p. 6-7). Banks (1995) offers that multicultural studies have developed in “discrete phases.” (p. 11) He offers,

(1) The first phase of multicultural education emerged when educators who were interested in the history and culture of ethnic minority groups brought the concepts, information, and theories from ethnic studies into the school and teacher education curricula. The first phase of multicultural education thus can be termed “ethnic studies.” (p.11)

(2) A second phase of multicultural education emerged when educators interested in ethnic studies began to realize that inserting ethnic studies content into the school and teacher education curricula is nice, but it does not bring about school reforms that respond to the unique needs of ethnic minority students, and that help all students to develop more democratic racial and ethnic attitudes. “Multiethnic education” — education designed to bring about structural and systemic changes in the total school — was the second phase of multicultural education.

(3) The third phase of multicultural education emerged when groups such as women who viewed themselves as victims of the society and the schools, demanded the incorporation of their histories, cultures, and voices into the curricula and structure of the schools, colleges, and universities.

(4) The current or fourth phase of multicultural education consists of the development of theory, research, and practice that interrelate variables connected to race, gender, and class (Banks, 1995 p. 11-12).

Classical and contemporary scholars are responsible for the changes through which multicultural studies have undergone in the past years. As we saw previously, Durkheim contributed a vision of social cohesiveness through the establishment of rules and goals within a homogeneous community. The question is: How would Durkheim analyze a society where there is no homogeneity, and where ethnic influxes, racial diversity and cultural pluralism seem to be the most continuous trend?

Durkheim as a multicultural theorist

Durkheim wrote during times when his country was in social discord. He expressed the symptoms of their times within their writings. Later on, we will compare him to Weber, whom also pioneered sociology and wrote during times when his country was in upheaval as well.

According to Lemert (2005)

     Tensions expressed [their] master concepts….Weber’s iron cage, Durkheim’s anomie –were sensed through their societies. What they sensed through the veil of their bourgeois culture was confirmed in other writings repressed until recently by social theorists who experienced more directly the brutalities visited on ordinary people for reason of their race, gender- and more (Lemert, 2005 p. 9).

What this entails is that Durkheim, as well as Weber, wrote about social change in sense of political upheaval, and based their opinions on homogeneous cultural groups.  However, these two classic sociologists can also be deemed as pioneers in the inclusion of multiculturalism within sociology.  Let’s start this analysis with Durkheim, who used the scientific approach to study society, and advocated in favor of a thorough investigation of social changes.

In Durkheim’s world, a state of organization is achieved through the commonalties of the groups that interact within a society. Equality brings on goals and objectives for all to attain. Durkheim’s view of the world as a homogeneous body show why race, class, and sex are not the main focus of his work. In fact, in Durkheim’s view, race and differences in gender and ethnicity might create a social problem. In his words:  “Race and individuality are two contradictory forces which vary inversely with each other” (Durkheim, 1933 p. 304).

Ironically, though this view might be perceived as a connotation that racial diversity is a problem Durekheim is, in fact, an “antiracist of sorts” (Lehmamn 1995, p. 569).

Durkheim is only concerned about racial diversity because multiculturalism and ethnic pluralism are agents of change that might break the constant pattern of mechanical solidarity (Lehman, 1994 p.101) He proposes a series of “racial realities” that serve as a way to explain his views on multiculturalism (Lehman, 1994 p. 102).  One of these realities is, in Durkheim’s words, that race will eventually disappear. That the qualities that are inherent to each individual are delineated by environmental input, rather than genetic mandate.  He divides races into groups.  One of the groups is known as the “suprasocietal race” described as “the great primitive and fundamental races. Durkheim explains: “In the mingling of peoples, in the melting-pot of history” these “original” races merge into a unified whole, only to become subdivided again into distinct nations or societies” (Durkheim 1951 p. 84-85).

In simple terms, Durkheim views race as a consequence of environmental and social molds. Individuals are not, for example “just Jews” or “just Spanish”, but Jews and Spanish people who live in a society that may transform their behaviors, goals, and interests to meet the needs of a collective whole.  This is evident with this thought that “the transformation of a society from mechanical to organic, though complex, is a necessary” [step to take]. (Durkheim 1933  p.109).

 Durkheim also says,

     The individual, at birth, receives tastes and aptitudes predisposing him to certain functions more than to others, and those predispositions certainly have an influence on the way in which tasks are distributed.  [T]hese native talents are transmitted to us by our ancestors. They chain, then, us to our race. (Durkheim, 1933 p. 304)

It can be concluded that Durkheim viewed race as a scientifically and socially- induced trait.  Each individual within a societal group offers their inherent traits to the collective good of a social group. These traits are inherited through biology, and molded through society.  These individuals will each be a step to the process of building a society, which will ideally start out with a collective goal, (mechanical) and will develop into an organic (complex) entity. Durkheim is an advocate of Nurture versus Nature. He strongly believes that human development, social development, and individuality are influenced by the environment, and not by biological factors.

     Origins do not determine the special career of an individual; his congenital constitution does not predestine him necessarily to one role alone, making him incapable for any other, but he receives from heredity only very general dispositions, consequently very supple, and able to take different forms. (Durkheim, 1933 p. 330)

In addition to his contributions to sociology as an advocate of a

sociological approach, Durkheim defined the elements that make a society stable by citing homogeneity, equality, and commonality. As exposed before, his views of society were that, in order to achieve a good community it must change from mechanical to complex.  We also discussed that cultural diversity indeed compromises the possible links that make a society share common goals. Yet, there is still one more dimension that defines what Durkheim’s philosophy entails.  In this quest of understanding the source and consequences of common societal goals, Durkheim touched on the topic of racism.

In Durkheim’s view, when a society member resorts to feeling racially superior to another, it is not the racism itself what is driving the actions behind, but a society that failed to become organized.  When more members in one same community denote traits of racism, they are using the feelings of hatred and caution in ways that they should have used them to turn their community around. Therefore, racism is only a “symptom” of a much deeper underlying cause. In addition to this Durkheim suggests that racism has a cure (Lehmnann, 2005 p.401).  He says that racism shows that a group failed to transition to modernity, hence, “the cure for racism, like the cure for all social problems, is organic solidarity: Effective modern forms of social regulation and integration.” (Lehmann, 2005 p. 402) Durkheim also understands the complexity of this task, as he says, quote, “this is not the work of one day” (Durkheim, 1899 p. 62).

In his proposal to eliminate anti-Semitism, Durkheim says that there should be an “immediate and direct attack: where the first element would be to “repress severely every incitement to hatred by some citizens against others” (Durkheim, 1899 p. 62).  The second element is for the government to “take it upon itself to show the masses how they are being misled” (Durkheim, 1899, p. 346). The final element is to show society that the symptom of anti-Semitism should be seen as “public madness” (Durkheim, 1899 p. 62-63).  In Durkheim’s eyes, according to Lehmann (2005) “racism is in one sense merely an anachronistic survival of institutions and beliefs appropriate to caste society” (p.  403).

Durkheim summarizes this thought with the following quote:

   When the regime of castes has lost juridical force, it survives by itself in customs, and thanks to the persistence of certain prejudices, a certain distinction is attached to some individuals, a certain lack of distinction attached to others, independent of their merits (Durkheim 1933, p. 378).

As exposed earlier, multicultural studies have not become mainstream until modern times with the influx of diverse ethnicities in countries such as the United States. The fact that multicultural studies in the past had not received the attention that they receive in modern times makes Durkheimian sociology seem almost futuristic in terms of how it visualizes cultural diversity.  Durkheim was not a multicultural theorist. He did not focus his area of study in the analysis of race, demographics, or ethnicities. He, however, was the son of a Rabbi, who lived through the most turbulent times experienced in France. With his experiences as a French man, he also witnessed the harshness of anti-Semitism, he developed his sociological method to explain the reasons behind the chaos (Durkheim, 1899 p. 60). Within his studies, he addressed the inner causes of social deterioration, and the causalities of racism. Perhaps, without trying, Durkheim was able to see the pros and cons of diversity in society. 

Durkheim and Weber

Max Weber
Max Weber

There are similarities in the philosophical approaches of Durkheim and Weber.  Both theorists, as mentioned earlier, wrote during times when their countries were undergoing social and political change.  In Weber’s case, his contributions to the study of sociology range from his views in politics, economy, and community. Yet, Weber’s thesis of the relationship of capitalism and religion is what gives him a position in the league of classic multicultural sociologists.  This thesis is called the Protestant ethic theory (Weber, 1904).

According to Weber, capitalism is a result of the sociology of Protestants, particularly Calvinists.  Weber claims that the ideals of Protestants include that people would work and develop their own businesses, earning wealth.  This tendency among the Calvinist population, in Weber’s theory, is what developed the idea of capitalism (Weber, 1904 p xii).

It should be noted that in Weber does not only view capitalism as a form of economy. He observes a series of characteristics that are innate to capitalists as a society.  In his book The Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism contains Weber’s own critical analysis of what in his opinion is a trend among people of different religions in his native Germany. The value of his argument is its proximity to the issues of multiculturalism that are entailed within his theory.

Weber quotes,

     A glance at the occupational statistics of any country of mixed religious composition brings to light with remarkable frequency  a situation which has several times provoked discussion in the Catholic press and literature, and in Catholic congresses in Germany, namely, the fact that business leaders and owners of capital, as well as the higher grades of skilled labour, and even more the higher technically and commercially trained personnel of modern enterprises, are overwhelmingly Protestant (Weber, 1904 p.6).

     Yet, there is an additional dimension to observe in Weber’s words: He touches on elements that go beyond the mere stratification of labor among Protestants and Catholics. He extends their characteristics as laborers all the way to their behaviors and social tendencies. This denotes that Weber acknowledged the differences among these populations in his country. The difference between his views lies on the fact that he used the economy as the source from which these differences partake.

     On superficial analysis, and on the basis of certain current impressions, one might be tempted to express the difference by saying that the greater other-worldliness of Catholicism, the ascetic character of its highest ideals, must have brought up its adherents to a greater indifference toward the good things of this world. Such an explanation fits the popular tendency in the judgment of both religions. On the Protestant side it is used as a basis of criticism of those (real or imagined) ascetic ideals of the Catholic way of life, while the Catholics answer with the accusation that materialism results from the secularization of all ideals through Protestantism (Weber, 1904 p. 7).

            Weber goes further in quoting Offenbacher and supporting his observations on Protestants and Catholics.

According to Offenbacher,

    The Catholic is quieter, having less of the acquisitive impulse; he prefers a life of the greatest possible security, even with a smaller income, to a life of risk and excitement, even though it may bring the chance of gaining honor and riches. The proverb says jokingly, ‘either eat well or sleep well. In the present case the Protestant prefers to eat well, the Catholic to sleep undisturbed (Offenbacher, 1902 p. 58).

The Protestant ethic theory and the birth of the multicultural Weber

    Weber continued his studies on religion, taking into consideration different countries from every continent in the world. This comprehensive study is what defines him as a multicultural theorist (Radkau, 2005).  As a scholar, he observes the differences and similarities among groups with different backgrounds.  In his Protestant ethnic theory, or “Weber’s thesis.” Weber insists that the stratification of roles among the sociology of Calvinists resulted in the creation of secular jobs, the need for free enterprise, the want for accumulating wealth, and the eventual class division in society.  The pilgrims and puritans that came to America in the 1600’s from England were followers of such philosophy, as the majority were Calvinists. Hence, the “new country” would be one based on capitalism. America would officially become capitalist. (Gilroy, 2005)

        To Weber, religion was the catalyst responsible for the differences in the

development of the Orient and the Occident. He expanded his study of religion by exploring further cultures and the connection between their spiritual believes and their economic developments.  China’s Confucianism was perhaps one of the best ways to compare and contrast his previous work on Protestantism, due to the fact that capitalism never developed in China. This, according to Weber, was evidenced by the fact that status groups were the main division of social stratification in China, and not the divisions determined by wealth that we see in America. In Weber’s analysis, the Chinese develop into “status groups” (Weber,  1904). A status group is an elite group who is socially favored because of their ties to the leaders of the community, which often happens by their religious affiliation, honor, or prestige. The status group is based on kinship and the need to be close to the social paternal role, which is often the way a leader is viewed in non-capitalist societies (Gilroy, 2005).

     This prestige of a status group is more determined by the proximity of their leaders to a figure of power than to the wealth that each individual member has attained by himself. In Weber’s theory, this is why status groups, as opposed to social classes, are not as common among market-based, capitalist societies whose main focus is money and the economy. Weber has another name for that type of social separation.  He calls that a “social class” (Weber, 1904). In a capitalist society, most groups are divided into social classes, which are groups defined entirely by their material and economical assets. (Swedberg, 1999)

Hence, in Weber’s philosophical view groups are divided by belief systems, and the type of connection the group has to its leading force subdivides them within each belief system (Mommsen, 1992, p. 81).

Weber is also a multicultural because he continued his studies on the connection between religion and economy by tapping into more cultures.  After his studies on Taoism and Confucianism, he focused in yet another Asian strand of ethnic belief systems represented by Hinduism and Buddhism (Radkau, 2005).

Weber’s contributions with the study of Buddhist reflect that Weber again connects religion and social stratification through his analysis of the caste system.

In his particular observation of Buddhism, he concluded that the division of social groups in India was a result of marginalization of smaller groups during conquests and battles for power. This problem with this type of social division is that it breaks down groups so markedly, that individuals are not able to experience development, goals, and incentives for themselves. The belief system prevents society to develop economically and independently by maintaining a solid connection to the roots that made caste possible. Weber concluded that, in Oriental social systems and the divisions of class are somewhat cyclical:

When the leadership within a group is determined by a belief system, the sociology will, in turn, be dependant almost entirely on philosophies, and not facts.  In contrast, the Occidental society based itself in the Calvinistic and post-Lutheran notions of Protestant division of labor and the earning of wages. Since the Occidental society has a tangible goal in economic and market needs, individuals have an opportunity to build wealth, and progress within societal ranks. The result of this is notable in the behavior of such groups: According to Weber, the behavior of Occidentals is more career –based, goal-oriented, and focused on materials than the mind of the Oriental society. In a critical perspective, Weber is assertive in determining that the status groups from the East are still bound to the respect and honor which is provided to a leader. The leader, in the case of the Oriental cultures, is seen as a guiding force, a mentor, which will help the group as a whole to reach a common goal. Weber might seem a bit “sold” in the idea that all Oriental cultures think the same way, or determine their groups based in a similar criteria. Little is known about Weber’s take on other Oriental cultures. For example, did Weber take into consideration all cultures that exist in the Eastern Hemisphere? Has Weber done any in-depth analysis comparing of the Chinese status groups and the Arab status groups? Although his works intended to cover the Oriental culture as a whole, there are still gaps missing where he does not specifically describe the development of social and status groups in cultures where there is indeed a market economy. What would Weber thing of status groups in countries who depend on individual and group wealth for self-sustenance? Would he conclude that a group who earns a living does not necessarily abide by an honor code of status? Weber’s theory might be sufficient to explain some of the behaviors of societies with a high-ranking honor code, but it does not finish the job of synthesizing in depth the debate between status by wealth versus status by hierarchy.

Perhaps Weber’s own words summarize the gist of his philosophy in a more proper way.

Man is dominated by the making of money, by acquisition as the ultimate purpose of his life. Economic acquisition is no longer subordinated to man as the means for the satisfaction of his material needs. This reversal of what we should call the natural relationship, so irrational from a naive point of view, is evidently as definitely a leading principle of capitalism as it is foreign to all peoples not under capitalistic influence. At the same time it expresses a type of feeling which is closely connected with certain religious ideas. If we thus ask, why should “money be made out of men”, Benjamin Franklin himself, although he was a colourless deist, answers in his autobiography with a quotation from the Bible, which his strict Calvinistic father drummed into him again and again in his youth: “Seest thou a man diligent in his business? He shall stand before kings” (Proverbs 22:29)” (Weber, 1958 p. 47-53).

A Comparison of Durkheim and Weber

        What makes Weber a multicultural sociologist is his inclusion of religion and philosophical beliefs into his original study of economics. As an economist and as a sociologist, Weber analyzed the stratification of social class by ranks in a manner much similar to Durkheim’s study on the division of labor in society. Also like Durkheim, Weber focused on changes taking place in his native Germany. His hypothesis argued that (a) religion and economy have a synergetic history where each feeds of each other, (b) that societies who have developed into capitalist countries were primarily influenced by the Protestant beliefs of Luther, and then Calvin, whom instilled in their followers the first signs of earning wages and developing a free enterprise, (c) that the American capitalist mentality is a direct result of these philosophies and (d) that this mentality has resulted in a society whose behaviors and drive are influenced entirely by materialism, contrary to its Oriental counterparts whom still rank their society by philosophical variables directly related to honor, and faith. (Radkau, 2005).  The influence of Weber’s work is still felt today, for his daring analysis of the combination of religion and economy.  To some contemporary philosophers, however, Weber is a pessimist who is at constant war with “Marx’s ghost” (Radkau, 2005). The reason for some of this criticism lies on Weber’s observation that the growth in socialism in countries such as Russia would halt any chances for free market economies, which is a prediction that Karl Marx had done previously.  He also says that materialism leads to loneliness, basically, and that a man would eventually end up living in what he dubbed as an “iron cage” (Weber, 1958  p.34). In a society where capitalism is key, market is essential and trade is monumental, it would be normal to think of Weber as a radical. It would also be almost acceptable to disregards his observations as idealistic, pessimistic, and critical of a world that is working well. After analyzing Weber, it is almost inevitable to raise questions about today’s influence of religion in economics. Back then, when his theory was developed, the influx of diversity that is seen today in America, for example, was perhaps something expected from a fiction novel. Today, with the influx of ethnicities from countries torn away by war, disasters, or economic failure makes us integrate different belief systems into our psyche. In these years where new and formerly untapped faiths such as Islam take a first page cover in our newspapers, we are nothing but obligated to accept that our views of society will undoubtedly change. In a time where terrorism is directly linked to religion, it would be interesting to know how the social and status groups of such religions match up to the social stratification proposed by Weber. Weber’s theory allows for further studies, and opens the book of thought for the many changes that we experience today in society. Perhaps the discussions regarding Weber will continue for years to come, yet, they are still resonant in today’s contemporary sociology.

What Durkheim deemed as division of labor based on credit, Weber subdivided into social stratification driven by religion. Those views are exemplary of societies with sudden changes, and explosive events. Durkheim’s France had just begun reconstruction from the French Revolution; his entire country was in the process of economical, political and therefore social transformation. Rules, regulations, leaders, and ideals had to be put together to visualize a future for a country formerly ruled by oppressive aristocrats. The changes that Durkheim observed during his analytical years included the changes in society as reformation took place, the disdain against Jews (such as himself), and his idea that racism is a weak link that denotes lack of power, and control; a sudden fear against a group that represents every single step that another group could have taken to obtain total control of a territory. That is sociology, according to Durkheim.

Weber also analyzed culture, society, economics and even the meaning of life through the observations he made in his native Germany. As the political battles for the control of the country was increasing inner feelings of nationalism which would eventually lead to World War I, Weber also searched for an explanation that would define how societies become the way they are. In his analysis, he included diverse cultures to identify the connection between their religious beliefs and the development of their economy. With his observations, he undeniably concluded a pattern of economical, political, and social behavior that is radically different between Oriental and Occidental societies. The first is a society based on morals, validation, and proximity to a symbolic figure of leadership; the latter is a society based on material gain, economical possibilities, and proximity to wealth. His multicultural value lies on the deep analysis of the sociology of religions around the world, and the way they still influence their followers today.

The new sociologist encounters different challenges than those brought in by Durkheim and Weber.  Margaret Mead is only one of many contemporary sociologists who also observe the changes taking place in her immediate society, and tries to set a pattern or identify trends that will help predict changes in the future.

Margaret Mead in Samoa circa 1923
Margaret Mead in Samoa circa 1923



Current issues: The Controversial Research Methods of Margaret Mead

        Margaret Mead is a contemporary sociologist whose body of work came to life in the 1920’s.  Mead can be considered a contemporary sociologist because to this day her work is bound to controversial arguments over the validity of her investigations, and the quality of the observations that she claimed to have made in her published works.  The reason why Margaret Mead should be considered in this analysis of theories of sociology is because the arguments against her findings still resonate in today’s sociological studies, particularly those concerning multiculturalism.

When Margaret Mead was a graduate student, she experienced a situation similar to Durkheim’s and Weber’s.  Society and the world, as she knew them, were changing the way France was changing in Durkheim’s times and Germany was changing in Weber’s time. Mead’s society was the 1920 America. Her focus became the analysis of the behavior of youths from that generation. Mead became curious about what she considered to be a radical change in the behavior of adolescents who were brought up in the 1920’s, and were experiencing the foreign influx of the 1940’s with the immigration of Europeans caused by World War II. According to the book’s introduction made by Varenne (1942), Mead’s analysis was “the second [analysis of American society] since de Tocqueville.” He also mentions that these were times “when Americans were confronted by both Europe and Asia in a challenging manner.”  This focus in study is what makes Mead a cultural scientist: She observes the changes in society related to the communities that are a part of it. What makes her a multicultural theorist is that she focuses on the influence of diversity in the affect and daily activities of the members of any social group.    

            Mead’s analysis of adolescents concluded in that the advent of War, and the influence of the groups whom emigrated to the United States marked the beginning of a series of changes in American society that began with education (Mead, 1942). Mead claims that the generation born in the 1920’s find themselves experiencing the changes of the 1940’s and enjoying the privileges of the changes brought in by World War I.  In Mead’s analysis, the 1920’s were times when major changes in the family structure were talking place: The children were better educated in school than their parents were, and there were the beginnings of the future generations who were going to outsmart their parents in the future.  According to Mead, the generation of children born in the 1920’s experienced something their parents did not: A change of pace in the school systems that began with the teachers, “often younger than the parents” pointing out in the children the things they are privileged to know, and their parents do not (Mead, 1942, p. 61).

In a cyclic way, the parents become rebellious against the teacher and the child. In Mead’s words:

    Children come from school anxious to put their parents in their place, and quote the teacher’s word against theirs. It is small wonder that American parents retaliate by taking a savage interest in the teacher’s character, by surveying her morals with …scrutiny…In a sense she is the enemy.

….they have turned their children over to her to be made smarter than themselves, and to learn a lot of things that they never needed to know. But just let them find her wanting in someway, failing to teach the children what the parents do know- the sacred symbol of the little bit of the Past which is worthy of respect, the Three R’s- and they have become merciless (Mead, 1942 p. 61).

This analysis of life in the 1940’s was what prompts Mead to continue analyzing the development of other adolescents. Her overall conclusion with the American youth is that it was to “stressed” and “preoccupied” to develop properly, regardless of whether they have the correct biological elements to grow. She believes that environmental triggers in the American way of life were the key element to this inability for proper development, and all the triggers she attributes to war.  Mead goes as far as saying:

     The youngest child, his physical stamina, its psychological security might be a factor in the resistance, in the total effort of whole people, for if great numbers of children die-or even refuse to eat-under the stress of total war, the courage and the energy of the parents will be by that much lessened and depleted (Mead, 1942, p. 71).

Why would this analysis make Mead’s philosophical benchmark a target for controversy in the study of sociology?  For once, Margaret Mead concluded beyond doubt that the social triggers of war were the only influential reason why society changed creating an educational system that would make adolescents rebellious and stressed. Yet, this was only one dimension of her entire study. According to critics such as Freeman (1973), Mead utilized this theory to initiate further and more complex studies following the same line of thought. In other words, Mead’s idea that the effects of war created children that were both anxious and over-educated made her want to prove her theory in other countries. This fascination with proving one’s point without looking at other alternatives is a major mistake any branch of study, and puts any findings in jeopardy (Orans, 1996).

            Mead’s studies continued and expanded to other countries. However, it was her study “Coming of Age in Samoa” what made her body of work subject of scrutiny.  Mead’s purpose was to compare and contrast what she deemed as stressed-out American teenagers to youth group which is less concerned about social values, rules and regulations. She decided to take her studies to Samoa, and research the coming of age of Samoan adolescent girls as they hit their puberty. Mead’s concluded that she was correct in her hypothesis that Samoan youths developed with less psychological problems than the Americans. The problem with Mead’s findings is, however, that she contrasted both societies based on her opinions which were already biased by her firm hypothesis that Samoans indeed have a better mental and psychological development than Americans. What followed in her research were a series of conclusions that sounded “too good to be true.” Not only had Mead proved to herself (and the world) that she was correct in her assumptions, but she also provided a long literature of reasons why her conclusion was correct. She provided a deep dissection of the many dimensions in which Samoans develop better than Americans, and offered her personal experiences with the Samoans as evidence to this matter.  She claimed that the sexual freedom of Samoan girls outweighs the sexual tension that American girls undergo by wish of their parents, whom wish to see them get married and have children.  Mead blamed just about every aspect of the American way of life to be accounted for the development of what she called “neurotic” youths (Mead, 1942 p. 125). Mead had to support the findings of her Samoan research. Her theories had been put under scrutiny by Freeman (1999) and had been the subject of consistent wonder and question. By providing a visual of a radically unproductive, nervous, and stressed-out American youth in the advent of war, Mead has the opportunity to prove her research right. Unfortunately, in doing so, she employed the same methodology of near-fanaticism to make her theories look correct, and once again she appeared to be more of a utopian writer, than an anthropologist (Freeman, 1999). Yet, controversy aside, her work continued to rise to the top, perhaps because, as stated before, “people really wanted to believe.”

In contrast, she was obvious in underlining how much better the primitive ways of Samoans help children in their physical and psychological development. In her book “And Keep your Powder Dry,” Mead insists that the educational system of Americans is one of the environmental stressors that makes our youth unable to fully function. In Mead’s own words:

     The difference lies not in the proportion of time in which their activities are directed and the proportion of time in which they are free, but rather in the difference of attitude. With the industrialization of education and the specialization of industrial tasks which has stripped the individual home of its former variety of activities, our children are not made to feel that the time they do devote to supervised activity is functionally related to the world of adult activity (Mead, 1942 p. 126)

     Mead’s study on Samoans was at first received with accolades and acceptance. Later on, however, her research became tarnished with observations made by her peers. The work ethics, research material, evidence, focal points, and basis of information began to be questioned, as they did not show the social methodological approach (which Durkheim and Weber supported, as stated before) that is so needed to separate bias from observations. What are the implications of Mead’s Samoan studies in the study of Multiculturalism? In many ways, Mead’s research set guidelines for future sociologists whom also wanted to find the “holy grail” of their assumptions in one simple trip to a remote place where all their ideas would be proven right.

Mead made conclusions that were very final, and clearly pointed out that she was right all along. In terms of Samoan youths, Mead offered, …with the exception of the few cases … adolescence represented no period of crisis or stress, but was instead an orderly developing of a set of slowly maturing interests and activities”  (Mead, 1928, p. 95). This would have proven beyond doubt that Mead made the exceptional task of creating an absolute.

Yet, when people such as Freeman place emphasis on her work, and how the conclusions provided by Mead seemed to be so agreeable to her initial hypothesis, he decides to break down her study and found flaws that to this day have altered  sociology, and has made more restrictions in the ways that investigators present their findings.

Mead was a strong believer in psychoanalysis. She believed that development, particularly the development of youth was entirely motivated by the environment in which they grow. This caused a stir in many sociologists of the time who bounded many attributes of individuals to a biological base. In 1925, Margaret Mead, tested “Stanley Hall’s adolescent stress hypothesis–that is, the characteristic rebelliousness, turmoil, and mood swings of adolescence were part of the innate biological script, a fixed stage in the human maturational process.”  (Scheper-Hughes 1984, p. 85) What this means is that Mead “falsified biologism” (Welty, 1990), that is, she used information from her research as a way to dismantle the philosophy of biologists, who contend that adolescent is a combination of biological and hormonal changes that produce the behaviors they have. The result was that Mead would seem antagonistic to biologists. It also made Mead look like she was willing to do all she could to prove herself correctly. (Welty, 1990)

Freeman, Mead’s most fierce adversary thought that the assumptions she brought to the table were too superficially bound.  He claims that Mead did not spend enough time with the natives to gather as much information as she had. He also argued Mead’s lack of communication and language skills to interact with the natives. The worst part was that, according to studies made by Freeman himself, the two natives whom had informed Mead of most of the practices of the tribes were interviewed years later in their elderly years. They both claimed to have said to Mead what she wanted to hear, and that they never said one word of truth in Mead’s investigation (Freeman, 1983). Freeman went as far as concluding further: “I have yet to meet a Samoan who agrees with Mead’s assertion that adolescence in Samoan society is smooth, untroubled, and unstressed.” (Freeman, 1983, p. 259)

Mead’s mistake was not only providing data that seemed to be altered to fulfill a purpose but also creating conclusions without enough scientific evidence. When Freeman (1983) confronted her findings and classified them as false, a long debate developed that remains to this day: How ethically are scientists working their observations, and how objective are they at the time of making conclusions? He concludes in his book The Hoaxing of Margaret Mead that her findings lacked the scientific support and objective reliability that is needed to observe a culture with the caution of not becoming biased.  Freeman insists Mead’s description of the Samoan way of life was “concerning,” “ungrounded” and invalid” (Freeman, 1983 p. 83).

According to Freeman, “the depictions on which Mead based this assertion are, in varying degree, mistaken” (Freeman, 1983 p. xii-xiii). Freeman conducted his own research trying to disprove Mead. He claimed that the two native Samoans whom spoke to Mead in the interview declared that they had lied to Mead.  Freeman wrote about five books where he disproves Mead’s work as fictional.

Orans (1999) also noticed these discrepancies as he notes that Mead is not alone in carrying on with a tendency to prove something beyond reasonable doubt: Something that, in a way we all want to believe to be true.

     Occasionally a message carried by the media finds an audience so eager to receive it that it is willing to suspend all critical judgment and adopt the message as its own. So it was with Margaret Mead’s celebrated ‘Coming of Age in Samoa (Orans, 1999 p. 1(a) ).

He also adds

 …Mead’s misleading generalizations were not the considered opinions of one who had engaged in a voyage of discovery but the polemical claims of one anxious to make a case (Orans, 1999 p. 1(e)).

Yet, this type of research behavior left her with some marks in the world: Mead also introduced the concept of cultural relativism “. . . at a time when racist thinking was rampant in American society. . . ‘Survival of the fittest’ became the rallying cry behind the eugenics movement, a racist immigration policy, and miscegenation laws . . .” (Scheper-Hughes 1984. p. 86).  By creating this type of cultural determinism, Mead allowed the eyes of many scientists whom had not taken the time to explore and question other cultures to go into the study of sociology and understand the diversity that exists within. (Welty, 1990)

Mead’s contributions, regardless of the nature of their controversy, weighed far more as influence than as obstacles. Her primary contribution has been observed as the fact that she opened the doors to the exploration of diversity, and opened the narrow minds of many in the sociology academia who continued with a Euro-centric and white-based research trend that would have never taken any turns to study other cultures. Margaret Mead’s contributions are a combination of her personality as a professional, the candor of her writings, and the fact that she brought in a possibly utopic research depicting an ideal scenario, which made perhaps other sociologists take the risk to dream that big as well.

Mead’s anthropology had many other red, white and blue- blooded virtues. One was the common anthropological conceit, out of which she made a career, to the effect that the ultimate value of studying other cultures was the use we could make of them to reconstruct our own – a heady kind of intellectual imperialism, as if the final meaning of others’ lives was their significance for us (Sahlins (1984).

Conclusion of Margaret Mead

        Mead’s work was dubbed as “false” and “stereotypical” (Freeman, 1999). Her work has been criticized as performed “in error” (Freeman, 1983 p. a xii). Although there is a number of sociologists who support her work, Mead’s controversy made her peers think of her work as “ambivalent” and “popularizing” (Orans, 1996 p.6). Yet, those whom supported her work agree that the reason why her name is continuously quoted by sociologists today is precisely because her studies and line of work represent the ethical part of sociology that scientists want to ensure to never tarnish. The importance of Margaret Mead to the sociological community has many dimensions. One of them is that her controversy has made more notable the need for unbiased, clean, and objective reporting when analyzing different cultures. In addition to the validity of her work, she also opens the debate of whether sociological research is backed by enough biological facts that can support most theories of behavioral development (Orans, 1996).

The other great importance of her work is that she opened the debate of nature versus nurture, and claimed that the environment is what eventually shapes the behaviors of people.  This point of view agitated many sociologists who believed in biological, rather than environmental agents of social change, and most of the argument was based on her views (Orans, 1996).

     Orans summarizes in his book Not even wrong: Margaret Mead, Derek Freeman and the Samoans (1996) the reasons why he believes Margaret Mead’s work was controversial, yet became so influential to the study of modern sociology.  He provides reasoning about our natural tendencies to label, categorize, and create expectations and assumptions about things we do not know. He mentions how at times even scholars become subjective about issues that must remain objective such as sexual behavior, morals, and ethics. Orans also offers that, at times, scientists and scholars are so swayed by their hypotheses that they provide closure to their ideals with anything that remotely agrees with their proposal. In other words, we want to believe so badly in one thing that we end up making up assumptions for it in the hopes that they become true.

In Oran’s own words,

     I believe that there are two basic reasons for the general failure to                 recognize Mead’s extensive methodological faults. The first of these is      ideological: We wanted Mead’s findings to be correct. We believed that a         more permissive sexual code would be of benefit to us all. More            important, her findings were a coup for the proponents of the importance            of culture vis-à-vis biology. ….

….The fact that the message was delivered in a skillful and charming manner and that we had inherited a vision of a South Sea Island paradise enhanced the acceptability of findings that were ideologically palatable

    (Orans, 1996  p. 124)

        But perhaps Mead’s own perception of the world is what made her influence so remarkable. Her letters denote a scientist who wrote like a poet. A sensible human being experience sensibility and humanity in every one of her moves. Mead’s contribution is based on what she made of sociology, not only what she made of her own work. Because of Meade, sensibility began to take form in the study of cultural diversity. She might have been the one iconic figure who brought forward an interest on the difference and similarities among cultures. Her message came across, maybe with controversy, but came through nevertheless to this day. Margaret Mead is multicultural sociology.

The following quote summarizes this idea and perhaps shows why in many ways Margaret Mead’s idealistic and somewhat romanticized view of the world made such an impact that it was able to forgive one of the most unpardonable things to do in sociology: Creating a world for you to investigate. 

     If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse human gift will find a fitting place. (Margaret Mead, 1941 p.34)


                Durkheim proposes a society where labor is divided equally by those who aspire to the common good of one same community. A group of people who join in a common goal will eventually develop into more complex and individually-thinking human beings who will attain personal goals as well.  A lack of order and organization will result in a chaotic anomie, where fear and disorder will rule. Durkheim was a sociologist of organized thinking, and structure, which lead him to the development of the sociological method: A way to analyze society as an organism.  This organism he referred to was society as he knew it. Durkheim argued that the societal organism was as needful of care, stability, structure, and consistency as a living organism. It needed the basic elements to maintain itself afloat of change, and ahead of times. Hence, education, motivation, and the setting of goals in a society where everyone works evenly is what Durkheim would consider to be the elements of societal change for the better. He set the road for Weber, and other sociologists whom also agreed that society should be analyzed from the perspective of those who wish to achieve equality within it.

            Weber, a person whom also realized that society needs a methodology to follow its changes and processes engaged in Durkheim’s methodological approach to view societal change, yet, added the cultural component that was missing even from Durkheim’s own sociocultural additions: Religion. Weber used Durkheim’s sociological method to explore the roots of social change based on his belief that religion and economy came hand-in-hand. His contributions are both controversial, and historical. At no point in time had anyone opened up the world to the possibility that capitalism has its roots in Calvin Protestantism, or that the caste and social stratas of Asian cultures have a tendency to honor lineage and social relations over wealth and material gain. Like Durkheim, Weber’s work is still open to debate. To what extend do we attribute the elements of change seen in some societal groups, and make them a “rule?”  To what point does a trend become a norm? Can we, as sociological analysts take the freedom of wanting to label one cultural pattern of behavior over another and call it “accurate multiculturalism?”  Both Weber and Durkheim were assertive in determining that education and consistent communication of goals were the key elements to maintain order and activity in a society without a fear of chaos. Yet, Durkheim’s contributions, just like Weber’s can transmute into further analyses:  Again, to what extend is division of labor and common goal-setting a viable method of social reform among groups? To what extend can we apply the sociological method into societies that have already tried division of labor, and failed? How can Durkheim’s vision of anomie explain the current situation in the Middle East where people are clearly (or perhaps apparently) bound to Islam, a religious system that sets their basic societal goals almost automatically?

            What would Weber do knowing that in today’s society people have monetary attachments to terrorist groups whom abide by the rules of their religion, which is also entirely bound to honor and the following of a common leader? In today’s society, Weber and Durkheim still resonate with ideals of structural analysis, but most of all, they permeate the study of sociology with their contributions in terms of methodology and further analysis.

            Margaret Mead’s work, compared to Weber and Durkheim, is more like a work of realistic fiction. If Durkheim were alive today, he would have been the first to question Mead’s methodology to determine the veracity of her findings. Just like Freeman probed Mead’s every theory, Durkheim and Weber would have wondered where is the physical, biological, psychological and quantifiable evidence that would clearly declare Samoan youth better suited than American youth. Weber would have attached to her findings his own in-depth analysis of the social rules of Samoan families. He probably would have enjoyed listening to Mead’s accounts where she explains how youngsters escaped the rules of their leaders to go and commit improper sexual acts. Perhaps he would have joined Mead to analyze further how these leaders obtained their rule, and to what extent they truly influence the moral responsibility of the rest of the tribe.  He would have questioned the validity of religiosity within the Samoan culture, and (like Mead) he would have determined ways to label Samoans the way he labeled the religious tendencies and economic results of Occidentals and Orientals.

            Durkheim, however, would have disagreed in many aspects when it came to the labeling. He would have wanted further analysis, since his approach is more scientific than dramatic, as it is with Mead. He would have developed a system where longitudinal studies might have seen changes in the trends of Samoans, in order to clearly see whether Mead’s theories were correct or not.  He would have doubted, and he would have probed.  Still, in the world of cultural sociology, chances are we will get the correct answers to most theories.

            Multiculturalism, as stated before, is a secondary thread that developed with the influx of populations that most sociologists knew nothing about at the time of their arrivals. Half the study of cultural sociology has been performed in the past 100 years, with many cultures still being labeled and judged superficially without an in-depth analysis of their history.  Durkheim and Weber represent perhaps the most accurate epitome of what a social scientist should be: A person who probes, a person who questions, who explores, who analyzes, and who tries to get responses as scientifically accurate as possible. Mead also fits the probing and exploring parts of this epitomized view of the sociologist, but it is her work what puts into question the very essence of the scientific nature of sociology. To what point will we continue to “see what we want to see?” or “believe what we want to believe”? Perhaps the sociologists of the 21st century will encounter ways to crack down the membrane of bias that continues to permeate the accuracy of multicultural analysis. Perhaps they would have put to good use the advice of the sociology greats and hopefully they would have learned from the mistakes of others. On and all, the world of multiculturalism is changing at the same rate as it is increasing. It will be a very different world when the sociologist of the future comes to analyze the changes taking place today. Until then, there is only one thing to do: Continuing to educate ourselves in the differences of others, and learning to accept that no one culture can provide the answers for the changes that take place in the world.




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