William Fielding Ogburn

William Fielding Ogburn (1886-1959), American sociologist, statistician, and educator, was concerned with quantitative methods and with the role of technology in social organization.

William Ogburn was born in Butler, Ga., on June 29, 1886. He received his bachelor of science degree at Mercer University and his master of arts degree (1909) and doctorate in sociology (1912) from Columbia University. He was professor of sociology and economics at Reed College (1912-1917) and professor of sociology at the University of Washington (1917-1918). During World War I he was with the National War Labor Board and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Ogburn was professor of sociology at Columbia University (1919-1927) and professor of sociology at the University of Chicago (1927-1951). He was director of research for the President's Research Committee on Social Trends (1930-1933), director of the Consumers Advisory Board of the National Recovery Administration (1933), and research consultant of the Science Committee, National Resources Committee (1935-1943). He was president of the American Statistical Association and the American Sociological Society. From 1953 till his death on April 27, 1959, Ogburn was visiting professor of sociology at Florida State University.

Description and measurement of the tangible aspects of social change were the recurring themes in Ogburn's career. His first major formulation of these problems appeared in Social Change (1922), where he traced social evolution through the invention and accumulation of mechanical and scientific forms. He gave special attention to the apparent gap between technical developments and adjustments in values, laws, and customs in contemporary society. This discrepancy, which he named cultural lag, was widely borrowed in later years to explain difficulties and resistances to social change.

During the next 20 years Ogburn encouraged investigators in specifying the effects of technological change in selected social activities. An early and continuing interest in family changes was expressed in several works, particularly American Marriage and Family Relationships (1928) and Technology and the Changing American Family (1955). As research administrator, he stimulated analyses of varied technological changes in Recent Social Trends (2 vols., 1933).

Ogburn's quantitative interests were applied in studies of elections, in many articles on population trends, and in a classic early survey of urban population and economic patterns, Social Characteristics of Cities (1937). A particularly ambitious work, The Social Effects of Aviation (1946), tried to anticipate the varied consequences of expanded use of air transport for economic, political, recreational, and other aspects of modern society. The widest dissemination of his views has probably developed from Sociology, a textbook in collaboration with Meyer Nimkoff, which has been revised several times since 1940.

Further Reading on William Fielding Ogburn

Otis Dudley Duncan summarized Ogburn's work and provided a number of excerpts from his writings in his edition of Ogburn's On Culture and Social Change: Selected Papers (1964). Ogburn's work is also discussed in Llewellyn Gross, ed., Symposium on Sociological Theory (1959).