Frances R. Donovan and The Chicago School of Sociology: A Case Study in Marginality

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This work examines the Chicago School's contribution to sociological analysis using the life and works of one of its marginal figures, Frances R. Donovan. A "reflexive" approach to the history of sociology turns the early Chicago School's study of "the other" upon itself. Frances Donovan, an English teacher in the Chicago Public Schools, wrote three studies of working women: The Woman Who Waits (1920); The Saleslady (1929) and The School Ma'am (1939). The Saleslady was part of The Chicago Sociology Series. Edited by Robert E. Park and Ernest Burgess, this series included The Hobo, The Ghetto and The Gold Coast and The Slum, among other publications now regarded as early classics in urban ethnography. These studies also are known for their middle class preoccupation with marginal "types" and deviant subcultures, as well as a neglect of studies on women. Therefore, Frances Donovan's own marginal status and unique research interests offer a different perspective on the Chicago School's treatment of other outsiders. Chapter One traces the development of the concept of marginality within the Chicago School from its founding in 1892 until the late 1930's, Georg Simmel's role theory, specifically that of "the stranger," maverick personalities in the department and women's isolated status in academics are included as evidence. Chapter Two is a biographical sketch of Frances Donovan, drawing on unpublished manuscripts and contacts with those who knew her before her death in 1968. Given the dearth of information on early women in sociology, the life of Frances Donovan gives evidence of a kind of woman who worked independently with no credentials, network, or funding to do her research. Chapter Three places Donovan's studies in the context of other works of the Sociology Series. Finally, Chapter Four explores her unique methodology of "disguised" participant-observation. As a waitress, saleswoman and teacher-critic, Donovan raises an important question regarding the relationship between the observer and the observed in social science. Furthermore, Donovan's motivations and personal rewards for doing her own brand of sociology are located in a larger participant-observation tradition including the anthropologists Ruth Benedict and Hortense Powdermaker. The studies of "muckrakers" of the Progressive period also provide a historical context for women's role-playing. Besides marginality, this last chapter emphasizes a second major theme of this inquiry: the transformative nature of the fieldwork experience.