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A CONVERSATION WITH PAUL F. LAZARSFELD* Nico SEHR Unuversity of Alberta ‘The American Sociologist 1982, Vol 17 (August) 150-185 The following 1s an edited transcript of a conversation with Paul F Lazarsfeld, recorded a few months before Ins death in the fall of 1976 The conversation took place dunng a visit by Lazarsfeld 10 the Unwersuy of Alberta where a group of graduate students and I had organized ‘an informal seminar which was concerned veh the development of diverse intellectual tradiions in sociology in general and the intersechon of biography, history, and ideas 1m particular * Our discussions wuh Lazarsfeld were mast intensive and lasted three days The transcript which follows was video-taped at the end of these sessions and represents, in some sense. a summary of our discussions. However, it was not our intention to critically scrutinize ‘and debate tdeas and past intellectual developments, rather we were concerned wh the more preluninary work of gaining insights into the nature of the tradition and the genesis of Lazarsfeld's work In particular, we were interested im the dissemination of European intellectual developments in social science 10 North America at a particular historical juncture ‘And what better wuness than Paul Lazarsfeld who was a, if not the, central figure in this {ruatful exchange brought about by the most tragic historical circumstances Stehr: If you could first describe to us, Dr. Lazarsfeld, something about your biography, especially what brought you to sociology. Lazarsfeld: Well, I was lucky in the sense that in my youth empirical sociology was not very well developed, What was most needed were amateurs who knew a litte bit of a number of fields, and I fitted this picture very well Twas born in Vienna, Austria, and got my degree there. So, I grew up in an atmosphere where speculative thinking was very impor- tant. But I also happened to be very interested in empirical research, partly because 1 was trained as a mathematician and partly because empirical social research was of considerable political interest in that time of a rapidly rising Labour party in Austria So my background was politics and mathe- matics and a European humanistic training And out of these many roots of my work came a form of empirical research, with a great em- phasts on getting not just isolated results but in combining them into larger units. At the same time, because so many fields were involved, tt was very important to have a clear picture of what one was doing at a certain moment, and that led me to a very strong interest in method ology, that is, in explication of the kind of research that I and my colleagues did * Address correspondence to Nico Stehr, De- partment of Sociology, University of Alberta, Ed- monton, Alberta, Canada T6G 214, The’ work of the group, which included at the lume of the vist by Paul Lazarsfeld, Marlyn Assheton-Smith, David Alexander, Anthony Sim: ‘mons, Donald Motiershead, and Brian Gibbon, was supported by a grant from the Department of Ad: vanced Education, Province of Alberta I think this conglomerate of my biography characterizes most of the work I have done. Stehr: There are two dates I would like you to state, if you would please. One is of a very famous study that you did with Marie Jahoda, among others, on a town with a high rate of unemployment in Austria. Could you give us the year that was done and also the year you came to the United States? That would give us points of reference. Lazarsfeld: Marienthal was the name of this, town. The study (Lazarsfeld et al., 1933), 1 think the third major book my collaborators ‘and I published, still in Vienna and in German, ‘was begun about 1929. This was during the tume my American friends call “the depres- sion”: but I have always had the impression that they did not really know what the depres- sion was. The misery and poverty of Central Europe at that time, the amount of unemploy- ment and the lack of policy toward it, was much more gruesome than anything one knew in North America. So to really see what this, kind of long-lasting unemployment does to people, this study was begun in 1929, Ithad, indeed, a connection with my coming to the United States because the study aroused considerable interest—it was one of the first mayor studies of unemployment, and 1 also very programmatically tried to combine em- prical work with basic conceptual ideas. And so I came to the attention of the Rockefeller Foundation You wanted two dates. In 1932 I was awarded a two-year travelling fellowship to the United States i amved in 1933. The first two years in the United States T could do whatever 150 Copyright © 2001. All Rights Reserved. A CONVERSATION WITH PAUL F. LAZARSFELD I wanted and go wherever T wanted, and be- cause of my interest in unemployment I began work with the new Roosevelt administration which was then very much interested m studying unemployment. ‘When my fellowship came to an end in 1935, things in Austria had become unpleasant. Hit- ler wasn’t yet there; he came to Austria only in 1938 But there was an intermediate fascistic government which was not to my taste, so I stayed. My major job at the time was to be director of another Rockefeller project stud) ing the effect of radio, which was then quite new, on American society. That lasted a few years; then, in 1939 { became a member of the faculty of Columbia University and have been there since. Stehr: I would like you to expand upon one point a bit, especially since I have the feeling that one of the very prominent criticisms of the kind of sociology, empirical sociology, with which your name is associated, is that this type of research is really rather apolitical. If I re- ‘member correctly, in our earlier discussion you had emphasized how important political incen- tives were in doing empirical soctal research in Vienna. 1 wonder whether you could very briefly explain to us what you felt was the significance of your political concerns at the time for getting involved in empirical social research. Lazarsfeld: That's a very good question. One has to explain that by comparing the political structure of a country like Austria with a country lke the United States. In Austria, doing empirical research on the situation of the working class was of very great political im- portance because it clarified the difference, that is, the importance of social stratification. ‘The same young people who worked with me in Austria (and returned) are now well-known the present Chancellor of Austria, Bruno Kreisk, belonged to the group of people who did those early studies with me. Now, the rea- son that this alliance was so simple is that you had, as in England, an increasingly powerful labor movement: the Labour party, supported by very uncorrupt unions. So the political pic- ture in Austria at the time was quite similar to that in England today ‘When I came to the United States, (a) there was no labor party, and (b) there was interest on the part of American unions in re- search or information So, something which formed a very natural unity in Austria broke up in America. Now, I'don’t think I really had the choice of going into politics in the United States. As T told you, I did what T could: 1 worked right 151 away on research for the New Deal. But that lasted for a very short period. Going into real politics was still, at that time, very difficult for someone who hardly spoke English. Also, there was no natural place like the Labour party to go to. And I suppose that slowly I dnfted into emphasizing more and more my research work and increasingly lost, or never really gained, contact with American politics, very much to my regret. I think of myself sometimes as a frustrated politician, and be- cause I cannot run a party club in America I have always run research institutes. I feel that my political instincts have been completely frustrated, that my polities and research have never really gotten re-united in the United States. Whether I could have taken another road is very difficult to say. In retrospect I wouldn't even say that it was a choice. It was just that the only way I could stay in the United States (as I wanted to) was by emphasizing my skills as a research person and a research orga- nizer. Stehr: Professor Lazarsfeld, you've described how your original interest in empirical sociol- ogy came about as a result of, on the one hand, your training as a mathematician and, on the other hand, your interest in socialism and re- search for labor organizations. I wonder if you have any comments on the interesting transformation which has taken place in the use of empirical research. Since the very deci- sion to do empirical research on working class institutions, for example in Vienna in the 1930s, could be regarded as a progressive political movement of sociologists, how do you feel about the situation which perhaps could be considered to have occurred in the United States, in which the foundations of the work that you were responsible for laying have now essentially passed over into the hands of the more affluent and powerful sections of society’? For example, your own work in market studies has now formed the basis of advertising and promotional campaigns which, it could be argued, help to erode the basis for consumer sovereignty in the United States, and your work on social opinion leaders has perhaps been used in projects like Phoenix and by the ‘American Government in its pacification pro- grams in Vietnam. What thoughts do you have about the way in which the results of your research have passed from the hands of those ‘who would have used it for your purposes of social reform to those who now use it for the purpose of control” Lazarsfeld: Well, I think that is a very justified question Let me start at the other end, which is a lnttle bit more in the world of conflict. Copyright © 2001. All Rights Reserved. 152 When this new wave, the so-called “war on poverty,” started in the mid-sixties, I immedi ately saw here a new chance, and Ihave been in my research very closely connected again with the various new developments in the fed- eral U.S. government to support compensatory education, to improve health facilities, and so on. So, whenever there was an opportunity to align myself again with something close to the politics I liked, I chose it. But I think you are quite right that in the intermediate period, between the New Deal and the War on Poverty, let's say from the late 1930s to the middle 1960s, my work was very much centered on the kind of things you men- tioned, essentially studying people's decision processes: how did they decide how to vote, how did they choose their occupation, how did they decide to buy what brand of coffee, and so on, So there you are quite right. That is to say, in my old work for at least 15 or 20 years there was a strong concentration of decision pro- cesses; therefore, propaganda, advertising, and so on played a very great role, and there is no doubt really that a lot of my stuff was used by commercial agencies. As a matter of fact, when I created the center or research bureau at the Faculty of Science at Columbia, we were in the beginning very much dependent on getting grants and contracts from people of this kind. I might make you aware that it is even more complicated than you make it sound because the study of aggregate decisions of people; that 1s, how people decide into which occupation to 0, what organization to join, whether to vol- Unter or not to volunteer—there are endless studies by myself and my students centering on some kind of decision—s itself a homeless skill or art. In the American structure, at that time especially, academic psychology was so strongly behaviorist-oriented that this study of people's decisions had too much of an intro- spective element and was not acceptable. On the other hand, I think that beginning with the statistical study of people's decisions was too optimistic for sociologists. It was too individ- ual for sociologists, and too introspective for academic psychologists; therefore, it became necessary to look for a new form of academic setting where one could do such work. I think that inasmuch as people know about me it is mainly as having created the first academic empirical research bureau, somehow trying to fit it into an academic structure because it didn’t fit into the conventional departmental structure. Today the United States is filled with such research institutes, spectacular ones such as Michigan and smaller ones at every university, but it was at the time an institu- tional invention, created out of the necessity of Copyright © 2001 ‘THE AMERICAN SocioLocist placing this kind of work into a proper institu- tional setting. This so-to-say “question of conscience” that you raised has been very much on my mind. ‘There have been endless jokes. At one speech I said that I didn’t agree with some colleagues because I considered myself a Marxist on leave of absence, and someone boomed out from the audience, "Who gave you leave?” One of my great colleagues was Robert Lynd of Columbia, the man who wrote Middletown (Lynd and Lynd, 1929) and Knowledge for What? (Lynd, 1939) and who helped me greatly but also rasied the same question as you— where is my conscience? I would then answer, well, that begins after five o'clock. From nine to five 1 am organizing empirical research and after five o'clock I am talking politics T think this question of the war you men- tioned is very interesting, because at the time of the Vietnam war I considered myself much more a part of the American scene; I think I was one of the very early anti-war manifestants—signers and so on—on the war issue. This was not the case during the World War, where I worked very closely with the ‘American army as a member of Sam Stouffer's research work on the army which ended up in the great classic The American Soldier (Stout- fer et al., 1949). So again, things changed, and this is historical context. I think most North Americans felt very differently about the Sec- ond World War than they felt about Vietnam, so that there again you have a contradiction; I was very active in military research in the Sec- ‘ond World War and very active against any war activities during the Vietnam War. Stehr: Dr. Lazarsfeld, it might be said, how- ever, that there has historically been a close relationship between the kind of survey re- search that is normally carried out by institutes and research groups and the vested interests of certain groups that have control and power ina society at a given time. I guess the question is twofold: do you see the correlation between this approach to sociology and those kinds of interests as being essential, and what are the images of sociology that are constructed out of having that kind of involvement? Lazarsfeld: On your first question I would defi- nitely say that in principle it is not necessary, and I can give you very nice examples. For instance, we did a very detailed study on the 1940 election, the Roosevelt-Wilkie election, and we developed for that a new type of tech- migue, now well-known and used very much called the panel technique. That is to say, we re-interviewed, beginning in May of the cam- Paign, a group of people in Ohio every month All Rights Reserved. A CONVERSATION WITH PAUL F. LaZARSFELD to follow the development of their decisions, so that we were not depending only on their re- collections of how they decided. And this term “panel,” meaning to interview the same people repeatedly, has become familiar. Now, one thing which I noticed in this first study—and I now know it to be true generally—was that in the working-class groups, where the general tendency was to vote the Democratic Party (the Democratic Party at that time was, so to say, a “coalition of minorities;” workers, Catholics, Jews, and university professors—all discriminated minorities—were combined to form the Democratic majority, the women, for a vanety of cultural reasons, voted very little. T remember that I immediately wrote to the C.LO. (which had just then started) and pub- lished an article at the same time to say how important it would be to pay attention to the wives of the workers. Everyone knew that the workers would vote Democratic anyhow, but no one realized that the same workers kept their wives from voting. This was not for political reasons, but because voting was not considered the business of wives. So, whenever there was an opportunity to use this kind of work in support of what I considered desirable, I would use it. But at that time at least there was very little intelligent use in unions of research, and I don't know if it has gotten much better. In the civil rights period research played a much greater role. In the Supreme Court deci- sion and school desegregation case the tes- timony of people who had done research on ‘Negro questions played a considerable role. So I don’t think there is an intrinsic relation. Let me give you an example which comes back to market research. One of my very good students, David Caplowitz, wrote a disserta- tion which came out as a book and played a considerable role. The title of the book was The Poor Pay More (1963). Caplowitz showed, by conventional market research, that because poor people have less ability to shop around, because they have greater difficulty getting ‘a smaller search ability, and so on, the per unit price which a poor family paid for a piece of merchandise was considerably higher than that paid by the well-to-do. Caplowitz then testified before the Congress on his book and has since followed it up. So the point I am trying to make is that while undoubtedly people who have money and power take advantage of any available work, it is not intrinsically necessary. A very radical young man, who is at another umversity, wrote a paper on this point—the sociology of the underdog: what studies are not being made” It turns out that this is not really a matter of financing. You can always get some small 153 foundation to finance some unusual thing. It is partly, of course, the fact that the average sociologist is a middle-class man and has diffi- culties seeing the problems of the low income groups. But it is also partly an inability and unwillingness on the part of various non- idle class organizations to take advantage of it, So you are right, but you are not right in principle; you are only right in fact. Stehr: I meant by the question to ask more about the general practice of the research or- ganizations. I agree with you completely on the “in principle” part of your answer, but it seems to me in general one does find a disproportion ate advantage being taken by certain groups of survey research techniques to the disadvantage of groups either unwilling or unable to use them. Lazarsfeld: Yes. Look; let me just make two ittle corrections so we don't mislead our tele- vision audience. Empirical research and sur- vey research are not identical. You can have participant observation, you can make com- ‘munity studies, and so on; so let's not just talk about survey research. That's only one aspect. Secondly, if you talk about empirical research, you have to distinguish between university ganizations, university institutes, and the i creasing number of commercial research orga- nizations. Here I do indeed see a very great problem, but again it’s a bit like that with the unions. The U.S. universities have not really been able to incorporate empirical research into their structure. I talked to you about how empirical research fell between departmental conventions. It also came at a time when the universities were short of money. You see, the physics laboratory started very small; a physics professor a hundred years ago could start in his basement. Today he needs a cyclo- tron. But social research starts expensive right away; you can't take one person down in your ‘basement and base your survey on it, So, for a variety of reasons our universities have not really integrated empirical research into their structure, and it has been taken over more and more by’ commercial agencies. And this trend toward the commercialization of re- search has to be very much distinguished from the intrinsic nature of empirical research. American universities just missed the boat, or in'thave the money for a ticket and so didn't get on the boat. Stehr: You spoke about the importance of the institutional innovation with which much of your work has been associated: creating, ad- ministering, supervising a large scale research ‘organization. What generally do you think has Copyright © 2001. All Rights Reserved. been the contribution Of these institutions, ton is intended {0 refer t0 certain less desirable these research crganizations, to the Mlevelop- features of {his mstitutionatization and greater ‘ment of sociological Knowledge and, also. ‘what division of labor ‘Sf sBMeNtation of social ne. in aome Of the probleme S8ociated with this that. 1 Wonder if you hen any thoughts on butions to the basic fami of sociological know], edge, and I'll be glad te ive you a few exam. Ples later. if you want > ond aim that itis a great advantage that otlited with a bread We can show that students who, at Columbia and at othe, places. were strongly affliated with such ‘a re. rome uta Wrote more: became more that the bureau dizeere is, by and large, a requires due reater than the rele” between pro propriate ductivity and teaching propriate: You ask what problems there are. Of course they report, ghere are problems: you we jourselfto death would say Ti YOU have to doa lor et shines You don't tween im Uke. but T will make yoo bet that the disad. structured wanlages of teaching for Productivity are much Look: greater than the disadvantages of funning @ topic. There bureau for creativity, So. leaving out many "Ween the depa and in terms of contribution {othe basic fund of tasks Except for young Einsteins, (which 1 research, the academie bureaus have made « understand are quite rare and where you best oF ae, COMttibution and my hope is that inspite int hat eat they want to doy. p am sorry to oF increasing competition from the commercial ing, {hat the Lord has piven few people a call. TREES, the role of the bureaus will grow. end they probably in the long run develop This also depends a bit admit federal policy, pee it for four or five yeney they have been obviously a Republican administration is likely fold what to do and hag’ been apprentices, in its sranting policy tn Sive considerable sup. father than to follow in mystique that every, POT (0 commercial agency Swenty-Yearold (I don't want t0 offend any Sing) Srtduate student hay in his soul an as. Stehr: At the same time, these developments sigmment (0 which he must devote himself, and which you have just described as being gp, te fiction that at ie Kemible to be told what na Positive have often ales been discussed in gh IF the graduate profered’ doesn’t tell the terms of the bureaucratization of social re- student wher do, then some cousin tells him Search, and presumably ach A characteriza. by “oincidence. So even on the touchy subject Copyright © 2001. All Rights Reserved. A CONVERSATION WITH PAUL F, LAZARSFELD of this supposed coercion during the appren- ticeship years, I am very biased in favor of organized research REFERENCES. Caplovitz, David 1963 The Poor Pay More New York. The Free Press Lazarsfeld, Paul F , Marte Jahoda, and Hans Zeisel 1933 Die Arbeitslosen von Manenthal Ein Soziographischer Versuch uber die Wir kung langandauernder Arbertslosigk: Leipzig: 8. Hirzel Lynd, Robert S. 1939 Knowledge for What? Princeton, Nv Princeton University Press. 155 Lynd, Robert S and Helen M Lynd 1929 Middletown. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company Stouffer, Samuel A., Edward A Suchman, Leland C DeVinney, Shirley A. Star, and Rob M. Williams, Jr 1949 The American Soldier: Adjustment During Army Life. Studies in Soctal Psychology 1" World War Il, Vol. I. Princeton, NJ Princeton University Press. Stouffer, Samuel A., Arthur A. Lumsdaine, Marion Harper Lumsdaine, Robin M. Williams, Jr , M Brewster Smith, Irving L. Janis, Shirley A Star, and Leonard $\Cottrell, Jr 1949 The American Soldier. Combat and Its Af- termath Studies 1m Social Psychology 1n World War Il, Vol Il. Princeton, NJ Princeton University Press. ‘THE JOB MARKET FOR BACHELOR DEGREE HOLDERS: A CUMULATION* R. ALAN HEDLEY AND SUSAN M. ADAMS Unversity of Victona ‘The Amencan Sociologist 1982, Vol. 17 (August):155-163 ‘An analysts of 20 studies on the employment of sociology bachelor graduates reveals that of Seven major vocational categones, American graduates most frequently select social service “occupations, while Canadian graduates most often choose teaching positions The authors note the deficiencies of the current data base, and suggest means whereby academuc sociologists might provide more vocational information and assistance to their students It 1s only within the past decade that sociologists seriously have begun to assume responsibility for their students by advising them of the vocational opportunities that a de~ gree in sociology offers. In previous decades, the discipline and its membership were ex- panding (Rhoades, 1980a, b) and the issue of career relevance was of minor concern. ‘Undergraduate students inquiring of their pro- fessors about employment prospects more kely than not received vague answers based ‘on impressionistic evidence. Graduate stu- dents easily found positions in the academic marketplace (Panian and DeFleur, 1975:3). The relationship of academic study in sociology to making a living was not examined seriously. With the 1970s came a period of declining enrollments, increased unemployment in all sectors of the economy, and a student body “The authors would like to express their appre- ciation to the reviewers for their helpful comments land suggestions [Address correspondence to: R. ‘Alan Hedley, Department of Sociology, University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada Vvaw 2¥21 vocationally oriented to what a university de- gree could provide (Campbell, 1980; McGinnis and Solomon, 1973; Rhoades, 1980c; Wilkin- son, 1980). Job prospects for new Ph.D.s di- minished, and undergraduates began entering professional and “career” programs. ‘Members of the discipline have responded to these development: ) emphasis on opportunities for the non-academic em- ployment of Ph.D.s. (Freeman, 1980; Panian and DeFleur, 1975; Wilkinson, 1980); and 2) introduction of vocational emphasis into undergraduate programs (Bates, n.d.; Green et al., 1980). Some colleagues have resisted these attempts to make sociology vocationally rele- vant, arguing that a major in sociology is de- signed primarily to prepare students for good citizenship, total living, and learning how to learn (see Boling, 1976; Lutz, 1979). As ex- plained by Berger (1976), education should be upheld not as an economic investment but as a means to self-discovery. Vocationally oriented skills should be learned once the graduate is employed. While we do not contest the claim that Copyright © 2001. All Rights Reserved.