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Modernity and the Jews in Western Social Thought$
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Chad Alan Goldberg

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9780226460413

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226460697.001.0001

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The American Tradition: The City and the Jews

The American Tradition: The City and the Jews

(p.76) 4 The American Tradition: The City and the Jews
Modernity and the Jews in Western Social Thought

Chad Alan Goldberg

University of Chicago Press

This chapter examines the portrayal of Jewish immigrants from the First World War through the 1930s by the Chicago school of sociology, particularly in the work of William Thomas, Robert Park, and their students Louis Wirth and Everett Stonequist. The modern Jew was the model for and classic example of Park’s “marginal man” between two worlds, notwithstanding the broad application of this concept to other groups. Moreover, Thomas, Park, and their students conceived the modern city and America, like the marginal man, as meeting points for the contact and collision of different cultures. This process was disorganizing but also potentially the source of new and more expansive forms of social order. This view explains the significance that Thomas and Park attributed to the Jewish Kehillah of New York City, an experimental attempt in the early twentieth century to provide the city’s burgeoning Jewish population with a unified and democratic community structure. The chapter concludes with a novel reinterpretation of the concept of assimilation in relation to pragmatist concerns about social reconstruction and the formation of a democratic public under modern social conditions.

Keywords:   Jews, modernity, city, Chicago school of sociology, William Thomas, Robert Park, Louis Wirth, Everett Stonequist, marginal man, assimilation

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