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SurroundingsA History of Environments and Environmentalisms$
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Etienne S. Benson

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780226706153

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: September 2020

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226706320.001.0001

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The Urban Milieu: Evolutionary Theory and Social Reform in Progressive Chicago

The Urban Milieu: Evolutionary Theory and Social Reform in Progressive Chicago

Chapter:
(p.78) Chapter 3 The Urban Milieu: Evolutionary Theory and Social Reform in Progressive Chicago
Source:
Surroundings
Author(s):

Etienne S. Benson

Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226706320.003.0004

This chapter describes the adoption of the concept of environment by urban reformers in the United States between the 1890s and the 1920s. It shows how Jane Addams and other leaders of the settlement movement drew on the work of theorists of environment such as Auguste Comte and Herbert Spencer and on new ideas about biological evolution to develop their own framework for social reform during the heyday of the Progressive movement. The chapter focuses on Addams’s Hull House, a settlement house in Chicago that sought to improve the environments of working-class immigrants. It shows how Addams and her colleagues used the method of the social survey to make manifest the links between the social organism and its environment. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the emergence of the Chicago School of Sociology, which borrowed some of the settlement movement’s methods but rejected its pragmatic combination of reform and research. Chicago School sociologists such as Robert Park, the chapter argues, retained environment as a critical concept but redefined it so as to separate their research on the social environment both from political concerns and from research on the built and natural environments.

Keywords:   Chicago, urban history, evolutionary theory, sociology, Progressive Era, settlement movement, Hull House, Jane Addams, Herbert Spencer, Robert Park

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