Le Play House and the
Regional Survey Movement in
British Sociology 1920 - 1955

M Phil Thesis
City of Birmingham Polytechnic / CNAA
March 1986

David Evans

  1. Introduction
  2. Theory and Methods
  3. Origins
  4. The Early 20th Century
  5. Le Play House
  6. The Institute of Sociology
  7. The Second World War
  8. Postwar
  9. Appendices
  10. References
  11. Acknowledgements

Please contact me if you have any questions about the research, if you want to cite it, or simply if you find it interesting.

PDF copy of full thesis

Revised timeline NEW - February 2007

Citation Reference

EVANS D F T (1986) "Le Play House and the Regional Survey Movement in British Sociology 1920 - 1955", unpublished M Phil Thesis, City of Birmingham Polytechnic / CNAA [available at http://www.dfte.co.uk/ios/index.htm]


The thesis examines the achievements of what I have chosen to call the 'Regional Survey Movement' in British sociology during the first half of the twentieth century, concentrating particularly on that period when it was synonymous with various bodies resident at Le Play House between 1920 and 1955. Of the movements associated with the Regional Survey, the most substantial was the Institute of Sociology, formed in 1930 and dissolved in 1955; its secretary for most of that time was Alexander Farquharson, and a consideration of his life and work forms a substantial part of the content.

The thesis begins by considering the history of British sociology, remarking on its absence from most standard accounts of the emergence of the discipline. Various ideas on the practice of historical explanation are examined, and an attempt is made to account for the 'presentist' nature of sociology, reflected in its inability to satisfactorily explain certain aspects of its own past. At the same time, the methodology involved in 'doing' the history of sociology is discussed, and certain problems concerning archive research and documentary evidence are considered.

The substance of the work contains a detailed account of the background to the movement and its emergence in the early twentieth century, centred around Patrick Geddes and Victor Branford. The rise and decline of each of the associations involved in regional survey work (the Sociological Society, the Regional Association and the Civic Education League) is considered in turn, culminating in their amalgamation into Le Play House in 1924 and the formation of the Institute of Sociology in 1930. The activities of the Institute of Sociology are discussed in detail; the survey work carried out in Britain and Europe, the publication of the Sociological Review, the organisation of conferences, meetings and schools, the relationships with other organisations and the reasons for its distance from the professional academic world. Finally, the decline of the Institute of Sociology in the post war period is explained in terms of a number of trends which the movement was unable to come to terms with; the professionalisation of sociology and social work, the growth of foreign travel and the expansion and formalisation of much of what was previously amateur and informal.

However, while the decline and disappearance of the movement may be explained rationally, its absence from almost every account of British sociology, education or social life in general is more difficult to understand, and it is tentatively suggested that it has more to do with the relatively rapid and recent expansion development of British sociology than any more general social change.


(c) David Evans 2007