Le Play House and the Regional Survey Movement in British Sociology 1920 - 1955 | CONTENTS | Introduction | Theory | Origins | Early C 20th | Le Play House | IoS | WW2 | Postwar

The Institute of Sociology

"If I ever were asked to establish a test for disciples in the survey movement, I should make each one repeat to me the sentence: 'O Nature take me.' I should know by intonation, glance, gesture as these words were said whether the disciple was for life only a 'torch bearer' or was to be one of the few mystics'" (Farquharson 1930a)


The Institute of Sociology came into being on January 24 1930, as a result of the merger of the Le Play House organisation and the Sociological Society, with the objects "To promote the study of Sociology and the sociological study of human communities; to encourage the use of such studies in education; and to advance the application of such studies to urban and rural development." (Constitution of the Institute of Sociology, AF). As the first Annual Report (VB211) said, "a single organisation appeals to the public with more force, simplifies contacts with members and enquirers, and makes infinitely easier the co-operation with other bodies". Its constitution provided for a President, who should hold office for not more than three years in succession, an unspecified number of Vice Presidents and a Council of up to twenty five elected members, with the powers to co-opt the same number. Day to day organisation was to be in the hands of an Executive of eight, three of whom were to be appointed by the Trustees, whose role remained largely unaltered from the Constitution of the Sociological Society. No formal membership figures are given, but a rough calculation from the subscription income produces a figure of about #435 for the first year ( a figure which is, incidentally, never exceeded during the ensuing 25 years (VB211). A note in the 1930 Annual Report reports 50 new members during the first year, and that, "the whole standard of enquiries seems to have risen steadily, and indicates that the Institute has now an assured status as a centre of information."

Activity during the first year or so was fairly extensive, covering meetings, foreign field trips, survey work in Britain and the organisation of schools and conferences, as well as publishing a revitalised Sociological Review and a large number of pamphlets. The early 1930s were also the period when Alexander Farquharson wrote most extensively, on the nature of the social survey and its role in community organisation. Although never a prolific writer, Farquharson's articles on survey work, published in pamphlets, a variety of social service journals and the Sociological Review form the basis for a discussion of the nature of Le Play House survey which is free from Geddes's flowery metaphor and Branford's obscure mysticism. The papers are discussed in Section 6.4 below.

Structure and Organisation

The Institute of Sociology took its structure from the structure that Farquharson had built up during the 10 years of running Le Play House. It was formally run by a Council, which appears to have met about four times a year during the years when the Institute was functioning most effectively (the first half of the 1930s). Thereafter, consistent minutes do not exist, and those that do indicate that meetings were less regular, less well attended and did not follow any set pattern. The most consistent members during the first few years were Farquharson, Eleanor Spear, Amy Holman, Christopher Fagg, and Maud Jeffrey - after 1933, Dorothea Farquharson (who was married to Alexander in December 1933) played an increasingly prominent role, and Alfred Waldegrave, Eileen Thomas, Rosemary Pennethorne, John Dugdale and for a while, T H Marshall appeared regularly.

There is clear evidence that the organisation was severely hit by the recession in the early 1930s, quite apart from the problems surrounding Branford's will. Between 1924 and 1933, Eleanor Spear served as Secretary to the Sociological Society, Le Play House and the Institute of Sociology. In December 1932, as a consequence of the economic situation, discussion of staff reductions at the Executive (VB209 2.12.32) lead to suggestions of a need for a cut in salary expenditure. Spear offered to take a 25% cut in salary, or resignation, the latter of which was accepted amicably, although she remained a full time employee of the Institute until March 1933, and worked for two months during the summer as well. Her association with Le Play House remained close, and she continued to work for the Institute on occasions, in research and in the library during 1935 to 1936, while working full time in social work for much of this period. She also served as Secretary to the South East Union of Scientific Societies until 1942. However, there is evidence in correspondence between Farquharson and Dorothea Price, particularly during the late 1920s that Spear was a difficult person to work with, and that her relationships with Le Play House were tied up in the same incestuous circles which led to the Le Play Society split, and antagonism between Margaret Tatton, Farquharson and several other women involved with the organisation.

One consequence of Spear's resignation was that, for the first time, Alexander Farquharson became a salaried official of the Institute, being paid #250 in 1932, notionally for editing the Sociological Review and working on the Branford Papers, rather than for his actual role as full time organiser for the Institute. Although there were several occasions when Farquharson indicated that he intended to give up this position, initially in 1935, just prior to the last existing Minutes of the Executive, and more urgently in the late 1940s, on the grounds of ill health, he remained effectively the Secretary of the Institute until the early 1950s when a succession of less than satisfactory substitutes briefly held the position in the Institute's declining years (See Section 8.1).

One of Farquharson's paramount concerns was that sociology in general, and the Institute in particular should be respectable and responsible, and it is partly for this reason that he was concerned to secure prestigious figureheads as presidents of the organisation. Following the deaths of Victor Branford and Patrick Geddes, who were the first Presidents of the Institute, (probably more as a courtesy in the case of Geddes), the title went from 1931 to 1934 to Robert Randolph Marrett, professor of Anthropology at Oxford and described as 'one of the last armchair anthropologists' and 'an office bound don', part of the 'real establishment of British Anthropology' (Kuper 1975:20-35). Marrett became actively involved in the work of the Institute during the years of his Presidency, leading a field trip to his native Jersey in 1932. Marrett's interest in sociology was sporadic, but genuine - he wrote of admiring the 'missionary ardour' of Branford, but added 'I always wondered whether they were right in pinning their faith so exclusively on the method of Le Play' (Marrett 1941:262). Nonetheless, he admired the concrete practicality of the Institute's foreign field trip programme, as well as attempting (unsuccessfully) to persuade the Institute to take more seriously his interests in population, anthropometry and race. However, Farquharson complimented him as 'the ideal president for a difficult transitional period' (VB300), and his relationship with the Institute remained cordial until his death in 1943.

Marrett was succeeded by Sir Ernest Barker, the Cambridge historian, appointed to a Chair in Political Science in 1927 with Laura Spelman Rockefeller Foundation money, which would also have provided a Chair in Sociology had the University Regents been prepared to accept the discipline, which they were not (Howarth 1978; Bulmer 1981a). There is no evidence that Barker, despite his connections with the Institute did anything to attempt to alter this state of affairs. Nonetheless, Barker had been a member of the Sociological Society, and a founder member of the Institute - Farquharson's letter to him in January 1935, offering him the Presidency promised that 'your acceptance ... would help extraordinarily the plan upon which I have set my heart; namely, the establishment of this Institute in a thoroughly stable and influential position during the next few years.' Despite modestly defining himself as 'a bleating lamb among the lions of sociology', Barker accepted the post, and remained a friend and confidant of the Farquharson's until Alexander's death in 1954 (Barker 1960) - one of the last surviving photographs of Farquharson, from March 1953 shows him and Dorothea with Sir Edward and Lady Barker at Ledbury.

Following Barker, the historian George Gooch was elected President, and remained in post for ten years, from 1938 to 1948 on account of the War. But by this time, the Institute was already in decline, and the task of a President was to keep it afloat by lending a spurious academic legitimacy, rather than seeking to secure it influence in new and higher places. Gooch appears to have been loyal but colourless, and his relationship with Farquharson was not significant to the extent of any substantial surviving correspondence.

The role of Dorothea Price, who married Alexander Farquharson in December 1933 became increasingly prominent during the 1930s. After the war, from her position as Honorary Organiser of Field Studies she became effectively joint Secretary of the Institute, taking over the role of protector of its traditions (such as the Branford heritage) following Alexander's death in February 1954. Dorothea first came into contact with Le Play House while a lecturer at Leeds City Teacher Training College in the early 1920s. She was born the same year as Alexander, 1882 in or near Ross on Wye, where her father was a Congregational Church minister. Her family, interesting in its own right consisted of five brothers and Dorothea - her brothers Egbert (Bret) and Hereward were both travellers, the former working in India, Africa and South America at various times, and the latter becoming a Professor of English at Ann Arbor University in Detroit. The American descendants of the Price family maintain a detailed family history, which I have unfortunately been unable to trace (Copner 1982). Nonetheless, it is perhaps too trite to suggest that Dorothea's involvement with Le Play House, which came increasingly to be through participation in and later organisation of foreign field trips should be simply in line with the proclivities of the rest of her family. The first record of her presence at a Le Play House function was at the High Wycombe School of Civics in 1921; and from 1925 she and Alexander engaged in increasingly intimate correspondence. Dorothea both went on and then led a number of field trips for Le Play House Educational Tours, the Foreign Work Committee and later of course the Institute of Sociology, and in the process became more intimately involved with sociology, Le Play House and Alexander Farquharson. Their correspondence through the late 1920s and early 1930s, preserved in the archives at Keele provides a valuable commentary on affairs at Le Play House during its most active and energetic years.

Le Play Society split

During the first year of the existence of the Institute, relationships between the Foreign Fieldwork Committee and the rest of Le Play House continued to deteriorate. The Foreign Fieldwork Committee remained resolutely detached from the mainstream of Le Play House, as did the Students Committee, although this was partly due to the fact that most students associated with Le Play House were at residential teacher training colleges some distance from London (Council Minutes 17.7.30 VB211); It was reported to Council twice in 1930 that despite a generally healthy level of recruitment, "no new members had come through foreign work." The Foreign Fieldwork Committee's report to Council was minuted as not being "sufficiently informative financially", and it was noted that non-IOS members were not being charged extra for going on foreign tours. As a result, Council decided in December 1930 that "the attempt to treat it (the Foreign Fieldwork Committee) as a semi-independent body in the past has been a source of friction and misunderstanding", and that while there was "no proposal or discussion of secession", Farquharson suggested that their occupancy of a substantial part of Le Play House should perhaps be reviewed. In October 1931 the two organisations parted company by mutual agreement, the secession being agreed unanimously by Council. A letter to 'members and friends', signed by the Chairman of the Institute's Council, A J Waldegrave stated that, "The termination of this agreement had been under discussion for about a year, when the national crisis introduced a fresh element into the situation by making foreign travel impossible." It was agreed to lend the Institute's collection of survey materials to the former members of the Committee, and that it might at some stage become a gift to any new body competent to make use of it.

Members of the Foreign Fieldwork Committee however, at the instigation of C B Fawcett, Professor of Geography at University College London and with a certain measure of support from Geddes immediately formed a separate organisation which they chose to call the Le Play Society (Beaver 1962; Russell 1960). Geddes had presented a paper to the Institute's Council in October 1931, at which the disagreement between his and Farquharson's notion of the nature of sociology and the survey (see Section 5.4 above) seems to have resurfaced (2.10.31 : VB211). In any case, it seems that Geddes was sufficiently disenchanted with the state of things at Le Play House to explore the possibility that another body, more firmly rooted in geography and biology might be a better vehicle for the propagation of his ideas. Both Beaver and Russell suggest that the split occurred in 1930, and that it was primarily a difference of opinion over the nature of fieldwork; although there were disagreements as outlined above, there is little evidence that methodological or theoretical disputes within Le Play House prior to the secession were the prime cause. Rather, the circumstantial evidence that exists suggests that the major causes of the dispute lay in personal and professional jealousy between Farquharson, Margaret Tatton, Dorothea Price and Eleanor Spear. However, the Foreign Fieldwork Committee was continuing to draw into its orbit (although not into membership of the Institute of Sociology) an increasing number of young geographers; (for example, one of the last field trips organised by Margaret Tatton for Le Play House (to Finland in August 1930) was led by Dudley Stamp), and their interests were in precisely the kind of biological, ecological and ultimately Le Playian aspects which Farquharson was anxious to relegate to a more minor role.

The actual threat that the formation of the Le Play Society posed to the continued existence of Le Play House and the Institute of Sociology , or even its involvement in foreign fieldwork was considerably less serious than was suggested by Farquharson's response, coloured as it undoubtedly was by personal antagonism and also by the belief that the Le Play Society was in some way intent on challenging the interpretation of Branford's will. However, the immediate problem was sorted out reasonably cleanly without the need to resort to law. The Institute's most serious loss was nonetheless Patrick Geddes, who, although he had remained relatively apart from the affairs of Le Play House for most of the time, remained a powerful and enormously influential figure. He saw himself as a mediator between the two factions, writing to his son, "At first Farquharson etc. furious threatening even the law - but I adjusted and reconciled them - at solicitors yesterday - and hope for doubling sociological action accordingly, since each is now free to spread surveys and tours at home and abroad" (Boardman 1978:423). In fact, the Institute secured a written statement from all former members of the Foreign Fieldwork Committee in January 1932, confirming that there was "no corporate continuity or connection" between the Committee and the Le Play Society, and that they had no claim to any of the property of the Institute Personal bitterness remained, and the two organisations had virtually no contact with each other thereafter, even though both were engaged in very similar activity for the next twenty years. Dorothea Price wrote in 1933, "It is enough to make Le Play turn in his grave to have these unsociological joyriders dubbed Le Play" - and somewhat more elliptically referred to the British Union of Fascists as "the Le Play Society of Fascism".(AF 102). The Le Play Society attracted most, although not all of the geographers away from the Institute, and continued in existence until 1960 ( Russell 1960; Beaver 1962). It produced reports and material very similar to that produced by the Institute, although it is now somewhat scattered; some is at Keele, some at Nottingham but a considerable amount is probably lost.

Branford's Will

The death of Victor Branford on June 24 1930, while not critical for the continuation of the Institute or Le Play House was important in that it removed the figurehead, whose contacts in the financial and political world were important in securing for sociology recognition in areas where it would otherwise have been unknown. However, partly as a consequence of Branford's death the first half of the 1930s were for the Institute a fairly optimistic time, despite the world economic crisis. Branford had apparently left a large bequest to the Institute on his death, for the furtherance of his particular brand of sociology, and this included the continuation of the Sociological Review, and the publication of a number of his writings. The total value of his estate was never clearly established, but was estimated by Farquharson in 1937 to be #20,000 (VB242), the greater part of which, after provision for relatives was to be left the Institute. The authenticity of his handwritten will was not in doubt, but as Farquharson wrote, "it was couched in obscure terms, and was interlocked with the will of his wife who had died in 1926, also leaving an obscurely worded will." (AF - Edyr, Roche and De La Vega, Buenos Aires 13.1.37, VB242) Both wills were referred the Chancery Division; Victor Branford's was accepted late in 1932, and Sybella's two years later. The problem however was that much of Branford's fortune was tied up in investments abroad, particularly in South America, where he had had numerous financial interests - and many of his investments in Britain were in projects which were more sound socially and morally than financially. There was great confidence that money would be forthcoming - Dorothea wrote to Alexander Farquharson in June 1930 (on hearing the news of Branford's will)

"Glad - so very glad - all was well; but I hadn't the glimmering of an idea that it was so wonderfully good. It means possibilities now of carrying out the cherished hopes for Le Play House - hopes that had to lie up and wait ... without much sign of fulfilment. It really is a great thing to have done - this last decision of VB's ... giving finally his blessing to all the efforts made. I really think it the most blessed piece of news I've ever had. That after so many checks, disappointments, rivalries that spoilt things, opposition that baffled, dark days when funds had almost gone - and you knew the very darkest days when there seemed nobody to keep things going but yourself - after all this, a blessed sign that you might be given the chance of making Le Play House what it should be".(30.6.30:AF 98) LS2 CI LL70

In fact, the legal complications surrounding Branford's finances proved to be much more intractable that either Farquharson or the Branford family could have imagined. In June 1932, Farquharson reported to the Council that in order to obtain the substantial inheritance which Branford had bequeathed to the continuance of Le Play House and its particular brand of sociology, it was necessary for the Institute to change from a registered charity to an incorporated body. He added that the actual value of Branford's funds in Britain was about £6000, which would produce an income of about £650 a year, of which £400 would go to the Institute. An additional consequence of incorporation would be that the need for Trustees would be obviated, and this concurred with advice from Counsel early in 1931 to the effect that the present Trust was legally invalid. The position of the Trustees had been in question since the death of Sybella Branford in 1926 and the demise of the Sociological Society - however, while their role in relation to the status of decisions made by any of the constituent bodies of Le Play House was relatively unimportant, their role in the administration of Branford's complex estates was more significant. Despite assurances from all surviving Trustees named in Sybella Branford's will that they had no desire to interfere in the administration of the Victor Branford Trust, and despite the incorporation of the Institute into a company limited by guarantee in December 1932, any real income from Branford's estate continued to prove elusive.

Farquharson and Harold Gurney, the two executors of Branford's will began on a long and ultimately fruitless correspondence with South American banks and lawyers early in 1933. Branford had many investments in South America, including holdings in Government Stock, gold mining companies, timber companies and his main interest, the Paraguayan Railways. The Bank of London and South America, which was handling much of Branford's estate insisted on a number of complicated requirements, among them the marriage certificate of Branford's parents, which Farquharson was unable to provide, his mother having died in 1871. The Bank of London and South America's Argentinean lawyer died in July 1934, shortly after Branford's London lawyer had also died, which, coupled with the self-confessed sloth of South American Courts and the financial and political vagaries of affairs in Argentina during that period led an ever decreasing likelihood of money being forthcoming. Eventually, a cable to Farquharson from the Bank in September 1936 read simply, "Death duties claimed absorb total funds". Despite further correspondence, no significant amounts of money were recovered, and a file of over 500 letters (VB45 / VB242) is testimony to the frustration felt by the Institute.

Despite a certain amount of financial juggling, the problems involved in realising any Branford assets took so long that by the time some money did start to appear in the late 1930s, the Institute was already fairly heavily in debt. In only one year (1939) did the Branford income reach the amounts hoped for - and by then wartime problems were taking over. With the exception of a few years in the mid 1930s, the Institute was in severe financial difficulties for the whole of its existence, showing a deficit for every year of its published accounts (1930 - 1950).

However, the problems involved in realising anything from Branford's will were short-lived compared with the problems of fulfilling another requirement of that will, namely that his unpublished works should be published, and that all his works should be edited and kept in print. In July 1934, the psychologist Pryns Hopkins, who had been investigating the Branford Papers wrote to Waldegrave (Chairman of the Council) suggesting that publication take the form of an extended biography, probably edited by Farquharson which would cover the main points of Branford's philosophy and would include contributions by Lewis Mumford and academic colleagues from the Sociological Society and the Institute. Assurance was obtained from relatives of Patrick Geddes that they would have no objection to the inclusion of extracts from the extensive Geddes-Branford correspondence in such a volume, and Farquharson wrote to Mumford asking him to participate in the project. Mumford agreed to do part of the work during a visit to London in 1935, but in the event proved to have too little time available to achieve anything substantial. However, by 1936, Hopkins had planned a detailed word budget for the volume, which would include about 60,000 words of Branford's unpublished papers.

Yet despite his endeavours, and the earnest wishes of almost all those involved with the Institute that Branford's papers be edited and published, nothing happened. A detailed list of Branford's papers was produced prior to the move to Malvern in 1940, but it is likely that some papers were lost during the war, and the project to publish them all never materialised seriously again. Dorothea Farquharson, writing in 1955 (VB1) suggested that the cause lay mainly in the threat of war and the uncertainty over the future of Le Play House in London. However, Geoffrey Salter-Davies, wrote to Farquharson in 1942, "only yourself would have the knowledge and the sympathy, and, so far as I know, only myself the sympathy without the knowledge to undertake the work." The choice was between publishing everything unedited, which would have been prohibitively expensive (and probably counterproductive), or producing an abbreviated collection, which would not have fulfilled the obligations in Branford's will. Davies concluded by placing the blame on Branford himself, accusing him of "brilliance marred by incoherence, an inability to write precise English and a certain intellectual laziness which ... has been the main defect of all the sociologists in our particular group" (GSD-AF 9.2.42 VB1).

The Social Survey in Britain

It was in the late 1920s that the Government first began to show an interest in social research, although the interest was sporadic and lukewarm until the Second World War compared with the USA, where a Social Science Research Council had been established in 1923, albeit a private concern financed by Rockefeller Foundation money (Fisher 1980; Bulmer 1980). There is evidence that Le Play House attempted to get some money from this source, (a handwritten document by Farquharson from 1927, "Appeal to the Laura Spelman Trust" exists in the Archives (VB114), but there is no record of a formal application having been made. It is perhaps significant that this coincides with the paper to a Le Play House meeting on the Local community Research Committee of Chicago by Vivien Palmer, and the latter's article in the Sociological Review. Nonetheless, earlier in the decade formal applications for funding had been sent to the Carnegie Trust, noting that "Under the Town Planning Act 1919, it is obligatory on every urban Authority for an area having more than 20,000 inhabitants to prepare before 1923 ... a town development scheme for all vacant land within their area.", and adding "It is now recognised that any plans for systematic urban development should be based upon as complete as possible a civic survey of the area in question." A note from Mrs Fraser Davies to members of the Sociological Society (28.7.21 VB98) notes that the application had been received too late for consideration - but Le Play House did nonetheless participate in a large number of urban and civic surveys during the late 1920s and early 1930s in connection with the widespread interest in town planning and community development that existed during the inter-war years.

However, formal government interest in social research of this kind did not emerge until some time later. The prime mover was Sir George Catlin, who was pressing for the establishment of a British Social Science Research Council as early as 1931 (Catlin 1931) because, "it was clear in about 1929 that there was going to be more social legislation deeply affecting the way of living in the community", and especially due to his experience of the problems surrounding the 18th Amendment (Prohibition) in the USA (Catlin 1942). Largely at Catlin's instigation, and with the assistance of Sir Josiah Stamp, the Sir Halley Stewart Trust was persuaded to sponsor an investigation into the nature and extent of existing social research in Britain, with a view to making recommendations about the future direction it should take. The investigation was administered by the British Institute of Social Service under Sir Percy Alden, and Farquharson was appointed as secretary to the Committee on secondment from Le Play House for (initially) a fee of #100 (Le Play House Executive Minutes 12.6.29 VB216). Other members of the Committee included Ginsberg, Carr-Saunders and Mess. A preliminary report was produced by Farquharson in 1931, recommending the establishment of a Clearing House for Social Science research, with the addendum by Catlin calling for a full Social Science Research Council; a longer final report was presented in 1934, written by A F Wells, which contained a detailed and categorised analysis of all surveys carried out in Britain since Booth. Wells later produced a book based on the work (Wells 1935).

The report was not however acted upon. Catlin wrote, "for (various) reasons, the ... scheme proved abortive. Largely owing to Lord Stamp's activity, the Institute of Economic and Social Research was established to do valuable work (but) the other scheme (for a full SSRC - DE) died. The humanists were not very sympathetic, and there was some confusion between the fields of social research and social service, and also doubt about whether only economics was mature enough to be regarded as a science" (1942:89). Government interest in sponsoring social research did not revive until the outbreak of war, and even then only in conditions of ludicrous secrecy (Moss 1983).

From 1934 onwards there was a marked decline in both Le Play House and Alexander Farquharson's active participation in survey work in Britain, although both remained in constant demand for advice and assistance with surveys instigated and carried out by social service organisations. The 1938 Annual Report refers to the "constant demand for help by suggestion and advice on survey methods from organisations such as Rotary Clubs, Townswomen's' Guilds, Training Colleges, Schools and also from individual workers" (VB173); evidence that the emphasis in Le Play House activity was moving more towards the field of education, a trend which was to continue even during the last few years of its existence.

Farquharson's concept of the Survey

Alexander Farquharson's writings on sociology are not extensive, and indeed his collected published works would barely fill a single volume. He was essentially an 'activist', although not of course in the contemporary political sense of the word, but one who believed fervently that sociology had to be an active discipline - in this respect, the comparisons between the Regional Survey Movement a personified by its two greatest protagonists Alexander Farquharson and Patrick Geddes bears many similarities to that other great active school of sociology in Chicago. Farquharson was also a great teacher, and the testimony of many who knew him (Mumford, Jahoda, Hill, Copner) bears this out. However, he did write a number of pamphlets and short articles, mainly between the late 1920s and the early 1930s, at the time when the Institute was in the process of being established, and at a time when the Government, in the shape of George Caitlin's commission was actively pursuing the idea of some kind of Social Science Research Council, about the nature and purpose of the survey, and about the different types of survey.

Farquharson's first published work in this field was 'An Introduction to Regional Surveys', written jointly with Sybella Branford and discussed in Section 5.4 above. In the years following its publication, Farquharson became increasingly involved in practical survey work for voluntary social service organisations, and with his realisation of the potential for the use of Le Playian and Geddesian techniques in this growing area came disenchantment with the manner in which Branford and Geddes had presented their ideas. In 1929, in an address to a conference at Le Play House he said, "our movement has suffered in the past from the widespread idea that we were exclusively or almost exclusively concerned with Regional Surveys of a rural type; surveys that were unintelligible to urbanised people." (Farquharson 1930a:70) and in a series of articles and pamphlets published in 1930 (Farquharson 1930b:1930c:1930d), he set out more clearly the relationship between the survey, now more often referred to as the Community Survey rather than the Regional Survey, and social work. Several clear points emerge

  1. the conduct of a survey should be a participatory exercise, involving the subjects of the research as well as the researcher. "A local community survey can be - should be - a survey of the community, by the community, for the community ... the value of a local social survey depends largely upon the share taken in it by the citizens of the locality" (Farquharson 1930d:3). Farquharson was a firm believer in the value of sociology as self-help, and as an activity which would always be essentially amateur.
  2. the survey should lead to greater community cooperation, and to better citizenship - "each organisation finds its part to play when a view of the whole field has been obtained showing in detail the extent and character of the problems to be tackled and the work already being done." (Farquharson 1930d:6)
  3. the outcome of a survey should be practical - "we want to know in order to do" (Farquharson 1930a:6) and "it should not be forgotten that the best written survey report will be largely ineffective unless it includes some simple, clear and definite suggestions for future action." (Farqhuarson 1930d:13).

On method, Farquharson suggested that there could be three types of survey - the general social survey, covering "all the main aspects of the social life of a town or city", special surveys of some particular feature, institution or problem, and finally the sample survey, for larger towns and cities, which will involve studies of selected areas. He went on in the same article (Farquharson 1930d) to make his only published reference to quantitative techniques, remarking that "The use of questionnaires is now widespread and may be of great assistance in a social survey", but with the proviso, which goes against the kind of survey work that Le Play House was committed to that "amateur questionnaires will certainly be in part at least, ineffective". (Farquharson 1930d:12). Indeed, there is evidence in these writings and in contemporary observations (Jahoda, Lindgren, Hill) that Farquharson and Le Play House were by no means unaware of quantitative techniques - the work of Paul Lazarsfeld was very familiar to Farquharson, through his contact from 1937 to 1940 with Marie Jahoda, and the Institute of Sociology maintained a relationship of sorts for a number of years with Lazarsfeld's Bureau of Applied Social Research at Columbia. The reason why Farquharson rejected quantitative techniques was that they could not be carried out effectively by amateurs, and his commitment to amateurism was greater than his commitment to objective social research.

However, Farquharson recognised that there must be a dividing line between the practical and the educational in survey work, in a fine distinction which predated Eileen Thomas's criticisms of the foreign work of Le Play House (See section 6.7). He wrote (1930d:70-1) of two doctrines in survey work - the exoteric and the esoteric. The exoteric was concerned with the betterment of social life, along the Branford and Geddes political model - but it failed, according to Farquharson by being "dull ... with an art perhaps at the level of Co-operative Society window dressing", and it needed the addition of the esoteric to enliven it. "This doctrine asserts that the rural survey is equal in importance with the urban survey ... because the deepest urges in man are more akin to the life of nature than to the artificial unreal conditions of our modern towns and cities." It is this which served as the rationale for surveys abroad, "so largely devoted to natural and rural conditions... We need our naturalist surveys for our own education as survey workers." Here is reflected the whole survey traditions, from Ruskin, through Le Play, Geddes and Branford to Farquharson - the relationship between town and country, between the constructed environment and the natural environment and the interaction between the two. "A kind of faith is necessary", Farquharson wrote, "followed by works that will in time build up a new attitude that justifies the faith" (1930a:71).

Foreign Fieldwork

The debacle with the Le Play Society left the Institute temporarily embarrassed with regard to its foreign fieldwork, coming as it did in 1932 which was the Institute's worst financial year (VB176). However, it provided the opportunity for a fundamental reappraisal of the nature and purpose of such fieldwork; although this does not seem to have led to any radical changes. Discussion centred on the way tours should be organised, the relationship between the different disciplines involved, and the nature and degree of commitment of the participants.

In its foreign fieldwork, the Institute perhaps more than in any other aspect of its work was trying explicitly to put into practice the Le Play / Geddes / Branford model of what the Regional Survey should be about. In a paper on the subject prepared probably in about 1931 (the typescript is undated), Farquharson and Irene Herbert wrote,

"(we) cannot at present see that the problem lies so much in trying to understand the people (who are generally independent enough to resent attempts at being understood) as in trying to understand the land, which is the home of the people, and which, in its relation with the people, forms the unity. People are transitory; the land is permanent ... If one accepts this however, it is the attitude towards the studies and the method of conducting them that will be different. There will be more care for the region itself and less for the article one might write about it, and a readier understanding that a living region will not respond fully to a process of being chopped up and fitted into an academic scheme of work. ... (There) should be an attempt to understand the personality of a region. Such an understanding, even if only partial, would serve as a restraint and an inspiration to the student, and as a bond of sympathy between the students and the people of the regions concerned".

The purpose of foreign field work was undoubtedly primarily educational (IOS Executive Minutes 17.2.31 : VB211). Even though there was always a formal claim that the surveys did work of real scientific value, the manner of their organisation and the lack of any claim to expertise on the part of most of the participants belies the claim. In a report on the Shetland Survey of 1932 (IOS Executive Minutes 4.11.32 - VB209), Eileen Thomas wrote,

"we do not seem to have made up our minds whether we are aiming at results of real scientific value, or at training students, either in general openness of mind or in definite survey method: nor have we yet solved the problem of the right relation between the study side of the visit and the social side: nor have we yet found the way to fit in the necessary organisation harmoniously with the other work of the House. ...

If our chief aim in arranging such visits is serious sociological study, (by that I mean neither a complete "research" in the ordinary sense of the word, nor merely earnest and conscientious work on the part of the students, but active independent effort, in a spirit of readiness to explore, understand and test the characteristic outlook and methods of Le Play House, and to search for light on the pressing social problems of the present time) - then it seems to be quite clear (a) that the party must be small in number, not more than about 12, (b) that it must be recruited privately, from among those who are able and willing to follow these lines. In such a party there should be no need nor desire to arrange times for work and play, and no need for anyone to divert attention from the main object to the individual's needs or to the social and recreative side of the party's common life"

She went on to suggest that in future, foreign tours should be of two types - for 'serious scientific work' described above, or for educational purposes. There is no clear evidence that this was taken up, although some tours were more productive in terms of reports than others; however this is more likely to have been the consequence of a particular leader, and the random composition of the group than with any conscious attempt to do otherwise.

The relationship between the different disciplines involved in a Le Play House survey was also important. One of the defining characteristics of the Institutes' survey work, which they saw as distinguishing it from the work of the Le Play Society was that it was explicitly multi-disciplinary. Farquharson and Herbert wrote

"Unless the essential personality of a region, and its living quality are appreciated, the studies of its various parts are bound to lack cohesion ... (we) take it as axiomatic that the aim of the Institute of Sociology in organising the groups is not the multiplication of ... individual academic studies". (Farquharson and Herbert 1931)

Though the outcome of a Le Play House survey might appear disparate, a ragbag of fragments from different disciplines, this was in fact the intention. What was missing, and what goes part of the way towards explaining why the work is not more well known, is anything which would be understood as sociological research methodology today.

A report by Dorothea Price on the Jersey tour in 1932 draws attention to the different degrees to which the participants were committed to the Le Play House conception of the purposes of the exercise. It is apparent from this, and from other accounts of actual tours that those taking part varied from those with an academic background (teachers, training college lecturers and university students) to others who were more interested in a cheap foreign holiday. Marie Jahoda, who led a tour to Denmark in August 1939 describes it as, "more like a school trip of reasonably bright and motivated children than anything to do with any serious sociological approach" (Jahoda 1982); although Walter Freeman, who led similar trips for the Le Play Society observed that, "sometimes a middle-aged lady tactfully poking around and getting into the farm kitchen and talking to the people ... could find out an amazing amount" (Freeman 1983). Both organisations were essentially based upon, and welcomed the interested amateur - neither could of course exert any discipline over the extent to which members of tour parties chose to participate in the survey work for which the exercise was designed.

It is perhaps worth adding two final points on the foreign field trips, particularly those organised during the 1930s. One is that both Le Play House and the Le Play Society built up an enormous number of foreign contacts during this period, which had direct and in some cases immediate political consequences. Both the Farquharsons and Margaret Tatton were involved in assisting refugees from Europe before, during and after the war. It was Farquharson who arranged for Marie Jahoda's release from prison in Austria in 1937 (Jahoda 1982), and the contacts established with Hungary continued through to 1956. Farquharson also assisted Karl Mannheim in providing work permits for German refugees (AF 90), and Margaret Tatton assisted Dr Julie Moscheles in fleeing from Czechoslovakia in 1938 (Freeman 1983).

The second point is that the survey work done in Europe during the 1930s was used by the Allied Forces during the war in providing detail of areas where no maps existed. Stanley Beaver's surveys in Albania and Bulgaria (Beaver 1962), and the Institute's work in Northern France (Hill 1983) were both of considerable value, in that no other sources of the same kind of detail existed at the time. The records of these trips still remain a unique record of rural life in Europe during this period - and the experience gained by those who took part was also more extensive than that achieved by almost anyone else at the time. As Mumford wrote in his obituary of Farquharson, "Few people in Europe had the first hand acquaintance with country after country, region after region, culture after culture that Farquharson had acquired between the first and second World War". (Mumford 1954:9)

The Sociological Review

Of these other activities, the one of most enduring value was probably the continued publication of the Sociological Review, which was until 1951 the only journal of its kind in the country. Established in 1908, it remained largely under Branford's editorial control until his death in 1930. (Although no formal position of 'Editor' existed for most of the time, Branford was effectively responsible for content. He was assisted by both Mumford for a short while in 1920, and Farquharson for the rest of the decade, but maintained a much more direct interest in the journal than in many other aspects of Le Play House's work. On his death, Farquharson took over that responsibility).

The future of the Sociological Review was one of the many aspects of Le Play House work which was examined following the establishment of the Institute and the death of Branford. Farquharson reported to Council in December 1930 that,

"... it had been possible to discuss the future of the Review with leaders in social science, not closely concerned in the work of the Institute. These discussions made it possible now to formulate alternative lines of policy to be adopted in the future. Broadly speaking the alternatives were

  1. to continue and develop the Review upon the lines followed by Mr Branford, i.e. to aim at making the Review a Le Play House publication from cover to cover, presenting a point of view characteristic of the House
  2. to make the Review on open platform for contributions from all schools of thought in social science. If remodelled on such lines, the Review would have no central or typical viewpoint or message ... If however any attempt is to be made to include the leading recognised exponents of social science in this country outside the Institute no other line seems to be open." (VB209)

The latter of the two alternatives was accepted and consequently, an editorial board of three was established in 1933 - Farquharson, Carr Saunders (then at Liverpool) and Ginsberg at the London School of Economics, neither of whom was at that time yet actively involved with the Institute. Financial liability was covered by a "special guarantee fund" (IOS Annual Report 1933 VB176). During the next four years, the journal improved its position both financially and in terms of its impact, Farquharson being able to write in 1934 that "the improvement in the quality of the contributions was widely recognised" (IOS Annual Report 1934:VB176) and the following year that "it has been pleasant to note during the year the attention given in many widely read newspapers to some of the statistical articles published in the Review. Correspondence and contact with sociologists in other countries also suggests that the Review is being more widely read and is gaining a position of authority among sociological periodicals" (IOS Annual Report 1935 VB176). The articles referred to included ones by Glass on divorce and Marshall on class, both of which indicated a much greater involvement by the London School of Economics in the Sociological Review, and also in the affairs of the Institute more generally. Ginsberg joined the Council of the Institute in 1934 and the Executive in 1936; Marshall joined both in 1935, and was during the years up to the war a very active member. (Farquharson wrote in October 1935 to Ernest Barker, President of the Institute that he had "come to have a deep respect for (Marshall's) ability" (VB302)). Carr-Saunders was a member of Council both before and after being appointed to the London School of Economics (1937), but was only directly involved with the Review. (IOS Council and Executive Minutes VB209, 211, 225).

From 1936 onwards however the Review began to suffer the effects of the worsening international situation more directly than other aspects of the Institute's work. The foreign subscriptions, especially from Japan and China, where there was a not insignificant school of rural sociology in the 1920s and 1930s (Mauss 1962) began to dry up, and from 1938 onwards the journal began to show a deficit again after two or three years of financial stability (IOS Annual Reports VB176). During the war, its appearance was restricted by paper shortages as much as anything, and it was kept afloat by the Oxford University Press. In 1948, the Institute Council rejected an offer from the London School of Economics to take over publication of the Review (See Section 8.1 below), as a result of which both Carr-Saunders and Ginsberg withdrew from the Editorial Board and effectively from the Institute. Arrangements were made for the Review to continue to appear, but in unbound monthly instalments - generally reckoned to be a very unsatisfactory arrangement, as many members were apparently unaware what the slim blue leaflets were. As late as June 1950 however, Dorothea Farquharson was able to write,

"I do think we should get it back to volume form - a thicker volume to come out quarterly instead of these slips of pamphlets which some people fail to realise are copies of the actual Review. US Libraries write to say they haven't received copies ... and we have to send them again" (DF-EJL 29.6.50 : EJL)

From 1952 onwards when the Institute was in the process on winding down, the future of the Review was one of the things uppermost in Farquharson's mind, as a consequence of the moral obligation to maintain it imposed on the Institute by Branford's will. It was Ethel John Lindgren's suggestion that Keele be required to take over the publication of the Sociological Review as a condition of receiving the Institute's library (Lindgren 1982), and the New Series published at Keele began appearing from 1953 onwards. Initially an attempt was made to keep the interdisciplinary flavour which Branford and the Institute had insisted upon, and which the new university also favoured, with an Editorial board consisting of Keele academics from a wide range of social sciences - but with the establishment of a full sociology department at Keele in the mid-1960s, this gradually faded (Beaver 1982).

Other Meetings and Publications

As well as publishing the Sociological Review, Le Play House also published various other pamphlets and books through Le Play House Press, and the earlier Sociological Publications (which was finally wound up in 1934 after several years of inactivity). Le Play House Press publications included in the 1920s a number of reports of foreign field trips (Norway and Czechoslovakia), although this tradition was continued more by the Le Play Society that the House in the 1930s. However, Le Play House Press did publish the collected papers of all Institute of Sociology Conferences (Dugdale 1936; Dugdale 1937; Marshall 1938; Dymes 1944;1946;1949) most of which are still available from Keele University Library.

The organisation of conferences and London meetings, which took place regularly throughout the 1930s kept the Institute and the House in a position of some prominence within the academic world - speakers included not only sociologists, of whom there were of course few, but also historians (Beales, Gooch, and Toynbee), anthropologists (Marrett, Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown), political scientists (Barker, the President from 1935 to 1938) and representatives from various other disciplines. Some of these meetings were of more than simply passing interest - the meeting in 1938 at which Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown spoke on functionalism for example; and it was one of the Institute's major achievements that it could bring together academics in the social sciences who would not in the normal course of events have anything to do with each other (Jahoda 1982).

Other Le Play House activities worth noting were the maintenance of a library of over 10,000 volumes and numerous periodicals from all over the world (now at Keele) which included works not readily available elsewhere - and the existence of a number of study groups, of which the most productive was the Race Relations group. (Between the late 1930s and the late 1940s when it ceased to exist, it issued a monthly newsletter).

Relationships with Other Organisations

Although the Institute of Sociology was the only organisation claiming to represent the discipline for the first half of the twentieth century, there were nonetheless a number of other organisations and institutions with which it should be compared, or with whom its relationships should be examined, both within the field of the academic social sciences and in the sphere of its amateur social research activities. One of these, the Le Play Society, has already been examined in detail because of the peculiar nature of its relationship with the Institute. Primarily a movement of both amateur and professional geographers, the Le Play Society had no recorded contact with the Institute after 1933 - and the existence of the Le Play Society, together with the growth of bodies such as the Institute of British Geographers founded in 1933 to cater for the younger generation of geography teachers effectively removed that discipline from the sphere of influence of the Institute of Sociology.

The Institute's relationships with other associations representing the social sciences do not appear to have been particularly close or significant. There are occasional references to the Royal Anthropological Institute (IOS Annual Report 1934 and 1935, during which time a joint RAI/IOS Committee on Race and Culture was sitting), to the American Institute of Social Research, which used Le Play House as a UK mailing address during the mid-1930s, and to the International Institute of Sociology, to which the Institute was affiliated. There are a large number of references to the International Conference on Social Work, of which Alexander Farquharson was from 1932 the Secretary, and which held its Conference in London in 1936, hosted by Le Play House. A number of other organisations in the field of social work enjoyed close relations with Le Play House, especially the Charity Organisation Society (See Section 4.3) whose secretary during the 1930s, B E Astbury was a member of the Council of the Institute of Sociology. The Institute and the Charity Organisation Society organised a joint committee on social reconstruction which met between 1940 and 1942, submitting evidence to Beveridge broadly in favour of a Welfare State with substantial provision for voluntary social work to continue. (VB212)

Apart from the Charity Organisation Society, the Institute was also in close co-operation with the British Institute for Social Service and the National Council for Social Service, the British Committee of the International Institute for Intellectual Co-operation, the Rural Reconstruction Association, the British Federation of Social Workers, the National Book Council and the Association of Libraries (ASLIB). There is no evidence however of any regular contact with academic organisations of economists, political scientists or psychologists, all of which were of course in existence during this period, and all of who had members who were also members of the Institute. One of the most significant social science texts of the 1930s, "The Study of Society" (Bartlett et al 1939) contained papers by Lindgren, Wells and Ginsberg, alongside contributions by anthropologists and psychologists. The production of the book was very much an interdisciplinary exercise, involving seminars held in Yorkshire, the Lake District and elsewhere at which all aspects of the social sciences, their relevance and their future were discussed (Lindgren 1982). The main difference between the sociologists and the other social scientists was perhaps that organisations in those disciplines were, like those in geography, organisations of professionals, based in and largely oriented towards the universities; whereas the Institute of Sociology was from its inception latently if not actively hostile to the universities, a legacy from Patrick Geddes' failure to secure the Chair of Sociology at the London School of Economics and one which it was never able or willing to shake off.

The relationship between the Institute and the London School of Economics is worth pursuing. Although not the only British academic institution offering courses in sociology (by 1930 Liverpool, Birmingham, Leeds, Bristol and Manchester Universities and Bedford College, London taught some sociology or social studies (Fincham 1975)), the London School of Economics was the only one with a Chair of Sociology, and indeed the only one to employ sociologists as such. From 1907 until 1929 under Hobhouse, and from then onwards under Morris Ginsberg, the small Department of Sociology at the London School of Economics regarded Le Play House as an interesting, but academically irrelevant institution. Ginsberg, Edward Westermaarck and later Thomas Marshall were all members of the Institute of Sociology, and all participated peripherally in its affairs, although only Marshall, as a member of the Council and Executive between 1935 and 1949 was actively involved. Nonetheless, Ginsberg spoke at Le Play House on Bergson and Freud in 1933, spoke for the Institute at joint meetings with the British Psychological Society a year later, and worked with Farquharson on the Modern Sociologists book series during the mid-1930s. Marshall spoke at a great many more Le Play House meetings, and both Ginsberg and Marshall, together with a number of other academics in the social sciences from London University and beyond were involved in the series of Conferences organised by the Institute of Sociology in 1935 (The Social Sciences: their relations in Theory and Teaching), 1936 (Further Papers on the Social Sciences) and 1937 (Class Conflict and Social Stratification) (Dugdale 1936:1937, Marshall 1938). Both wrote extensively for the Sociological Review, as the only journal of the discipline in the country at that time.

While it was not entirely true that "for a long period after he succeeded Hobhouse, Ginsberg was sociology ... in Britain" (Fletcher 1974), it is of course the case that, as the only full time Professor of Sociology in Britain, Ginsberg was the professional face of the discipline, whereas Farquharson, as Secretary of the Institute represented what was at that time, a considerable amateur force. Relationships between the two men were not close, but neither were they antagonistic. MacRae said of Ginsberg, "I never heard him say a single hostile word about the Institute, but I think he felt he had other things to do ... I think it would be fair to say that he lost interest - it may have been interpreted as hostility." (MacRae 1982) He went on to confirm that there was no evidence of antagonism in Ginsberg's unpublished correspondence, and the same can be said of Farquharson's letters which make any reference to Ginsberg. That is not however the case with Marshall, (See Section 8.1 below), although during the 1930s his relationship with Le Play House was cordial. Unfortunately his death in 1981 prevented any opportunity to pursue these matters.

There is no evidence of any close relationship between Le Play House and any of the other Universities offering courses in Sociology during the 1930s, although Philip Sargent Florence (Birmingham) and Tom Simey (Liverpool) were inactive members of the Institute of Sociology's Council from the late 1930s until 1953 (in the case of Florence) and 1949 in the case of Simey (when it was discovered that he was not actually a member of the Institute (EJL - IOS Council 3.11.50). Henry Mess, of Bedford College was more closely involved until his death in 1944.

The one amateur organisation with which the Institute of Sociology is most often compared, and with which its relationships were less than cordial was Mass Observation (Stanley 1981: Calder and Sheridan 1984: Madge 1976). Formed in 1937 as the result of the mutual interest of a poet and a journalist in the public's reaction to the Abdication Crisis, this "wild gypsy crusade" (Shils 1960) seized the imagination of large numbers of people for a short while during the late 1930s, became almost wholly absorbed part of the Ministry of Information during the war, and declined into a (what was by then becoming) conventional market research organisation thereafter. The founder and chief public protagonist of Mass Observation, Tom Harrisson was scathing about the Institute of Sociology, describing it as an "antiquated organisation ... overdue for overhaul" undertaking "small local surveys, often of slight significance" (Harrisson 1947:13). Stanley, in an authoritative work on the early years of Mass Observation writes of the Institute at that time as being "intellectually timorous, ... helplessly ineffective and increasingly irrelevant." (Stanley 1981:216). However, elsewhere he recognises Branford, Farquharson and Wells' writings on the Regional Survey (Branford and Farquharson 1924: Wells 1935) as being "really not far from the rhetoric of Mass Observation's 'anthropology of ourselves'. There is the same belief in the power of the searchlight of social investigation to illustrate conditions and thereby self-evidently to set in train ameliorative legislation and voluntary action from above." (Stanley 1982:196). The Institute hit back too in its own right, with an attack by Marshall on the academic validity of Mass Observation's work, and highly critical reviews by Marie Jahoda in the Sociological Review of its first publications. (Marshall 1937; Jahoda 1938; Jahoda 1940). All that said however, Harrisson spoke at Le Play House in 1937 on fieldwork in sociology, (recalled by Marie Jahoda as a "quite tough meeting") but overall relationships between him and Farquharson were by no means hostile (Jahoda 1982). In conclusion it can be said that the attitude of the Institute of Sociology towards Mass Observation was similar to that of academic sociology to the Institute - polite interest but somewhat complacent disdain for something which was felt to be an altogether less worthwhile form of activity. Had the Institute and Mass Observation been able or prepared to work together, amateur sociology may have established itself as a more serious force for the future.


Le Play House and the Regional Survey Movement in British Sociology 1920 - 1955 | CONTENTS | Introduction | Theory | Origins | Early C 20th | Le Play House | IoS | WW2 | Postwar