W. Lloyd Warner bigraphy, stories - American anthropologist

W. Lloyd Warner : biography

October 26, 1898 - May 23, 1970
William Lloyd Warner

Career at Harvard

Warner received his B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley in 1925. After serving as a researcher for the Rockefeller Foundation and the Australian National Research Council (1926–1929), Warner enrolled at Harvard (1929–1935) as a graduate student in the Department of Anthropology and the Graduate School of Business School Administration. His first book, A Black Civilization: A Social Study of an Australian Tribe (1937), followed the conventional anthropological path of studying a primitive people.

During his years at Harvard, he became a member of a group of social scientists, led by Australian social psychologist Elton Mayo, who were exploring the social and psychological dimensions of industrial settings. Mayo, the father of the Human Relations Movement, is best known for his discovery of the Hawthorne Effect in the course of his motivational research at the Western Electric Company. (On Warner's association with Mayo, see ).

Career in Chicago

In 1935, he was appointed professor of anthropology and sociology at the University of Chicago, where he remained until 1959, when he was appointed professor of social research at Michigan State University. During his Chicago years, Warner's research included important studies of black communities in Chicago and the rural South, of a New England community ("Yankee City"/Newburyport, MA), and a Midwestern community ("Jonesville"). In addition to these community studies, Warner researched business leaders and government administrators, as well as producing important books on race, religion, and American society.

Warner's Yankee City study was undoubtedly the most ambitious and sustained examination of an American community ever undertaken. Warner and his team of researchers occupied Newburyport for nearly a decade, conducting exhaustive interviews and surveys. Ultimately, the study produced 5 volumes: The Social Life of a Modern Community (1941), The Status System of a Modern Community (1942), The Social Systems of American Ethnic Groups (1945), The Social System of a Modern Factory (1947), and The Living and the Dead: A Study in the Symbolic Life of Americans (1959).

Relevance to modern anthropology

Events of the past decade have given Warner's work new relevance, particularly to study of Social class in the United States. His community studies offer invaluable evidence for scholars investigating social capital, civic engagement, civil society, and the role of religion in public life (Verba, Brady & Schlozman 1995; Putnam 1999; Theda Skocpol 1999). His studies of class, race, and inequality grow more timely as the deep inequities of American society grow more evident.

Criticisms

One of the most scathing critiques of Warner's methods came not from a fellow social scientist, but from popular novelist John Phillips Marquand. A Newburyport native with deep roots in the town, Marquand was annoyed by Warner's efforts to quantify and generalize people and experiences whose particularity served as the basis for several of his novels. In Point of No Return (1947), Marquand mercilessly lampooned Warner (the character Malcolm Bryant) and his work.

Marquand was generally scornful of academics, for instance his cruel portrayal of literature scholar Alan Southby in Wickford Point (1939), but his animus for Warner was personal. In Warner's deterministic vision of American culture, a small town boy like the Point of No Return protagonist Charles Gray would have had little hope of breaking free of the bonds of his provincial lower-upper-class status. That Marquand himself, like Charles Gray, was able to do so seemed a clear refutation of Bryant/Warner's fatalistic theorizing and facile status taxonomies.

Despite his impressive productivity and wide range of interests, Warner's work has long been out of fashion. An empiricist in an era when the social disciplines were increasingly theoretical, fascinated with economic and social inequality in a time when Americans were eager to deny its significance, and implicitly skeptical of the possibilities of legislating social change at a time when many social scientists were eager to be policymakers, Warner's focus on uncomfortable subjects made his work unfashionable. Warner's interest in communities — when the social science mainstream was stressing the importance of urbanization — and religion — when the fields' leaders were aggressively secularist — also helped to marginalize him. Recent work finds cause to celebrate Warner's work and his career. (See McCracken, Grant. 1988. Ever dearer in our thoughts: patina and the representation of status before and after the 18th century. Culture and Consumption. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, pp. 41–42.)

Living octopus

Living octopus

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