Social Pathology Period

Page by Sarah Dye

Herbert Spencer

Because the study of Deviance emerged from sociology it is necessary to gain a background on sociology. It is important to note that this is not a history of sociology but a history of deviance through sociology. Sociology in  it’s self emerged in America during the 1860’s after the Civil War. The history of deviance begins in the Social Pathology Period which occurred from about 1890 – 1920.

Those that first began the sociology movement did so because they wanted to be a contributing and positive influence on human progress. The majority of the people that formed the first sociology departments were from rural areas and had a strong religious background. These men were influenced by the writings of philosophers such as Comte (who coined the word sociology). One Comte’s ideals that had a particular impact on these early creators was his term “organismic analogy”. This term was the outlook that society is a biological system, in which all parts interact with and impact the other parts. This approach Comte said should be studied by looking at the whole, rather than individuals. Comte’s holistic approach was rejected however. This lead sociologists to the theories of Herbert Spencer which accepted the organismic analogy, and also that the parts of the whole mattered more than the whole it’s self. This American view was the opposite of the European one that tended to follow Comte. The following quote by George Smith, a prominent sociologist at the time, talks about what social pathology is, and what it’s potential to help society if used correctly-

“Pathology in social science has a certain parallel to pathology in medical science. As the study of physical disease is essential to the maintenance of physical health,so social health can never be securely grounded without a wider and more definite knowledge of social disease…. Social pathology would be a gloomy study indeed if its accurate knowledge of facts and principles did not indicate pathways out of social difficulties leading to a discovery of the means by which the social causes of disease can be removed, the weak individual be socially reinforced so that finally … the social body shall exist . . . radiant with health, in which there is not a living being which does not share in the general glow of wholesomeness and power.”(Smith, 1911)

At this point in history the general view of deviance was that of a normative perspective in which the person committing the behavior is the cause of the deviance. One of the most studied deviance at this time was that of poverty and the effects it had on people.

On April 6 1917 the United Stated entered into World War 1. This had a large impact social psychologists of the time. The violence of the war caused them to lose some faith in human progress for they believed that a war of this nature was a regression of humans to a more primal state. Around this time the Social Pathology Period was starting to loosen it’s grip in the world of sociology and the Social Disorganization Period was beginning.


Duffy, M. (2009). First World War- How it began. Retrieved November 28, 2010, from

Orcutt, J. D. (2010, August 23). Unit 2:. Retrieved November 17, 2010, from Deviance and Social Control:

Smith, S. G. (1911). Social Pathology. Norwood, Mass.: The MacMillan Company.

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