Thomas, William Isaac

William Isaac Thomas (1863–1947), American sociologist and social psychologist, directed the field of sociology away from the abstractions of an earlier generation of “system builders” to concrete studies of group life and social behavior. Thomas was widely regarded as one of the University of Chicago's most productive and original scholars, first as a graduate student (1893–1896) and then as one of the sociology faculty (1896–1918). His greatest, most lasting influence was as a framer of sociological concepts and methodologies, establishing the life history (a self-reported narration of life) and the personal document (letters, diaries, archival records) as basic sources for social research. Thomas proposed that social problems required an understanding of both “social organization” and the subjective (experiential) aspects of social reality and a commitment ...

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