Sociology Index

Ernest Watson Burgess

Ernest Watson Burgess was a Canadian-American who was into urban sociology. He was a University of Chicago faculty member. Ernest Watson Burgess was hired as an urban sociologist at the University of Chicago. Burgess served as the 24th President of the American Sociological Association. Burgess has been credited with the birth of actuarial dangerousness prediction (Harcourt, 2006). Ernest Watson Burgess collaborated with sociologist Robert Park to write a textbook called Introduction to the Science of Sociology (Park & Burgess, 1921). This book was the most influential sociology texts ever written. People at the time referred to this book as the Bible of Sociology. Introduction to the Science of Sociology discussed many topics such as the history of sociology, human nature, investigating problems, social interaction, competition, conflicts, and assimilation.

Burgess and Park argued that social disorganization, not heredity, is the cause of disease, crime and other characteristics of slum life. Successive waves of immigrants through such districts demonstrated that it is the slum area itself, and not the particular group living there, with which social pathologies are associated. Introduction to the Science of Sociology was well organized and comprehensive.

Ernest Watson Burgess' groundbreaking research, in conjunction with his colleague, Robert E. Park, provided the foundation for The Chicago School. In The City (Park, Burgess, & McKenzie, 1925) they conceptualized the city into the concentric zones (Concentric zone model), including the central business district, transitional, working-class residential, residential, commuter, and suburban zones. They viewed cities as something that experiences evolution and change, in the Darwinian sense.

Ernest Watson Burgess conducted work on predicting the success or failure of inmates on parole. He identified measures believed to be associated with success on parole, converting these measures to a score of zero or one, with a score of one associated with parole success. A man lacking in job skills would have a score of zero, while a man with job skills would have a score of one. Burgess then added the scores to obtain a scale in which higher scores predicted a greater chance of success on parole (Burgess, 1928).

Hakeem (1948) reported that the Burgess method had remarkable accuracy in prediction, Though more advanced methods of analysis have become common in the social sciences, they have yet to show a clear advantage over unit-weighted methods, so the Burgess method is still used in criminology (Gottfredson & Snyder, 2005).

Ernest Burgess studied the institutions of family and marriage. He was interested in developing a scientific measure that would predict a success rate in marriage. In the book Predicting Success or Failure in Marriage, which he wrote with Leonard Cottrell in 1939, he theorized that harmony in marriage requires a certain amount of adjustment in attitudes and social behavior by both the husband and the wife.

Ernest Watson Burgess collaborated with the government in researching the success of government programs for the elderly, the results of which were published in 1960 in the book Aging in Western Societies. This book was the third volume in a three part series of handbooks written by the Inter-University Training Institute in Social Gerontology. This volume dealt with comparative data and trends on subjects such as population structure, employment, retirement, income, housing and medical insurance.