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Personal History

Herbert Blumer was born March 7, 1900 in St. Louis, Missouri. He lived with his cabinet-worker father and his mother who took care of their home. He attended the University of Missouri from 1918 to 1922. After graduation, he secured a teaching position there. In 1925, he moved to the University of Chicago and became a professional football player (with the now defunct Chicago Cardinals) while studying sociology. Chicago Sociologists George Herbert Mead, W. I. Thomas, and Robert Park greatly influenced him. Upon completing the doctorate in 1928, he accepted a teaching position at the University of Chicago. When Mead became ill and had to give up his position as lecturer at the University of Chicago, Blumer took over and continued his work.

For 27 years Blumer was part of the faculty at the University of Chicago. He took leave to serve in the military during World War II and to study as a scholar at various universities. Blumer became the Chair of the new Sociology Department at the University of California, Berkeley in 1952. He acted as secretary-treasurer, and later president, of the American Sociological Association and received the association's award for a Career of Distinguished Scholarship in 1983. He died on April 13, 1987.

Academic Contributions

Blumer was a scholar who demanded empirical reasoning. One of his best-known studies was part of the Payne Fund studies, which grew out of fears about the impact of movies on children and young adults. The project included more than 18 social scientists who produced eleven published reports. In Blumer’s fascinating study, Movies and Conduct (1933), more than fifteen hundred college and high school students wrote autobiographies of their movie-going experiences. He uncovered that movies teach kids things about life—attitudes, hairstyles, how to kiss, even how to pickpocket.

Blumer coined the term symbolic interactionism in an article on social psychology published in Man and Society in 1937. Blumer drew heavily from Mead's understanding of the individual as an acting entity and the importance of empirical observation as primary to methodology. Blumer condensed Mead's ideas into three premises:

  • The way people view objects depends on the meaning these things have for them.
  • This meaning comes about as a result of a process of social interaction.
  • Meanings of objects can change over time.

He also drew from W. I. Thomas, who developed definition of the situation as a sociological idea and from John Dewey's philosophy of the interaction between humans in the natural world.

At the University of California, Berkeley, Blumer developed the Sociology Department and his own thinking and research. He cultivated a theory of racial prejudice, examined industrialization in traditional societies, and directed a study of adolescent drug use. Social scientists are indebted to him for studying some of the shortcomings of quantitative research. Among his students, Anselm Strauss, who worked as a research assistant with Blumer, co-founded grounded theory.


  • Movies and Conduct (1933)
  • Movies, Delinquency, and Crime (1933)
  • The Human Side of Social Planning (1935)
  • "Social Psychology", Chapter 4 in Emerson Peter Schmidt (ed.) Man and Society: A Substantive Introduction to the Social Science. New York, Prentice-Hall (1937)
  • "Critiques of Research in the Social Sciences: An Appraisal of Thomas and Znaniecki's The Polish Peasant in Europe and America" (1939)
  • Symbolic Interaction: Perspective and Method (1969)
  • "Collective Behavior." pp. 166-222. New Outline of the Principles of Sociology, ed. A. M. Lee. New York: Barnes & Noble. (1951)
  • “Sociological Analysis and the "Variable"” pp. 683-690 in American Sociological Review, Vol 21, No. 6. (Dec., 1956)

sociological theory in industrial relations (1947). American Sociological Review, 12(3), pg 271-178

Further reading

  • The Methodology of Herbert Blumer by Kenneth Baugh, Jr, 1990. ISBN-10: 0521382467
  • Griffin, E. (1997). A First Look at Communication Theory. New York: The McGraw-Hill Companies.
  • Lyman, Stanford M. and Arthur J. Vidich (1988). Social Order and the Public Philosophy: An Analysis and Interpretation of the Work of Herbert Blumer. The University of Arkansas Press.
  • "The Dilemma of Qualitative Method: Herbert Blumer and the Chicago Tradition. Martyn Hammersley." A review by Carl J. Couch. Contemporary Sociology, 20-1. (Jan., 1991), pp. 160-161.

External links

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