Participant Observer: An Autobiography

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"A perfectly titled, beautifully detailed, candid, thoughtful, and thought-evoking autobiography by the consummate participant observer. A powerful testament to an important research style in sociology and ethnography."--Robert K. Merton, Columbia University

While it documents a remarkable career, Participant Observer is also a personal chronicle in which William Foote Whyte reflects on his childhood, his education, his courageous struggles with polio and with the crises of ...

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Overview

"A perfectly titled, beautifully detailed, candid, thoughtful, and thought-evoking autobiography by the consummate participant observer. A powerful testament to an important research style in sociology and ethnography."--Robert K. Merton, Columbia University

While it documents a remarkable career, Participant Observer is also a personal chronicle in which William Foote Whyte reflects on his childhood, his education, his courageous struggles with polio and with the crises of family and academic life.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Last year marked the 50th anniversary of behavioral scientist Whyte's first, and arguably his most important work, Street Corner Society . The study of the social organization of Boston's North End, at the time a largely Italian slum, was a perfect example of what Whyte meant by participant observer. For three years Whyte, then a Harvard junior fellow, lived and worked in the community, even bringing his new wife to live in a icy flat in the neighborhood. Whyte would subsequently move on to examine industrial organization and labor management in various companies, but soon after transferring to Cornell, his focus shifted to South and Central America, working with industries and rural workers' cooperatives in Venezuela, Peru, Guatemala and other countries. Whyte's straightforward, slightly stilted prose combines with an engaging modesty (``I like to think that my more relaxed senior year helped humanize a too rigid and self-righteous Bill Whyte'') to make for an enjoyable record of his early life, but unfortunately he loses focus in accounts of later undertakings, bogging them down in details of who was involved and which acronyms were doing the funding. Most readers will find themselves wanting more about findings, results and Whyte's personal experiences. (June)
Library Journal
Few would deny that modern industrial sociology began with Whyte. Few also realize that the growth and development of this academic field have much to do with the life of its inventor. In his autobiography, Whyte describes how his life influenced his theories, especially his belief that a researcher must be a direct participant in what he or she examines. His voice is colloquial and unhampered with sociological jargon. At times, the microscopic reporting of the details of his life gets in the way of his grander experiences, yet this is a minor criticism. This book can be read simply as the autobiography of an interesting life or a well-written examination of a scholar's influence on an important branch of modern sociology. Recommended for public and academic libraries.-Glenn Masuchika, Chaminade Univ. Lib., Honolulu
Booknews
An intellectual autobiography of the great social scientist (who describes himself as a "behavioral scientist, concentrating on the study of organizations") best known for his 1943 book, Street Corner Society, the first of 21 books he authored, co-authored, or edited (the most recent being the 1991 Social Theory for Action: How Individuals and organizations Learn to Change). Paper edition (325-8), $24.95. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780875463254
  • Publisher: Cornell University Press
  • Publication date: 4/30/1994
  • Pages: 346

Meet the Author

William Foote Whyte (1914–2000) was Professor of Sociology at Cornell University and the author of Street Corner Society, Participant Observer, and Learning from the Field.

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