Participant Observer: An Autobiography

Participant Observer: An Autobiography

by William Whyte, William F. Whyte
     
 

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What would happen if a social scientist saw himself not as an outsider but as a participant, engaging in the situations he studied and acting to change the course of events? The distinguished career of William Foote Whyte as an activist scholar provides a rich and complex answer to that question. Participant Observer is Whyte's own story. He takes us to worksites from…  See more details below

Overview

What would happen if a social scientist saw himself not as an outsider but as a participant, engaging in the situations he studied and acting to change the course of events? The distinguished career of William Foote Whyte as an activist scholar provides a rich and complex answer to that question. Participant Observer is Whyte's own story. He takes us to worksites from Boston's North End in the early forties to Spain and Peru in the seventies to Jamestown, New York, in the eighties. Along the way, we see the development of his thinking and the spread of his influence into fields as disparate as social psychology, industrial relations, and agricultural development. While it documents a remarkable career, Participant Observer is also a personal chronicle. Whyte reflects with candor and sometimes great amusement on the years of his childhood, his academic education, and his marriage. He also describes being stricken with polio and recounts how he and his family worked to circumvent the handicaps the disease dealt him. Beginning with his study of neighborhood gangs in Boston's North End and moving into such diverse workplaces as the oil fields of Oklahoma, the dining rooms of Stouffer's, and rural villages in Peru, Whyte's research has focused on connections between social organization and human performance. Whyte listened to what workers told him, gave their views weight in his recommendations to decision makers, and eventually became a powerful voice for greater worker participation and workplace democracy. His work is a model for the social sciences and his story should be read by any serious student of them.

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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:
9780875463247
Publisher:
Cornell University Press
Publication date:
04/30/1994
Pages:
376
Product dimensions:
6.33(w) x 9.34(h) x 1.24(d)

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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