Charles Horton Cooley

Charles Horton Cooley

Cooley, Charles Horton, 1864-1929, American sociologist, b. Ann Arbor, Mich., grad. Univ. of Michigan (B.A., 1887; Ph.D., 1894); son of Thomas M. Cooley. He taught in the sociology department at the Univ. of Michigan after 1892, although his degree was in economics. Cooley's major contribution to the field of sociology was his idea of the "looking-glass self" (a concept that emphasizes the social determination of the self) and primary groups—e.g., the family, the play group, or the neighborhood. He wrote Human Nature and the Social Order (1902, rev. ed. 1922), Social Organization (1909), Social Process (1918), and Sociological Theory and Social Research (1930).
Charles Horton Cooley (1864-1929) was an American sociologist.

Charles Cooley was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan in September 7, 1864. He graduated from University of Michigan in 1887, which was followed by a year's training in mechanical engineering at the same school. In 1888 he returned to the study for a Master's degree in political economy, with a minor in sociology. He began teaching in the University in the fall of 1892. Cooley received a PhD in 1894 and began teaching sociology in the academic year 1894-95. The title of his doctoral thesis was The Theory of Transportation in economics. The concept of the "looking glass self" is undoubtedly his most famous, and is known and accepted by most psychologists and sociologists today. It expanded William James's idea of self to include the capacity of reflection on its own behavior. Other people's views build, change and maintain our self-image; thus, there is an interaction between how we see ourselves and how others see us. According to Cooley, in his work "Human Nature and the Social Order", his "looking-glass self" involved three steps:

1) To begin, we picture our appearance of ourselves, traits and personalities.

2) We then use the reactions of others to interpret how others visualize us.

3) We develop our own Self-concept, based on our interpretations. Our Self-concept can be enhanced or diminished by our conclusions.

Cooley and Social Subjectivity

Cooley's theories were manifested in response to a three-fold necessity that had developed within the realm of society. The first of which was the necessity to create an understanding of societal phenomena that highlighted the subjective mental processes of individuals yet realized that these subjective processes were effects and causes of society's processes. The second necessity examined the development of a social dynamic conception that portrayed states of chaos as natural occurrences which could provide opportunities for "adaptive innovation." Finally, a need to manifest publics that were capable of exerting some form of "informed moral control" over current problems and future directions.

In regards to these, aforementioned, dilemmas Cooley responded by stating "society and individual denote not separable phenomena but different aspects of the same thing, for a separate individual is an abstraction unknown to experience, and so likewise is society when regarded as something apart from individuals." From this, he resolved to create a "Mental-Social" Complex of which he would term the "Looking-glass self."

The Looking-glass self is created through the imagination of how one's self might be understood by another individual. This would later be termed "Empathic Introspection." This theory applied not only to the individual but to the macro-level economic issues of society and to those macro-sociological conditions which are created over time.

To the economy, Cooley presented a divergent view from the norm, stating that "...even economic institutions could [not] be understood solely as a result of impersonal market forces." With regard to the sociological perspective and its relevancy toward traditions he states that the dissolution of traditions may be positive, thus creating “the sort of virtues, as well as of vices, that we find on the frontier: plain dealing, love of character and force, kindness, hope, hospitality and courage.” He believed that Sociology continues to contribute to the "growing efficiency of the intellectual processes that would enlighten the larger public will." (Levine, 1996)

Cooley's marriage in 1890 to Elsie Jones, the daughter of a professor of medicine at the University of Michigan, enabled him to concentrate fully on scholarly work and the contemplative life he prized above all. A highly culti- vated woman, Mrs. Cooley differed from her husband in that she was outgoing, energetic, and hence capable of ordering their common lives in such a manner that mundane cares were not to weigh very heavily on her husband. The couple had three children, a boy and two girls, and lived quietly; and fairly withdrawn in a house quite close to the campus. The children served Cooley as a kind of domestic laboratory for his study of the genesis and growth of the self. Hence, even when he was not engaged in the observation of his own self but wished to observe others, he did not need to leave the domestic circle.

Cooley's works

  • 1891: The Social Significance of Street Railways, Publications of the American Economic Association 6, 71-73
  • 1894: Competition and Organization, Publications of the Michigan Political Science Association 1, 33-45
  • 1894: The Theory of Transportation, Baltimore: Publications of the American Economic Association 9
  • 1896: Nature versus Nuture' in the Making of Social Careers, Proceedings of the 23rd Conference of Charities and Corrections: 399-405
  • 1897: Genius, Fame and the Comparison of Races, Philadelphia: Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 9, 1-42
  • 1897: The Process of Social Change, Political Science Quarterly 12, 63-81
  • 1899: Personal Competition: Its Place in the Social Order and the Effect upon Individuals; with Some Considerations on Success, Economic Studies 4,
  • 1902: Human Nature and the Social Order, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, revised edn 1922
  • 1902: The Decrease of Rural Population in the Southern Peninsula of Michigan, Publications of the Michigan Political Science Association 4, 28-37
  • 1904: Discussion of Franklin H. Giddings', A Theory of Social Causation, Publications of the American Economic Association, Third Series, 5, 426-431
  • 1907: Social Consciousness, Publications of the American Sociological Society 1, 97-109
  • 1907: Social Consciousness, American Journal of Sociology 12, 675-687 Previously published as above.
  • 1908: A Study of the Early Use of Self-Words by a Child, Psychological Review 15, 339-357
  • 1909: Social Organization: a Study of the Larger Mind, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons
  • 1909: Builder of Democracy, Survey, 210-213
  • 1912: Discussion of Simon Patten's The Background of Economic Theories, Publications of the American Sociological Society 7, 132
  • 1912: Valuation as a Social Process, Psychological Bulletin 9, Also published as part of Social Process
  • 1913: The Institutional Character of Pecuniary Valuation, American Journal of Sociology 18, 543-555. Also published as part of Social Process
  • 1913: The Sphere of Pecuniary Valuation, American Journal of Sociology 19, 188-203. Also published as part of Social Process
  • 1913: The Progress of Pecuniary Valuation, Quarterly Journal of Economics 30, 1-21. Also published as part of Social Process
  • 1916: Builder of Democracy, Survey 36, 116
  • 1917: Social Control in International Relations, Publications of the American Sociological Society 12, 207-216
  • 1918: Social Process, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons
  • 1918: A Primary Culture for Democracy, Publications of the American Sociological Society 13, 1-10
  • 1918: Political Economy and Social Process, Journal of Political Economy 25, 366-374
  • 1920: Reflections Upon the Sociology of Herbert Spencer, American Journal of Sociology 26, 129-145
  • 1924: Now and Then, Journal of Applied Sociology 8, 259-262.
  • 1926: The Roots of Social Knowledge, American Journal of Sociology 32, 59-79.
  • 1926: Heredity or Environment, Journal of Applied Sociology 10, 303-307
  • 1927: Life and the Student, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons
  • 1928: Case Study of Small Institutions as a Method of Research, Publications of the American Sociological Society 22, 123-132
  • 1928: Sumner and Methodology, Sociology and Social Research 12, 303-306
  • 1929: The Life-Study Method as Applied to Rural Social Research, Publications of the American Sociological Society 23, 248-254
  • 1930: The Development of Sociology at Michigan. pp.3-14 in Sociological Theory and Research, being Selected papers of Charles Horton Cooley, edited by Robert Cooley Angell, New York: Henry Holt
  • 1930: Sociological Theory and Social Research, New York: Henry Holt
  • 1933: Introductory Sociology, with Robert C Angell and Lowell J Carr, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons

External links


  • Marshall J. Cohen, Charles Horton Cooley and the Social Self in American Thought, New York: Garland Publishing, Inc. (1982)


  • Barnes, Harry E (Editor). An Introduction to The History of Sociology. The University of Chicago Press . 1970. Chapter XLIII. Charles Horton Cooley: Pioneer in Psychosociology - Richard Dewey.
  • Coser, Lewis A., Masters of Sociological Thought : Ideas in Historical and Social Context, New York, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971. ISBN 0155551280. He has a chapter on Cooley.
  • Levine, Donald N. Visions of the Sociological Tradition. The University of Chicago Press. 1995. pgs. 263-267

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