Theoretical inertia in American sociology: The plausibility of William F. Ogburn's hypothesis of "cultural lag"
Alter, Stephen G.
Haskell, Thomas L.
Master of Arts
Sociologist William Fielding Ogburn's hypothesis of "cultural lag" was popular from the 1920's through the 1950's. The cultural lag hypothesis holds that an innovation in one part of culture, usually in science or technology, creates the need for adjustment in another part. The period between the innovation and subsequent adjustment is known as a cultural lag. Ogburn used lag analysis to explain a variety of problems in modern industrial society. Although the lag concept was soundly criticized for its subjectivity, many intellectuals continued to regard it as a valid form of social analysis. This continued plausibility of "cultural lag" was due to its ability to express both historicist social critique and an image of objective social measurement. Ogburn's hypothesis thus fulfilled the desire of many social scientists to appear ideologically impartial while actually taking sides on many social issues. The decline of progressivist social theory, however, eventually exposed the theoretical weaknesses of "cultural lag"--except for a brief revival of the concept which accompanied the advent of atomic power.
American history; Sociology