New Works in the Field

Carnegie, Ford, and the Rapid Rise of Behavioral Approaches in the Social Sciences

Editors’ Note: Comparing the strategies of the Ford Foundation and Carnegie Corporation in promoting the behavioral sciences in mid-20th century U.S., Emily Hauptmann concludes the essay by noting that: “though there were important differences between how Carnegie and Ford chose to publicize their aims, both devoted considerable resources to building what they hoped would be congenial, long-lasting academic homes for the behavioral sciences. The success of these markedly different strategies reminds us that there is no one royal road for funders to follow to produce and sustain new academic orientations.”

One central way philanthropies participate in the production of knowledge is by constructing or remodeling academic institutions. In the mid-twentieth century, the Carnegie Corporation and the Ford Foundation pursued distinct construction and remodeling strategies to further a shared aim: producing the behavioral sciences as a new, legitimate mode of knowledge to replace early twentieth century social scientists’ unsystematic methods and excessive penchant for social reform. Carnegie oversaw the remodeling of the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) along new behavioral lines while Ford underwrote the construction of new institutes and centers devoted to the behavioral sciences. Discovering how these philanthropies furthered their shared commitment to the behavioral sciences is essential to understanding the rapid rise and lasting success of behavioral approaches in a variety of disciplines, my own discipline of political science among them.

Political scientists who advocated what they called “behavioralism” heralded it as the first approach capable of systematic, scientific study of political life. One particularly promising example was survey research, based on the large random, representative sample survey first employed by social psychologists during World War II. Mid-century survey research drew not only on early twentieth century community-based social surveys but also on social psychological measures of attitudes as well as techniques developed in the burgeoning advertising, marketing and polling industries. Adapting these methods to survey prospective voters, behavioralists hoped, would help them explain and possibly predict how people’s political preferences worked – which were most volatile and which the most stable. Other political scientists, however, criticized the social psychological methods central to behavioralism for emphasizing individual attitudes over political institutions in all their historical and local variety. Still others were put off by the then still unfamiliar methods of statistical analysis behavioralists employed.

Nevertheless, in spite of such widespread skepticism and incomprehension, behavioralism went from being virtually unknown to one of political science’s most important orientations in less than twenty years. In a 2012 piece on the Ford Foundation’s support for the approach, I focused on this remarkable ascent, asking: “How did behavioralism…become so prominent so quickly?” My answers there and in a subsequent 2016 article relied on unpublished, archived Ford and Carnegie Corporation records to show that these philanthropies were crucial to accelerating the rise of behavioralism and giving it strong institutional roots. In this post, I offer a synopsis of these two pieces highlighting the strategies Carnegie and Ford pursued in order to promote their shared commitment to the behavioral sciences. Though both philanthropies participated actively in the production of behavioral scientific knowledge, my studies of their archived records reveal they did so in strikingly different ways. While a number of scholars have commented on Ford’s aggressive, well-financed approach, Carnegie’s more quietly pursued remodeling strategy has often been overlooked.

In both their roles at Carnegie and in their wartime service, mid-century Carnegie officer Charles Dollard and trustee Frederick Osborn were the earliest and most active supporters of the behavioral sciences. Dollard and Osborn, later joined by Carnegie officer John Gardner and SSRC allies Donald Young and Pendleton Herring, launched a cluster of projects testifying to the power of the behavioral sciences. Among these were analyses of the War Department’s extensive WWII surveys of enlisted men that became Samuel Stouffer et. al.’s The American Soldier (1949), Stuart Chase’s popular The Proper Study of Mankind (1948) and the University of Michigan’s Survey Research Center’s analysis of voter attitudes in the 1952 presidential election. Notably, when Carnegie officers publicized each of these projects, they deliberately chose to put the SSRC center stage and downplay their own role.

My 2016 paper details the crucial parts Carnegie played in each of these projects, focusing on the foundation’s decision not to advertise these projects as their own. My analysis is informed by Dollard’s 1967 statement in a Carnegie oral history that he and his mid-century associates at Carnegie had been “propagandists for the behavioral sciences.” As propagandists, I argue, Dollard and his fellow officers spent as much time considering who could best deliver the behavioral science message to particular audiences as they did honing the content of the message itself. For instance, in 1946 Dollard argued to Carnegie’s Board of Trustees that persuading policy makers, corporate elites and the general public of the value of social science ought to be the SSRC’s job – a job it was not yet doing. When Chase’s The Proper Study of Mankind appeared in 1948, it accomplished several of Dollard’s objectives. Not only was its popular author’s enthusiastic account of the wonders of social science selling well; in following Dollard’s lead in crafting and editing the book, the SSRC had also been nudged into the new role of speaking to a wider audience.  In this case as well as the other two mentioned above, Carnegie officers decided that promoting these projects as the work of the SSRC was the most effective way both to convince their target audiences of the merits of the behavioral sciences and to transform the SSRC itself into those disciplines’ advocate. Whether meant for a general audience (like Chase’s book) or for academic ones (like the Stouffer volumes and the 1952 election study), Carnegie’s archived records clearly show that the officers who supported these projects consistently opted not to advertise Carnegie’s role in them.

Though there are many contrasts between Ford and Carnegie’s strategies for promoting the behavioral sciences, they coincided in one important area: Ford continued the campaign Carnegie officers began in the late 1930s to remake the SSRC into an advocate for the behavioral sciences. Along with quietly partnering with the SSRC on a number of behavioral science projects, Carnegie officers were also crucial to placing supporters of the behavioral sciences at the helm of the postwar SSRC. Ford’s sizable 1950 grant to the SSRC to pursue “research in individual behavior and human relations” amplified these earlier efforts, strengthening the SSRC’s new leadership’s ability to promote the behavioral sciences among their member disciplines. In this area, Ford followed Carnegie’s lead.

In most other areas, however, Ford struck out on its own. While Carnegie focused on ensuring the new leadership and research committees of the postwar SSRC were behavioral science-oriented, Ford funded and helped build a much broader new academic infrastructure across the U.S. to support the behavioral sciences. For example, after Ford announced publicly that it was making a number of sizable, unsolicited grants to universities to begin doing behavioral research, its officers encouraged universities to create new behavioral science institutes rather than direct the funds to existing academic entities which had expressed no interest in striking out on a new behavioral course. Seeing few signs of academic interest in the behavioral sciences in U.S. universities, Ford’s officers opted for making grants to spark it. A few years later, this strategy culminated in Ford spending over $10 million to set up and endow the Center for the Advanced Study of the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS) in Menlo Park, California. Such ambitious academic infrastructure building projects defined Ford’s Behavioral Sciences Program.

In retrospect, Carnegie’s former president Dollard thought the support he and his associates directed towards the behavioral sciences had been crucial and well-timed.  By contrast, when Bernard Berelson, the director of Ford’s Behavioral Sciences Program, reflected on the program he had led, he did so with a mixture of satisfaction and regret: satisfaction that the behavioral sciences were successfully established but regret that the program had “made some ill will for itself.” Perhaps Ford had been overly “initiatory,” Berelson mused, in trying to create so much new institutional space for the behavioral sciences so quickly, an acknowledgment of how doggedly the foundation pressed its support for the behavioral sciences upon indifferent and sometimes hostile academic audiences. When Ford allies in university administrations sought to impose behavioral science-friendly faculty on recalcitrant departments, as Stanford’s Provost Terman did with the Political Science department, aggrieved faculty blamed not only their universities but the new academic market Ford money had created too.

What should we make, then, of the differences and the overlap in the strategies Carnegie and Ford pursued to promote the behavioral sciences? What do they teach us about how philanthropies have helped produce and sustain new academic orientations? For one, if one assumes that the most “initiatory” foundation programs are also likely to be the most public in announcing their aims, then the grants Carnegie made to promote the behavioral sciences provide a good counterexample. As I have explained, Carnegie officers directed several grants designed to promote the behavioral sciences from start to finish; but they were also determined to mute their public association with them. Ultimately, though there were important differences between how Carnegie and Ford chose to publicize their aims, both devoted considerable resources to building what they hoped would be congenial, long-lasting academic homes for the behavioral sciences. The success of these markedly different strategies reminds us that there is no one royal road for funders to follow to produce and sustain new academic orientations.

-Emily Hauptmann

Emily Hauptmann is professor of Political Science at Western Michigan University.  She is currently working on a book manuscript tentatively titled Producing Knowledges: Private Philanthropies, Public Universities and the Making of Postwar Political Science. Her work in this area has appeared in The Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, PS: Political Science and Politics, The American Political Science Review and Political Theory.


For the early history of survey research in the U.S.: Converse, Jean M. 1987. Survey Research in the United States:  Roots and Emergence, 1860-1960.  Berkeley: University of California Press.

For the Stanford example: Lowen, Rebecca. 1997. Creating the Cold War University: The Transformation of Stanford. Berkeley: University of California Press.

For Ford’s institution-building: Seybold, Peter. 1980. The Ford Foundation and the Triumph of Behavioralism in American Political Science. In Philanthropy and Cultural Imperialism: The Foundations at Home and Abroad. Edited by Robert Arnove.  Boston: G.K Hall & Co.



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