James Samuel Coleman
|Born||May 12, 1926|
Bedford, Indiana, United States
|Died||March 25, 1995 (aged 68)|
|Alma mater||Purdue University Columbia University|
|Fields||Sociological Theory, Mathematical Sociology|
|Doctoral advisor||Paul Lazarsfeld|
|Doctoral students||Ronald S. Burt|
|Influences||Robert Merton and James Burnham|
James Samuel Coleman (May 12, 1926 - March 25, 1995) was an American sociologist, theorist, and empirical researcher, based chiefly at the University of Chicago. He was elected president of the American Sociological Association. He studied the sociology of education and public policy, and was one of the earliest users of the term "social capital." His Foundations of Social Theory influenced sociological theory. His "The Adolescent Society" (1961) and "Coleman Report" (Equality of Educational Opportunity, 1966) were two of the most cited books in educational sociology. The landmark Coleman Report helped transform educational theory, reshape national education policies, and it influenced public and scholarly opinion regarding the role of schooling in determining equality and productivity in the United States.
As the son of James and Maurine Coleman, he spent his early childhood in Bedford, Indiana, but he moved to Louisville, Kentucky. After graduating in 1944, he enrolled in a small school in Virginia but left to enlist in the US Navy during World War II. Coleman received his bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from Purdue University in 1949 and began working at Eastman Kodak until 1952. He became interested in sociology and continued his graduate studies at Columbia University until graduating in 1955.
Coleman achieved renown with two studies on problem solving: An Introduction to Mathematical Sociology (1964) and Mathematics of Collective Action (1973). He taught at Stanford University and the University of Chicago. In 1959, he moved to Johns Hopkins University, where he taught as an associate professor. In 1965 he became involved in Project Camelot, an academic research project funded by the United States military through the Special Operations Research Office to train in counter-insurgency techniques. He eventually became a full-time professor in social relations until 1973, when he returned to Chicago. While in Chicago he engaged in a professorship opportunity at Chicago University.
Upon his return, he became the professor and senior study director at the National Opinion Research Center. In 1991, Coleman was elected as the eighty-third President of the American Sociological Association. In 2001, Coleman was named among the top 100 American intellectuals, as measured by academic citations, in Richard Posner's book, Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline.
He was influenced by Paul Lazarsfeld, James Burnham and became interested in Robert Merton. Coleman is associated with adolescence, corporate action and rational choice. He shares common ground with sociologists Peter Blau, Daniel Bell, and Seymour Martin Lipset.
Coleman is widely cited in the field of sociology of education. In the 1960s, during his time teaching at Johns Hopkins University, Coleman and several other scholars were commissioned by the National Center for Education Statistics to write a report on educational equality in the US. It was one of the largest studies in history, with more than 650,000 students in the sample. The result was a massive report of over 700 pages. The 1966 report, titled Equality of Educational Opportunity (otherwise known as the "Coleman Report"), fueled debate about "school effects" that are still relevant today. The report is commonly presented as evidence that school funding has little effect on student achievement, a key finding of the report and subsequent research. It was found as for physical facilities, formal curricula, and other measurable criteria, there was little difference between black and white schools. Also, a significant gap in the achievement scores between black and white children already existed in the first grade. Despite the similar conditions of black and white schools, the gap became even wider by the end of elementary school. The only consistent variable explaining the differences in score within each racial group or ethnic group was the educational and economic attainment of the parents. Therefore, student background and socioeconomic status are more important in determining educational outcomes of a student. Specifically, the attitudes of parents and caregivers at home and peers at school of students toward education. Additionally, differences in the quality of schools and teachers, has a small positive impact on student outcomes. The report led to extensive further research. Modern research has led to similar conclusions.
Eric Hanushek criticized the focus on the statistical methodology and the estimation of the impacts of various factors on achievement took attention away from the achievement comparisons in the Coleman Report. The study had tested students around the country, and the differences in achievement by race and region were enormous. The average black twelfth grade student in the rural South was achieving at the level of a seventh grade white in the urban Northeast. At the fiftieth anniversary of the report's publication, Eric Hanushek assessed the closure in the black-white achievement gap. He found that achievement differences had narrowed, largely from improvements in the South, but that at the pace of the previous half-century, it would take two-and-a-half centuries to close the math achievement gap.
In 1975, Coleman published new research that further investigated the effects of school busing systems, intended to bring lower-class black students to upper-class, racially-integrated schools. Upon advancements in school desegregation, white parents began to move their children out of integrated schools in large numbers. The mass exodus was termed white flight. In 1966, Coleman wrote an article asserting that black students benefited from integrated schooling only if most of the students were white.
Coleman's findings regarding "white flight" were not well received in some quarters, particularly among some members of the American Sociological Association. In response, efforts sprang up during the mid-1970s to revoke his membership. Still, Coleman remained a member and eventually became its president.
In Foundations of Social Theory, Coleman discusses his theory of social capital, the set of resources found in family relations and in a community's social organization. Coleman believed that social capital is useful for the cognitive or social development of a child or young person. He discusses three main types of capital: human, physical, and social.
Human capital is an individual's skills, knowledge, and experience, which determine their value in society. Physical capital, being completely tangible and generally a private good, originates from the creation of tools to facilitate production. In addition to social capital, the three types of investments create the three main aspects of society's exchange of capital.
According to Coleman, social capital and human capital are often complementary. By having certain skill sets, experiences, and knowledge, an individual can gain social status and so receive more social capital.
With the exchange of capital, comes Coleman's theories on obligations and expectations. He describes the situation of doing favors for someone as "credit slips." Should an individual need a favor, he is essentially giving someone else a credit slip, which signifies that they will be paid back for their goods and/or services. For an individual to believe that their favor will be reciprocated, Coleman believes that there are two vital conditions. There needs to be a level of trustworthiness in a social environment to be able to believe the obligation will be met. Also, the individual needs to take into account the extent of the obligation.
While social capital has value in use, it is something that is not easily exchanged. Coleman explores the idea of relative capital. He believed that capital's value was truly dependent on the social environment and the individual. With that being the case, the value of human capital and physical capital will change as well.
Coleman also explores the idea that social capital is less easy to invest in than human and physical capital. To invest in physical capital is usually a good decision both financially and economically. To invest in human capital is to make oneself more intelligent and experienced, surely a positive thing. When it comes to social capital, the incentive to invest is not always personally appealing.
According to Coleman, when individuals invest in social capital, they are not necessarily investing in themselves. Investment in social capital leads to investment in the social structure, in which the capital lies, which, in turn, benefits only those individuals and populations who form part of that particular social structure.
Coleman was a pioneer in the construction of mathematical models in sociology with his book, Introduction to Mathematical Sociology (1964). His later treatise, Foundations of Social Theory (1990), made major contributions toward a more rigorous form of theorizing in sociology based on rational choice. Coleman wrote more than thirty books and published numerous articles. He also created an educational corporation that developed and marketed "mental games" aimed at improving the abilities of disadvantaged students. Coleman made it a practice to send his most controversial research findings "to his worst critics" prior to their publication, calling it "the best way to ensure validity."
At the time of his death, he was engaged in a long-term study titled the High School and Beyond, which examined the lives and careers of 75,000 people who had been high school juniors and seniors in 1980.
Coleman published lasting theories of education, which helped shape the field. With his focus on the allocation of rights, one can understand the conflict between rights. Towards the end of his life, Coleman questioned how to make the education systems more accountable, which caused educators to question their use and interpretation of standardized testing.
Coleman's publication of the "Coleman Report" included greatly influential findings that pioneered aspects of the desegregation of American public schools. His theories of integration also contributed. He also raised the issue of narrowing the educational gap between those who had money and others. By creating a well-rounded student body, a student's educational experience can be greatly benefited.