Ward LesterFrank

Ward LesterFrank

(1841-1913) US sociologist and evolutionary theorist (see EVOLUTIONARY THEORY). He gained his degree in botany and law by part-time study, and went on to work and research in the fields of botany and geology before eventually accepting a professorship of sociology in 1906. Like other 19th-century social theorists, he made a distinction between the study of social process and change, and the description of social structure. His four-stage evolutionary theory was novel in its psychological approach, where an important role was found for purposive action, i.e. the human capacity to guide action in terms of knowledge about its likely consequences (‘telesis’).

Ward, following thinkers like COMTE, was a positivist (see POSITIVISM) in the sense that he was anxious to use sociological knowledge for political purposes. Indeed, he argued strongly that social reform should be based on, or at least be in accordance with, the laws identified by sociology. Using the evolutionary principle of‘telesis’, Ward supported movements aimed at the emancipation of women, and of the industrial working class. He was a strong critic of social and economic inequality, and argued that the state could produce policies, such as universal education, which would help to promote egalitarianism. Among the more important of his works are Pure Sociology (1903), Applied Sociology (1906) and The Psychic Factors of Civilization (1906).

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000