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Aug. 17, 2005 Press Contact: William Harms
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Fred Strodtbeck, Social Psychologist, 1919-2005


Fred L. Strodtbeck

Fred L. Strodtbeck, the co-originator of a highly influential theory of societal values and a research director on the pioneering American Juries Project of the 1950s, died of Parkinson’s-related heart failure on Sunday, Aug. 7, at Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago. He was 86.

Strodtbeck, a Hyde Park resident and Professor Emeritus in the departments of Sociology and Psychology at the University of Chicago, also was a longtime Director of the Social Psychology Training Program and the Social Psychology Laboratory at the University, and a Professor at the Law School.

He was an authority on what is now known as microsociology, the observation-based study of the way personalities interact in smaller groups, such as families or juries. One example of this is his 1965 research with James Short of the State College of Washington into gang delinquency, which is frequently cited in criminal sociology research.

Edward Laumann, the George Herbert Mead Distinguished Service Professor in Sociology at the University of Chicago, and a longtime friend and colleague of Strodtbeck’s, characterized Strodtbeck’s work with small groups as “very, very important,” adding, “His legacy will certainly be thought of as an important one.”

Strodtbeck’s Values Orientation Theory, developed with Florence Kluckhohn of Harvard University in 1961, remains a widely used tool for cross-cultural research and interaction. Through the study of Texan, Mexican and Native-American cultures in the American Southwest, Kluckhohn and Strodtbeck developed a set of criteria for societal values that have been used to examine variation in social interaction styles between different cultural groups worldwide. “That was a highly influential study that was cited very frequently,” Laumann said. “It was a major reference point for much of the work done on values subsequently.”

William Morgan, professor of sociology at Cleveland State University, described Strodtbeck as “one of a handful of pre-eminent scholars in the field of small groups research.” Morgan is a former student of Strodtbeck who credits his professor as the reason he chose to study sociology.

Morgan, who currently directs a collaborative research program involving the Cleveland State sociology department and a Nigerian department of sociology, also credits Strodtbeck for giving birth to his cross-cultural interests.

Strodtbeck was born in Middletown, Ohio, on June 10, 1919. He attended Miami University in Ohio, where he received a B.A. with honors in sociology in 1940. He obtained a master’s degree from Indiana University in 1942, and in 1950, after a research posting in the U.S. Army and time spent as an instructor at UCLA, he completed a Ph.D. in sociology from Harvard. While at Harvard he worked with R. Freed Bales on “interaction process analysis,” a systematic method of observing and coding for quantitative analysis the social interaction in small groups that became the basis for microsociological inquiry for the next decade.

Strodtbeck served for three years as an assistant professor at Yale University before obtaining faculty appointments in law, sociology and psychology at the University of Chicago in 1956. Later he took brief appointments as a visiting lecturer at the University of Michigan and as a fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences at Stanford University. At the University of Chicago Strodtbeck served as Director of Experimental Research of the Law School’s American Jury Project from 1953 to 1959.

The Jury Project, headed by Edward Levi, observed juries using the microsociological methods developed by Bales and Strodtbeck at Harvard. The study determined that, contrary to popular belief, juries and judges are in agreement about verdicts in 78 percent of civil and criminal cases. It also was the foundation of the field of jury studies that have been used to aid in jury selection.

Strodtbeck also served as Director of the University’s Social Psychology Laboratory beginning in 1962. He was the Founding Director, from 1964-69, of the Interuniversity Project for Behavioral Science Training, which provided an opportunity for students affiliated with the universities of Chicago, Illinois and Iowa to study Behavioral Science in Yucatan, Mexico.

Strodtbeck is survived by his three sons, Fred Anthony, James and Andrew, and two grandchildren, Wyndham and Izabel Gass. A memorial service has been scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 31 at Montgomery Place Retirement Community in Chicago. Donations can be made in Professor Strodtbeck’s name to the National Parkinson’s Foundation.
Last modified at 11:31 AM CST on Friday, August 19, 2005.

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