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The Averaged American: Surveys, Citizens, and the Making of a Mass Public

3.69  ·  Rating Details  ·  80 Ratings  ·  14 Reviews
Americans today know that a majority of the population supports the death penalty, that half of all marriages end in divorce, and that four out of five prefer a particular brand of toothpaste. Through statistics like these, we feel that we understand our fellow citizens. But remarkably, such data now woven into our social fabric became common currency only in the last cent ...more
Hardcover, 398 pages
Published January 15th 2007 by Harvard University Press
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Anand Gopal
Jun 20, 2015 Anand Gopal rated it really liked it
Igo's thesis is that modern surveying techniques helped constitute an American "public," creating such ideas as "mainstream culture," "public opinion," and "normal sexuality." She makes this case by examining three important surveyors of the 20th century: Robert and Helen Merrell Lynd, whose study of Muncie, Id. came to represent "typical" America; George Gallup and Elmo Roper's public opinion polls, which were understood to represent the thoughts of an "average" American, and Alfred Kinsey, who ...more
Jan 21, 2008 Steve rated it really liked it
This was a book I felt I should read rather than one I actively wanted to, but it turned out to be a lot more interesting than I thought it would be. (I don't think I'm alone in this; this book is listed as to-read on a lot of Goodreads lists...).
The book is an overview of social research in the U.S. from 1920-1950, concentrating on polls, Middletown, and Kinsey's work, but framing it not just in terms of the research, but what the research did to the U.S. Basically, the book examines the impact
Laura Norén
Oct 14, 2015 Laura Norén rated it liked it
What I liked:
This is a book about sociological methods and, perhaps, about what it means for a population to see itself reflected by and through social science.

The book was clearly organized into a Middletown section, a Roper/Gallup section, and a Kinsey section in a logical sequence that followed history. The structure was easy to follow and made what could have been a complicated argument simpler. There were some drawbacks - such a neat history in three segments may have eliminated too much nu
Mike Zickar
Jan 23, 2016 Mike Zickar rated it liked it
An interesting book that is really 3 case studies, more than a complete history of the surveying of American public. The 3 case studies are well-chosen, the Lynd's Middletown series (detailed investigations of Muncie Indiana in the 1920s and 1930s), the Roper and Gallup mass survey efforts, and Kinsey's investigations in the sexual lives of Americans. She weaves a nice narrative through these case studies, about how these and other social science efforts got Americans to think more about the not ...more
Nov 11, 2014 Ben rated it really liked it
Focuses on the rise of polling in the period (roughly) 1920-1960, beginning with Middletown and then discussing Gallup and Kinsey. A departure from previous sorts of demographic surveys in that they sought to find what was 'normal,' rather than looking at marginal populations. The pollsters saw themselves as scientifically neutral, collecting (not creating) data, which they felt would play a democratizing role. Connects to Ian Hacking's ideas on dynamic nominalism, a dialectic exists between nam ...more
Feb 18, 2013 Joy rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, orals
Igo's well-researched and interesting book shows how the rise of social statistics attempting to define the "Average American" in the mid-twentieth century both reflected and generated new categories of self-understanding. Igo does a great job of showing how some of the earliest surveys, of "Middletown" and later Gallup, threw out racial and socioeconomic complexity to get at a more more "real" picture of the average American. In doing do, the surveys themselves reinforced an exclusionary politi ...more
Margaret Sankey
Jul 16, 2012 Margaret Sankey rated it liked it
Igo lays out the beginnings of national polling and statistical analysis as a social science tool and popular culture phenomenon, starting with the Lynds and their Middletown Muncie through the 1920s and the Middletown in Transition of the Depression, as the study was discovered and embraced by the advertising industry, then moving to Gallup, Roper and the advent of political polling that guided decision making (barring the 1948 election fiasco) to the Kinsey reports. Although people craved a "m ...more
Thomas Stevenson
Apr 16, 2014 Thomas Stevenson rated it liked it
I am so accustomed to surveys that I'd not given much, or any, thought to how this developed. Igo gives a nice history our growing use and reliance on this type of information. The book is not about how surveys are constructed but rather how and why their results became popular.
Oct 16, 2007 Bridget rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: nerds
Shelves: socialscience
Social research actually changes society! But, just not how we would have planned it to. Who woulda thunk it. This book chronicles how surveys became popular during the last century, and how they actually shape how Americans view themselves ("the typical American has 2.5 kids, owns 1.5 cars..."). She does this by discussing Middletown, Kinsey's survey of human sexuality, and the rise of public polling. I liked it a lot; my only complaint was the here-and-now discussion at the end was very slim - ...more
Danica Midlil
Jul 24, 2012 Danica Midlil rated it did not like it
Shelves: nonfiction
So very dull. Topic aside, it wasn't well written. Her sentences went on and on only to turn back on themselves. So many clauses! Shudder! Why do people think that nonfiction always has to sound like a monotone college professor droning on and on in lecture? What a bore!
Mar 02, 2008 Taliser rated it really liked it
Shelves: science-ish
This is a great look at this beginning of social science and the use of surveys in the US around the 1930s. Gives a good peak into the politics of funding, researchers personal perspective biasing research, and was a fun read.
John Hansen
Feb 28, 2013 John Hansen rated it liked it
A provocative idea and well-researched. However, Igo focuses a lot on the how America reached this state, rather than on the why, which would have made for a more fascinating, timely study.
Jun 06, 2007 Ian rated it really liked it
This was an interesting book about the history of polling in the US. Not a very interesting subject matter, but if you're interested in it, it's a good book.
Feb 21, 2008 Dan rated it it was amazing
This book basically got Sarah Igo tenured at Penn, so suffice it to say that it's pretty good.
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