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To understand Addams’s texts, readers need to attend both to her evolutionary methodologies and to her interpretive strategies. Addams was an evolutionary scientist and sociologist in the days before natural selection became merged with genetics and before sociology adopted a stance of positivistic objectivity. Like other intellectuals at the nineteenth century’s turn, Addams addressed contemporary social problems by locating them within their evolutionary histories and proposing ways of moving society toward healthy equilibrium. She used specific social theories as tools, selecting the ones best suited for each given social problem. Evolutionary theorizing served as foundation and framing for her writings. Addams employed evolutionary thought in the service of “interpretation,” that is, to make the lives of her urban immigrant neighbors intelligible to her largely Anglo-Saxon, middle-class audiences. For this, Addams employed late nineteenth century rhetorical and literary conventions. Her aim was to persuade her audiences to alter their perceptions of the poor and oppressed and work with them for social reforms. Addams’s theorizing is still of use today as a model of multi-disciplinary thinking, its integration of abstract theory with concrete social issues, and its ecological character.



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The Oxford Handbook of Jane Addams


Oxford University Press


History | Philosophy | Women's Studies


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Addams’s Methodologies of Writing, Thinking, and Activism