Too Many Compromises: Survey Research and the Spectre of Communism

    Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


    Purpose: This paper charts the influence of McCarthyism and of FBI surveillance practices on a number of prominent American social scientists, market researchers, opinion pollsters and survey research practitioners during the post-war years. Hitherto disparate sets of historical evidence on how ‘Red Scare’ tactics influenced social researchers and marketing scientists are brought together and updated with evidence from original archival research.
    Design/methodology/approach: The paper draws on the existing secondary literature on how social research practitioners and social scientists reacted to the unusually high pressures on academic freedom during the McCarthy era. It supplements this review with evidence obtained from archival research, including declassified FBI files. The focus of this paper is set on prominent individuals, mainly Bernard Berelson, Samuel Stouffer, Hadley Cantril, Robert S. Lynd, Paul F. Lazarsfeld, Herta Herzog, Ernest Dichter, but also the Frankfurt School in exile.
    Findings: Although some of the historiography presents American social scientists and practitioners in the marketing research sector as victims of McCarthyism and FBI surveillance, it can also be shown that virtually all individuals in focus here also developed strategies of accommodation, compromise and even opportunism in order to benefit from the climate of suspicion brought about by the prevailing anti-Communism.
    Originality/value: Against the view of social scientists as harassed academic minority, evidence is presented in this article which shows American social scientists who researched market-related phenomena, like media, voters’ choices, and consumer behaviour, in a different light. Most importantly, this article for the first time presents archival evidence on the scale of Paul F. Lazarsfeld’s surveillance by the FBI.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalJournal of Historical Research in Marketing
    Issue number1
    Pages (from-to)197-214
    Number of pages18
    Publication statusPublished - 2016


    • Communism
    • Cold War
    • FBI
    • Loyality boards
    • McCarthy era
    • Paul F. Lazarsfeld

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