The Chicago School in America provided an integrated institutional setting for a collective intellectual enterprise similar to the Durkheimian one in Paris. This was particularly so during its most creative period from 1915 to 1935. Robert E. Park, along with William Thomas who published The Polish Peasant in Europe and America (1918/1920), constituted the centre of gravity for the Chicago School, whose other members included Ernest Burgess, William F. Ogburn, and Louis Wirth, who published his study The Ghetto in 1928. The unity of focus was achieved not so much through concerns with sociological method, as through attempting to understand the nature of contemporary American civilization. If Jefferson's American civilization was centered on a 'home-grown' democratic republic of towns, then the Chicago School's was centered on the immigrant city. Chicago, itself, was representative of the contemporary city-type of a New World immigrant society. It was at once industrial, cosmopolitan, divided, and it was this multi-faceted phenomenon to which Park and Burgess, in particular, turned their attention in two works, 'The City: Suggestions for the investigation of human behavior in the city environment' (Park, 1915), and The City (Park and Burgess, 1925).

Chicago, as ethnic and racial 'melting-pot', ensured that the problem of culture was also explored. It was explored, moreover, from the vantage point of cultural diffusion. For Parke, the specificity of a culture is denoted by the congruence and integration of diffuse elements. None the less, Parke's theorization of culture, which stands in a line that runs from Herder to Boas, also draws on the German distinction between Kultur, which refers to ends and values, and Zivilisation, which refers to the means and techniques required for material life. He thus articulates many of the suppositions present in Alfred Weber's essay prior to the reception of this version of culture in American sociology.