Kurt & Gladys Lang

Co-winners AAPOR Award for Exceptionally Distinguished Achievement 1989

Joint Biography of Gladys Engel Lang and Kurt Lang

Kurt and Gladys met as graduate students at the University of Chicago in 1949, married in 1950, took their doctorates in sociology in1953 and 1954, respectively. Since then, they have often worked together on research projects. Kurt and his family had come to the United States from Germany in 1936 .After working fifteen months as an apprentice tool-and-die maker, he was drafted into the U.S. Army, served in Europe with the 78th Infantry Division, took his discharge there, worked as a research assistant in the Information Control Division of US Military government in Berlin, his first encounter with opinion research. Gladys, born and reared in Atlantic City, earned her B.A. at the University of Michigan, wrote a master’s thesis on human ecology at the University of Washington (Seattle). Then, eager for war-time service, landed a job with the Office of War Information(0WI} in Washington D.C.(1942-1943), where she participated in a study evaluating the effectiveness of propaganda directives on daytime soap operas. Her second job was with the Office of Strategic Services(OSS). She spent the next six years (1943-1949) in London, Rome and Milan, and finally China working on projects that ranged rom press analysis in Italy and China to observation of the postwar feminist movement and psychological warfare planning.

The Langs each wrote what have been referred to as pathbreaking dissertations on the then new world of televised politics. Gladys, on the 1952 political party conventions and Kurt on the hero’s welcome for General MacArthur Day upon his return to the USA after World War II and Korea after having defied orders by President Truman. Their study of this celebratory event, written in 1952 while they were students, won the Edward L. Bernays Award of the American Sociological Society for the best research on the effects of radio/television on American life. After getting their degrees, they were both affiliated with Canadian universities, Kurt directing audience research for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Gladys teaching at Carleton University and advising le groupe de recherche on the impact of television on French Canadian culture. During their long careers, each moved among a number of academic and research positions, including lectureships abroad. Their last positions were appointments as professors of sociology, communication, and political science at the University of Washington (from 1984), where both are now emeriti. Their first book, Collective Dynamics, published in 1961 but now largely forgotten (though still available), has been recognized as a “rich extension of the Chicago school sociology” from Robert E. Park and Ernest W. Burgess through Herbert Blumer and Morris Janowitz with sections on fashion, rumor, crowds, public opinion, and mass communication. They are, however, better known for later books, such as Politics and Television (1968), which went through three editions, The Battle for Public Opinion; The President, the Press, and the Polls during Watergate (1983), and Etched in Memory: The Building and Survival of Artistic Memory (1990) with a new edition in 2001.

The Langs have been active members of the Association for Public Opinion Research since 1956, often attending the annual meeting with their son and/or daughter. Both have served on the Council. They remember as some of their happiest hours those spent at Buck Hill Falls, the Sagamore, and other AAPOR conference sites with good friends and colleagues, far too many of whom are no longer with us.