From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Middletown studies were sociological case studies of the City of Muncie in Indiana conducted by Robert Staughton Lynd and Helen Merrell Lynd, husband-and-wife sociologists. The Lynds' findings were detailed in Middletown: A Study in Modern American Culture, published in 1929, and Middletown in Transition : A Study in Cultural Conflicts, published in 1937. They wrote in their first book:
- "The city will be called Middletown. A community as small as thirty-odd thousand...[in which] the field staff was enabled to concentrate on cultural change...the interplay of a relatively constant...American stock and its changing environment" (1929: p. 8).
The word "middletown" was meant to suggest the average or typical American small city. While there are many places in the U.S. actually named Middletown (in Connecticut, in New Jersey, in New York, in Ohio and elsewhere), the Lynds were interested in an idealized conceptual American type, and concealed the identity of the city by referring to it by this term. Sometime after publication, however, the residents of Muncie began to guess that their town had been the subject of the book.
The Lynds and a group of researchers conducted an in-depth field research study of a small American urban center to discover key cultural norms and better understand social change. The first study was conducted during the prosperous 1920s, beginning in January 1924, while the second was written, with far less fieldwork, late in the Great Depression in the United States.