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The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

Dr. Otis Durant Duncan in 1931
(2012.201.B0317.0229, Oklahoma Publishing Company Photography Collection, OHS).

DUNCAN, OTIS DURANT (1897–1970).

The eldest of nine children, sociologist Otis Durant Duncan was born to Robert Alexander and Minnie Duncan on November 20, 1897. He grew up on a subsistence farm near Mount Pleasant, Texas. To attend high school, he walked several miles daily to and from Mount Pleasant and rushed home to help with farm chores. He financed his education at East Texas State Teachers College by occasionally dropping out to teach in a public school. Naturally inclined toward rural sociology, he continued his studies at Texas A&M College and at the University of Minnesota, forming bonds with some of America's leading sociologists. He taught briefly at Louisiana State University (LSU) and in 1928 accepted an appointment as associate professor of rural life studies at Oklahoma A&M College (later Oklahoma State University, OSU). In 1941 he earned the doctorate in sociology from LSU.

In 1936 Duncan established the Department of Sociology and Rural Life at Oklahoma A&M and chaired the department until 1963. Supported by his wife, Ola (née Johnson), he was a popular teacher and prolific author. His books include Population Trends in Oklahoma (1935) and The Southwest: A Cultural Area in Evolution (1960). He served as president of the Rural Sociological Society, the Southwest Social Science Association, and the Southwest Sociological Society.

Duncan treated rural sociology not as a philosophy of life or medium of social reform but rather as a science aimed at developing empirical research methodologies to illuminate social phenomena peculiar to rural life. His principal concerns were population change, migration, the family life cycle, socioeconomic stratification, land tenure, rural health, and rural policy. He liked to extend credit to one of "his fiercest and most helpful critics," his son, Otis Dudley Duncan (1921–2004), who was instrumental in transforming mainstream American sociology into an empirical social science based on quantitative methodologies. As the elder Duncan's friend and colleague William H. Sewell wrote after he died on July 17, 1970, "All of us are better for having known him."

Michael Hightower


Otis Durant Duncan, "Rural Sociology Coming of Age," Rural Sociology 19 (No. 1, 1954).

"Otis Durant Duncan," Social Networks and Archival Context Cooperative Program, http://socialarchive.iath.virginia.edu, accessed 29 December 2015.

William H. Sewell, "Otis Durant Duncan, Biographical Sketch, 1897–1970," Otis Durant Duncan Papers, Special Collections and University Archives, Oklahoma State University Libraries.

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The following (as per The Chicago Manual of Style, 17th edition) is the preferred citation for articles:
Michael Hightower, “Duncan, Otis Durant,” The Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture, https://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry?entry=DU016.

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