Significant Sociologists

How did these individuals
shape the field of sociology?
Auguste Comte
The principle of co-operation, spontaneous or concerted, is the
basis of society, and the object of society must ever be to find
the right place for its individual members in its great co-operative
scheme. There is, however, a danger of exaggerated specialism;
it concentrates the attention of individuals on small parts of the
social machine, and thus narrows their sense of the social
community, and produces an indifference to the larger interests
of humanity. It is lamentable to find an artisan spending his life
making pin-heads, and it is equally lamentable to find a man with
mind employing his mind only in the solution of equations.
- Course of Positive Philosophy, 1830
Auguste Comte
France, 1798-1857
Founder of Sociology
Social Statics - hold society together
Social Dynamics - society changes through
definite processes
● Positivism - applying scientific approach to
social world
Karl Marx
The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class
Freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guildmaster
and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in
constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted….
The modern bourgeois society that has sprouted from the ruins of
feudal society, has not done away with class antagonisms. It has but
established new classes, new conditions of oppression, new forms of
struggle in place of the old ones.
- The Communist Manifesto
Karl Marx
● Prussia/Germany/Paris/London, 1818-1883
● Society is influenced by how its economy is
● Class conflict--struggle between workers
and capitalists--was key to human history
and society
● Conflict Perspective
Herbert Spencer
There is no way of coming at a true theory of society, but by inquiring into the nature of
its component individuals. To understand humanity in its combinations, it is necessary to
analyze that humanity in its elementary form – for the explanation of the compound, to
refer back to the simple. We quickly find that every phenomenon exhibited by an
aggregation of men, originates in some quality of man himself. A little consideration
shows us, for instance, that the very existence of society, implies some natural affinity in
its members for such a union. It is pretty clear too, that without a certain fitness in
mankind for ruling, and being ruled, government would be an impossibility. The infinitely
complex organizations of commerce, have grown up under the stimulus of certain
desires existing in each of us. And it is from our possession of a sentiment to which they
appeal, that religious institutions have been called into existence.
- Social Statics
Herbert Spencer
Civil Engineer
Applied principles of biology to society
Popularized evolutionary theory of social
● Coined the phrase, “survival of fittest”
(Social Darwinism)
Emile Durkheim
“Anyone who has truly practiced a religion knows very well that it
is [the set of regularly repeated actions that make up the cult]
that stimulates the feelings of joy, inner peace, serenity, and
enthusiasm that, for the faithful, stand as experimental proof of
their beliefs. The cult is not merely a system of signs by which
the faith is outwardly expressed; it is the sum total of means by
which that faith is created and recreated periodically. Whether
the cult consists of physical operations or mental ones, it is
always the cult that is efficacious.”
― The Elementary Forms of Religious Life
Emile Durkheim
● France, 1858-1917
● First person to systematically apply scientific method to
● Society is a set of interdependent parts, each serving a
o Function - the consequence that an element of
society produces for the maintenance of its social
● Functionalist Perspective
Max Weber
“Sociology . . . is a science concerning itself with the interpretive understanding
of social action and thereby with a causal explanation of its course and
consequences. We shall speak of 'action' insofar as the acting individual
attaches a subjective meaning to his behavior--be it overt or covert, omission or
acquiescence. Action is 'social' insofar as its subjective meaning takes account
of the behavior of others and is thereby oriented in its course
Within the realm of social conduct one finds factual regularities, that is, courses
of action which, with a typically identical meaning, are repeated by the actors or
simultaneously occur among numerous actors. It is with such types of conduct
that sociology is concerned, in contrast to history, which is interested in the
causal connections of important, i.e., fateful, single events”
Max Weber
● Prussia, 1864-1920
● Studied separate groups within society
● Verstehen - an attempt to understand the meanings
individuals attach to their actions
● Ideal Type - a description comprised of the essential
characteristics of a feature of society
o deduce essential characteristics by studying many
● Interactionist Perspective
Harriet Martineau
• It is my deliberate opinion that the one essential requisite of human welfare in
all ways is scientific knowledge of human nature.
• All women should inform themselves of the condition of their sex and of their
own position. It must necessarily follow that the noblest of them will, sooner or
later, put forth a moral power…and burst asunder the bonds (silken to some but
cold iron to others) of feudal prejudice and usages. In the meantime is it to be
understood that the principles of the Declaration of Independence bear no
relation to half of the human race? If so, what is the ground of this limitation?
Harriet Martineau
● England, 1802-1876
● Conduction early sociological studies of
England and U.S.
● Believed scholars should try to improve
society, not just study it.
● Promoted women’s rights, religious
tolerance, and abolition of slavery
W. E. B. DuBois
“After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, the
Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this
American world,—a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him
see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this
double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of
others, of measuring one by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and
pity. One ever feels his two-ness,—an American, a Negro... two thoughts, two
unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength
alone keeps it from being torn asunder.
The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife, — this longing to attain
self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self.”
― The Souls of Black Folk
W. E. B. DuBois
● United States, 1868-1963
● First African American Ph.D. from Harvard
● Used community studies to underscore
significance of race in American society
● Believed sociologists should work for social
Jane Addams
“We slowly learn that life consists of processes as well as
results, and that failure may come quite as easily from
ignoring the adequacy of one's method as from selfish or
ignoble aims. We are thus brought to a conception of
Democracy not merely as a sentiment which desires the
well-being of all [people], nor yet as a creed which believes
in the essential dignity and equality of all [people], but as
that which affords a rule for living as well as a test of faith.”
Jane Addams
● United States, 1860-1935
● Settlement House movement
● Undertook surveys of poverty in U.S.
Detailed impact of industrialization and urbanization
● Wrote about democracy and social reform