Classical Sociological Theory, 4e
Early Women Sociologists and Classical Sociological Theory, 1830-1930
Classical Sociological Theory
Classical Feminist Theory
The contributions of female thinkers to classical sociological theory have generally been
overlooked throughout the years, even though they systematically developed understandings of
society similar to those of their male counterparts.
However, the theories of these female
thinkers are distinctive because they incorporate the standpoint of gender, focus on the lives and
work of women, critically engage the problem of social inequality, and offer solutions to
ameliorate social problems.
This chapter discusses the work of several women theorists,
activists, and social reformers, and it presents the case for why it should be included in the canon
of classical sociological theory.
Harriet Martineau (1802-1876)
Martineau has come to be known as the “founding mother” of sociology for both her theoretical
and empirical work.
A prolific writer, Martineau published twenty-five didactic novels in a
of Political Economy
; the first sociological research text,
Observe Morals and Manners
; three volumes on her field work in the United States,
America; and a book on her research in the Middle East,
Eastern Life: Present and Past
also translated and edited Comte’s
, a volume that was so highly acclaimed
that Comte translated her rendition of his book back into French.
Martineau viewed the central concern of sociology to be what she called “social life in society,”
the patterns, causes, consequences, and problems of the social world.
Like Comte and Spencer,
she was a positivist who believed in social laws and the progressive evolution of society.
According to Martineau, the most important law of social life is human happiness, and much of
her work sought to understand the extent to which individuals developed “morals and manners”
to achieve this end.
Martineau used a comparative methodological approach to study the moral
principles in different societies and to uncover the degrees to which these societies had
She devised three measures to study progress, including the condition of the less
powerful groups in society, the cultural attitudes towards authority and autonomy, and the extent
to which all individuals were provided the tools to realize autonomous moral action.
Spencer, Martineau was overwhelmingly concerned with gender, racial, and class inequality.