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Famous Sociologists

Which theorist argued that religion is the opiate of the masses? Who debated with Marx through their text? Which colonial thinker introduced the world to reception theory? This explanation will introduce you to a number of famous sociologists. 

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Famous Sociologists

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Which theorist argued that religion is the opiate of the masses? Who debated with Marx through their text? Which colonial thinker introduced the world to reception theory? This explanation will introduce you to a number of famous sociologists.

Every discipline has its signature individuals, from founding fathers to founding mothers who have changed how we think about the subject. Hold tight! Let's begin and explore some famous sociologists.

  • Who are the most famous sociologists in history?
  • Who are some of the most famous sociologists alive today?
  • Who are the famous female sociologists?
  • What are some famous sociologists and their theories?
  • What are some quotes by famous sociologists?

Famous sociologists in history

If we were to try and explore every sociologist to have an impact on the discipline, we would be here all day. But had it not been for Auguste Comte, or Karl Marx, whose works would form the basis of Marxist theory, the discipline may not be what it is today. You should understand who helped to shape the discipline, and how they did so.

We will move chronologically, starting at the birth of the discipline and working our way forward to the modern day. So tuck in, and let’s begin with Auguste Comte.

Sociologist

Years and location(s)

Area of study

Key facts

Auguste Comte

  • 1798-1857
  • France
  • The creation of sociology

  • The scientific method

  • Positivism

Comte is best known for being the founder of both sociology and positivism. One of his biggest contributions is actually the word ‘sociology’!

Harriet Martineau

  • 1802-1876
  • England

One of the first women to contribute to sociology, Martineau theorised about the patriarchal conditions of women in the 19th century, as well as major religious, social, and political institutions in society. Considered by many to be the "mother" of sociology.

Karl Marx

  • 1818-1883
  • Prussia
  • France
  • England
  • The development of Marxism

  • Capitalism

Karl Marx’s most significant contribution to sociology is Marxist theory.

Herbert Spencer

  • 1820-1903
  • England
  • Categorising societies

  • Synthetic philosophy

Responsible for coining the term 'survival of the fittest', years before Charles Darwin wrote it in the Origin of Species! Created the controversial theory of Social Darwinism.

Émile Durkheim

  • 1858-1917
  • France

Durkheim developed the academic discipline of sociology, allowing the subject to be taught in universities.

Known as a key functionalist sociologist speaking on many areas of sociology.

Robert E. Park

  • 1864-1944
  • United States
  • The Chicago School of Sociology

  • The Study of Human Behaviour

Park is considered an essential urban sociologist, as he is one of the key figures in what became known as the Chicago school of sociology.

Max Weber

  • 1864-1920
  • Germany

Max Weber is often referred to as being in conversation or debate with Marx.

Weber saw both structure and action as important to understanding social phenomena.

Charles H. Cooley

  • 1864-1929
  • United States
  • Social processes

  • Identity and self

Charles H. Cooley popularised the concept of the 'looking-glass self', which conceptualises how people view themselves.

George Murdock

  • 1897-1985
  • United States
  • Ethnography

Murdock's focus was ethnography, a branch of study that deals with empirical data on societies and cultures.

He believed to adequately study society, you need to take a cross-cultural approach.

W.E.B Du Bois

  • 1907-1963
  • United States
  • Ghana
  • Race theory

W.E.B. Du Bois is widely regarded as the first African-American sociologist.

The Souls of Black Folk explores Du Bois's experience as an ethnic man.

Talcott Parsons

  • 1902-1979
  • United States

Talcott Parsons is an American functionalist sociologist. One of his significant contributions was introducing the work of Max Weber to an American sociological audience.

Today, Parsons is taught in all sociological courses across the globe.

Jessie Bernard

  • 1903-1996
  • United States
  • Family structure

Jessie Bernard became a front-runner in American feminism in her lifetime.

She worked in civil service before moving into sociological teaching and writing.

Kingsley Davis
  • 1908-1997
  • United States
  • Social rewards

Kingsley Davis is a well-known American Sociologist. He gained popularity through his work published with Wilbert E. Moore on societal rewards.

Famous Sociologists, the Karl-Marx Monument in Chemnitz, Germany. The Monument is placed in front of a building and shows the head of the famous Karl Marx, StudySmarterThe text and theories put forward by Karl Marx form what is now known as Marxism. Unsplash.com.

Famous sociologists today: modern sociology

We’ve now entered the modern stage of sociologists. While not all of these theorists are still with us today, they’ve had a tremendous impact on the growth of the discipline in the 21st century.

Robert K. Merton’s theories formed Strain theory, a key functionalist theory for explaining crime, while C. Wright Mills explored the significance of the sociological imagination. Read on to learn more about the famous sociologists of the modern day.

Famous sociologistYears and location(s)Area of studyKey facts
Robert K. Merton
  • 1910-2003
  • United States
  • Crime and deviance
  • Strain theory

Merton's studies and interests were vast. He is best credited with introducing ideas such as the self-fulling prophecy and role models. The American dream was also a significant interest for Merton. The American dream is the belief that if an individual works hard, they can achieve success.

Wilbert E. Moore
  • 1914-1987
  • United States

Moore rose to popularity with the research he co-authored along with Kingsley Davis into social stratification as a necessity in society.

C. Wright Mills
  • 1916-1962
  • United States
  • The Sociological Imagination

C. Wright Mills’ most significant contribution to the discipline was The Sociological Imagination. The Sociological Imagination is a framework for viewing the world.

Albert Cohen
  • 1918-2014
  • United States
  • Status frustration
  • Crime and deviance

Cohen theorised about the rise of anti-social behaviour in Western Societies. He developed the concept of status frustration, which builds largely upon Robert K. Merton's Strain Theory.

Louis Althusser
  • 1918-1990
  • Algeria
  • France
  • Marxism
  • State apparatus

A neo-Marxist, Althusser built on Marxist theory. He argued that the upper class maintained control by controlling the repressive state apparatus and ideological state apparatus to keep the proletariat oppressed.

Michel Foucault
  • 1926-1984
  • France
  • Power
  • Surveillance

Many of Foucault's theories have a strong focus on knowledge, power and surveillance in society.

Pierre Bourdieu
  • 1930-2003
  • France
  • Capital

Bourdieu theorised on different types of capital and their significance in modern society.

Stuart Hall
  • 1932-2014
  • Jamaica
  • Cultural studies
  • Jamaican sociology

Stuart Hall campaigned for racial justice and studied the relationship between culture and identity.

Anthony Giddens
  • 1938-
  • England
  • Structuration

Giddens' most notable contributions to sociology is the theory of structuration. He has worked as a political advisor for numerous governments.

Judith Stacey
  • 1943-
  • United States

Stacey argues that women now have more choices than ever in their family arrangements, allowing them to be free from patriarchal oppression.

Ann Oakley
  • 1944-
  • England
  • Feminism

Oakley is regarded by many as a liberal feminist sociologist and has contributed significantly to feminist sociology.

Nancy Chodorow
  • 1944-
  • United States
  • Psychoanalytical sociology
  • Feminism and gender

Nancy Chodorow's works include discussions of feminist psychology and psychoanalysis. She considers the psychological elements of the construction of gender.

Ulrich Beck
  • 1944-2015
  • Poland
  • Germany

Ulrich Beck rejects that we are in a period of postmodernity. He is most known for his claim that we are in a 'risk society' full of uncertainty.

Jeffrey Weeks
  • 1975-
  • England
  • Gay studies
  • Sexuality

Jeffrey Weeks' work primarily focused on sexuality studies, within which he is a leading British sociologist.

Judith Butler
  • 1956-
  • United States
  • Feminism
  • Gender identity

Judith Butler is best known for her book, Gender Troubles: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. In this book, Butler argues gender is a performance.

Catriona Mirrlees-Black
  • 1964-
  • England
  • Australia
  • Domestic violence

Catriona Mirrlees-Black had carried out studies examining the patterns and reasons for domestic violence in society.

Howard Becker
  • 1928-
  • United States
  • Interactionism
  • Labelling Theory
  • Crime and deviance
  • Education

Becker used his action-focused sociology to show that deviance is not inherent within an act, but it is the perception of the act which makes it deviant.

Famous female sociologists

As can be seen, most of those explored have been men, but there are still very famous female sociologists. Harriet Martineau, while being pivotal to the development of early sociology, also went on to become a hallmark in British feminism.

Not to be forgotten is Catriona Mirrlees-Black, whose research into domestic violence is now a starting point for domestic violence studies in the UK.

Ann Oakley is also a key female sociologist that has spoken about several issues concerning women, including the division of labour and housework and how women experience motherhood.

Famous sociologists and their theories

Subfield of sociology

Famous sociologists

Positivism

Auguste Comte

Functionalism

Herbert Spencer

Emile Durkheim

Charles H. Cooley

Talcott Parsons

Kingsley Davis

Robert K. Merton

Wilbert E. Moore

Albert Cohen

Marxism

Karl Marx

Louis Althusser

Interactionism

Howard Becker

Weberian theory

Max Weber

Structuration

Anthony Giddens

Urban sociology

Robert E. Park

George Murdoch

W.E.B. Du Bois

Pierre Bourdieu

Stuart Hall

Ulrich Beck

Jeffrrey Weeks

Feminism

Harriet Martineau

Jessie Bernard

Judith Stacey

Ann Oakley

Nancy Chodorow

Judith Butler

Catriona Mirrlees-Black

Famous sociology quotes

Religion is the opiate of the masses."

Karl Marx

Education is preparation to live completely."

Herbert Spencer

The function of sociology, as of every science, is to reveal what is hidden."

Pierre Bourdieu

Famous Sociologists - Key takeaways

  • Every discipline has its signature individuals, from founding fathers to founding mothers who have changed how we think about the subject.
  • Famous sociologists in history include Auguste Comte, Karl Marx, Émile Durkheim and Harriet Martineau.
  • Famous sociologists in modern history include Robert Merton, Albert Cohen and Ann Oakley.
  • There were also notable famous female sociologists, including Harriet Martineau, Catriona Mirrlees-Black and Ann Oakley.

Frequently Asked Questions about Famous Sociologists

There are many famous sociologists, but many believe August Comte to be famous as he coined the term 'sociology'.

Some claim that, Émile Durkheim Max Weber and Karl Marx are the 3 fathers of sociology. 

Well-known sociologists include Émile Durkheim, Karl Marx and Max Weber. However, there are many well-known sociologists.

Harriet Martineau is stated to be the mother of sociology.

Émile Durkheim became the first professor of sociology. He developed sociology as an academic discipline of sociology, allowing the subject to be taught in universities.

Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

In which year did Comte enter the École Polytechnique in Paris?

Auguste Comte invented the word 'sociology'. True or false?

Which famous theorist institutionalised sociology?

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