Sociology is defined as the study of human social behaviour, its origins, development, power and social structure and institutions. Though it is a social science, it uses empirical method where possible and necessary; however the often erratic nature of human behaviour means that it is also highly theoretical. Here is a list of ten of the most important sociologists.
1. Emile Durkheim
One of the trinity of ‘fathers of sociology’, it is thanks to his pioneering research and belief in sociology that helped it come to be seen as a science. Most of his work centred on how societies could maintain their coherence in the face of modern life at a time when the typically understood social norms and power structures could no longer be maintained; as with everything, times change. His first major work was The Division of Labour in Society in which he advanced the theory of the discipline.
2. Erich Fromm
Fromm had already studied sociology when Hitler rose to power in Germany. Fromm moved to New York where he was able to continue his research. As well as a sociologist, he was also a psychologist and while in the USA, he became a vocal critic of the work of Sigmund Freud. As an Orthodox Jew, he focused heavily on the meaning behind certain biblical stories, particularly the Fall in the Garden of Eden. Yet he departed in that he saw their actions as both a virtue and indicative of human independence of thought and curiosity.
3. August Comte
Another early figure, he is largely credited with founding the discipline. He is also considered one of the first philosophers of science and one of the first positivists ‘ all of which is a pretty big burden for one man to bear. Furthermore, most of his life’s work went into concept of religion of humanity, a kind of secular replacement for religion about celebrating humanity coming together as one but without the superstition. The idea further went on to influence the modern movement of humanism ‘ both human and religious ‘ that grew through the 19th and 20th centuries.
4. Eileen Vartan Barker
One of the most celebrated sociologists in the modern era, she has dedicated most of her research career to understanding a number of concepts surrounding religion ‘ especially cults and new religious movements and the curious phenomena of brainwashing. This she set up in relation with the Church of England and the British government. Though most of her studies and published work concern the Moonies, a lot of her concepts can apply to any other cult or religion where brainwashing could be used as a tool of control and dependency.
5. Nancy Fraser
Today, Fraser is one of the most noteworthy feminist thinkers concerning the concept of social justice. Most notably, her theory is that justice must contain three concepts: distribution (of resources), recognition (of the varying contributions of different groups), and representation (linguistic). She has been an advocate of Marxists campaigning for greater social contribution as well as fairer distribution (which she sees as its main concept). In her famous work Redistribution or Recognition? Fraser investigates this concept that certain roles should be given greater value.
6. Jurgen Habermas
One of the world’s most famous pragmatist sociologists, Habermas is most famous for his ideas of communicative rationality in the public sphere ‘ this is defined as using knowledge in language and action ‘ a way of dealing with claims. According to Habermas, there are three types of formal reasoning: cognitive-instrumental reason (which is used in sciences), moral-practical reason (which concerns ethics and morality) and aesthetic-expressive reason (concerning the arts). His interest is in the second, particularly when understanding the breakdown of traditional religious strictures.
7. Max Weber
The second of the fathers of sociology (the third being Karl Marx), Weber pushed the boundaries of sociology once more and argued extensively for research based on interpretation and observation rather than just an empiricist approach. His major work was The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism in which he suggested that the rise of Protestant church led to the modern capitalist system. He argued a need to understand social ideas within western religion in understanding market systems.
8. Jane Addams
One of the most prominent female sociologists in a time before feminism, Addams is seen as a quite remarkable person for her valuable contribution to the discipline. She was also a peace protester, a member of the Anti Imperialist League and started a Settlement House in the 1880s after reading inspiring Christian literature and travelling to London to visit Toynbee Hall. Once there, she came to understand the vital part they played in cultural connections and to integrating settlers into 19th century America.
9. Zygmunt Bauman
Bauman ‘ as a Polish native ‘ was driven out of his country in the early 1970s by the Communist regime; he has lived in England ever since. As a (non-practising) Jew who lived through both World War II (fighting for the Soviet Polish First Army) and then through communist invasion, much of his career has been dedicated to writing social theory on the holocaust, but also modernity, postmodern consumerism and liquid modernity, particularly in relation to rationality and changing social values of the 1980s.
10. Ibn Khaldun
Sometimes a discipline will begin hundreds of years before it is recognised as an area of academic study. Ibn Khaldun lived in 14th century Tunisia and is said to be the grandfather of modern sociology; he is also considered one of the greatest philosophers anywhere in the Muslim world. He first formulated the concept of social conflict and the much-used idea today of a ‘generation’. Most importantly, he is responsible for coming up with the ideas of tribalism and social cohesion and their importance to society.
Sociology is so broad and deep a concept today with ideas of religion, nationhood, gender, tradition and other social contracts that it is almost impossible to define what it is, let alone what it says. With so many competing ideas, some often at loggerheads, sociology now covers a brought range of ideas and changes with new concepts of understanding the human world around us.