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The Heroines of Sociology

Harriet Martineau

Harriet Martineau, one of the earliest female Western sociologists, was born in 1802 in Norwich, England. Martineau was a self-taught expert in political economic theory; she wrote prolifically about the relations between politics, economics, morals, and social life throughout her career: her intellectual work was centered by a staunchly moral perspective that stemmed from her Unitarian faith. Martineau was extremely critical of the inequality and injustice faced by girls and women, slaves, wage slaves, and the working poor during her time.

Martineau was one of the first women journalists; she also worked as a translator, speech writer, and novelist. She invited readers to consider the pressing social issues of the day. Many of her ideas about political economy and society were presented in the form of stories, making them appealing and accessible, and she was known for her keen ability to explain complicated ideas in an easy-to-understand manner. She should be considered one of the first public sociologists. Martineau’s key contribution to the field was her assertion that when studying society, one must focus on all aspects of it: she emphasized the importance of examining political, religious, and social institutions.

Martineau believed that by studying society in this way, one could deduce why inequality existed. In her writing, she brought an early feminist perspective to bear on issues like marriage, children, home and religious life, and race relations. Martineau’s social-theoretical perspective was often focused on the moral stance of a populace and how it did or did not correspond to the social, economic, and political relations of its society. She measured progress in society by three standards: the status of those who hold the least power in society, popular views of authority and autonomy, and access to resources that allow the realization of autonomy and moral action.

Martineau won numerous awards for her writing, and was a rare, successful and popular working woman writer during the Victorian era (though controversial, of course). She published over 50 books and over 2,000 articles in her lifetime. Her translation into English and re-work of Auguste Comte’s foundational sociological text, Cours de Philosophie Positive, was received so well by readers and by Comte himself that he had Martineau’s English version translated back into French. Martineau died in 1876 near Ambleside, Westmorland, England. Her sweeping contributions to social thought are more often than not overlooked within the cannon of classical sociological theory, though her work was widely lauded in its day, and it preceded that of Émile Durkheim and Max Weber.

Patricia Hill Collins

Patricia Hill Collins is an active American sociologist known for her research and theory who sits at the intersection of race, gender, class, sexuality, and nationality. Collins served in 2009 as the 100th president of the American Sociological Association (ASA)--the first African American woman elected to this position. She is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards, including the Jessie Bernard Award, given by the ASA for her first and groundbreaking book, published in 1990, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Power of Empowermentthe C. Wright Mills Award given by the Society for the Study of Social Problems, also for her first book; and, was lauded with the Distinguished Publication Award of the ASA in 2007 for another widely read and taught, theoretically innovative book, Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism. Currently Distinguished University Professor in Sociology at University of Maryland and Charles Phelps Taft Emeritus Professor of Sociology in the Department of African American Studies at the University of Cincinnati, Collins has had a prolific career as a sociologist; she is the author of several books and numerous journal articles.

Iravati Karve

Iravati Karve was an Indian educationist, anthropologist, and a writer from Maharashtra, India. Karve was India’s first women anthropologist, in face, at a time when anthropology and sociology were still developing as university disciplines. She was born in 1905 and named after the Irawaddy River in Burma where her father, Ganesh Hari Karmar-kar, worked for the Burma Cotton Company. At seven year’s old, Karve was sent to the Huzur Paga boarding school for girls in Pune. One of her classmates at the school was Shakuntala Paranjapye, daughter of R.P.Paranjapye, Principal of Fergusson College. Shakuntala’s mother saw Irawati at the school and wanted to bring her home as a second child. This passionate mother took Iravati in, and she was introduced to anthropology by judge Balakram. Karve received a master’s degree in Sociology from Mumbai University in 1928; she completed her doctorate degree in Anthropology from a university in Berlin, Germany in 1930. Karve served for many years as the head of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Deccan College, Pune (University of Pune), then presided over the Anthropology Division of the National Science Congress held in New Delhi in 1947. Karve wrote in both Marathi and English on topics pertaining to sociology and anthropology, as well as on nonscientific topics.

Nancy Julia Chodorow

Nancy Julia Chodorow is a feminist sociologist and psychoanalyst that has written a number of influential books, including: The Reproduction of Mothering: Psychoanalysis and the Sociology of Gender (1978); Feminism and Psychoanalytic Theory (1989); Femininities, Masculinities, Sexualities: Freud and Beyond (1994); and The Power of Feelings: Personal Meaning in Psychoanalysis, Gender, and Culture (1999). Chodorow is widely regarded as a leading psychoanalytic feminist theorist and is a member of the International Psychoanalytical Association, often speaking at its congresses.  She spent many years as a professor in the sociology and clinical psychology departments at the University of California, Berkeley. Chodorow retired from the University of California in 2005. Her book The Reproduction of Mothering was chosen by Contemporary Sociology as one of the ten most influential books of the past twenty-five years.

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Then and Now Women Sociologists.

Ayesha Jalal

Ayesha Jalal is a Pakistani-American historian who serves as the Mary Richardson Professor of History at Tufts University. She was the recipient of the 1998 MacArthur Fellow.

Jalal studied at Wellesley College before moving to Trinity CollegeCambridge where she received her doctorate in 1983. She stayed at Cambridge until 1987, working as a fellow of Trinity College and then as a Leverhulme Fellow.

Jalal moved to Washington, D.C. in 1985 to work as a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center. Then she moved to academy scholar at the Harvard Academy until 1990. In 1999, she joined Tufts University as a tenured professor. The bulk of her work deals with the creation of Muslim identities in modern South Asia, and she continues to be a great inspiration to us.

Parenthood, caring and paid work

The Sociology of Gossip