Harriet Martineau (1802-76)

Harriet Martineau (1802-76)

  • Harriet Martineau was effectively the first woman sociologist.
  • Martineau, who was English, wrote the first systematic treatise in sociology, carried out numerous cross-national comparative studies of social institutions.
  • She was the first to translate Auguste Comte’s ‘Cours de philosophie positive’ into English.
  • A professional and prolific writer, she popularized much social-scientific information by presenting it in the form of novels.
  • Feminist, Unitarian, critic, social scientist, and atheist, she matched her activism about the issue of slavery and the ‘Woman Question’ to her arguments for equal political, economic, and social rights for women.
  • She undertook many pioneering methodological, theoretical, and substantive studies in the field that would now be called sociology: the analysis of women’s rights, biography, disability, education, slavery, history, manufacturing, occupational health, and religion all came within her gamut.
  • One of her best-known works, Society in America (1837), compared American moral principles with observable social patterns, and outlined a yawning gap between rhetoric and reality.
  • Martineau’s How to Observe Morals and Manners (1838) is arguably the first systematic methodological treatise in sociology, in which she outlined a positivist solution to the dilemma of reconciling intersubjectively verifiable and observable data with unobservable theoretical entities. She tackled the classic methodological problems of bias, sampling, generalization, corroboration, and interviews, as well as outlining studies of major social institutions such as family, education, religion, markets, and culture.
  • Long before Marx, Weber, or Durkheim, Martineau also studied and wrote about social class, suicide, forms of religions, donestic relations, delinquency, and the status of women.


Marshall, G. (2005). Oxford dictionary of Sociology (1st Indian Edition ed., 3rd impression). New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

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