Sociology Index

Harriet Martineau

Among distinguished sociologists, Harriet Martineau was a woman sociologist who wrote the first systematic treatise in sociology. Harriet Martineau carried out numerous cross-national comparative studies of social institutions, and was the first to translate Auguste Comte's Cours de philosophie positive into English. One of Harriet Martineau's best-known works, Society in America, compared American moral principles with observable social patterns. and outlined a yawning gap between moral rhetoric and reality. Harriet Martineau tackled the classic methodological problems of bias, as well as outlined studies of major socal institutions such as family, education, religion, markets, and culture.

A professional and prolific writer, Harriet Martineau popularized much social-scientific information by presenting it in the form of novels. Feminist, Unitarian, critic, social scientist, and atheist, Harriet Martineau matched her activism about the issues of slavery and the 'Woman question' to her arguments for equal political, economic, and social rights for women.

Harriet Martineau 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.

Harriet Martineau's How to Observe Morals and Manners is arguably the first systematic methodological treatise in sociology, in which Harriet Martineau outlined a positivist solution to the dilemma of reconciling intersubjectively verifiable and observable data with unobservable theoretical entities. 

Long before Marx, Weber, or Durkheim, Martineau also studied and wrote about social class, suicide, forms of religions, domestic relations, delinquency, and the status of women. Her neglect by sociologists in subsequent years is therefore often cited as an illustration of the ways in which academic sociology has until more recently excluded women sociologists from its agenda.