The first female sociologist — Harriet Martineau

 

 

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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harriet_Martineau

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Harriet Martineau (12 June 1802 – 27 June 1876) was an English social theorist and Whig writer, often cited as the first female sociologist.

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Martineau wrote 35 books and a multitude of essays from a sociological, holistic, religious, domestic, and, perhaps most controversial, a feminine perspective; she also translated various works from Auguste Comte.   She earned enough to be supported entirely by her writing, a challenging feat for a woman in the Victorian era.

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Martineau has said of her approach: “when one studies a society, one must focus on all its aspects, including key political, religious, and social institutions”. She believed a thorough societal analysis was necessary to understand woman’s status.

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The novelist Margaret Oliphant said “as a born lecturer and politician she [Martineau] was less distinctively affected by her sex than perhaps any other, male or female, of her generation.”  While she was commonly described as having a masculine intellect, Martineau introduced feminist sociological perspectives in her writing on otherwise overlooked issues such as marriage, children, domestic and religious life, and race relations.

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Economics and social sciences

As early as 1831, Martineau wrote on the subject “Political Economy” (as the field of economics was then known). Her goal was to popularise and illustrate the principles of laissez faire capitalism, though she made no claim to original theorising.

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Martineau’s reflections on Society in America, published in 1837, are prime examples of her approach to the area later known as sociological methods. Her ideas in this field were set out in her 1838 book How to Observe Morals and Manners.

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She believed that some very general social laws influence the life of any society, including the principle of progress, the emergence of science as the most advanced product of human intellectual endeavour, and the significance of population dynamics and the natural physical environment.

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Auguste Comte coined the name sociology and published a rambling exposition under the title of Cours de Philosophie Positive in 1839. Martineau undertook a translation that was published in two volumes in 1853 as The Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte (freely translated and condensed by Harriet Martineau).

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It was a remarkable achievement, but a successful one. Comte recommended her volumes to his students instead of his own. Some writers regard Martineau as “the first woman sociologist”. Her introduction of Comte to the English-speaking world and the elements of sociological perspective in her original writings support her credit as a sociologist.

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Death

Harriet Martineau died at “The Knoll” on 27 June 1876.

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The following year, her autobiography was published. It was rare for a woman to publish such a work, let alone one secular in nature. Her book was regarded as dispassionate, ‘philosophic to the core’ in its perceived masculinity, and a work of necessitarianism. She deeply explored childhood experiences and memories, expressing feelings of having been deprived of her mother’s affection, as well as strong devotion to her brother James Martineau, a theologian.

 

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