Acritique of the orthodox. histories of sociology
he history of sociology, as taught a century after it began in different industrialising countries, prioritises various scholars, but they are all men. Not only the three giants, Marx, Weber and Durkheim, but the supporting cast, are routinely presented as all-male. So, for example, two British scholars, Giddens (1971) and Hawthorn (1976) wrote histories of sociology, before the feminist sociologies had become prominent, which are only about founding fathers. Burford Rhea’s (1981) American compilation The Future of the Sociological Classics covers Hobbes, Tonnies, Vico, Pareto, Simmel, Weber, Marx, Durkheim, Mead and Freud. Raymond Aron’s (1965, 1967) French books Main Currents in Sociological Thought cover Comte, Montesquieu, Marx, Tocqueville, Pareto, Weber and Durkheim. German histories of sociology are similarly structured. In the history of sociology as written in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, students are taught that the founders of the discipline are all men, overwhelmingly European men. They are Italian, French, German or Austrian, rather than British or American.
The maleness of the key scholars in the orthodox history of sociology is reinforced to novices by the sex of the authors who write about it. Giddens, Hawthorn, Rhea, and Aron are men. To offer a few examples of works that figure on student reading lists we can scrutinise Bottomore and Nisbet (1978a), Lee and Newby (1983), Collins (1994a, 1994b) and the series of short volumes in Oxford University Press’s ‘Past Masters’ series, each of which introduce one key thinker. First, Bottomore and Nisbet (1978a), an edited collection called A History of Sociological Analysis, intended for advanced students in sociology, rather than complete novices. It has 17 chapters by 19 authors, only one by a woman (writing jointly with a man). Most of the chapters cover movements or schools of thought, such as ‘Structuralism’. These are written by experts on the leading historical figures in that tradition, and these leading historical figures are all men.
So all the scholars discussed in the chapters on positivism, functionalism, and structuralism are men. Furthermore, the authors of those chapters do not comment on their decision to characterise those schools of thought as being all-male. A novice reader cannot know whether there were any women, or that there were not, in that ‘school’.
The male editors have not, themselves, challenged the ‘founding fathers’ idea of sociology, because although there is room for 17 intellectual movements, feminism was not one of them. Having decided not to include feminism as a sociological movement or school, the editors did not ‘police’ their contributors to thread feminist ideas throughout the 17 chapters either. The subject index has one entry on gender, directing the reader to a section in the chapter on stratification. Feminism is not an entry. Sexism is not an entry. Women is not an entry. The chapters on, for example, criticisms of positivism and on functionalism fail to address feminist critiques of these theoretical positions, although by the mid-1970s there were plenty of such criticisms around which could have been cited. In 703 pages of text, four pages deal with feminist sociology. The chapter on ‘German Sociology in the time of Max Weber’ (a man) is written by Freund (a man), ignores Helene and Marianne Weber and fails to cite feminist critiques of Weberian sociology. Alan Dawe (1978: 362) does mention Marianne Weber, but only as her husband’s eulogist. The chapter by Wilbert Moore (1978) on functionalism is about Durkheim, Hobbes, Spencer, Parsons, Kingsley Davis, G. P. Murdock, Merton, Levy, Bales, Shils, and Smelser. Again, there are, apparently no women functionalists worth mentioning, nor are any feminist critiques of functionalism discussed. Bottomore and Nisbet (1978a) is a typical book on the history of the subject, designed for advanced students and collegial consultation, which showed no recognition of feminist ideas. Bottomore and Nisbet therefore uphold the founding fathers, malestream, history of sociology in four ways: (1) they recruit male authors; (2) they commission chapters on male scholars; (3) they omit to commission any chapter(s) on feminism or feminist sociologies; and (4) they do not require their contributors to include women sociologists in their chapters, or to address feminist critiques of the material they are presenting.
Similar exclusionary practices characterise the authors and editors of texts used for introductory courses. A high quality introductory text, Lee and Newby (1983) offered Tonnies, Marx, Weber, Durkheim and a group they called evolutionists (Locke, Comte, Spencer, Morgan, Darwin and Veblen). Feminism appears as a critique of the various theories, but there are no founding mothers. A novice would be left thinking that the subject was created by men between 1770 and 1970, since when a few ‘feminists’ have criticised some of the ideas.
Randall Collins (1994a, 1994b) catalogues four sociological traditions in a textbook with an accompanying reader. He distinguishes a ‘conflict’ tradition (Marx and Weber) from a Durkheimian one, plus a rational utilitarian and a microinteractionist tradition. In the accompanying reader, the conflict tradition is epitomised by Marx, Engels, Weber, Dahrendorf, Lenski and Collins himself (all men). The Reactional/Utilitarian section contains papers by Homans, March and Simon, Schelling, Olson, and Coleman (all men).
The Microinteractionist tradition is illustrated by the work of Goffman, Meehan, Wood, Blumer, Mead, and Cooley (all men). In the Durkheimian portion of the book are contributions by Durkheim, Hubert, Mauss, Levi-Strauss, Goffman, Hagstrom (all men) and Mary Douglas. In Collins’s text (1994a) there are some discussions of women and of feminism, but they are not indexed, and a novice would not learn of the breadth and depth of female participation or feminist ideas in the discipline. Collins originally published his text in 1988, and while he has altered it for the 1994a version, it remains marooned in an all-male world.
An alternative to the single text is the series of single volumes introducing concepts or individual authors. The Oxford University Press series ‘Past Masters’, which had published 67 titles by 1991, included six sociologists (loosely defined) Engels, Hobbes, Locke, Marx, Mill and Vico, with one more to come (Durkheim). All these men were written about by men. There were no female ‘Past Masters’ of sociology, and no sociological women authors. Again a novice could not find out whether there were any founding mothers. The Fontana series, ‘Modern Masters’, edited by Frank Kermode, had reached 37 titles by 1980, covering figures in the arts and social sciences. All the ‘masters’ were men: no woman was considered a modern master. Three of the authors were women.
Subsequently Routledge had a series of short volumes called ‘Key Sociologists’. In 1987 it had 14 titles, 11 of which featured a single sociologist. Three covered a ‘school’: ‘Marx and Marxism’, ‘The Frankfurt School’ and ‘The Ethnomethodologists’. The 11 individuals featured were all men (Weber, Durkheim, Parsons, Freud, Mills, Simmel, Mannheim, Foucault, Goffman, Habermas and Merton). No woman was featured in the three books on ‘Schools’ either. For example, Sharrock and Anderson (1986) treat ethnomethodology as a largely male specialism, focusing on Cicourel, Sacks and Garfinkel. Gail Jefferson is the only woman important enough to be indexed. A few other women are cited, but not discussed as scholars (Candace West, Mary Rogers, Karin Knorr-Cetina). All the authors of all the books in the series up to 1986 were men. Subsequently Bourdieu was added to the series.
The 1980s saw a growth in feminist sociology which might lead one to expect that volumes equivalent to the Bottomore and Nisbet (1978a) produced in the 1980s and 1990s would show change. However, this is not the case. In 1987 Giddens and Turner edited a volume called Social Theory and Modern Sociology. It has 12 chapters, by 12 men. Feminism is not a social theory, although there is a whole chapter on ethnomethodology. The index gives one reference for ‘feminists’ which directs the reader to Miliband on class analysis and his brief discussion of feminist critiques of such analyses. There is no index entry for gender. Entries on ‘sexism’ and ‘women’ send the reader to the same three pages as ‘feminists’. So, in 403 pages, there are three on feminist sociology. The Giddens and Turner volume was part of a Polity Press series ‘Social and Political Theory’. By 1987 it had 36 other volumes published and 11 ‘forthcoming’. Among the 47 were six with a woman author, and Bob Connell’s Gender and Power. Three of the forthcoming books were to be by women. The Polity list included, in 1987, two of the most distinguished feminist sociologists in Britain (Sylvia Walby, Michele Barrett). Yet, Giddens and Turner did not include Feminism as a theory in their compilation.
Anderson et al. (1987) edited Classic Disputes in Sociology. It has eight chapters by men, and the classic debates were about space, official statistics, laws and explanations, the individual and society, the Protestant work ethic, class, capitalism, and the transition from rural to urban society. The editors pointed out that Marx, Durkheim and Weber ‘loom large in nearly every chapter’ (ibid.: x). The index does not include feminism, sexism or women. There are index entries for ‘gender’ (five of them) but none of the single page citations leads to a sustained analysis of gender. So the ‘classic disputes’ as seen in 1987 in Britain are not touched by feminist sociology at all.
In 1988 Smelser edited an American Handbook of Sociology. There are 22 chapters by 33 authors, in four sections. Nine of the authors are women. The four sections focus on theory and method; inequalities; institutions and organisations; and change. Theory and method has all male authors, so does social process and change. In the theory and method section, Feminism is not discussed as a theory or a method. The index references to ‘Feminism’ and ‘Feminist theory’ send the reader to the empirical chapter on ‘Gender and sex roles’. There are 38 index entries for gender, which send the reader to the Gender chapter, or those on work or on medicine. None of the ‘gender’ entries refers to a theory or methods chapter. Sexism is not an index term. There are 12 index entries for women, all to empirical chapters on work, health, or the chapter on gender. Overall, therefore, although there are women authors in the handbook, the impact of feminism is ghettoised and absent from the high status sections.
These compilations from the late 1980s show feminist ideas still absent, or ghettoised. Feminist sociology had not been ‘mainstreamed’ at all. Individual British theorists show a similar pattern. Craib’s (1997) Classical Social Theory is only about men, and does not cover feminist ideas. In 1995 Barry Barnes published The Elements of Social Theory. Here he identified ‘those fundamental theories and ideas in social theory that currently possess the most plausibility’ (1995: vii). That is, these were the theories Barnes felt should be trusted, and used in future research. His chapters deal with Individualism, Functionalism, Interactionism and Knowledge in a section called Traditions; and then, in a section called ‘Social formations and social processes’, with status groups, social movements, social classes and administrative hierarchies. Feminism, gender, sexism and women are not indexed. There is no discussion at all of any issue raised by feminist sociology in the previous 20 years. Mary Douglas is the only woman cited, and her ideas are not discussed.
The same year John Scott produced his Sociological Theory (1995). Scott announces that ‘Theory is fundamental to the whole sociological enterprise’ (ibid.: xii). His book does not index feminism or sexism or women. There are index entries for ‘gender divisions’ and for ‘gendered character of theory’. The latter takes the reader to a half-page on Mary Wollstonecraft. There are no citations to Barbara Adam, Michele Barrett, Sylvia Walby, or Dorothy Smith. The discussion of the Chicago School of Sociology ignores Deegan (1988) whose feminist analysis of that tradition was the focus of Chapter 3. When Scott moves to more contemporary theories, the pattern continues. So his chapter on postmodernism ignores Butler, Flax and Lather. Scott’s chapter on structuralism ignores Mary Douglas who is probably the most widely used structuralist theorist in the Anglophone world. Her ideas spread much further outside anthropology that those of Edmund Leach (Delamont, 1989b). Bauman’s (2000) Liquid Modernity makes no mention of feminism, and has only six women in the bibliography.
Despite 30 years of feminist critiques of the orthodox history of the discipline, the recent accounts share with those written in the 1960s an adherence to a simplistic and uncritical all-male grand narrative.