the founding fathers of sociology

A full-fledged member of the brotherhood of professors, males all. (Cross, 1981: 79)


he previous chapter focused upon the search for founding mothers.

This one deals with the uneasy relationships between feminist soci­ologies and the intellectual patriarchy: the founding fathers and the brotherhood of professors who write about them in the modern world. There are six feminist responses to the grand narrative of the history of sociology as it is usually told:

1 Identification and reiteration of the ways in which the grand narra­tive omits women as creators or subjects in the past and present.

2 Identification and reiteration of the omission of feminism as a theory, and of its key concepts, from the grand narrative of sociology.

3 Scrutiny of the works of the founding fathers to see the sins of omis­sion and commission practised on women.

4 Searches for alternative founding fathers whose treatment of women or feminism is more enlightened.

5 Critiques of the current accounts of the history of sociology (usually the history of sociological theory) for their failure to undertake the tasks listed in 1-4 above, or include the founding mothers.

6 Use of the theories developed by the founding fathers and their successors to create feminist analytic approaches to sociological phenomena.

Two of these responses (4 and 6) can be seen as wholly positive: the other four are essentially critical or even negative.

In this chapter there is a very brief summary of the orthodox grand narrative as told by British and American sociologists, and then some explanation of the six feminist responses to it.


The orthodox histories of sociology tell how the discipline was founded, and has been developed since the 1850s, by the brotherhood of pro­fessors, who were all men. The discipline of sociology began in the turmoil after the French Revolution, while Europe and then America were changing from rural, agricultural societies into urban, industri­al societies. The founding fathers were thinkers (empirical research came later) who debated what, if anything, made the new urban industrial societies function. They argued about the possibilities for social order in the new cities, unsure whether such societies could avoid breaking down into revolution, crime and immoral disorder. The origins of feminism lie in the same era, and the different schools of feminism have roots in exactly the same ideological debates among the same social classes in the nineteenth century. Insofar as there is an historical feminist sociology and/or a feminist challenge to the malestream sociology these, too, have roots as far back as the Enlightenment.

Подпись: 97All the malestream histories of sociology recapitulate that account, all without drawing the parallels with the history of femi­nism. Giddens (1971), Hawthorn (1976), Rhea (1981), Collins (1994a), Bottomore and Nisbet (1978a), Lee and Newby (1983), Craib (1997), Barnes (1995) and Scott (1995) all offer the same his­tory, as indeed did Aron (1965, 1967) in France. A detailed criticism of the ways in which women as topic, as scholars, and feminism as a theory or as a social movement are excluded is presented in Appendix 1.

In the histories of sociology in the period from 1790 to 1920 the leading figures are French and German, only a few thinkers from the UK, Italy, and the USA appear in the accounts. After 1920 the American historians began to stress the importance of the American giants of the discipline, and in all Anglophone narratives, after 1940 Talcott Parsons and Robert Merton are lauded. In the period after 1970 the histories list dominant figures from Europe once again: Levi-Strauss, Bourdieu, Foucault, Althusser, Lacan and Lyotard from France; the Frankfurt School, Habermas, and Beck from Germany, plus Gramsci from Italy, and Freud, the Austrian. These latter, 40 years dead, appeared in histories of sociology after the paradigm shifts of 1968-70. While the precise list of who is, and who is not, held up as a seminal theorist varies slightly between Hawthorn (1976) and Craib (1997), the total omission of all women scholars, and feminist ideas, and all feminist critiques of the grand narrative has not changed at all. As Jo Eadie wrote: ‘There seems something oddly old-fashioned about assessing the contemporanity of a critical
text by the number of women writers that it recognises – but then there are times when only the bluntest of tools will do’ (2001: 575).

Having searched for a ‘core text’ to use on a social theory module, Eadie concluded that: ‘reading the most recent surveys of the field, one could be forgiven for thinking that gender played a negligible role in the functioning of contemporary society’ (ibid.).

Подпись:Eadie reviewed six texts, and concluded that most of them ‘con­struct feminism in ways that effectively exclude it from what purports to be a coherent and comprehensive overview of social theory (ibid.: 576). It is perhaps surprising to find Eadie simultaneously labelling the approach that scrutinises histories and overviews of sociological theory for their omission of women and feminism as ‘oddly old-fashioned’ and yet still being forced to do that task. It was one of the first things fem­inist sociologists did: see, for example Delamont (1980: 7-10). However, as Appendix 1 demonstrates, Eadie is entirely correct in her summary: histories and overviews of the grand narrative of sociology ignored women and feminism 30 years ago, and still do. So, although feminists were undertaking the first two tasks 30 years ago, the malestream has taken no notice at all, and the fifth task is still neces­sary. A recent history such as Craib (1997) does not bother to acknowl­edge the feminist argument that Harriet Martineau should be seen as an important sociologist alongside J. S. Mill. Hammersley (2001) writes as if Deegan (1988) had never existed. These male chroniclers may dis­agree with the feminist work, but if so, they do not do it the courtesy of citation and disagreement: it seems more likely they have not read it, because they ‘know’ it is irrelevant, or have never heard of its existence.

Rather than dwell on the negative work at length, important though it is, this chapter focuses on the feminists’ third, fourth and sixth strategies.