Women and Sociology

Women have been written out of sociology’s history in that their contributions are no longer recognized despite having been influential and respected in their time.  The early female sociologists were an integrated part of the community shaping the discipline’s eventual direction.  They are not included among the historical founders of sociology alongside their male counterparts.  In that way, they were more visible figures who have now been “written out” of sociology’s history.
This could have happened for many reasons all of which are ways to ignore the work of female sociologists outright or recast their work in a way that makes it much less influential in mainstream sociology than it might otherwise be.  Some female sociologists are recognized historically but under the headings of other disciplines.  They may be considered social reformers or political activists but not active sociologists.  For example, Addams and Hull House are used as illustrations of immigrants rights movements and the problems of industrialization within the context of American History without mentioning the parts of Hull House that were a research institution.

Alternatively, some women’s work remained within sociology but was recast in ways that removed the female from it.  Some female sociologists published alongside their husbands.  Unfortunately, often, the work became entirely attributed to the husband.  Marianne Weber worked with Max Weber or in some cases critiqued his work in her own.  However, Max Weber went on to be considered one of sociology’s historical founders and Marianne Weber was written out of history.  Webb and her husband co-authored many works but her role is easily ignored by accrediting them to him more strongly.

Sociology’s women founders all focused on issues related to social reform.  They addressed different social or economic inequalities.  Consequently, the particular focus of their reforms differed.  Addams worked with immigrants and trade unions.  Gilman worked on women’s rights and early feminism.  Wells-Barnett was an anti-lynching and civil rights advocate.

The importance of recognizing the contribution of sociology’s women founders is threefold.  First, women and did contribute in their time.  In order to understand sociology as a discipline and its underpinnings, we must understand all its founding figures, including the women.  Two, recognizing how women contributed to sociology and were then “written out” can lead to a sociological study of sociology itself.  This can be used as an opportunity to study the impact of male dominance or male-centric view points in academia.  Finally, bringing female theorists into the mainstream can produce a more integrated picture of where sociology has been and where it is going.  It allows a chance to extend the range of perspectives, ideas and research available to sociology as a whole.


One thought on “Women and Sociology

  1. I really appreciate your last paragraph, Xavier, could not have said it better, myself. Excellent points, esp. about women being written out being a subject worthy of research, itself!

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