Sociology is a broad and inter-disciplinary subject area and so often there will be a broad and inter-disciplinary range of researchers discussed. However, there are some key sociologists that have laid the foundations of what we study today. On this page, I have collected together some of the most influential people in terms of sociological thought and summarised their key ideas into handy A4 sized nuggets of information. I have tried to draw from as many of the different perspectives as possible, and if your favourite sociologist isn’t here, then please do let me know. As I said, sociology is a broad discipline…


Marxist and Neo-Marxists


Feminism in contemporary society is more difficult to contain within the narrow parameters that are set out by many sociology courses. Feminism continues to evolve in the 21st century, yet is often neglected when looking at the foundations of sociology. One of the earliest female sociologists, Harriet Martineau for example, predates many of the leading figures such as Marx, Weber and Durkheim.


Interactionism is a broad term that describes many different sociological approaches that look at society from a social action viewpoint – suggesting that individuals interpret social cues and interactions and this influences their behaviour. This can include various approaches underneath a broad umbrella term of interactionism/interpretivism, including (but not limited to), symbolic interactionism, labelling theory, phenomenology and ethnomethodology to name but a few.

Independent – not classified sociologists

Not all sociologists readily identify as having a specific sociological perspective. This is particularly the case with American sociologists in the mid 20th century. Following WWII, many academics, along with musicians, actors, writers and artists, were targeted by Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Communist Witch-hunt and were reluctant to identify themselves as having ‘un-American’ (AKA socialist of Marxist) ideas.

Other sociologists, particularly in European sociology in the late 20th century, saw themselves more as observers of society, and so took not particular theoretical perspective. Whilst these were influenced by ideas put forward by different sociological perspectives, they removed themselves from criticisms attached to a specific perspective and chose to view society from a more neutral perspective.

Pierre Bourdieu

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