The Founding Fathers of Sociology

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During the 1800's three men were born who were to become the founding fathers of sociology; Karl Marx, whose ideology in the 1970's was claimed to be the constitution or influence of over 60% of the world's governments, Emile Durkheim, whose models of managing society were gradually to be adopted to the US state, and Max Weber, whose theories were not applied politically. These three men developed the first theories of society and were to influence many other sociologists who were to follow. These men were to first to look at society, developed theories about what they saw, and tried to find ways to fix it.

Karl Marx was born in 1818 and died in 1882. He was, like Durkheim, a methodological collectivist and his thoughts were based on a historical comparison of the different kinds of societies. His major theory was his conflict theory, that a capitalist society is a society of conflict and competition equaled a struggle to the top. Employers want to pay employees less and get more produce while workers want to get as much as they can for their work.

His greatest concern was inequality and social reproduction, as well as social totality. Marx thoroughly believed in the power of the people to take control of society so that they could live in peace together. For Marx, stability and change in capitalist society were found in the nature class relationships. The economic structure formed the basis of substructure in society and what people do in the economy, and how they relate to each other shape all peoples lives and consciousness. Marx realized that non-economic institutions impact on society but thought that economic factors play a bigger role in shaping society and behavior.

From these ideas it is not surprising that the state is viewed negatively by Marx and he thought that for relationships to change, capitalist society needs to change. He realized that the more dominant ideas are harder to change and that changes rarely occur because people are alienated and cannot reach their full potential. Marx thought that if people overcame these alienation's in its different senses. religious, philosophical, political and economic, they could change society.

Emile Durkheim was born after Marx, living from 1858 to 1917. He was influenced by French positivism and established a systematic theoretical framework for which the individual was no longer the center of social life. Durkheim's main theory was his consensus theory that social democracy presents a vision of agreement, sharing resources and empathizing cooperation instead of competition.

Durkheim focused on nature and the effects of social facts on group arrangement and individual behavior. The division of labor is important in modern society with individualizing and integrating effects. For Durkheim, the division of labor shows our real abilities, allows individual differences and talents to develop, which enhances human freedom and creates interdependency between specialists. Unlike, Marx, Durkheim viewed the state positively.

Finally, Max Weber lived between 1864 and 1920 and focused on the historic specific aspects of societies. He believed there was an increasing rationalization of life and that while science was becoming more important, mystery and wonder was disappearing from our daily lives. Weber's major theory was that of the Iron Cage, which was an everyday concept of bureaucracy which Weber changed to mean an organizational form of machinelike efficiency. The Iron Cage has certain characteristics such as written rules and procedures, a clear and detailed division of labor, a hierarchy of area and specific authority. For Weber, capitalism and bureaucracy were mutually supportive.

All three believed in certain things; centripetal forces that weave parts of society together to make society cohesive, in centrifugal elements that separate members of society and in society development which was better for some, though some things in society were declining such as morality. These three men shaped the way society is studied and the way society is viewed. Their theories can be applied to all aspects of society. These men had some important ideas, ad they are still appreciated and used in today's increasingly changing world.


Holmes, D, Hughes, K and Julian, R, 2003, 'Australian Sociology', Pearson Education Australia, Pty Ltd, NSW.

More about this author: Kristina Manusu

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