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Sociology Major Figures

Major Figures in Sociology

Table of Contents

How to Cite This SparkNote

Note from SparkNotes: Not all of the people mentioned in the Sociology guides are listed here. We’ve narrowed the list to include only those figures you’re most likely to be tested on.

Asch, Solomon -  (1907–1996) A psychologist who investigated social conformity by studying how people reacted when their perceptions of events were challenged by others. Asch found that most individuals changed their own opinions in order to agree with the group, even when the majority was clearly wrong.
Becker, Howard -  (1899–1960) The sociologist who developed the labeling theory of deviance. Becker concluded that the labels a person is assigned in society dictate his or her behavior.
Chambliss, William -  (1933– ) The sociologist who performed the “Saints and Roughnecks” study. Chambliss discovered the extent to which the labels attached to two groups of individuals during high school affected their success later in life.
Cloward, Richard -  (1926–2001) Sociologists who theorized that the greatest responsibility of industrialized societies was to prepare the next generation of workers. Cloward and Lloyd Ohlin also developed the concept of “illegitimate opportunity structure,” or access to various illegal means for achieving success.
Cooley, Charles Horton -  (1864–1929) A sociologist whose theory of socialization was called the “looking-glass self.” Cooley said that we develop our self-images through our interactions with significant others. He referred to “significant others” as those people in our lives whose opinions matter to us and who are in a position to influence the way we think about things, especially about ourselves. 
Davis, Kingsley -  (1908–1997) Sociologist who believed that stratification served an important function in society. Davis and Wilbert Moore theorized that an unequal distribution of society’s rewards was necessary to encourage people to take on complicated work that required many years of training.
Du Bois, W. E. B. -  (1868–1963) A pioneering theorist on African-American subculture, a civil rights activist, and author of the groundbreaking 1903 masterpiece of sociology and literature The Souls of Black Folk. Du Bois examined in detail the economic and social conditions of African Americans in the three decades that followed the Civil War.
Durkheim, Émile -  (1858–1917) A French sociologist who explored links between social integration and suicide rates. Durkheim hypothesized that members of groups that lacked a high degree of social integration were more likely to commit suicide. He also believed that deviance is a natural and necessary part of any society and listed four ways in which deviants serve society.
Freud, Sigmund -  (1856–1939) The father of psychoanalysis, or the analysis of the mind. Freud was interested in how the mind developed and said that the healthy adult mind consists of three parts: the id, superego, and ego.
Garfinkel, Harold -  (1917– ) The sociologist responsible for the theory of ethnomethodology (1967). Garfinkel also coined the term degradation ceremony to describe how an individual’s identity can be negatively affected when his or her deviance becomes known to others.
Gilligan, Carol -  (1933– ) An educational psychologist who analyzes the link between gender and social behavior. Her early work focused on exposing the gender biases in Lawrence Kohlberg’s studies of moral development. Boys focus on rules and justice, whereas girls are more likely to consider relationships and feelings.
Goffman, Erving -  (1922–1982) The developer of the theory of dramaturgy and the concepts of stigma, spoiled identity, and impression management, among others. Goffman believed that we are all actors playing roles on the stage of everyday life. He also developed the concept of a total institution, which is a restrictive setting, such as a prison, of which we are members twenty-four hours a day. Goffman said that our appearance can change the way people think about us.
Harlow, Henry -  (1905–1981) A psychologist who studied the effects of social isolation on rhesus monkeys. Harlow found that monkeys raised in isolation for short periods were able to overcome the effects of their isolation, whereas those isolated more than six months were permanently impaired. Harlow also found mother-child love in monkeys was due to cuddling, not feeding.
Harrington, Michael -  (1928–1989) A sociologist who argued that colonialism was replaced by neocolonialism. Harrington believed that most industrialized nations tend to exploit less developed countries politically and economically.
Hirschi, Travis -  (1935– ) A sociologist who elaborated on the control theory of deviance and identified four elements that he believed would render an individual more or less likely to commit acts of deviance.
Janis, Irving -  (1918–1990) The sociologist who coined the term groupthink. Janis used groupthink to describe a phenomenon wherein individuals in positions of power cave in to pressure to agree with the rest of their group until there is only one possible course of action to take.
Lemert, Edwin -  (1912–1996) The sociologist who differentiated between primary deviance and secondary deviance. Lemert contended that the difference between primary deviance and secondary deviance is in the reactions that other people have to the original act of deviance.
Lewis, Oscar -  (1914–1970) A social economist who coined the term culture of poverty. Lewis maintained that poor people do not learn the norms and values that can help them improve their circumstances and become locked in a cycle of poverty.
Liazos, Alexander -  (1941– ) A sociologist who analyzed the relationship between deviance and power. Liazos concluded that the people most likely to be labeled as deviant were those who were relatively powerless.
Marx, Karl -  (1818–1883) A German philosopher and social scientist who saw the economy as the key institution in society. Marx felt that workers in a capitalist society are exploited by their employers, and that the capitalist class passes laws to benefit themselves. His books The Communist Manifesto and Capital spurred the Russian Revolution of 1917.
Mead, George Herbert -  (1863–1931) A sociologist who believed that people develop their self-images through their interactions with other people. Mead said that the self consists of two parts: the “I” and the “Me.” The “I” initiates action. The “Me” continues, interrupts, or changes action depending on others’ reactions.
Merton, Robert K. -  (1910–2003) The sociologist who developed the strain theory of deviance. Merton identified the five ways in which people relate to their cultural goals and the institutionalized means they are given to reach them.
Michels, Robert -  (1876–1936) A sociologist who developed the theory that bureaucracies are run by a small group of very powerful people who act primarily out of self-interest and actively keep outsiders out. Michels coined the phrase the iron law of oligarchy.
Mills, C. Wright -  (1916–1962) The sociologist who coined the term power elite. Mills used power elite to describe a situation in which a nation is run by a few people with the most money and power, rather than by the mass of people.
Moore, Wilbert -  (1914–1988) Sociologist who believed that stratification served an important function in society. Moore and Kingsley Davis theorized that an unequal distribution of society’s rewards was necessary to encourage people to take on complicated work that required many years of training.
Ogburn, William -  (1886–1959) A sociologist who coined the popular term culture lag, which refers to the tendency of changes in nonmaterial culture to happen more slowly than those in material culture. In other words, changes in technology eventually bring about later changes in culture.
Ohlin, Lloyd -  (1918– ) Sociologist who theorized that the greatest responsibility of industrialized societies was to prepare the next generation of workers. Ohlin and Richard Cloward also developed the concept of “illegitimate opportunity structure,” or access to various illegal means for achieving success.
Piaget, Jean -  (1896–1980) A pioneer in the field of child psychology. Piaget argued that children develop their thinking capacity in stages and that the progression through these stages depends on a genetically determined timetable. His research changed the way people viewed education, inspiring educators to see that children explore the world actively and come up with their own hypotheses about what they observe.
Reckless, Walter -  (1898–1988) The sociologist who developed the control theory of deviance. Reckless explored how inner and outer controls could prevent a person from committing deviant acts.
Simmel, Georg -  (1858–1918) A sociologist who explored the ways in which the size of a group affects its stability and the relationships among its members. Simmel hypothesized that as a group grows larger, its stability increases but its intimacy decreases.
Sutherland, Edwin -  (1883–1950) The sociologist who developed the theory of differential association. Sutherland asserted that people learn deviance from other people, rather than being biologically predisposed to it.
Thomas, W. I. -  (1863–1947) A sociologist who analyzed how people use their backgrounds and beliefs about the world to construct their own versions of reality. His Thomas Theorem posits that when a situation is considered real, then its consequences are real.
Tönnies, Ferdinand -  (1855–1937) A sociologist who developed the theories of Gemeinschaft, in which societies are small and intimate and based on close kinship, and Gesellschaft, which refers to societies that are large and impersonal and based mainly on self-interest.
Tumin, Melvin -  (1919–1994) A sociologist who believed that factors other than merit alone determined the type of jobs that people were likely to hold. Tumin believed that social stratification benefits some more than others.
Wallerstein, Immanuel -  (1930– ) The creator of the world system theory, which explains how the globalization of capitalism led to changing relations between countries. Wallerstein said that as capitalism spread, countries around the world became connected to one another in ways they had not been before.
Weber, Max -  (1864–1920) An economist and sociologist who theorized that religion, not economics, was the central force in social change. He argued that Protestants seeking outward affirmation of their godliness brought about the birth of capitalism. Weber also identified power, the ability to achieve ends even in the face of resistance, as the foundation of government. He named rationality as the key differentiator between nonindustrialized and industrialized societies.
Wilson, William Julius -  (1935– ) A social economist who believes that the high level of poverty in the inner cities is due to the lack of jobs. He argues that companies and factories are moving to suburban areas or are outsourcing their labor to foreign countries, decreasing work opportunities available to those in the inner cities and contributing to poverty in those areas.

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