Reading Harriet Martineau in the Context of Social Thought and Social Theory

VINEETA SINHA (National University of Singapore,


The recorded historiography of the social sciences is steeped in androcentrism. It exclusively remembers, canonizes and lists contributions by male scholars. This mode of recalling, by and large renders invisible contributions by women thinkers in the history of ideas. In this paper I document the experience of introducing the works and contributions of Harriet Martineau (1802-1876), known to very few as the 'first woman sociologist', alongside the writings of Marx, Weber and Durkheim, to a class of undergraduates. I see this introduction as a powerful strategy for the recovery, and righful location of women thinkers and analysts in narrating any history of the social sciences. Through the themes of androcentrism, 'female invisibility', multiplicity and difference, I also address the discourse on indigenisation in the social sciences. The latter, although it has rightly highlighted the biases and distortions in the practice of mainstream social science, has yet to place the issue of androcentrism on its agenda, a stance that makes it more similar to, rather than different from, mainstream social science theorising.

Key words: Harriet Martineau, women thinkers, androcentric social science, female invisibility, indigenisation


Rekod historiografi sains sosial penuh dengan androsentrisme. Rekod ini secara eksklusif mengingati, mengkeramatkan dan menyenaraikan sumbangan sarjana lelaki. Kaedah mengingati semula ini secara umumnya menyebabkan sumbangan pemikir wanita tidak kelihatan dalam sejarah idea. Dalam makalah ini, penulis mendokumenkan pengalaman sendiri dalam usaha memperkenalkan kepada para pelajar karya dun sumbangan Harriet Martineau (1802-1876), yang dikenali di kalangan segolongan kecil sebagai 'ahli sosiologi wanita yang pertama setanding dengan Marx, Weberdon Durkheim. Penulis melihat pengalaman ini sebagai satu strategi yang sangat berkesan untuk mendapatkun semula dan menempatkan pemikir dan penganalisis wanita dalam pengkisahan sejarah sains sosial. Menerusi tema adrosentrisme, ketidak lihatan pemikir wanita, kepelbagaian dan perbezaan, penulis juga telah membicarakan tentang wacana pemperibumian dalam sains sosial. Sungguhpun wacana ini telah berjaya mendedahkan kewujudan bias dan putar belit dalam amalan sains sosial arus perdana, namun ia masih perlu memasukkan isu androsentrisme dalam agendanya. Hal ini merupakan satu pendirian yang menyebabkan ia menjadi semakin serupa, bukannya berbeza daripada usaha membina teori yang terdapat dalam sains sosial arus perdana.

Kata kunci: Harriet Martineau, pemikir wanita, androsentrisme dalam sains sosial, ketidaklihatan wanita, pemperibumian

Full Text:



Alatas, Syed Farid. 1994. The Status of Feminist Theory in Malaysia. Kajian Malaysia, Journal of Malaysian Studies XII, l(2): 25-46.

Alatas, Syed Farid & Vineeta Sinha. 2001. Teaching Classical Sociological Theory in Singapore: The Context of Eurocentrism. Teaching Sociology (forthcoming).

Bologh, Roslyn. 1990. Love or Greatness: Max Weber and Masculine Thinking – a Feminist Inquiry. London: Unwin Hyman.

Deegan, Mary Jo. 1988. Transcending a Patriarchal Past: Teaching the History of Women in Sociology, 1892-1920. Teaching Sociology 16(April): 141-150.

Deegan, Mary Jo. 1991. Women in Sociology: A Biobibliographical Sourcebook New York: Greenwood Press.

Durkheim, Emile. 1895 (1982).The Rules of Sociological Method. New York: Free Press.

Gupta, Kuntesh. 1982a. Family Patterns and Role Definitions in Jodhpur City. Ph.D Dissertation, Department of Sociology, Meerut University.

Gupta, Kuntesh. 1982b. Female Sociologists and Family Sociology in India: Theoretical and Empirical Concerns. Indian Journal of Social Research 23.

Haraway, Donna. 1994. A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s. In Henman, Anne C and Abigail J. Stewart (eds.). Theorizing Feminism: Parallel Trends in the Humanities and Social Sciences. Boulder: Westview Press, pp 82-118.

Haraway, Donna.1995. Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective. In Andrew Feenberg and Alastair Hamsay (eds.). Technology and the Politics of Knowledge. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, pp 175-194.

Haraway, Donna. 1996. Modest Witness: Feminist Diffractions in Science Studies. In Peter Galison & David J. Stumps (eds.). The Disunity of Science: Boundaries, Context and Power. Stanford: Stanford University Press, pp 428-442.

Herrman, Anne C & Abigail J. Stewart (eds.). 1994. Theorizing Feminism: Parallel Trends in the Humanities and social Sciences. Boulder: Westview Press.

Hill, Michael R. 1989. Empiricism and Reason in Harriet Martineau's Sociology. In Harriet Martineau. How to Observe Morals and Manners. New Bmnswick, NJ: Transaction, pp xv-lx.

Kosambi, Meera. 1988. Women, Emancipation and Equality: Pandita Ramabai's Contribution to Women's Cause. Economic and Politica1 Weekly, October 29: 38-49.

Lutz, Catherine. 1990. The Erasure of Women's Writing in Socio-Cultural Anthropology. American Ethnologist 17:611-624.

MacNicol, Nicol & Vishal Mangalwadi. 1996. What Liberates a Woman? The Story of Pandita Ramabai: A Builder of Modern India. Nivedit Good Books Distributors and The MacLarin Institute.

March, Artemis. 1982. Female Invisibility and in Androcentric Sociological Theory. Insurgent Sociologist XI(2): 99-107.

McDonald, Lynn. 1994. The Early Origins of the Social Sciences. Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press.

McDonald, Lynn. 1996. The Women Founders of the Social Sciences. Carleton University Press.

Martineau, Harriet. 1837/1962. Society in America. ed. S.M. Lipset. New York: Anchor.

Martineau, Harriet. 1838. How to Observe Morals and Manners. London: Knight.

Martineau, Harriet. 1848. Eastern Life: Past and Present. Philadelphia: Lea & Blanchard.

Martineau, Harriet. 1857. British Rule In India: A Historical Sketch. London: Smith, Elder & Co.

Osborne,Richard & Borin Van Loon. 1996. Sociology for Beginners. Cambridge: Icon Books.

Riedesel, Paul. 1981. Who was Harriet Martineau? Journal of History of Sociology 3(2): 63-80.

Riedesel, Paul. 1980. Harriet Martineau and the Birth of Sociology. Free Inquiry in Creative Sociology X(1): 61-62.

Seidman Steven (ed.). 1994. The Post modern Turn: New Perspectives on Social Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Shope, Janet Hinson. 1994. Separate but Equal: Durkheim's Response to the Woman Question. Sociological Inquiry 64(1): 23-36.

Sinha, Vineeta. 1997. Reconceptualizing the Social Sciences in non-Western settings: Challenges and Dilemmas. Southeast Asian Journal of Social Science 25(1): 167-181.

Sydie, R. A. 1987. Natural Women, Cultured Men: A Feminist Perspective on Sociological Theory. Milton Keynes: Open University Press.

Sydie, R. 1994. Sex and the Sociological Fathers. Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology 31(2): 117-138.

Thornton, Robert. 1983. Narrative Ethnography in Africa. 1850-1920: The Creation and Capture of an Appropriate Domain for Anthropology. Man 18(3): 502-520.

Tocqueville Alexis. 1835/1967. Democracy in America. 2 vols. Trans. By Henry Reeve. New York: Schocken Books.

Zeitlin, Irving. 1997. Ideology and development of Sociological Theory. 6th edition. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.


  • There are currently no refbacks.

ISSN: 0126-5008

eISSN: 0126-8694