Was a leading American sociologist who pioneered the functionalist perspective in the mid twentieth century?

Throughout sociology's history, there have been many famous sociologists who have left their mark on the field of sociology and the world at large. Learn more about these sociologists by browsing through this list of 21 of the most famous thinkers in sociology history.

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French philosopher Auguste Comte (1798–1857) is known as the founder of positivism and is credited with coining the term sociology. Comte helped shape and expand the field of sociology and placed a great deal of emphasis on his work on systematic observation and social order. 

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German political economist Karl Marx (1818–1883) is one of the most famous figures in the founding of sociology. He is known for his theory of historical materialism, which focuses on the way social order, like class structure and hierarchy, emerges out of the economic system of a society. He theorized this relationship as a dialectic between the base and superstructure of society. Some of his notable works, like "The Manifesto of the Communist Party," were co-written with German philosopher Friedrich Engels (1820–1895). Much of his theory is contained in the series of volumes titled Capital. Marx has been described as one of the most influential figures in human history, and in a 1999 BBC poll he was voted the "thinker of the millennium" by people from around the world.

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French sociologist Emile Durkheim (1858–1917) is known as the "father of sociology" and is a founding figure in the field. He is credited with making sociology a science. One of his most famous pieces of work is "Suicide: A Study In Sociology," which described the common characteristics of people who commit suicide. Another important work of his that focuses on how society functions and regulates itself is "The Division of Labor in Society."

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German economics professor Max Weber (1864–1920) was a founding figure of the field of sociology and is considered one of the most famous sociologists in history. He is known for his thesis of the Protestant Ethic, described in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism published in 1904 and elaborated in 1922's "Sociology of Religion," as well as his ideas on bureaucracy.

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Though wrongfully neglected in most sociology classes today, Harriet Martineau (1802–1876) was a prominent British writer and political activist, and one of the earliest Western sociologists and founders of the discipline. Her scholarship focused on the intersections of politics, morals, and society, and she wrote prolifically about sexism and gender roles.

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W.E.B. Du Bois was an American sociologist best known for his scholarship on race and racism in the aftermath of the U.S. Civil War. He was the first African-American to earn a doctorate degree from Harvard University and served as the head of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1910. His most notable works include "The Souls of Black Folk," in which he advanced his theory of "double consciousness," and his massive tome on the social structure of U.S. society, "Black Reconstruction."

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Alexis de Tocqueville (1805–1859) was a French sociologist best known for his book "Democracy in America." Tocqueville published many works in the areas of comparative and historical sociology and was very active in politics and the field of political science.

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Antonio Gramsci (1891–1937) was an Italian political activist and journalist who wrote prolific social theory while imprisoned by Mussolini's fascist government from 1926–1934. He advanced Marx's theory by focusing on the role of intellectuals, politics, and media in maintaining the dominance of the bourgeois class in a capitalist system. The concept of cultural hegemony is one of his key contributions.

Michel Foucault (1926–1984) was a French social theorist, philosopher, historian, public intellectual, and activist best known for revealing through his method of "archaeology" how institutions wield power by creating discourses that are used to control people. Today, he is one of the most widely read and cited social theorists, and his theoretical contributions are still important and relevant in the 21st century.

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U.S. sociologist C. Wright Mills (1916–1962) is known for his controversial critiques of both contemporary society and sociological practice, particularly in his book "The Sociological Imagination" (1959). He also studied power and class in the United States, as displayed in his book "The Power Elite" (1956).

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U.S. sociologist Patricia Hill Collins (born 1948) is one of the most revered practitioners of the field alive today. She is a ground-breaking theorist and research in the areas of feminism and race and is most well known for popularizing the theoretical concept of intersectionality, which emphasizes the intersecting nature of race, class, gender, and sexuality as systems of oppression. She has written numerous books and scholarly articles. Some of the most widely read are "Black Feminist Thought," and the article "Learning from the Outsider Within: The Sociological Significance of Black Feminist Thought," published in 1986.

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Pierre Bourdieu (1930–2002) was a French sociologist and philosopher who contributed a great deal in the areas of general sociological theory and the link between education and culture. He pioneering terminologies such include habitus, symbolic violence, and cultural capital, and he is known for his work titled "Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste."

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U.S. sociologist Robert K. Merton (1910–2003) is considered one of America's most influential social scientists. He is famous for his theories of deviance as well as for developing the concepts of "self-fulfilling prophecy" and "role model."

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Herbert Spencer (1820–1903) was a British sociologist who was one of the first to think of social life in terms of social systems. He saw societies as organisms that progressed through a process of evolution similar to that experienced by living species. Spencer also played an important role in the development of the functionalist perspective.

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U.S. sociologist Charles Horton Cooley (1864–1929) is best known for his theories of "The Looking Glass Self" in which he declared that our self-concepts and identities are a reflection of how other people perceive us. He is also famous for developing the concepts of primary and secondary relationships. He was a founding member and the eighth president of the American Sociological Association.

George Herbert Mead was the pioneer of symbolic interactionism, a theory that explores the relationships between people in societies.

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U.S. psychologist/sociologist George Herbert Mead (1863–1931) is well-known for his theory of the social self, which is based on the central argument that the self is a social emergent. He pioneered the development of symbolic interaction perspective and developed the concept of the "I" and "Me." He is also one of the founders of social psychology.

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Georg Simmel (1858–1918) was a German sociologist best known for his neo-Kantian approach to sociology, which laid the foundations for sociological antipositivism, and his structuralist styles of reasoning.


Jurgen Habermas (born 1929) is a German sociologist and philosopher in the tradition of critical theory and pragmatism. He is known for his theory of rationality and for his concept of modernity. He is currently ranked as one of the most influential philosophers in the world and is a prominent figure in Germany as a public intellectual. In 2007, Habermas was listed as the 7th most-cited author in the humanities by The Higher Times Education Guide.

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Anthony Giddens (born 1938) is a British sociologist best known for his theory of structuration, his holistic view of modern societies, and his political philosophy called the "Third Way." Giddens is a prominent contributor to the field of sociology with 34 published books in at least 29 languages.

One of Talcott Parson's theories is the 'sick role', a concept regarding the social aspects of becoming ill and the privileges and obligations that come with it.

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Talcott Parsons (1920–1979) was a U.S. sociologist best known for laying the foundation for what would become the modern functionalist perspective. He is regarded by many as the 20th century's most influential American sociologist.