The most Influential and Controversial Sociologists

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Karl Marx is considered to be one of the most influential and controversial sociologists of all time. Marx was born in Prussia in the year 1818 to Jewish parents. His father was a successful lawyer, devoted to the struggle for a Prussian constitution. Both his Jewish heritage and father’s occupation contributed to Marx’s standpoint. His Jewish background exposed him to prejudice and discrimination that may have led to a longing for social change. He first studied law like his father, but also decided to partake in philosophy at the University of Berlin.

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As a young man Marx worked in a newspaper, but after facing suppression and exile he moved on to begin some of the work he is most famous for.

Marx is greatly important to sociology because of his famous theory called historical materialism. This Marxist theory explains that social structures derive from economic structures and that these are transformed as a result of class struggles, each ruling class producing another, which will overcome and destroy it, eventually producing a communist society. In that time, society was divided into a small number of capitalists (the bourgeoisie) and a large number of workers (the proletariat.) This political struggle is what led to the social change in Marx’s theory. Because of all these reasons, Marx is greatly influential and prominent in the world of sociology.

Another significant person in the field of sociology is Jane Addams. Despite being an activist, philosopher, sociologist, author, suffragist, and “mother of social work,” Addams was marginalized, or treated as insignificant. In this case it was because of her gender. Addams was born in Illinois in 1860 to a large, wealthy family. She then went on to study in Rockford before moving on to Chicago. In Chicago, Addams founded the well-known Hull House, a place used in order to “provide a center for a higher civic and social life; to institute and maintain educational and philanthropic enterprises and to investigate and improve the conditions in the industrial districts of Chicago.” Addams worked with the aged, sick, poor, young, and immigrants. Because of the Hull House, she was able to improve the quality of many lives.

Addams was also a passionate feminist and suffragist. She believed that women should be heard in legislation, especially through votes, and that they should create aspirations and seek out opportunities in order to accomplish them. One of her own aspirations was to end war. Addams set out to accomplish this task through speeches, writing a book, and founding the Women’s International League for Peace. Overall, Jane Addams should be recognized as a largely important figure in sociology because of her feminist aspirations, peace endeavors, and goal to bridge the gap between the powerful and powerless.

There are three major theoretical perspectives in sociology, the first being the conflict theory. Conflict theory was developed by Karl Marx, who was mentioned earlier. The theory suggests that social order is maintained by domination and power, rather than consensus and conformity. In other words, some groups prosper at the expense of others, causing widespread conflict. Common terms used with conflict theory are “bourgeoisie” meaning the class with most of the wealth, and “proletariat,” meaning the lower, working class people. A second theoretical perspective is Functionalism. Functionalism was developed by Emile Durkheim, a French sociologist born in 1858. According to functionalism, society is a system of interconnected parts that work together to maintain a state of social balance. A term frequently used with functionalism is social integration, meaning the degree to which people feel part of a group. The third and final theoretical perspective is called symbolic interactionism. It was developed by a German sociologist named Max Weber, who was born in 1864. Symbolic interactionism explains social behavior in terms of how people interact with each other through symbols; in this view, social structures are best understood in individual interactions. A key concept of this is Verstehen, meaning one is able to understand the meaning of action by looking through that person’s point of view. In conclusion, these are the three major theoretical perspectives of sociology that are widely known.

Works Cited

  1. Conley, Dalton. You May Ask Yourself: An Introduction to Thinking Like a Sociologist. New York City, W.W. Norton & Company, 2013.
  2. Definition of ‘Historical Materialism’.” Take Heed/Pay Heed Definition and Meaning | Collins English Dictionary,
  3. Feuer, Lewis S., and David T. McLellan. “Karl Marx.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 22 Nov. 2018,
  4. Jane Addams – Facts. Nobel Media AB 2019. Mon. 14 Jan 2019,
  5. Kenton, Will. “Conflict Theory.” Investopedia, Investopedia, 14 Dec. 2018,
  6. “The Big Question: What Inspired Marx?” OpenLearn, The Open University, 1 Dec. 2004,
  7. “The Nobel Peace Prize 1931.”,
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The most influential and controversial sociologists. (2021, Oct 15). Retrieved from