Harriet Martineau was a historical social theorist born in Norwich, England on June 12, 1802. She was one of the first female journalists and one of the first female sociologists. Martineau was a strong voice for women during the 19th century, as she was very often critical of the inequality and injustice faced by girls and women. She was also an abolitionist, who felt strongly against the concept of slavery. Harriet Martineau died of bronchitis in her home in Ambleside, which she named "The Knoll" on June 27, 1876.
Harriet Martineau was born as the 6th of 8 children in her parents' home in Norwich, England. Her Father was a textile manufacturer. Martineau's mother would be described by Harriet as a "domestic tyrant". Martineau was a generally unhealthy child due to her lack of milk as an infant. At a very young age Martineau started to slowly lose her sense of smell and taste. She would also begin to lose her hearing which became so severe that she would employ the use of an ear trumpet. Growing up as a child, she was mostly taught by her bothers and sisters. The majority of her education would be through self-studying at home. University education was restricted to men only during this time period but despite this, Martineau maintained her inquiring mind. At age 16 Harriet moved to Bristol to study at a school that her Aunt ran. It was at this school that Harriet would learn the principles of literature that would continue to support her throughout the rest of her life.
In the 1820’s, Harriet's family had a hard time. With the dead of Harriet's brother, father and failing family business, Martineau had to take care of her family by her self, when she was 27 years old. She started with needlework, but after a while she began writing articles (journalism) and sold a lot of them to the Monthly Repository. By 1829 she had decided to commit herself to her writing profession: Her first commissioned book, Illustrations of Political Economy, was a fictional tutorial intended to help the general public understand the ideas of Adam Smith. In 1832 Martineau moved to London.
Harriet's most important contribution to sociology is the fact that Harriet translated and edited the Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte in 1853 (the first person to use the term sociology). Her volume was so highly acclaimed that Comte translated her rendition of his book back into French. Martineau’s early life in England and experiences helped to shape her ideas and drew her to writing and educating the public on issues that were of central concern. Martineau developed a methodology for sociology which is still being used. Harriet created this methodology when she came to America. This methodology is best formed in her two works “How to Observe Morals and Manners” and “Society in America”. Martineau’s methodology was focused on the tradition of feminist sociology and had four major themes. The themes were: a focus on women’s lives and work, a gendered standpoint, an exploration of domination and inequality and differences among women and finally a commitment to changing the world. Martineau's theory still holds true today because they reflect an analysis of society that is still present, because it focuses on the very basic way society functions. In the very basic function of society we depend on the social norms and expected behaviours to shape our ideas and actions. These social norms allow a guideline for individuals to know how to reproduce morals and manners and be a functioning part of society. This theory is best given in Martineau’s writing “How to Observe Morals and Manners”. Martineau was the first female sociologist and one of the first who created the Classical Feminist Theory. Martineau viewed the central concern of sociology to be what she called "social life in society," the patterns, causes, consequences, and problems of the social world. For example she studied the conditions of wage-earning women in Great Britain. Harriet was fully against slavery and campaigned very much against it throughout her life. Martineau believed in social justice, her visit to America brought her into contact with a society whose economy, in large areas, still depended on slavery. Harriet had the gift of explaining difficult ideas, often by creating interesting stories as settings for the concepts (as in her ‘Illustrations of Political Economy’). Her short stories became very popular and helped to spread the understanding of the economic options and social ideas emerging from the industrial revolution. She examined social class, religion, suicide, national character, domestic relations and how these elements are social problems in individuals. She was active in women's rights, slavery, struggle of the common worker and religious tolerance. Most of these concepts functioned in America.
- Cole, Nicki Lisa. Harriet Martineau: A Brief Biography and Intellectual History. Retrieved from http://sociology.about.com/od/Profiles/fl/Harriet-Martineau.htm.
- E2BN. History's Heroes: Harriet Martineau. Retrieved from http://historysheroes.e2bn.org/hero/4286.
- Harriet Martineau. Retrieved from http://faculty.webster.edu/woolflm/martineau.html.
- McDonald, Lynn. (1998). Women Theorists on Society and Politics. Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfred Laurier University Press.
- Peterson, L. H. (2006). Broadview Editions : Autobiography Harriet Martineau. Peterborough, CA: Broadview Press. Retrieved from http://www.ebrary.com.ezproxy.tru.ca.