Harriet Martineau

The theorist Harriet Martineau is an early social theorist that came up with the beginnings of a science of society. 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. “The works which profess to teach have been written for the learned, and can only interest the learned. We cannot see why the truth and its application should not be made more clear and interesting at the same time by picture of what those principles are actually doing in communities.” (L&N pg 26) She worked hard to make her writing accessible to the general public and felt that it was her job to keep people informed of the important issues within society at the time.

Martineau created the idea of a science of society when she came to America and these new ideas are best reflected in her two works “Society in America” and “How to observe moral and manners”.  Martineau’s work was present in the tradition of feminist sociology and was comprised of four major themes. These themes include, a gendered standpoint, a focus on women’s lives and work, an exploration of domination and inequality and differences among women and finally a commitment to changing the world.  The feminist paradigm that was present in her sociology is both reflected in her beliefs and her writings. She wrote with a consciousness of gender and focused a lot on women’s place in society and their significance.

These ideas still hold true today because they reflected an analysis of society that is still present in sociology and theory today.  One of these ideas that could be applied to contemporary society is the idea of moral and manners. This idea is best explored in Martineau’s writing “How to observe moral and manners”. Morals are a society’s collective idea of prescribed behavior. Manners are the patterns of action and association in a society. These ideas are still important today because it focuses on the very basic way society functions, which detail the expected norms of an individual and the expected behaviors that are supposed to reflect those norms. “His more philosophical belief, derived from all fair evidence and just reflexion, is that every man’s feelings of right and wrong, instead of being born with him, grow up in him from the influences in which he is subjected. The feelings begin very early; and this is the reason why they are supposed to be born with men, but they are few and imperfect in childhood, and , in the case of those who are strongly exercised in morals, they go on enlarging and strengthen and refining through life.” ( L&N 47) Martineau suggests that the very idea of Morals and Manners is subject to change and is a reflection of the values a society holds. In contemporary terms the idea of Morals and Manners would be different from Martineau’s original concepts because the way our society is now differs from the society she was writing about. But in the very basic function of society we depend on the social norms and expected behaviors 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.

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