Harriet Martineau
Harriet Martineau

Sociology 2111
Sociological Theory
Department of Sociology and Anthropology


In 1931 Alexander Gray noted of the Political Economist Jean Baptiste Say (1767-1832) that he:
"...has tended to suffer the neglect which is so often the Nemesis of overestimation by one's contemporaries."
Clearly this has been true of Harriet Martineau as well. She was well know in Europe and the U.S. and highly regarded (as might be noted by the disappearance of her grave marker).

Having said that, she is being rediscovered and should be given her right place in sociology of at least being the first one to provide a sound methodology to the discipline.

Publishing Career:

Intellectual Contributions
  1. Martineau drew heavily on Adam Smith and Malthus. Her early work on political economy takes Smith's ideas and puts them into story form, fables.
  2. Labor and capital have the same interests; the labor of capital and the labor of workers are the same - managing production is an essential part of the productive process

  3. The introduction of machinery would benefit everyone (lack of understanding of class interests) - Luddites would drive her up the wall

  4. Strong believer in progress, small family farms are gone, never to return, that is for the best

  5. Production has a hard time keeping up with population growth (like Malthus)

  6. The increase of population is necessarily limited by the means of subsistence.

    "Since successive portions of capital yield a less and less return, and the human species produce at a constantly accelerated rate, there is a perpetual tendency in population to press upon the means of subsistence."
  7. Vice and misery is what keeps the population in check, but add in a bit of Bentham and, "Since the ends of life are virtue and happiness, these checks ought to be superseded by the milder methods which exist within man's reach."

  8. We need to promote the increase in capital (again Bentham)
  9. "By bringing no more children into the world than there is a subsistence provided for, society may preserve itself from the miseries of want. In other words, the timely use of the mild preventive check may avert the horrors of the positive check.
    The preventive check becomes more, and the positive checks less powerful, as society advances.
    The positive checks, having performed their office in stimulating the human faculties, and originating social institutions,must be wholly superseded by the preventive check before society can attain its ultimate aim,--the greatest happiness of the greatest number."
  10. Immigration is the current answer to overpopulation until preventive checks rule all of us.

  11. She was deeply concerned with inequality
    early analysis of women's place in society
    Anti Slavery
  12. Against slavery on political economic grounds and moral grounds
    • Productivity of labor is far less when there is not incentive to labor. If Smith is correct, the human nature that exists provides us incentives to work... Why would slave want to toil. They produce more as free laborers than as slaves.
    • "Property is held by conventional, not natural right. As the agreement to hold man in property never took place between the parties concerned, i.e., is not conventional, man has no right to hold man in property." (Look at The Martyr age of the United States; Society in America; Demerara starts page 145 in the Illustrations of Political Economy); and The Moral of Many Fables.)

  1. Necessitarianism; god put in motion natural laws which then govern everything and everybody (including god), (this among other things created a split with her brother James - a Unitarian minister who until then was her biggest fan, he was even the one who encouraged her to write for a living)

    utilitarianism, positivism (Read St. Simon around 1830 (use of science to discover and improve society), translated Comte around 1853)

  2. people are fundamentally moral, ethical folks (although we may not see it)

  3. We ought to be able to discover how the world works (laws) and through education people can take the moral high road so to speak

  4. People are born blank slates (tabu la Rosa) but do have the capacity to reason and do make choices; ideas initially come from experiences (al la Hume, Locke) but ideas can generate new ideas

  5. Utilitarian principles for judging proper manners (behaviors) the greatest good for the greatest number (Bentham)

  6. her broad knowledge in political economy, [she did publish popular stories (education) to get the ideas to the reading public] vacillated between the Smith/Ricardo hands off approach, to the apply rewards and punishments to provide incentives for decision making

In Martineau's book, How to Observe Morals and Manners, she provides the framework for doing sociological research
Morals = societal wide ideas, norms, values, beliefs, etc. different than what individuals might express

Manners = behaviors, patterned interactions that are meaningful

the two don't always match (Society in America measured manners against an indices of morals and found behavior lacking; for example, the Declaration of Independence and the constitution express the notion of equality but the practice of slavery and the treatment of women both show the short comings of the expressed morals.

In the Chapter on "The Political Non-existence of Women" Not much difference in the way women and slaves treated

both "given indulgence rather than justice". Again, sees education as a potential cure, women's education is important, so that "marriage need not be their only object in life."

later in newspaper articles she attacked

"Contagious Diseases Acts" -- acts introduced in the 1860s to reduce venereal disease in the armed forces
objected in principal to laws that only applied to women and in these acts police could arrest women thought to be prostitutes and insist they had a medical examination.

Her activism stopped for the most part in the 1870s
Her health prohibited her from attending meetings and demonstrations, died in 1876
Seen as a major contributor to reform (as noted on memorial in Kensal Green Cemetery)

Public access to Martineau's writings

Approximate location of Harriet Martineau's grave

Picture of Bulldog

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Copyright: © 2001, John Hamlin
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