Pioneers of Sociology

Pioneers of Sociology

Max Weber & Karl Marx

When discussing the Pioneers of Sociology, many social scientists contributed to the field making a long list of researchers. Some of the most important contributions remain relevant, requiring study. Most influential were Karl Marx and Max Weber whose contributions continue to influence the evolving field of Sociology.

Max Weber lived 1864–1920 and his experience during this time period can be seen as influencing his theories. Weber lived in Germany and at the end of WWI the country was already in the process of becoming nationalistic. Weber would be opposed to nationalism and he would look to western democracy as a more ideal social structure. According to Max Weber he saw modern Western society with the perspective that behavior was becoming dominated by goal-oriented rationality (Coser, 1971). This was in contrast to past societies which were motivated by tradition, affect, or value-oriented rationality. As a result the dichotomy between traditional society and modern western society would create both benefits and losses for society (Macionis, 2011). Within Weber’s theory, non-modern or traditional societies were guided by customs and traditional habits that relied on the past (Coser, 1971). These societies looked for solutions to problems through reliance on past actions which limited their ability to grow and expand. Modernization brings time awareness and a forward looking view in which goals are sought in efficient and rational ways (Macionis, 2011). These changes from traditional to formal organizations brought with it the decline of small, traditional communities. This has meant a loss of community and shared values that created a larger sense of family. An example of this feature can be seen in the rise of bureaucratic institutions that while providing efficient and convenient services also deemphasize the individual and breakdown community based businesses and services (Macionis, 2011). Typically, efficiency and job purpose take precedents over the individual. In this manner bureaucracy creates organizational behavior that is useful but impersonal.

Much of Weber’s views were oppositional to Karl Marx. Marx would provide sociology with historical materialism which dictates that human behavior is driven by economic factor (materialism) and that these factors could be traced historically through class conflict. Marx lived 1818–1883 and would grow up during the industrial revolution. I believe Marx’s views were influenced by seeing the caste like systems that divided the working class from the rich. Marx views on human behavior were very narrow in this way and conflict theorists have applied these notions across many different aspects of human behavior which often neglects the rationality of behavior that Weber expressed. For example, feminist conflict theorists apply Marxist thinking to describe the relationship between genders as being the same as the bourgeois and proletariat (Smith, 1977). The male gender oppresses the female gender through ownership, controlling work, and other inequalities. When taken from this view gender oppression becomes class oppression. Under the Marxist’s theory, gender and minority oppression is seen in a pragmatic economic and class struggle view. In order to achieve the ideal state women and minorities would need to be included in the proletariat’s struggle (Smith, 1977). While this view is interesting it is extremely narrow. I personally find Weber’s social science perspective more realistic and practical since one can see evidence of it all around in the form of bureaucracies and other rational structures. Marx’s views while intriguing seem to lack essential components of human behavior because of the narrow view of materialism.


Coser, Lewis A. 1971. Masters of Sociological Thought: Ideas in Historical and Social Context. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

Macionis, J. J. (2011). Society: The basics (11th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

Smith, Hedrick (1977). The Russians. Ballantine. New York, NY

Karl Marx (left) By John Jabez Edwin Mayal — International Institute of Social History, Public Domain Max Weber (right) By Unspecified — Public Domain


Triola Vincent. Fri, Mar 05, 2021. Pioneers of Sociology Retrieved from

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