The Power Trio of Sociology

Part of the Sociology For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim, and Max Weber are the three most important figures in sociology. Their ideas about society are still discussed today, and you’re apt to hear their names in all branches of sociology. It’s important to know what they thought and said.

  • Karl Marx (1818-1883) was a German philosopher who believed that material goods are at the root of the social world. According to Marx, social life is fundamentally about conflict over food, land, money, and other material goods. Marx believed that the ideal government would be a communist state where resources are equally shared.

  • Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) was a French sociologist who helped establish sociology by arguing that society had to be studied on its own terms — that understanding individual psychology was insufficient. Durkheim believed that societies are held together by shared values, which change over time as societies become bigger and more complex.

  • Max Weber (1864-1920) was a German sociologist who agreed with Marx that people often fight to protect their own interests, but he agreed with Durkheim that what people consider their interests often are determined by socialization and shared values. He believed society is becoming more rationalized and bureaucratic over time.

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