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Harriet Martineau and the Conflict Theory Essay

Paper type: Essay
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When I look over the theories we have discussed in our text: functionalism,symbolic interaction and conflict, I think the one I relate to best is the conflict theorist. The conflict theorist that I agree with the most is Harriet Martineau. She was a conflict theorist that the book describes as, “Scholar Harriet Martineau (1803–1876), an English opponent of slavery and capitalism who felt they oppressed women, children, and nonwhites, translated the work of Comte so people could understand the importance of his perspective (Adams & Sydie, 2001).

Regarded as a radical in her day, her work was largely dismissed by people in authority.” ( Vissing, 2011, chapter2 sect 3 para 13) There were many female activists who were active early on in the field but they were ignored until feminine activists brought it to the attention of the American public arena ( Vissing, 2011). She would best referred to as a conflict theorist.

The conflict theory is defined as, “a theory that assumes that the institutions and interactions within society foster inequality and competition, and when they are challenged, then beneficial social change can result.

” ( Vissing, 2011) Our text states that Harriett Martineau was a feminine activist and also was an activist for children and non-whites. Our society has changed greatly since the 1800’s and without people like Mrs. Martineu , I ,as a female, would not have the advantages I have today.

Things like voting, and equality in the work place have helped women and minorities project their viewpoint into the system we have today. These activists stroved for fair working laws which would keep women in the 1800’s and early 1900’s from being mistreated and used. Also another important thing the feminine activists fought for was birth control and abortion as an option to females, so that they may work or pursue personal goals and interests. The belief in conflict theory is that there must be a challenge to the system and the way things are in order to activate change, and from what we can tell in the past this has been an effective tool in the slow processes of equality.

Another thing that Harriet Martineau did was take the works of Auguste Comte and put them into layman’s terms for the average person of the time could understand. Auguste Comte’s beliefs were that we should look at observable facts in order to study society, not just the cultural beliefs.”His concept of positivism holds that there is nothing that can’t be accurately studied if the right methodology is employed. If we try conscientiously enough by employing the scientific method, most things can be studied and understood.” ( Vissing, 2011, chapter 1 section 3 para 3) Harriet Martineau used this idea and applied it to the progression of equality for women children and non-whites.

In Harriet Martineau’s life she was brought up in a comfortable middle class family, and was denied some education because of her sex. When her father died she was faced with sever economic loss and for once felt what it was like to not have the conveniences of a middle class family to hide in. She was engaged to be married but her fiance fell ill and she was “saved” from a married life. She was single for the rest of her life and face living and earning a living in a patriarchal society. She soon was face with some uncomfortable things and rather than accept them and conform she invoked change within our society by making the plight of women, children and non-whites a mainstream problem that needed to be corrected. Martineau was a Unitarian in religion and at first had a very strong religious viewpoint on the world and society.

(Hill, 1991).

There are many things that I agree with Martineau on such as that all people should be treated equal and fairly. Another of her main ideas was that non-whites should be treated fairly and with the same respect and dignity that whites were given. She also believed that women children and nonwhites should be able to vote to give their voices some power and that they be offered a chance at education and opportunities for work as well and earn an income which provided them with sense of freedom and self sufficiency.

In America we would not be the culture we are today without activists such as Harriet Martineau. There would be no women CEOs, we would have no choice other than abstinence when it comes to birth control. Many women died because abortion was illegal and they sought backdoor clinics and at home methods of there own to rid themselves of an unwanted pregnancy. Another important issue that was resolved due to activists initiating equality into our culture not only for every white man but for every person regardless of race, gender, age or religoud preferences. Today we are treated equal in most instances and when not the issue is usally irradicated quickly.

In my opinion the conflict theorist had the right idea, without conflict or differences in the way society is run there will be no need for change. If there is someone who feels like things need to be changed we must bring that issue to the people and make it known because not all inequalities are suffered by the same people and unless you have been never been treated unfairly then you know how it feels to not be able to do something or say something just because of who you are not what you have done. Our merits should be what we are judged on and not by what someone stereotypes us as being. We have come a long way as a culture but as long as there is a society we will always have some form of fight on our hands to ensure equality for all people, and it seems to me that the conflict theory is the best way to do this.


Belasco, S. (2000). Harriet martineau’s black hero and the american antislavery movement. Nineteenth – Century Literature, 55(2), 157-194. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/211910586?accountid=32521

Michael, R. H., & Deborah, A. L. (2010). The harriet martineau sociological society’s fifth working seminar: A report from boston college 1. Sociological Origins, 6(1), 5-7. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/204784236?accountid=32521

Vissing, Y. (2011) An Introduction to Sociology. (Ashford University ed). San Diego: Bridgepoint Education, Inc. retrieved from: https://content.ashford.edu/books/AUSOC101.11.1/sections/sec1.3?search=harriet%20Martineau#w4370

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Harriet Martineau and the Conflict Theory. (2016, Oct 14). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/harriet-martineau-and-the-conflict-theory-essay

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