15 Major Sociological Studies and Publications

From Research to Theory to Political Declarations

  • Key Concepts
  • Major Sociologists
  • News & Issues
  • Research, Samples, and Statistics
  • Recommended Reading
  • Archaeology

The following titles are considered extremely influential and are widely taught. From theoretical works to case studies and research experiments to political treatises, read on to discover some of the major sociological works that have helped define and shape the fields of sociology and the social sciences.

'The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism'

Considered a seminal text in both economic sociology and sociology in general, German sociologist/economist Max Weber  wrote "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism" between 1904 and 1905. (The work was translated into English in 1930.) In it, Weber examines the ways in which Protestant values and early capitalism intersected to foster the particular style of capitalism that's since become synonymous with the cultural identity of the United States.

The Asch Conformity Experiments

The Asch Conformity Experiments (also known as the Asch Paradigm) conducted by Solomon Asch in the 1950s demonstrated the power of conformity in groups and showed that even simple objective facts cannot withstand the distorting pressure of group influence.

'The Communist Manifesto'

" The Communist Manifesto " written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in 1848 has since been recognized as one of the world’s most influential political texts. In it, Marx and Engels present an analytical approach to class struggle and the problems of capitalism, along with theories about the nature of society and politics.

'Suicide: A Study in Sociology'

French sociologist Émile Durkheim published "Suicide: A Study in Sociology" in 1897. This groundbreaking work in the field of sociology details a case study in which Durkheim illustrates how social factors affect the suicide rate. The book and study served as an early prototype for what a sociological monograph should look like.

'The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life'

"The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life" by sociologist Erving Goffman (published in 1959) uses the metaphor of theater and stage acting to demonstrate the subtle nuances of human action and social interaction and how they shape everyday life.

'The McDonaldization of Society'

First published in 2014, "The McDonaldization of Society" is a more recent work, but is considered influential nonetheless. In it, sociologist George Ritzer takes the central elements of Max Weber’s work and expands and updates them for the contemporary age, dissecting the principles behind the economic and cultural dominance of fast-food restaurants that's seeped into almost every aspect of our daily lives—much to our detriment.

'Democracy in America'

Alexis de Tocqueville's "Democracy in America" was published in two volumes, the first in 1835, and the second in 1840. Available in both English and the original French ("De La Démocratie en Amérique"), this pioneering text is considered one of the most comprehensive and insightful examinations of American culture ever written. Focusing on a variety of topics including religion, the press, money, class structure , racism , the role of government, and the judicial system, the issues it examines are just as relevant today as they were it was first published.

'The History of Sexuality'

"The History of Sexuality" is a three-volume series written between 1976 and 1984 by French sociologist  Michel Foucault whose main goal was to disprove the notion that Western society has repressed sexuality since the 17th century. Foucault raised important questions and presented provocative and lasting theories to counter those assertions.

'Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting By In America'

Originally published in 2001, Barbara Ehrenreich's "Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting By In America" is based on her ethnographic research on low-wage jobs. Inspired in part by conservative rhetoric surrounding welfare reform, Ehrenreich decided to immerse herself ​in the world of low-wage earning Americans to give readers and policymakers a better understanding of the realities regarding the day-to-day subsistence of working-class wage earners and their families living at or below the poverty line.

'The Division of Labor in Society'

"The Division of Labor in Society" was penned by Émile Durkheim in 1893. His first major published work, it's the one in which Durkheim introduces the concept of anomie  or the breakdown of the influence of social norms on individuals within a society.

'The Tipping Point'

In his 2000 book, "The Tipping Point," Malcolm Gladwell examines how small actions at the right time, in the right place, and with the right people can create a "tipping point" for anything from a product to an idea to a trend that can be adopted on a mass scale to become part of mainstream society.

'Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity'

Erving Goffman's "Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity" (published in 1963) centers on the concept of stigma and what it's is like to live as a stigmatized person. It's a look into the world of individuals who, regardless of how great or small the stigma they've experienced, are considered to be outside societal norms at least on some level.

'Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools'

First published in 1991, Jonathan Kozol's "Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools" examines the American educational system and the inequalities that exist between poor inner-city schools and more affluent suburban schools. It's considered a must-read for anyone interested in socio-economic inequality or the sociology of education .

'The Culture of Fear'

"The Culture of Fear" ​was written in 1999 by Barry Glassner, a sociology professor at the University of Southern California. The book presents compelling evidence that attempts to explain why Americans are so engrossed with "fear of the wrong things." Glassner examines and exposes the people and organizations that manipulate Americans’ perceptions and profit from the often baseless anxieties they cultivate and encourage.

'The Social Transformation of American Medicine'

Published in 1982, Paul Starr's "The Social Transformation of American Medicine" focuses on medicine and healthcare in the United States. In it, Starr examines the evolution of the culture and practice of medicine in America from the colonial era through the last quarter of the 20th century.

Updated by Nicki Lisa Cole, Ph.D.

  • Famous Sociologists
  • All About Marxist Sociology
  • What You Need to Know About Economic Inequality
  • Sociology of Work and Industry
  • Introduction to Sociology
  • The Main Points of "The Communist Manifesto"
  • The History of Sociology Is Rooted in Ancient Times
  • How W.E.B. Du Bois Made His Mark on Sociology
  • The Differences Between Communism and Socialism
  • A Biography of Erving Goffman
  • The Social Transformation of American Medicine
  • The Sociology of Consumption
  • What Is an Industrial Society?
  • The Sociology of Race and Ethnicity
  • Definition of Idiographic and Nomothetic
  • Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity

By clicking “Accept All Cookies”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts.


A level sociology revision – education, families, research methods, crime and deviance and more!

Seven Examples of Field Experiments for Sociology

Details of the Hawthorne experiment, Rosenthal and Jacobsens’ self-fulfilling prophecy experiment, and the Stanford experiment, and some more contemporary popular examples up to 2014.

Table of Contents

Last Updated on June 12, 2023 by Karl Thompson

Field experiments aren’t the most widely used research method in Sociology, but the examiners seem to love asking questions about them – below are seven examples of this research method.

Looked at collectively, the results of the field experiments below reveal punishingly depressing findings about human action –  they suggest that people are racist, sexist, shallow, passive, and prepared to commit violence when ordered to do so by authority figures.

The experiments are outlined in the form of a timeline, with the most recent first providing contemporary examples of field experiments, and those towards the end the more classic examples I’m sure everyone’s has heard of (Rosenthal and Jacobsen for example).

2014 – The Domestic Abuse in the Lift Experiment

A Swedish social experiment recently showed only one person of 53 reacting to what seemed like a scene of domestic abuse in a lift.

Researchers set up a hidden camera in a lift while members of the group played an abusive boyfriend and his victim. The male actors swore at the women and physically assaulted them while members of the public were in the lift

Most of the lift’s passengers ignored the abuse, while only one out of 53 people intervened in an attempt to stop it.

The experiment was organised by   STHLM Panda , which describes itself as “doing social experiments, joking with people and documenting the society we live in”.

2010 – The Ethnicity/ Gender and Bike Theft Experiment

In this experiment two young male actors, dressed in a similar manner, one white the other black take it in turns to act out stealing a bike which is chained to a post in a public park. The two actors (one after the other) spend an hour hacksawing/ bolt-cuttering their way through the bike lock (acting this out several times over) as about 100 people walk by in each case.

The findings – when the white actor acts out the bike-theft, only 1/100 step in and take immediate action. Several people actually casually ask ‘is that your bike’, but just laugh it off when the actor tells them it isn’t.

When the black actor acts out the same thing, within seconds, a crowd of people has gathered to stop him, with many whipping out their mobiles to phone the police. When the experiment is reset, the same thing happens again.

Towards the end of the film, a third actor steps in – an attractive young, blonde female – people actually help her to steal the bike!

This experiment seems to have quite good reliability – there are some examples of similar experiments which get similar results…

The ‘Social Misfits’ experiment where a white guy then a black guy act out a car theft on a public road – the white guy lasts 30 mins and ‘no one cares’, but not so with the black-guy.

2009 – The Ethnicity and Job Application Experiment

Researchers sent nearly 3,000 job applications under false identities in an attempt to discover if employers were discriminating against jobseekers with foreign names.


They found that an applicant who appeared to be white would send 9 applications before receiving a positive response of either an invitation to an interview or an encouraging telephone call. Minority candidates with the same qualifications and experience had to send 16 applications before receiving a similar response .

Researchers from the National Centre for Social Research , commissioned by the Department for Work and Pension (DWP), sent three different applications for 987 actual vacancies between November 2008 and May 2009. Using names recognisably from three different communities – Nazia Mahmood, Mariam Namagembe and Alison Taylor – false identities were created with similar experience and qualifications. Every false applicant had British education and work histories.  Nine occupations were chosen, ranging from highly qualified positions such as accountants and IT technicians to less well-paid positions such as care workers and sales assistants.  

All the job vacancies were in the private, public and voluntary sectors and were based in Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Glasgow, Leeds, London and Manchester. The report concludes that there was no plausible explanation for the difference in treatment found between white British and ethnic minority applicants other than racial discrimination .

It also found that public sector employers were less likely to have discriminated on the grounds of race than those in the private sector (a handy argument against privatisation and neoliberalism here, at least if you’re not racist!)

2008 – The £5 Note Theft and Social Disorder Experiment

In this (slightly bizarre sounding) experiment an envelope containing a £5 note was left poking out a letterbox, in such a way that the £5 note was easily visible. The researchers did this first of all with a tidy garden, and later on (similar time of day) with litter in the garden – on the first occasion 13% of people took the envelope, on the second, the percentage doubled to 25% – suggesting that signs of physical disorder such as littering encourage deviant behaviour.

broken windows theory

The experiment was actually a bit more complex – for the full details see the Keizer et al source below – this was also actually one of six experiments designed to test out Wilson and Kelling’s 1996 ‘broken windows theory’.

1971 – The Stanford Prison Experiment

In which college students take on the role of either prison guards or prisoners and spend time in an artificial prison. The Stanford Prison Experiment was meant to last 14 days, it had to be stopped after just six because the ‘guards’ became abusive and the ‘prisoners’ began to show signs of extreme stress and

In 1971, psychologist Philip Zimbardo and his colleagues set out to create an experiment that looked at the impact of becoming a prisoner or prison guard. The researchers set up a mock prison in the basement of Standford University’s psychology building, and then selected 24 undergraduate students to play the roles of both prisoners and guards.

The simulated prison included three six by nine foot prison cells. Each cell held three prisoners and included three cots. Other rooms across from the cells were utilized for the prison guards and warden. One very small space was designated as the solitary confinement room, and yet another small room served as the prison yard.

The 24 volunteers were then randomly assigned to either the prisoner group or the guard group. Prisoners were to remain in the mock prison 24-hours a day for the duration of the study. Guards, on the other hand, were assigned to work in three-man teams for eight-hour shifts. After each shift, guards were allowed to return to their homes until their next shift. Researchers were able to observe the behavior of the prisoners and guards using hidden cameras and microphones.

While the prisoners and guards were allowed to interact in any way they wanted, the interactions were generally hostile or even dehumanizing. The guards began to behave in ways that were aggressive and abusive toward the prisoners, while the prisoners became passive and depressed. Five of the prisoners began to experience such severe negative emotions, including crying and acute anxiety, that they had to be released from the study early.

The Stanford Prison Experiment demonstrates the powerful role that the situation can play in human behaviour. Because the guards were placed in a position of power, they began to behave in ways they would not normally act in their everyday lives or in other situations. The prisoners, placed in a situation where they had no real control, became passive and depressed.

1968 – Rosenthal and Jacobson’s ‘Self-Fulfilling Prophecy’ Experiment

The aim of this research was to isolate and measure the effect of high teacher expectation on the educational performance of pupils.

Self fulfilling prophecy

Rosenthal and Jacobson carried out their research in a California primary school they called ‘Oak School’. Pupils were given an IQ test and on the basis of this R and J informed teachers that 20% of the pupils were likely ‘spurt’ academically in the next year. In reality, however, the 20% were randomly selected.

All of the pupils were re-tested 8 months later and he spurters had gained 12 IQ points compared to an average of 8.

Rosenthal and Jacobsen concluded that higher teacher expectations were responsible for this difference in achievement, providing supporting evidence for labelling theory and the ‘self-fulfilling prophecy’.

1924-32 The Hawthorne Factory Experiments

The Hawthorne Electricity Factory Works  in Chicago commissioned a study to see if their workers would become more productive in response to various changes in their working environment – such as lighting levels, cleanliness of the factory and relocating work stations.

The workers’ productivity seemed to improve with any changes made, and slumped when the study ended. It was suggested that the productivity gain occurred because the workers were more motivated due to the increased interest being shown in them during the experiments.

The study gave rise to the term ‘The Hawthorne Effect’ which refers to any short-term changes in behaviour which result from participants knowing they are taking part in an experiment (rather than changes in behaviour being a result of changes to independent variables).

NB – As the video outlines, this study was huge – really more than just a ‘field experiment’ it involved the workers being interviewed about their feelings about work. 

Related Posts 

Field Experiments in Sociology  – covers the strengths and limitations of the method

An Introduction to Experiments – covering key terms related to experiments, such as hypotheses, and dependent and independent variables.

Field Experiments are an important research method within sociology.

Swedish social experiment shows people ignoring domestic abuse in a lift – The Guardian

Double standard bike thief experiment highlights racism – The Root

Undercover job hunters reveal huge race bias in Britain’s workplaces – The Guardian

Keizer et al – The Spreading of Disorder – Science Express Report

The Stanford Prison Experiment – The official web site of the experiment (possibly the only experiment that’s also a celebrity?!)

The Pygmalion Effect (details of Rosenthal and Jacobson’s study) – Wikipedia

The Hawthorne Effect – Wikipedia

Share this:

  • Share on Tumblr

6 thoughts on “Seven Examples of Field Experiments for Sociology”

Many are but there is overlap between psychology and sociology, there are so few within sociology we have to draw on our sister subject!

  • Pingback: examples of sociological studies - jobsmalaysia.co

Most of these are psychology, not sociology.

  • Pingback: Field Experiments: Definition, Examples, Advantages and Disadvantages | ReviseSociology
  • Pingback: Ethnic inequalities in social mobility | ReviseSociology
  • Pingback: The Labelling Theory of Crime | ReviseSociology

Leave a Reply Cancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed .


In Depth Tutorials and Information


Case studies and the development of sociology in the united states, recent developments in case-studies research, radical case studies, case studies of reality construction, the politics and poetics of writing case studies.

In sum, the case-study method is a dynamic approach to studying social life, which sociologists modify and use to achieve diverse political and theoretical goals. While the popularity of the case-study method waxes and wanes over time, it is likely to always be a major research strategy of humanistically oriented sociologists.



Related Links


:: Search WWH ::

Help Unprivileged Children  ¶  Careers  ¶  Privacy Statement  ¶  Copyright Information

We use cookies to enhance our website for you. Proceed if you agree to this policy or learn more about it.

  • Essay Database >
  • Essays Samples >
  • Essay Types >
  • Case Study Example

Sociology Case Studies Samples For Students

1016 samples of this type

While studying in college, you will certainly need to craft a lot of Case Studies on Sociology. Lucky you if linking words together and transforming them into meaningful content comes easy to you; if it's not the case, you can save the day by finding a previously written Sociology Case Study example and using it as a model to follow.

This is when you will definitely find WowEssays' free samples database extremely helpful as it contains numerous professionally written works on most various Sociology Case Studies topics. Ideally, you should be able to find a piece that meets your criteria and use it as a template to develop your own Case Study. Alternatively, our competent essay writers can deliver you a unique Sociology Case Study model crafted from scratch according to your individual instructions.

Free Search Engine Optimization Case Study Sample

- what is search engine optimization (seo), and how did linentablecloth use seo to its advantage as part of its marketing strategy.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of optimizing a website so that it easier for search engines like Yahoo, Google to find and rank them. The whole aim of SEO is to come on the first ten results for a search term. In other words, when people are looking for linen table clothes, then Linentablecloth.com should come in the first ten results in Google and/or Yahoo. SEO is fundamental to the success of any online business.

International and Domestic Ethical Norms for Multinational Organisation Case Study Sample

Example of internal social networks case study.

Don't waste your time searching for a sample.

Get your case study done by professional writers!

Just from $10/page

Global Asian Region Case Study

Good case study on twitter, case study on simon sinek golden circle model, good case study on marketing, sephora direct analysis.

Introduction Sephora was started in France in 1969 as a single perfume shop. By 2010, Sephora had nearly 1000 stores in 23 countries, of which 450 were in the US and Canada. It has a retail presence in 36 states.

Sephora’s Marketing Objectives for 2011:

Free building a team case study sample, decision analysis case studies examples, recommendation on approach to follow in the installation of a company real-time vehicle locator, free ethics/ 4.4name:institutional affiliation case study example, free case study on twitter, the pepsi ultimate taste challenge 2012 academic case study samples, the pepsi ultimate taste challenge 2012: social enough, events policy and strategy case study example, introduction.

I have chosen to base my arguments on Targa Tasmania, and Australian motorsport competition suctioned by the renowned Confederation of Australia Motor Sports (CAMS). It is important to note that this event has backing from big organizations within the government and as a result is rated as one of the major national events in Tasmania. The event is a major contributor to the growth of the country’s economy and hence must be accorded close observation.

Case Study On The Need For Social Capital

Organization and knowledge management, good bagborroworsteal: online portal for luxury designer bags case study example, understanding how they include consumer behavior issues in their, free wine and tourism in minnesota case study sample, example of case study on whole foods: social responsibility, introduction and company background, example of crisis theory and intervention case study, managing knowledge and technology case study, sample case study on social entrepreneurship.

Complexity and overwhelming nature of issues to be coped with in some countries of the world calls forth the need to add extra dimensions to state’s combating the issues in terms of implementing its functions, and change existing systems and institutions. Social entrepreneurship represents a process by which citizens can either create or transform institutions to advance solutions to such issues, as poverty, illnesses, environment pollution, corruption and human rights abuses (Bornstein&Davis 1-2).

Example Of Case Study On What Is Culture

Irish Americans have a rich culture, which is rated among the oldest cultures in the globe. The Irish Americans trace their origin from Ireland and they form up to 11% of the American population. They possess a rich culture judging by their education, religious beliefs, and there social life in general. Their Unique culture and strong religious background have influenced the values of ordinary Americans over the years.

Irish Americans cultural Values

Good example of contemporary management issues case study, free case study about lady gaga on social media, good case study on academic writing, homelessness in america case studies examples, good case study on rhetorical of twitter in the political change in the revolution of the arab world, cmn598 rhetoric of social issues, example of service learning opportunity case study, free social work case plan: calliope stephanides as a client case study sample, good case study about procedure relatedness, advertising case study example, please type your name here.

Please type your instructor name here

Sample Case Study On The Effect Of Technology On Our Society

Dissociative disorder case study, free combating competition in the social media community marketplace case study sample, free germany culture questionnaire case study example, problem statement case study example, virgin airlines case study.

Executive Summary This case provides an analysis Virgin Airline and how the airline is using marketing strategies to attract the customers. The airline has been using different methods to attract customers.

The vision of the airline is to become a leading low-cost airline with the vision of expanding the flights and destination places.

Sample Case Study On Social Capital

Free groups and teams case study example, introduction to the problem.

Ideally the problem the group faces resonates around the dearth of social interaction among the members. The fact that the group members are located in different geographical areas makes it difficult to interact socially hence the non-functionality and non-coordination witnessed. In addition, the group can be described as being in the storming stage which is only the second of the five stages groups typically go through.

Identification of the Root Cause of the Problem

Corporate social responsibilities case study, sample case study on blog, good example of corporate social responsibility case study, good case study on the egyptian civilization, case study on alice greeleys situation, good example of are electronic medical records a cure for health care case study, free case study on social engineering.

(Author’s Full Name)

Example Of Governments Role In Economy Case Study

Case study on summarizing concepts, panic attack with agoraphobia case study, clinical case formulation, good example of case study on corporate governance, good bangladesh, ethics case study example, example of law questions case study, creating shared value / scr, free cjm 302 - final case study sample, executive summary, marketing: tom shoes inc case studies examples, free case study about segmentation, market research, free linkedin case study sample, jeffrey dahmer case study samples.

The topic of the paper is murder, and its mission is to discuss the crimes of Jeffrey Dahmer and relating this crime with the three categories of crime causation. Murder is the deliberate taking of another person life. Murder can be first-degree and second-degree murder where in the first degree both the intention and the killing is planned (Brown et al, 2010). This paper will also discuss how Jeffery Dahmer killed people deliberately out of ill will.

Free Social Network Security Case Study Sample

Case study on how can managers keep their decision making from being overwhelmed by too much big, new york pizza and pasta report analysis case study samples, good case study on use of social media by organizations, free case study about the nexus of forces is driving the adoption of semantic technologies, but what does.

Password recovery email has been sent to [email protected]

Use your new password to log in

You are not register!

By clicking Register, you agree to our Terms of Service and that you have read our Privacy Policy .

Now you can download documents directly to your device!

Check your email! An email with your password has already been sent to you! Now you can download documents directly to your device.

or Use the QR code to Save this Paper to Your Phone

The sample is NOT original!

Short on a deadline?

Don't waste time. Get help with 11% off using code - GETWOWED

No, thanks! I'm fine with missing my deadline

helpfulprofessor.com site logo that links to homepage

25 Sociology Examples

sociology examples and definition, explained below

Sociology is the scientific study of society and social interactions (American Sociological Association, 2019).

This social sciences discipline explores social relationships, structures, and institutions that, together, shape and drive human behavior.

It aims to uncover behavioral patterns among individuals and groups and thus, helps explain how society functions the way it does (Giddens, 2013).

We generally split sociology into two broad groups: macrosociology , which is the study of how social institutions shape society, and microsociology , which is the study of how individuals make meaning of their social lives.

Example of an Early Sociological Study

One of the earliest, yet poignant examples of sociology’s relevance is Émile Durkheim’s study of suicide (Durkheim, 1897). This pioneering sociologist observed patterns and concluded that societal factors (like religion, marital status, and employment), rather than just personal circumstances, greatly influence suicide rates. His findings underlined sociology’s potential to delve deeper, to go beyond the visible and individual, and understand the collective, societal factors affecting human behaviors and decisions.

Sociology Examples

1. the study of social stratification.

Social stratification is the division of society into hierarchical levels, primarily based on wealth, power, and privilege (Doob, 2013).

It is a fundamental aspect of sociology that illuminates the unequal distribution of resources among different social groups.

Social stratification studies often explore concepts such as social class , caste , and social status , and how these social structures impact individuals’ life chances and societal dynamics.

For example, sociologists may study whether a society more highly values ascribed status (a status given at birth, like gender) or achieved status (a status earned, like getting a university degree) more highly.

Therefore, understanding social stratification is crucial for tackling social inequality effectively (Kerbo, 2012).

One renowned study in this area was conducted by the sociologist Max Weber (1922), who proposed a multidimensional approach to social stratification, encompassing three components: class, status, and power. According to Weber, these components interact in complex ways to determine a person’s position in the societal hierarchy, signifying the multifaceted nature of social stratification. 

2. The Study of Deviance

Deviance in sociology refers to the violation of societal norms and expectations, which can manifest in many forms, ranging from minor transgressions to severe criminal behavior (Bernburg, 2018).

This aspect of sociology attempts to understand why individuals deviate from accepted norms, examining the influence of societal factors like peer pressure, upbringing, and societal strain.

It also explains how societies label and react to deviant behavior (see: labeling theory ), shedding light on the process of social control. Hence, studying deviance within sociology offers insights into the dynamics of norm enforcement and the social construction of deviance (Laub, 2014).

A wide range of studies have explored how countercultural groups reject social norms , through to ways neihborhood orderliness deters crime (known as broken windows theory).

One of the most celebrated studies on deviance is Robert Merton’s strain theory (1938). Merton posited that deviance arises when a society encourages specific goals, but simultaneously restricts the means to achieve them, leading to strain and subsequent deviant behavior. 

3. The Study of Racial Segregation

Racial segregation refers to the physical or institutional separation of racial groups, and the study of it is central to the sociological examination of racial and ethnic relations (Massey, 2016).

It investigates the causes and consequences of racial segregation by examining the dynamics of housing, education, and employment, among other areas.

It may identify the role of institutional discrimination and systemic discrimination in reinforcing racial segregation, thereby fostering the racial divide in society (Anderson, 2010).

A famous study in this area is done by sociologist Douglas Massey and his colleague (Massey & Denton, 1993), which depicted racial residential segregation as “American Apartheid”. Their study highlighted how policies and practices, such as redlining, racial steering , and exclusionary zoning, contribute to racial segregation in U.S. cities. 

4. The Study of Social Movements

The sociological study of social movements focuses on collective social action aimed at creating or resisting social change (Jasper, 2015).

Social movements can be a powerful force for social change, and through the study of these, sociologists examine the conditions under which they emerge, gain momentum, or cease.

They also analyze the tactics utilized by movements and society’s reactions to them, thereby providing a deeper understanding of how social change occurs (Edwards, 2014).

The Civil Rights Movement in the U.S (1950s and 1960s) serves as an iconic example in the study of social movements. This movement, led by influential figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., illustrated the profound impact of collective action on bringing about extensive social and political change, culminating in civil rights legislation (Morris, 1986).

5. The Study of Social Inequality

Social inequality constitutes the unequal distribution of resources, opportunities, and privileges across diverse social groups (Dorling, 2015).

Sociologists interested in social inequality will study disparities in income, education, health, access to resources, and other social benefits. Their study would further entail investigating underlying causes, effects, and ways to alleviate these disparities.

Studying social inequality allows us to understand and tackle systemic disparities that can fuel social unrest and instability (Bradley & Corwyn, 2010).

Thomas Piketty, in his renowned book “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” (2014), studied wealth inequalities across centuries and nations. His work highlighted the increasing disparity in wealth and how the rate of return on capital often surpasses the growth rate, risk leading to a more unequal society.

6. The Study of Culture

The study of culture in sociology involves examining shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterize an institution, organization, or group (Peterson & Kern, 1996).

This includes studying symbols, languages, norms, and social products that bind a group and form its collective identity.

A sociologist may study dominant cultures , subcultures , folk cultures , and countercultures, and how they interact and affect one another.

They may also explore how cultures construct imaginary ideal cultures – their self-vision they aspire toward, and compare that to real culture – the observed reality.

By exploring culture, sociologists understand how individual behaviors and societal patterns are shaped by cultural dynamics and transformations (Da Silva, 2010).

The pioneering works of anthropologist Clifford Geertz (1973), particularly his deep-dive into the Balinese cockfight in “Deep Play: Notes on the Balinese Cockfight,” is an influential example. Geertz used the cockfight as a cultural text to understand Balinese society, demonstrating culture’s complexity and its profound influence on society.

7. The Study of Societal Norms

Societal norms are the implicit or explicit rules and expectations that govern behavior within a society (Fehr & Fischbacher, 2004).

The study of these norms, as well as cultural norms and group norms , enables sociologists to understand how individuals behave in social situations, how norms influence societal stability, and how they may change over time.

This exploration sheds light on the ways norms are instrumental in achieving social control, and the implications of norms on people who don’t fit the normative sterotype (Chung & Rimal, 2016).

An influential study conducted by Solomon Asch (1951) on conformity provided insights into the power of societal norms. His experiment demonstrated how people conform to majority opinion, highlighting the substantial influence of societal norms on individual behaviors. 

8. The Study of Socialization

Socialization involves the lifelong process where individuals learn and internalize the norms, values, and behaviors appropriate to their social position (Grusec & Hastings, 2015).

Socialization happens in childhood, where we internalized the norms of our societies. But, there are other forms of socialization as well, such as anticipatory socialization , resocialization , and gender socialization , that are each separately examined by sociologists.

The study of socialization helps people understand how to behave in society and plays a significant role in identity formation.

Studying socialization provides insights into how the individual self is shaped and altered in a sociocultural context (Berns, 2013).

George Herbert Mead’s renowned theory of socialization, based on symbolic interactionism , propounded the idea that the self is socially constructed through interaction with others (Mead, 1934). His work elucidated how social interactions shape individuals and their sense of self.

9. The Study of Family Structures

The study of family structures focuses on diverse forms of family units and relationships within them (Cherlin, 2013).

It explores variations in family formations across time, societies, and cultures, including nuclear families, extended families, single-parent families, and more.

This aspect of sociology provides insights into familial roles, dynamics, and their impact on individual and societal outcomes (Craig, 2013).

For example, according to functionalism , the family unit is an essential social institution that helps to maintain social stability and pass-on cultural values .

Judith Stacey’s pioneering work “Brave New Families” (1990) examined the diversity and adaptability of family structures. She studied how transformations in family structures, such as the rise of single-parent families, cohabitation, etc., reflect societal trends and adapt to external pressures.

10. The Study of Social Institutions

Social institutions , such as education, religion, law, economy, and others, constitute a significant part of the sociological study (Alexander, 2016).

They act as principal structures of a society and govern behavior and expectations of individuals within a society.

Exploring these institutions aids in understanding how societies function, evolve, and maintain social order (Powell & DiMaggio, 1991).

Different sociological paradigms have different undersdtandings of social institutions. For example, functionalists believe they maintain order, while critical theorists believe they exist to maintain the power of the powerful, and marginalize people lower in the social hierarchy .

A renowned study by Max Weber, “The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism” (1905), explored the relationship between religion (a social institution) and economic behavior. He illustrated how Protestant ethics influenced the development of capitalism, offering a profound understanding of the interaction between social institutions and societal changes.

See More: Examples of Social Institutions

11. The Study of Collective Behavior

Collective behavior refers to the spontaneous actions that emerge when people respond to similar situations or stimuli (Turner & Killian, 1993).

This study involves examining behaviors in crowds, mobs, riots, and even more organized events like pilgrimages or protest movements.

It offers insights into transient social forms and the dynamics of crowd behavior (McPhail, 2013).

For example, we might study moral panic , a phenomenon where mainstream society is whipped into unrealistic fears about a subcultural group, which often leads to unwarranted discrimination.

Gustave Le Bon’s work “The Crowd: A study of the Popular Mind” (1895) is a seminal text in this area. Le Bon analyzed crowd behavior during the French Revolution to elucidate shared sentiments and collective mindset patterns.

12. The Study of Population Dynamics

Population dynamics is a sociological field focusing on the size, composition, and change in population over time (Rowland, 2002).

It examines phenomena such as fertility, mortality, migration, and aging, providing insights into how these factors shape society. Studying population dynamics is essential for planning social and economic policies (McNicoll, 1992). 

Thomas Robert Malthus’s “An Essay on the Principle of Population” (1798) is a well-known example. This work examined population growth and its implications, contending that unchecked population increase would outpace resources, resulting in social calamities.

13. The Study of Gender Roles

The sociological study of gender roles embarks upon an exploration of the expectations, behaviors, and activities deemed appropriate for men and women within a given society (Eagly, Wood, & Diekman, 2000).

This study examines how gender roles and gender norms evolve, how societies enforce them, and their domains across different cultural, historical, and social contexts.

The study of gender roles provides valuable insights into the dynamics of gender inequality and its implications for society (Risman, 2004).

Some sociologists influenced by postmodernism also hold that gender is socially constructed and that there is a vast array of gender identities . Such scholars examine how these identities emerge, are validated, and suppressed.

The work of Sandra Lipsitz Bem is noteworthy in this regard, particularly her “ Gender Schema Theory “. Bem (1981) argued that society creates schemas, or frameworks, that affect our understanding of what it is to be male or female, shaping our attitudes and behaviors significantly.

14. The Study of Religion

The sociology of religion examines religious beliefs, practices, and institutions in terms of their social function and impact (Davie, 2013).

It investigates how religion shapes individual identities, societal norms and values, and influences broader social and cultural patterns.

Notably, it also scrutinizes the reciprocal influence of social structures and changes on the evolution of religious beliefs and practices (Chaves, 2010).

Emile Durkheim’s classic study, “The Elementary Forms of Religious Life” (1912), is a prime example. Durkheim analyzed Australian aboriginal tribes’ totemic religions to understand religion’s social origins and its role in internal solidarity and social cohesion.

15. The Study of Urbanization

Urbanization refers to the process whereby populations move from rural to urban areas, leading to the growth of cities.

Sociological studies on urbanization explore the reasons behind these demographic shifts, their effects on social relations, environmental impacts, and the challenges and opportunities they present (Satterthwaite, 2007).

Urbanization studies help inform urban planning and policies to ensure sustainable urban development (Brenner, 2014).

The work of sociologist Louis Wirth, specifically, his essay “Urbanism as a Way of Life” (1938), stands as a classic in urban sociology. Wirth articulated axial characteristics of urban life – its impersonal, transitory, and segmented nature – affected by population size, density, and diversity.

16. The Study of Social Change

Social change refers to the transformation over time in society’s cultural, structural, or ecological characteristics (Macionis, 2016).

Sociologists examine factors driving social change, including technological advancements, cultural shifts, social movements, and environmental phenomena.

The study of social change helps in understanding the dynamics between stability and change within societies (Harper, 2011).

Neil Smelser’s “Theory of Collective Behavior” (1962) addressed the social change aspect as he developed a value-added theory. Smelser’s theory explains how social changes (e.g., normlessness) could trigger collective behaviours leading to significant societal transformations.

17. The Study of Ethnicity

The sociological study of ethnicity delves into distinct cultural characteristics, such as language, religion, and ancestry, defining an ethnic group (Fearon, 2003).

This realm of sociology explores phenomena like prejudice, discrimination, and segregation that ethnic minorities often encounter.

Through the lens of ethnicity, sociologists can understand the rich cultural diversity and enduring social issues born out of ethnic differences (Halle, 2018).

Richard Alba and Victor Nee’s work “Rethinking Assimilation Theory” (1997) is an influential contribution to this arena. It examined how ethnic boundaries change by examining the assimilation process of immigrants in the U.S., underscoring ethnicity’s dynamic nature.

18. The Study of Marriage Patterns

The study of marriage patterns entails analyzing trends and variations in marriage, considering factors such as age, social class, race, and cultural background (Cherlin, 2010).

This branch of sociology also examines how societal changes, like shifting gender roles and evolving norms around sexuality, influence marriage patterns.

By studying marriage patterns, sociologists understand family structures, group identity, and social cohesion (Casper & Bianchi, 2009).

Stephanie Coontz’s “Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage” (2005) explored how marriage has changed over time. Coontz traced marriage patterns from communal marriages to modern love-based unions, explaining how social, economic, and political changes influence these shifts.

19. The Study of Social Classes

Social classes refer to groups sharing similar wealth, educational background, occupation, and other economic resources.

For example, colloquially, we tend to think of social classes stratified into three general groups: working-class, middle-class, and upper-class (or ‘elites’). Marx, however, came up with the terms proletariat, bourgeoisie, and petit bourgeoisie to describe class groups.

The study of social classes sheds light on social inequality, individual life chances, and social mobility (Tumin, 1953).

By understanding social classes, we grasp the mechanisms of societal stratification and its profound implications for individuals and society (Levine, 2013).

Pierre Bourdieu’s “Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste” (1979) studied social classes’ influence on individual tastes and preferences. His concept of cultural capital demonstrated how cultural knowledge and skills contribute to maintaining class-based societal divisions.

20. The Study of Crime Rates

The sociological analysis of crime rates explores the incident frequency of criminal activities in different social segments or regions and the socio-economic factors influencing these rates (Pratt & Cullen, 2005).

By studying crime rates, sociologists can derive insights into social behaviors, societal issues, and the effectiveness of crime control policies (Siegel, 2011).

Robert Sampson’s “Collective Efficacy Theory” (1997) links crime rates with neighborhood characteristics. Sampson and his colleagues found that neighborhood unity and informal social control significantly influence crime rates in an area, underlining how community attributes can shape crime dynamics.

21. The Study of Consumerism

Consumerism, defined as a societal pattern where consumption of goods and services is heavily emphasized, is a significant area of sociological study.

By examining societal values, advertising effects, consumption habits, and impacts on social identity, sociologists better understand consumer culture’s role in shaping societies (Baudrillard, 2016).

Jean Baudrillard’s seminal book “The Consumer Society: Myths and Structures” (1970) examined the sociological implications of consumerism. Baudrillard critiqued excessive consumerism, highlighting its transformative impact on social structures, norms, and human identities.

22. The Study of Education Inequality

The study of education inequality constitutes the exploration of disparities in educational access, resources, and outcomes across different social groups (Reardon, 2013).

Sociologists seek to understand how social factors such as race, gender, socioeconomic status, and geographical location influence educational disparities.

Studying educational inequality aids in crafting policies for educational justice and social mobility (Renzulli, 2005).

Prominent sociologist James Coleman’s report on “Equality of Educational Opportunity” (1966) generated substantial insights into education inequalities. Coleman revealed the significant role of family background and social context in student achievement, paving the way for important debates about educational inequality and reform.

23. The Study of Health Disparities

Health disparities refer to the differences in health outcomes and healthcare access among different population groups.

This area of sociological study highlights the role of social determinants (like economic status, education, neighborhood, and race) in health inequalities (Marmot, 2005).

Understanding health disparities can inform health policies aimed at promoting broad-spectrum societal wellbeing (Phelan & Link, 2003).

Sir Michael Marmot’s study, the “Whitehall Studies” (1980), provided groundbreaking insights into social determinants of health. Marmot discovered the status-health gradient, linking lower socio-economic status with poorer health outcomes, thus locating health disparities at the center of social inequality.

24. The Study of Political Ideologies

Political ideologies refer to the set of beliefs about political values and the appropriate public policy that should be implemented (Freeden, 2003).

Studying political ideologies helps sociologists understand societal values, power relations, political behavior, and the deriving factors behind societal conflict or cohesion (Knight, 2006).

The work of renowned sociologists Seymour Martin Lipset and Stein Rokkan (1967), titled “Party Systems and Voter Alignments,” reflects this field’s study. They explored how historical divides in societies give rise to political ideologies, which, in turn, shape party systems and voter behavior.

25. The Study of Globalization

Globalization , defined as the integration and interaction among people, companies, and governments worldwide, is a crucial sociological field (Norris & Inglehart, 2019).

It explores how globalization impacts social institutions, cultural interactions, economic inequalities, and much else besides.

Understanding globalization enables sociologists to grasp how global processes impact local contexts and vice versa (Tomlinson, 2011).

Roland Robertson’s influential work, “Globalization: Social Theory and Global Culture” (1992), explores globalization processes. Robertson coined the term “glocalization,” which stresses the interaction of the global and the local, resulting in unique outcomes in different geographical areas.

The value of sociology cannot be overstated. It not only scrutinizes sociological circumstances but also guides policy-makers to address social problems. Realizing the importance of sociology will undoubtedly lead you, an inquisitive reader, to a more nuanced and profound understanding of the society around you (Putnam, 2015).

Alexander, J.C. (2016). The Elementary Forms of Sociological Life. Theory Culture and Society, 33(7-8), 202-222.

American Sociological Association. (2019). What is sociology? Retrieved from https://www.asanet.org/about-asa/asa-story/what-sociology

Anderson, E. (2010). The Imperative of Integration. Princeton University Press.

Baudrillard, J. (2016). The consumer society: Myths and Structures. Sage Publications.

Bem, S. L. (1981). Gender schema theory: A cognitive account of sex typing. Psychological Review, 88(4), 354–364.

Bernburg, J. G. (2018). Labeling theory. In The Palgrave Handbook of Criminology and War (pp. 311-322). Palgrave Macmillan.

Berns, R.M. (2013). Socialization to Adulthood in Late Modernity. Journal of Adult Development, 20, 47–59.

Bradley, R. H., & Corwyn, R. F. (2010). Socioeconomic Status and Child Development. Annual review of psychology, 53(1), 371–399.

Brenner, N. (2014). Implosions/Explosions: Towards a Study of Planetary Urbanization. Jovis.

Casper, L. M., & Bianchi, S. M. (2009). Continuity and Change in the American Family. Sage Publications.

Chaves, M. (2010). Rain Dances in the Dry Season: Overcoming the Religious Congruence Fallacy. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 49(1), 1–14.

Cherlin, A. J. (2010). Demographic trends in the United States: A review of research in the 2000s. Journal of Marriage and Family, 72(3), 403–419.

Cherlin, A. J. (2013). Public and Private Families: An Introduction. McGraw-Hill Higher Education.

Chung, A., & Rimal, R. N. (2016). Social Norms: A Review. Review of Communication Research, 4, 1–28.

Coleman, J. S. (1966). Equality of educational opportunity. Coleman report. U.S. Dept. of Health, Education and Welfare.

Coontz, S. (2005). Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage. Viking Penguin.

Craig, L. (2013). Does Father Care Mean Fathers Share? A Comparison of How Mothers and Fathers in Intact Families Spend Time with Children. Gender & Society, 20(2), 259-281.

Da Silva, F. C. (2010). Culture: Definitions, Concept, Properties. In A. D. Long, D. J. Reich, & L. M. West (Eds.), Culture in Mind: Advances in Culture and Psychology (Vol. 4). Routledge.

Davie, G. (2013). The sociology of religion. In Sociology of Religion (pp. 13–37). Sage Publications Ltd.

Doob, C. B. (2013). Social inequality and social stratification in US society. Pearson. 

Dorling, D. (2015). Inequality and the 1%. Verso Books.

Durkheim, É. (1897). Le Suicide: Étude de sociologie. F. Alcan.

Eagly, A. H., Wood, W., & Diekman, A. B. (2000). Social role theory of sex differences and similarities: 

Edwards, B. (2014). Social movement organizations. Wiley Blackwell.

Fehr, E., & Fischbacher, U. (2004). Social norms and human cooperation. Trends

Freeden, M. (2003). Ideology: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press.

Giddens, A. (2013). Sociology. Polity Press.

Inglehart, R., & Norris, P. (2019). Cultural backlash: Trump, Brexit, and authoritarian populism. Cambridge University Press.

Jasper, J. M. (2015). Protest: A cultural introduction to social movements. John Wiley & Sons.

Kerbo, H. (2012). Social Stratification and Inequality. McGraw-Hill.

Knight, K. (2006). Transformations of the concept of ideology in the twentieth century. American Political Science Review, 100(4), 619–626.

Laub, J. H. (2014). Understanding Inequality and the Justice System Response: Charting a New Way Forward. Criminology and Public Policy, 8(1), 255–267.

Lipset, S. M., & Rokkan, S. (1967). Cleavage structures, party systems, and voter alignments: an introduction. Party systems and voter alignments: cross-national perspectives, 1–64.

Marmot, M. (2005). Social determinants of health inequalities. The Lancet, 365(9464), 1099–1104.

Massey, D. S. (2016). Residential Segregation is the Linchpin of Racial Stratification. City & Community, 15(1), 4–7.

Massey, D. S., & Denton, N. A. (1993). American apartheid: Segregation and the making of the underclass. Harvard University Press.

Merton, R.K. (1938). Social Structure and Anomie. American Sociological Review, 3(5), 672-682.

Moffitt, R. (2015). The deserving poor, the family, and the U.S. welfare system. Demography, 52(3), 729-749.

Morris, A. D. (1986). The origins of the civil rights movement: Black communities organizing for change. Free Press.

Norris, P., & Inglehart, R. (2019). Cultural Backlash: Trump, Brexit, and Authoritarian Populism. Cambridge University Press.

Phelan, J. C., & Link, B. G. (2003). Fundamental Cause Theory. In Medical Sociology on the Move (pp. 105–125). Springer.

Pratt, T., & Cullen, F. (2005). Assessing macro-level predictors and theories of crime: A meta-analysis. Crime and Justice, 32, 373–450.

Putnam, R. D. (2015). Our kids: The American dream in crisis. Simon and Schuster.

Reardon, S. F. (2013). The widening income achievement gap. Educational Leadership, 70(8), 10–16.

Robertson, R. (1992). Globalization: Social theory and global culture. Sage.

Rokkan, S. (2009). Citizens, Elections, Parties: Approaches to the Comparative Study of the Processes of Development. ECPR Press.

Sampson, R. J., Raudenbush, S. W., & Earls, F. (1997). Neighborhoods and violent crime: A multilevel study of collective efficacy. Science, 277(5328), 918–924.

Siegel, L. (2011). Criminology: The Core. Cengage Learning.

Tomlinson, J. (2011). Globalization and Culture. University of Chicago Press.

Weber, M. (1922). Economy and society: An outline of interpretive sociology. University of California Press.


Chris Drew (PhD)

Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]

  • Chris Drew (PhD) https://helpfulprofessor.com/author/admin/ 10 Critical Theory Examples
  • Chris Drew (PhD) https://helpfulprofessor.com/author/admin/ 13 Social Institutions Examples (According to Sociology)
  • Chris Drew (PhD) https://helpfulprofessor.com/author/admin/ 71 Best Education Dissertation Topic Ideas
  • Chris Drew (PhD) https://helpfulprofessor.com/author/admin/ 11 Primary Data Examples

Leave a Comment Cancel Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  • Newsletters

Site search

  • Israel-Hamas war
  • 2024 election
  • Supreme Court
  • Buy less stuff
  • The climate crisis
  • What to watch
  • All explainers
  • Future Perfect

Filed under:

The 2010s featured a lot of great social science. Here are my 12 favorite studies.

What economists, political scientists, sociologists, and philosophers taught me about the world in the 2010s.

Share this story

  • Share this on Facebook
  • Share this on Twitter
  • Share All sharing options

Share All sharing options for: The 2010s featured a lot of great social science. Here are my 12 favorite studies.

famous sociology case studies

We’re in the last month of the 2010s, and that has meant a lot of end-of-decade best-of lists on everything from movies to songs to albums to TV shows , and, at least for me, a lot of arguments with friends over whether, say, Yeezus actually holds up (it does), or if The Master or Phantom Thread is the better Paul Thomas Anderson movie ( The Master ), or if The Good Place is better than Parks and Recreation (it isn’t).

So I started thinking of what a list of the papers — in the social sciences like economics, political science, sociology, and psychology, but also in philosophy — that most influenced me over the 2010s would look like. Unsurprisingly, it looked like a list of ideas that have influenced my writing in Future Perfect profoundly.

The themes that run through these papers — how to conduct and synthesize scientific evidence better; how to efficiently save lives in public health; how to think about challenges like AI and the far future — are major preoccupations of Future Perfect as a section of Vox. And unsurprisingly, given my background as an American political reporter, a sizable number of these studies bear directly on the challenges US democracy is currently facing in light of furious nativist backlash politics.

I should say that this is a small fraction of the research that’s influenced me greatly this past decade, and if you’re an academic reading this and I’ve left you out, I mean no disrespect at all! I also, obviously, haven’t read everything important this decade and would love more suggestions. But here are 11 papers from the past decade — in no particular order — that have really changed how I think about the world.

1. “ Free Distribution or Cost-Sharing? ” (2010) by Jessica Cohen and Pascaline Dupas

I’m cheating slightly with this one; Cohen and Dupas’s article appeared in working paper form before being officially published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics in 2010. It uses a randomized experiment to show that giving away anti-malaria bednets for free dramatically increases their usage relative to charging a small, nominal fee.

This implies that charities like the Against Malaria Foundation (AMF) that facilitate the direct distribution of bednets can have huge positive effects. I’ve given thousands of dollars to AMF due in no small part to this paper, and other funders (local governments, foreign aid agencies, foundations, etc.) contributed billions more , likely saving millions of lives through decisions that Cohen and Dupas’s work influenced.

This is perhaps the single best example of how rigorous social science can make the world a dramatically better, or at least less cruel, place.

2. ” Using the Results from Rigorous Multisite Evaluations to Inform Local Policy Decisions ” (2019) by Larry Orr, Robert Olsen, Stephen Bell, Ian Schmid, Azim Shivji, and Elizabeth Stuart

The Cohen/Dupas paper is in some ways the best possible case for randomized trials being valuable. This paper, published this past spring, is the best counter case I’ve seen.

Focusing on education, this team of researchers tries to use average results of education policies, as measured by big randomized trials held in different locations, to predict the results in individual locations. They find that this doesn’t work very well at all: you can’t just take average results and expect that the same effect will hold in your specific case. It’s a challenging result for evidence-based policy and one I’m still grappling with.

3. “ Understanding the Average Impact of Microcredit Expansions: A Bayesian Hierarchical Analysis of Seven Randomized Experiments ” (2019) by Rachael Meager

This one might sound a little technical (and, to be honest, it is a little technical — Meager wrote a more accessible summary here ) but it’s exciting both because of what it does and for the model it provides for other papers in the future.

One of the hardest problems in social science is that of “external validity”: Does a study conducted in one place generalize to other places? Does say, distributing bednets for free work well just in the parts of Kenya where Cohen and Dupas did their experiment, or does it work in all malaria-affected countries? Will a charter school chain that appears to deliver higher test scores in Boston work in Houston? This is exactly the problem that paper number two above found to be so serious in education policy: results don’t always generalize.

Meager’s paper , circulating since 2016 and finally published this year , is groundbreaking because it offers a way to predict how well study results will generalize. What matters, she notes, is not the fact that results of interventions will differ from place to place. Of course they’ll differ. “The relevant question is not whether the effects vary across settings but by how much they vary,” she writes in her summary.

So Meager uses techniques from Bayesian statistics to measure how much the results of a specific intervention — microcredit or microfinance programs for the global poor, of the kind offered by groups like Grameen or Kiva — vary from study to study. She doesn’t have a huge number of studies to go on (only seven) but she’s able to use this method to find that the effectiveness of microcredit varies a bit, but not a huge amount, from place to place. That suggests our evidence on microcredit is reasonably externally valid: The results in a new location are likely to resemble the results in past locations pretty closely, if hardly perfectly.

Overall, this is a hugely promising new way to synthesize evidence in emerging social science literature. Meager’s research along with the work of David Roodman synthesizing evidence on issues like incarceration and immigration , gives me hope that we’re getting better at blending knowledge across studies to come to a more complete understanding of the world.

4. “ Does School Spending Matter? The New Literature on an Old Question ” (2018) by Kirabo Jackson

Meager’s work correctly suggests we should focus more on syntheses of studies than specific individual studies, and this is one of the best of the latter camp I saw this decade. In this review (ably summarized here for folks without NBER access), Jackson walks through 13 recent papers, many coauthored by Jackson himself, that use highly rigorous near-random methods to measure the influence of money on school outcomes.

It’s a very basic question — does pouring more money into public schools improve outcomes? — and the answer, Jackson finds in the research base, is yes. It’s a good model for reviewing an evidence base, and a paper that’s genuinely changed my mind on the topic. I previously thought per-student funding didn’t matter much; I now think it matters a great deal.

5. White Backlash: Immigration, Race, and American Politics (2015) by Marisa Abrajano and Zoltan Hajnal

White Backlash is one of those books published before the 2016 elections that started to feel sharply prophetic as Donald Trump won the Republican nomination and then the presidency. Three years after the defeat of Mitt Romney led to speculation of a new durable demographic majority for Democratic presidents, Abrajano and Hajnal presented a detailed, quantitatively rich counterargument.

Whatever support Democrats drew due to the browning of America, they argued, would be offset by white defection from the Democratic Party precisely because of white discomfort with gradually becoming a minority group in the United States.

The 2010s saw plenty of other crucial scholarship on the persistent role of race in American politics, like Ashley Jardina’s White Identity Politics , Michael Tesler’s Post-Racial or Most-Racial? , and Cornell Belcher’s A Black Man in the White House , and other excellent studies of the American white working class’s rightward turn, like Katherine Cramer’s The Politics of Resentment and Arlie Russell Hochschild’s Strangers in Their Own Land . But Abrajano and Hajnal blended the two topics, and centered the key role of immigration specifically, in an admirably comprehensive way.

6. “ Democracy for Idealists ” (2016) by Niko Kolodny

It’s easy to construct a narrative in which democracy in the United States is eroding . The Supreme Court declined to challenge state efforts to rig elections through gerrymandering; some 17 million voters were purged from the rolls from 2016 to 2018, and government decisions correlate poorly with public opinion as measured in polls .

The 2010s also saw lots of political science suggesting that democracy was not just eroding but that the individual-level prerequisites for its success — informed, rational voters — did not exist. Voters, political scientists Donald Kinder and Nathan Kalmoe concluded, are not ideological and do not have stable political beliefs; they tend to take their cues from elites rather than vice versa, Gabriel Lenz found; they make irrational inferences about candidates based on economic conditions those candidates have no control over and vote on irrelevant factors like shark attacks, Larry Bartels and Christopher Achen argued (to some pushback ).

Kolodny, one of the leading political philosophers currently working on questions of democratic theory, quietly posted an article a couple of years ago walking through this literature and trying to determine what, exactly, should trouble us about it and what shouldn’t. Voter ignorance is not a dire threat to democracy, he argues, nor is a lack of “responsiveness,” which he convincingly suggests is an incoherent ideal.

What worries him most are concerns about the distribution of political influence: the fact that some Americans’ access to political influence is far greater than that of other Americans. This concern agitates toward an expansion of suffrage and toward resisting efforts to suppress the vote. But it makes our concern with practices like gerrymandering harder to articulate.

I don’t agree with all of what Kolodny says here. But he is one of the only people I’ve seen to try to take this literature seriously and think about the ethical and philosophical implications of it. Anyone even mildly concerned about the fate of American democracy should read it.

7. “ The Coalition Merchants ” (2012) by Hans Noel

If public opinion doesn’t determine the future of public policy, as the studies limned by Kolodny suggest, what does? Here, Noel tells a compelling story that places “coalition merchants” — party activists, sympathetic journalists, and other ideologues — at the center, deciding “what goes with what” and what it means to be a conservative or a liberal.

He illustrates this using race relations in the 1950s and 1960s; he argues that intellectuals like William F. Buckley and groups like Americans for Democratic Action were crucial in identifying support for government services with support for civil rights.

8. “ Valuing the Vote: The Redistribution of Voting Rights and State Funds following the Voting Rights Act of 1965 ” (2014) by Elizabeth Cascio and Ebonya Washington

This one was neck and neck with another of Washington’s papers, “Why Did the Democrats Lose the South?” , in which she and Ilyana Kuziemko show that ethnocentric attitudes among Southern whites, apart from any economic processes, wholly explain the defection of white Southerners from the Democratic Party in the wake of the civil rights movement.

That paper, like Abrajano and Hajnal’s book, underlined the severity of white backlash to demographic and rights-based shifts in the power of non-white ethnic groups. But Washington’s paper with Cascio tells a more hopeful story, of what can happen when a disadvantaged ethnic group is finally given suffrage in an authoritarian regime.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 did a huge amount to break up the one-party states that prevailed in most Southern states after the end of Reconstruction, states which some scholars have likened to single-party dictatorships abroad . In doing so it gave black voters, and black communities as units, power over the provision of public goods that they lacked before.

Cascio and Washington found that this shift produced meaningful changes, and in particular, a marked increase in government spending. They also offer some suggestive evidence that much of these transfers went to education spending, which (as the Jackson review above suggests) likely improved the quality of instruction for black students.

The Cascio and Washington paper offers an example of how government action can bolster democracy in a sense that should be recognizable to anyone: Greater equality in access to suffrage led to greater equality in access to concrete government services. The subsequent erosion of the Voting Rights Act threatens this achievement, but the Act’s success in the first place is inspiring.

9. “ Race and Economic Opportunity in the United States: An Intergenerational Perspective ” (2018) by Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren, Maggie Jones, and Sonya Porter

You’d have to actively try to avoid including a paper by Chetty , Hendren, and the rest of the Opportunity Insights lab at Harvard on a list like this, given how much they’ve taught us about economic opportunity , segregation , higher education , and more (I have a big soft spot for Chetty et. al. on Danish retirement savings accounts ).

But Jones and Porter’s ability to link Chetty and Hendren’s massive tax records-based data set on economic prospects to census data on individuals’ races and genders allows a particularly vivid and useful analysis .

Some of the findings are depressing but unsurprising: Black and American Indian children born into upper- or upper-middle-class families are nearly as likely to fall to the bottom fifth of the income distribution as to stay in the top fifth. Upward mobility for children born into the bottom fifth of the distribution is markedly higher among whites than among black or American Indian children.

Others are depressing but surprising; conditional on their parents’ income (a big conditional, to be sure) black women outperform white women in terms of their individual earnings. This does not mean there is no income gap between white and black women (black women’s parents, after all, make a lot less on average than white women’s parents) — but it does provide strong evidence against both family structure-based and genetic explanations of racial inequality in the United States.

I could keep going, but this is a great example of using a massive dataset to bring much-needed clarity to an incredibly vital and heated topic.

10. “ Cluelessness ” (2016) by Hilary Greaves

The choices we make have unpredictable consequences that ripple out for centuries or millennia, by affecting life and death. This is a very technical paper ( this podcast presents a more accessible version), but Greaves does a great job of explaining cases where this kind of cluelessness is fine (where we can just make our best guess as to which action will work out best) and in which cases it’s really, really troubling.

I also highly recommend Greaves’s recent paper with Will MacAskill making the case that the most important thing, morally speaking, is preserving the far-future of humanity .

11. “ Occupy Liberalism! Or, Ten Reasons Why Liberalism Cannot Be Retrieved for Radicalism (And Why They’re All Wrong) ” (2012) by Charles Mills

This is really a “decade achievement award” more than a specific paper, but I think Mills has been doing some of the most fascinating and vital work in political philosophy on how to take racial injustice seriously. What’s particularly fascinating about his methods is that he does not, as some Marxists and other radicals do, reject the liberal tradition wholesale. While he acknowledges and emphasizes the explicit racism of figures like John Locke and Immanuel Kant, he nonetheless has tried to develop what he calls a “black radical liberalism” that can overcome these origins.

His “Occupy Liberalism!” paper, later incorporated into the book Black Rights/White Wrongs , provides a valuable sketch of what the resulting liberalism might look like. In the process, he provides a stirring defense of traditional liberal values — like protection from unnecessary state encroachment on individual liberty — as necessary for racial justice. “Liberalism’s failure to systematically address structural oppression in supposedly liberal-democratic societies is a contingent artifact of the group perspectives and group interests privileged by those structures, not an intrinsic feature of liberalism’s conceptual apparatus,” he writes.

This is especially true when you have thinkers like Mills, Tommie Shelby , Elizabeth Barnes , Christopher Lebron , and Elizabeth Anderson working to expand that conceptual apparatus and make it hospitable to people that philosophical liberalism has not traditionally privileged.

12. Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor (2017) by Virginia Eubanks

This is the only trade book on my list, but make no mistake: This is a rigorous, compelling piece of qualitative social science and one of the best-crafted nonfiction books I’ve ever read, period. As a journalist, it made me actively envious of its prose.

Eubanks studies three specific algorithmic systems currently used by state and county governments in the hopes of making service provision more efficient. The opening example, of Indiana’s botched eligibility system that wound up wrongfully denying access to Medicaid and food stamps to thousands of people, is pretty straightforwardly awful. But the examples of Pittsburgh’s algorithm for evaluating the severity of child abuse and neglect cases, and Los Angeles’s system for determining which homeless people should receive housing assistance, are subtler and in some ways more eye-opening.

The LA system, for instance, seems to mostly work well — except that it masks the extent to which the city’s problem is structural (a lack of housing supply and crucially a lack of funding for permanent supportive housing) rather than an issue of rationing better through better algorithms. The Pittsburgh system helps remedy a very real problem of limited child and protective services resources for addressing cases of abuse, but because the algorithm is poorly designed and is predicting the wrong variable, it risks criminalizing poverty in certain cases.

It’s an early example of the harms that misaligned AI can cause as deep learning becomes more and more capable in coming years, and a reminder of what can go awry when politicians mistake technical solutions for political solutions.

Sign up for the Future Perfect newsletter. Twice a week, you’ll get a roundup of ideas and solutions for tackling our biggest challenges: improving public health, decreasing human and animal suffering, easing catastrophic risks, and — to put it simply — getting better at doing good.

Will you support Vox’s explanatory journalism?

Most news outlets make their money through advertising or subscriptions. But when it comes to what we’re trying to do at Vox, there are a couple of big issues with relying on ads and subscriptions to keep the lights on: First, advertising dollars go up and down with the economy. We often only know a few months out what our advertising revenue will be, which makes it hard to plan ahead. Second, we’re not in the subscriptions business. Vox is here to help everyone understand the complex issues shaping the world — not just the people who can afford to pay for a subscription. We believe that’s an important part of building a more equal society. And we can’t do that if we have a paywall. So even though advertising is still our biggest source of revenue, we also seek grants and reader support. (And no matter how our work is funded, we have strict guidelines on editorial independence.) If you also believe that everyone deserves access to trusted high-quality information, will you make a gift to Vox today? Any amount helps.

We accept credit card, Apple Pay, and Google Pay. You can also contribute via

famous sociology case studies

Looking back at the tumultuous 2010s

  • The decade, explained
  • The decade’s biggest flops
  • The decade in 11 memes
  • The decade in 15 awe-inspiring space images
  • The decade’s 20 best documentaries
  • The decade, explained in 21 TV shows
  • The decade, in brands we lost
  • Culture in the 2010s was obsessed with finding community — and building walls
  • The Social Network knew we’d spend the next decade moving our lives online
  • How the 2014 Christian film God’s Not Dead became a hit and spawned an ideological empire
  • Fandom went mainstream in the 2010s — for better and worse
  • Beyoncé’s Lemonade is one of the best movies of the 2010s
  • How a Twitter war in 2010 helped change the way we talk about women’s writing
  • This comedy of manners from 2012 perfectly anticipated the 2010s’ reckoning with misogyny
  • How March of the Penguins ruined the nature documentary
  • Louie was my favorite show of the decade — until it very abruptly wasn’t
  • The 2010s were supposed to bring the ebook revolution. It never quite came.
  • How Iron Man and Captain America took Marvel from upstart to juggernaut
  • In 2016, the Ghostbusters reboot didn’t change movies. But the backlash was a bad omen.
  • 2019, in 6 minutes
  • How the 2010s changed health care
  • The downfall of Roe v. Wade started in 2010
  • The ice we’ve lost to climate change this past decade, visualized
  • The species the world lost
  • A decade of revolt
  • 9 Supreme Court cases that shaped the 2010s
  • The internet made trans people visible. It also left them more vulnerable.

Sign up for the newsletter Sentences

The day's most important news stories, explained in your inbox.

Thanks for signing up!

Check your inbox for a welcome email.

Oops. Something went wrong. Please enter a valid email and try again.

  • Social Anxiety Disorder
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Kids Mental Health
  • Therapy Center
  • When To See a Therapist
  • Types of Therapy
  • Best Online Therapy
  • Best Couples Therapy
  • Best Family Therapy
  • Managing Stress
  • Sleep and Dreaming
  • Understanding Emotions
  • Self-Improvement
  • Healthy Relationships
  • Relationships in 2023
  • Student Resources
  • Personality Types
  • Verywell Mind Insights
  • 2023 Verywell Mind 25
  • Mental Health in the Classroom
  • Editorial Process
  • Meet Our Review Board
  • Crisis Support

The Most Famous Social Psychology Experiments Ever Performed

Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

famous sociology case studies

Emily is a board-certified science editor who has worked with top digital publishing brands like Voices for Biodiversity, Study.com, GoodTherapy, Vox, and Verywell.

famous sociology case studies

Social experiments often seek to answer questions about how people behave in groups or how the presence of others impacts individual behavior. Over the years, social psychologists have explored these questions by conducting experiments .

The results of some of the most famous social psychology experiments remain relevant (and often quite controversial) today. Such experiments give us valuable information about human behavior and how group influence can impact our actions in social situations.

At a Glance

Some of the most famous social psychology experiments include Asch's conformity experiments, Bandura's Bobo doll experiments, the Stanford prison experiment, and Milgram's obedience experiments. Some of these studies are quite controversial for various reasons, including how they were conducted, serious ethical concerns, and what their results suggested.

The Asch Conformity Experiments

What do you do when you know you're right but the rest of the group disagrees with you? Do you bow to group pressure?

In a series of famous experiments conducted during the 1950s, psychologist Solomon Asch demonstrated that people would give the wrong answer on a test to fit in with the rest of the group.

In Asch's famous conformity experiments , people were shown a line and then asked to select a line of a matching length from a group of three. Asch also placed confederates in the group who would intentionally choose the wrong lines.

The results revealed that when other people picked the wrong line, participants were likely to conform and give the same answers as the rest of the group.

What the Results Revealed

While we might like to believe that we would resist group pressure (especially when we know the group is wrong), Asch's results revealed that people are surprisingly susceptible to conformity .

Not only did Asch's experiment teach us a great deal about the power of conformity, but it also inspired a whole host of additional research on how people conform and obey, including Milgram's infamous obedience experiments.

The Bobo Doll Experiment

Does watching violence on television cause children to behave more aggressively? In a series of experiments conducted during the early 1960s, psychologist Albert Bandura set out to investigate the impact of observed aggression on children's behavior.

In his Bobo doll experiments , children would watch an adult interacting with a Bobo doll. In one condition, the adult model behaved passively toward the doll, but in another, the adult would kick, punch, strike, and yell at the doll.

The results revealed that children who watched the adult model behave violently toward the doll were likelier to imitate the aggressive behavior later on.​

The Impact of Bandura's Social Psychology Experiment

The debate over the degree to which violence on television, movies, gaming, and other media influences children's behavior continues to rage on today, so it perhaps comes as no surprise that Bandura's findings are still so relevant.

The experiment has also helped inspire hundreds of additional studies exploring the impacts of observed aggression and violence.

The Stanford Prison Experiment

During the early 1970s, Philip Zimbardo set up a fake prison in the basement of the Stanford Psychology Department, recruited participants to play prisoners and guards, and played the role of the prison warden.

The experiment was designed to look at the effect that a prison environment would have on behavior, but it quickly became one of the most famous and controversial experiments of all time.

Results of the Stanford Prison Experiment

The Stanford prison experiment was initially slated to last a full two weeks. It ended after just six days. Why? Because the participants became so enmeshed in their assumed roles, the guards became almost sadistically abusive, and the prisoners became anxious, depressed, and emotionally disturbed.

While the Stanford prison experiment was designed to look at prison behavior, it has since become an emblem of how powerfully people are influenced by situations.  

Ethical Concerns

Part of the notoriety stems from the study's treatment of the participants. The subjects were placed in a situation that created considerable psychological distress. So much so that the study had to be halted less than halfway through the experiment.

The study has long been upheld as an example of how people yield to the situation, but critics have suggested that the participants' behavior may have been unduly influenced by Zimbardo himself in his capacity as the mock prison's "warden."  

Recent Criticisms

The Stanford prison experiment has long been controversial due to the serious ethical concerns of the research, but more recent evidence casts serious doubts on the study's scientific merits.

An examination of study records indicates participants faked their behavior to either get out of the experiment or "help" prove the researcher's hypothesis. The experimenters also appear to have encouraged certain behaviors to help foster more abusive behavior.

The Milgram Experiments

Following the trial of Adolph Eichmann for war crimes committed during World War II, psychologist Stanley Milgram wanted to better understand why people obey. "Could it be that Eichmann and his million accomplices in the Holocaust were just following orders? Could we call them all accomplices?" Milgram wondered.

The results of Milgram's controversial obedience experiments were astonishing and continue to be both thought-provoking and controversial today.

What the Social Psychology Experiment Involved

The study involved ordering participants to deliver increasingly painful shocks to another person. While the victim was simply a confederate pretending to be injured, the participants fully believed that they were giving electrical shocks to the other person.

Even when the victim was protesting or complaining of a heart condition, 65% of the participants continued to deliver painful, possibly fatal shocks on the experimenter's orders.

Obviously, no one wants to believe that they are capable of inflicting pain or torture on another human being simply on the orders of an authority figure. The results of the obedience experiments are disturbing because they reveal that people are much more obedient than they may believe.

Controversy and Recent Criticisms

The study is also controversial because it suffers from ethical concerns, primarily the psychological distress it created for the participants. More recent findings suggest that other problems question the study's findings.

Some participants were coerced into continuing against their wishes. Many participants appeared to have guessed that the learner was faking their responses, and other variations showed that many participants refused to continue the shocks.

What This Means For You

There are many interesting and famous social psychology experiments that can reveal a lot about our understanding of social behavior and influence. However, it is important to be aware of the controversies, limitations, and criticisms of these studies. More recent research may reflect differing results. In some cases, the re-evaluation of classic studies has revealed serious ethical and methodological flaws that call the results into question.

Jeon, HL.  The environmental factor within the Solomon Asch Line Test .  International Journal of Social Science and Humanity.  2014;4(4):264-268. doi:10.7763/IJSSH.2014.V4.360 

Bandura and Bobo . Association for Psychological Science.

Zimbardo, G. The Stanford Prison Experiment: a simulation study on the psychology of imprisonment .

Le Texier T.  Debunking the Stanford Prison Experiment.   Am Psychol.  2019;74(7):823-839. doi:10.1037/amp0000401

Blum B.  The lifespan of a lie .  Medium .

Baker PC. Electric Schlock: Did Stanley Milgram's famous obedience experiments prove anything? Pacific Standard .

Perry G.  Deception and illusion in Milgram's accounts of the obedience experiments .  Theory Appl Ethics . 2013;2(2):79-92.

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

By clicking “Accept All Cookies”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts.

Find Study Materials for

Business studies, combined science, computer science, english literature, environmental science, human geography, macroeconomics, microeconomics.

  • Social Studies
  • Browse all subjects
  • Exam Revision
  • Career Advice for Students
  • Student Life
  • Study Guide
  • University Advice
  • Read our Magazine

Create Study Materials

Language Flag

Select your language

famous sociology case studies

Which theorist argued that religion is the opiate of the masses? Who debated with Marx through their text? Which colonial thinker introduced the world to reception theory? This explanation will introduce you to a number of famous sociologists. 

Mockup Schule

Explore our app and discover over 50 million learning materials for free.

Famous Sociologists

Want to get better grades, get free, full access to:.

  • Explanations
  • Study Planner
  • Textbook solutions
  • StudySmarter AI
  • Textbook Solutions
  • Ethnic Groups in America
  • Gender Roles
  • Race and Ethnicity
  • Sex Education
  • Sex and Sexuality
  • Sexuality in America
  • Age and Religion
  • Contemporary Religion
  • Economic Development and Religion
  • Ethnicity and Religion Sociology
  • Fundamentalism
  • Gender and Religion
  • New Age Movements
  • Religious Movements
  • Religious Organisation
  • Science and Religion
  • Secularisation UK
  • Social Change And Religion
  • Social Class and Religion
  • Social Groups And Religion
  • Society and Religion
  • Sociological Theories of Religion
  • Types of Religion
  • Age and Crime
  • Contemporary Crime
  • Crime Prevention
  • Crime and Society
  • Criminal Justice System
  • Criminal Punishment
  • Data on Crime
  • Ethnicity and Crime
  • Functionalist Theories of Crime
  • Gender and Crime
  • Globalisation and Crime
  • Green Crimes
  • Interactionism Crime
  • Marxist Theories of Crime
  • Media and Crime
  • Police Crime Statistics
  • Social Class and Crime
  • Social Distribution of Crime
  • Sociological Theories of Crime
  • State Crimes
  • Victimisation
  • Concept of Culture
  • Consumption Identity
  • Ethnic Identity
  • Gender Sociology
  • Globalisation in Sociology
  • Mass Culture
  • Social Identity
  • Socialisation
  • Socialisation and Identity
  • Theories of Socialisation
  • Workplace Identity
  • Education System
  • Educational Achievement
  • Educational Equality
  • Educational Policies
  • Feminist Theory of Education
  • Functionalist Theory of Education
  • Government Education Policies
  • Marketisation of Education
  • Marxist Theory of Education
  • New Right View on Education
  • Privatisation of Education
  • School Subcultures
  • Teacher Student Relationships
  • Birth Rates
  • Changing Patterns
  • Changing Patterns of Divorce Sociology
  • Child-Bearing
  • Childhood As A Social Construct
  • Children and Childhood
  • Cultural Differences in Childhood
  • Death Rates
  • Demographic Trends UK
  • Family Diversity
  • Feminist Perspective on the Family
  • Functionalist Perspectives on the Family
  • LAT Relationships
  • Lone Parenthood
  • Marriage in Sociology
  • Marxist Perspectives on the Family
  • Migration and Globalisation Sociology
  • New Right View of the Family
  • Postmodernist Perspective on The Family
  • Sociological Perspectives of Childhood
  • Sociology of Personal Life
  • The Ageing Population
  • The Symmetrical Family
  • Albert Cohen

Auguste Comte

  • C. Wright Mills
  • Charles Cooley
  • Davis and Moore
  • George H. Mead
  • George Murdock
  • Harriet Martineau

Herbert Spencer

  • Howard Becker
  • Jeffrey Weeks
  • Louis Althusser
  • Michel Foucault
  • Nancy Chodorow

Pierre Bourdieu

  • Robert K. Merton
  • Stuart Hall
  • Talcott Parsons
  • Ulrich Beck
  • W. E. B. Du Bois
  • Demographic Change
  • Dependency Theory
  • Environmental Impacts of Development
  • Global Health and Development
  • Global Inequality
  • Global Organisations
  • Globalisation and Employment
  • Industrialisation
  • International Development Theories
  • International Organisations
  • Modernisation Theory
  • Non-governmental Organisations
  • Post Development Theory
  • The Developing World
  • Transnational Corporations
  • Urbanisation
  • War and Conflict
  • Global Health Industry
  • Inequalities in Healthcare
  • Mental Illness as a Social Construct
  • National Health Service
  • Social Construction of Health and Illness
  • Sociology of Mental Health
  • The Social Determinants of Health
  • Content Analysis in Sociology
  • Data Analysis Sociology
  • Ethics in Sociological Research
  • Longitudinal Study Sociology
  • Positivism and Interpretivism
  • Primary Research
  • Sampling in Sociology
  • Secondary Research
  • Access To Technology
  • American Values
  • Capitalism vs Socialism
  • Conflict Theory Culture
  • Construction of Social Reality
  • Cultural Change
  • Digital Age
  • Economy as an Institution
  • Forms of Government
  • Global Education
  • Government as an institution
  • Issues With Technology
  • Net Neutrality
  • Online Privacy
  • Poverty in the US
  • Power and Authority
  • Racial Politics
  • Religion in US
  • Social Change
  • Social Movements
  • Social Movements and Social Change
  • Social Networking
  • Symbolic Interactionism
  • The Stages of The Family Life Cycle
  • Theories of Aging
  • Types of Societies
  • Value of Education
  • What is Society?
  • World Religions
  • Bureaucracies
  • Social Groups
  • Intergroup Conflict
  • Life Chances
  • Significance Of Social Class
  • Standard of Living
  • What Is Power
  • Classical Sociology Theorists
  • Consensus vs Conflict Theory
  • Education in UK
  • Evaluation of Feminism
  • Evaluation of Functionalism
  • Evaluation of Marxism
  • Karl Marx Sociology
  • Key Sociological Concepts
  • Max Weber Sociology
  • What is Sociology
  • Émile Durkheim Sociology
  • Education and the State
  • Ethnicity and Education
  • Formal and Informal Education
  • Gender and Education
  • Social Class and Education
  • Changes in Family Structures
  • Conjugal Roles
  • Contemporary Family Issues
  • Families Around the World
  • Family Types in the UK
  • Age Discrimination
  • Defining and Measuring Social Class
  • Dimensions of Inequality
  • Disability Discrimination
  • Ethnic Inequality
  • Gender Inequality
  • Global Stratification
  • Social Class Inequality
  • Social Mobility
  • Social Stratification Theories
  • Socioeconomic Classification
  • Ethnic Stereotypes in Media
  • Global Media
  • Media Audiences
  • Media Representations
  • Media Representations and Audiences
  • Media Sociology
  • Media Theories
  • News Selection and Presentation
  • Representation of Age in the Media
  • Representation of Gender in the Media
  • Representation of Social Class In The Media
  • American Sociological Association
  • Case Studies
  • Ethnography
  • Experiments
  • Field Research
  • Founders of Sociology
  • Functionalism
  • Interpretivism
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Observation
  • Official Statistics
  • Postmodernism
  • Questionnaire
  • Research Considerations
  • Research Design
  • Social Action Theory
  • Social Policy
  • Sociological Imagination
  • Sociological Research Methods
  • Sociological Theories
  • Sociology as a Science
  • Sources of Data
  • Types of Data
  • Value Neutrality
  • Values in Research
  • What is the Study of Sociology?
  • Causes of Poverty
  • Consequences of Poverty
  • Distribution of Wealth, Poverty, and Income in the UK
  • Functionalist Theory of Labour
  • Impact of Technology on Labour
  • Labour Process
  • Marxist Theory of Labour
  • Poverty and Wealth
  • Theoretical Approaches to Welfare Providers
  • Types of Poverty
  • Welfare Policy
  • Work and Worklessness

Lerne mit deinen Freunden und bleibe auf dem richtigen Kurs mit deinen persönlichen Lernstatistiken

Nie wieder prokastinieren mit unseren Lernerinnerungen.

Which theorist argued that religion is the opiate of the masses? Who debated with Marx through their text? Which colonial thinker introduced the world to reception theory? This explanation will introduce you to a number of famous sociologists.

Every discipline has its signature individuals, from founding fathers to founding mothers who have changed how we think about the subject. Hold tight! Let's begin and explore some famous sociologists.

  • Who are the most famous sociologists in history?
  • Who are some of the most famous sociologists alive today?
  • Who are the famous female sociologists?
  • What are some famous sociologists and their theories?
  • What are some quotes by famous sociologists?

Famous sociologists in history

If we were to try and explore every sociologist to have an impact on the discipline, we would be here all day. But had it not been for Auguste Comte , or Karl Marx, whose works would form the basis of Marxist theory, the discipline may not be what it is today. You should understand who helped to shape the discipline, and how they did so.

We will move chronologically, starting at the birth of the discipline and working our way forward to the modern day. So tuck in, and let’s begin with Auguste Comte .

Famous Sociologists, the Karl-Marx Monument in Chemnitz, Germany. The Monument is placed in front of a building and shows the head of the famous Karl Marx, StudySmarter

Famous sociologists today: modern sociology

We’ve now entered the modern stage of sociologists. While not all of these theorists are still with us today, they’ve had a tremendous impact on the growth of the discipline in the 21st century.

Robert K. Merton ’s theories formed Strain theory, a key functionalist theory for explaining crime, while C. Wright Mills explored the significance of the sociological imagination. Read on to learn more about the famous sociologists of the modern day.

Famous female sociologists

As can be seen, most of those explored have been men, but there are still very famous female sociologists. Harriet Martineau , while being pivotal to the development of early sociology, also went on to become a hallmark in British feminism.

Not to be forgotten is Catriona Mirrlees-Black , whose research into domestic violence is now a starting point for domestic violence studies in the UK.

Ann Oakley is also a key female sociologist that has spoken about several issues concerning women, including the division of labour and housework and how women experience motherhood.

Famous sociologists and their theories

Famous sociology quotes.

Religion is the opiate of the masses."

Education is preparation to live completely."

The function of sociology, as of every science, is to reveal what is hidden."

Famous Sociologists - Key takeaways

  • Every discipline has its signature individuals, from founding fathers to founding mothers who have changed how we think about the subject.
  • Famous sociologists in history include Auguste Comte, Karl Marx, Émile Durkheim and Harriet Martineau.
  • Famous sociologists in modern history include Robert Merton, Albert Cohen and Ann Oakley.
  • There were also notable famous female sociologists, including Harriet Martineau, Catriona Mirrlees-Black and Ann Oakley.

Frequently Asked Questions about Famous Sociologists

--> who is the most famous sociologist.

There are many famous sociologists, but many believe August Comte to be famous as he coined the term 'sociology'.

--> Who are the 3 fathers of sociology?

Some claim that, Émile Durkheim Max Weber and Karl Marx are the 3 fathers of sociology. 

--> Who are well-known sociologists?

Well-known sociologists include Émile Durkheim, Karl Marx and Max Weber. However, there are many well-known sociologists.

--> Who is the mother of sociology?

Harriet Martineau is stated to be the mother of sociology.

--> Who is the first professor of sociology? 

Émile Durkheim became the first professor of sociology. He developed sociology as an academic discipline of sociology, allowing the subject to be taught in universities.

Final Famous Sociologists Quiz

Famous sociologists quiz - teste dein wissen.

In which year did Comte enter the École Polytechnique  in Paris?

Show answer

Show question

Why did Comte eventually leave the École Polytechnique ?

Comte was reported to have disputed with some of his fellow professors and eventually had to leave the school in 1842. 

Auguste Comte invented the word 'sociology'. True or false?

Which famous theorist institutionalised sociology?

Émile Durkheim

Fill in the blanks:

1. _____ believed that society progresses through changes in dominant modes of production. 

2. _____ believed that society progresses as it adapts to a shift in values. 

1. Karl Marx believed that society progresses through changes in dominant modes of production. 

2. Émile  Durkheim believed that society progresses as it adapts to a shift in values. 

Comte believed that social change is caused by...

Comte believed that social change is caused by a shift in how we interpret reality, and as our way of knowing the world around us changes. 

What is the name of the model which Comte devised to explain social change?

The Law of the Three Stages of the Human Mind

What are the three stages through which society progresses, according to Comte?

According to Comte, society progresses through:

  • The theological (religious) stage
  • The metaphysical (philosophical) stage
  • The positivist (scientific) stage

How does Comte explain the social unrest that followed the French Revolution?

Comte suggests that the social unrest that followed the French Revolution was caused by a crisis in the intellectual realm - that some people were still in the theological stage, others were in the metaphysical stage, and a few had pushed forward into the positivist stage. 

What is 'positivism'?

Positivism is a theoretical position which suggests that knowledge is best obtained and produced through systematic, scientific methods. It should be presented in numerical form and objectively interpreted. 

The opposite of positivism is ________. 

The opposite of positivism is   interpretivism .

Which statement is correct?

Comte was a precursor of functionalism before it was formally created. 

In what way did Comte believe science could replace religion?

Comte believed that science could replace religion as a new common ground for society. A shared set of ideas could bring members of society and perform the function of social cohesion, as religion was no longer able to do. 

Comte maintained his stance on religion all throughout his life. True or false?

What is 'altruism'?

'Altruism'   is a code of conduct which dictates that all moral action should be guided by the aim of being good to others. This is the direct opposite of 'egoism'. 

Who is Ann Oakley?

Ann Oakley is a British researcher, writer and sociologist.

What are some of Oakley's sociological research topics?

Oakley has written about:

  • Childbirth and motherhood
  • Women and housework
  • Relationships between men and women 

Sex and gender

  • Social science methodology 

What kind of feminist is Oakley regarded as?

What was Oakley's first academic book, and when was it published?

Oakley published her first academic book Sex, Gender and Society in 1972.

Which two of Oakley's books were published in 1974 about housework?

The Sociology of Housework  and Housewife

In Sex, Gender and Society (1972), between which two concepts did Oakley make a distinction?

What did  The Sociology of Housework   (1974) talk about?

This publication explored how far the role of women as housewives was a natural extension of women’s roles as wives and mothers.  

What was the methodology for the study in The Sociology of Housework   (1974)?

Oakley wrote about the findings from her 40 interviews with London housewives, where she asked about their experiences.

In the study in The Sociology of Housework   (1974), what percentage of women who found housework monotonous were also dissatisfied? 

What were the other findings from the study in The Sociology of Housework   (1974)?

Other findings include:

  • Many women felt lonely and experienced a lack of social interaction with others
  • The phrase ‘being one’s own boss’ was a valued aspect of the housewife role, quoted by nearly half of the sample 
  • Housework is the least liked aspect of being a housewife
  • The average working week in the sample was 77 hours
  • Those who had high status jobs before being a housewife were dissatisfied

Which popular sociological idea of a family did Oakley criticise?

Oakley criticised   Wilmott and Young’s  idea of a symmetrical family (1973). This idea argued that in modern times, both men and women split their chores and tasks equally - bearing ‘symmetrical’ roles.  

What did Oakley say about the expectation to live in a nuclear family structure?

She argued that it was a form of social control, as people found it difficult to live alternative lifestyles.

What is canalisation?

Canalisation signifies the narrow channelling of young children to gender stereotypes.

According to Oakley, what is the impact of gender socialisation?

Through gender socialisation, gender identity is shaped and formed before children even enter school.  The process of gender socialisation serves the interests of patriarchy and has negative impacts on women's lives.

How is gender socialisation reinforced through the division of labour?

It is reinforced through the division of labour at home, such as when young girls begin to help with housework, but their brothers are allowed to play.  

Robert K. Merton is known as the father of modern sociology. True or False?

What did the 'K' in Robert K. Merton stand for?

For which contribution of his was Merton awarded the National Medal of Science in 1994?

'Sociology of Science'

Which association did Merton preside over?

Merton served as the 47th President of the American Sociological Association.

Which fields of study did Merton engage in?

Merton wore many hats - sociologist, educator and academic statesman. While sociology of science remained the field closest to Merton’s heart, his contributions deeply shaped developments in numerous fields such as - bureaucracy, deviance, communications, social psychology, social stratification and social structure.

Explain Merton's strain theory .

As per Merton, social inequality can sometimes create situations in which people experience anomalies or  strain  between the goals they should be working towards (such as financial success) and the legitimate means they have available in order to meet those goals. These anomalies or strains can then pressurise individuals into committing crimes.  

What are two types of strain, according to Merton?

Structural  - this refers to processes at the societal level that filter down and affect how the individual perceives his or her needs

  • Individual  - this refers to the frictions and pains experienced by an individual as he or she looks for ways to satisfy individual needs

What are the different types of deviance according to Merton?

According to Merton, there are five types of deviance:




What is the difference between 'retreatism' and 'rebellion' as per Merton?

Retreatism  involves the rejection of both the cultural goals and the traditional means of achieving those goals.

Rebellion   involves a special case of retreatism wherein the individual rejects both the cultural goals and traditional means of achieving them, but actively attempts to replace both with different goals and means.

What is Merton's main contribution to structural functionalism?

Merton’s main contribution to structural functionalism was his clarification and codification of functional analysis. 

What three key assumptions of Parson's systems theory did Merton criticise?

Merton provided the most significant criticisms of Parson's systems theory by analysing three key assumptions made by Parsons:


Functional unity

Universal functionalism

What is Merton's dysfunction theory ?

Merton's dysfunction theory claims that similar to how societal structures or institutions could contribute to the maintenance of certain other parts of the society, they could also most definitely have negative consequences for them. 

What is an example of Merton's dysfunction theory?

A good example is discrimination against females. While this is dysfunctional for society, it is generally functional for males and continues to be a part of our society to date.

What did Merton study in his doctoral thesis?

In this work, he explored the interdependent relationship between the development of science and the religious beliefs that are associated with Puritanism. His conclusion was that factors such as religion, culture and economic influences impacted science and allowed it to grow. 

What did Merton mean by s elf-fulfilling prophecy ?

According to Merton, the self-fulfilling prophecy is a false definition of the situation evoking a new behaviour, which makes the originally false conception come true.

Mention some of Merton's major publications.

Social Theory and Social Structure (1949)

The Sociology of Science (1973)

Sociological Ambivalence (1976)

On The Shoulders of Giants: A Shandean Postscript (1985)

Who is known as the father of sociology? 

Who is the father of Marxism? 

Which country was Harriet Martineau born in?

Name 3 famous female sociologists.

Examples include:

  • Catriona Mirrlees-Black

Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

In which year did Comte enter the École Polytechnique in Paris?

Auguste Comte invented the word 'sociology'. True or false?

Your score:

Smart Exams

Join the StudySmarter App and learn efficiently with millions of flashcards and more!

Learn with 337 famous sociologists flashcards in the free studysmarter app.

Already have an account? Log in

Flashcards in Famous Sociologists 337


  • Work, Poverty and Welfare
  • Stratification and Differentiation
  • Social Institutions

of the users don't pass the Famous Sociologists quiz! Will you pass the quiz?

How would you like to learn this content?

Free social-studies cheat sheet!

Everything you need to know on . A perfect summary so you can easily remember everything.

Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App

The first learning app that truly has everything you need to ace your exams in one place

  • Flashcards & Quizzes
  • AI Study Assistant
  • Smart Note-Taking

Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App

More explanations about Famous Sociologists

Discover the right content for your subjects, engineering.

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.

This is still free to read, it's not a paywall.

You need to register to keep reading, start learning with studysmarter, the only learning app you need..


Create a free account to save this explanation.

Save explanations to your personalised space and access them anytime, anywhere!

By signing up, you agree to the Terms and Conditions and the Privacy Policy of StudySmarter.

StudySmarter bietet alles, was du für deinen Lernerfolg brauchst - in einer App!

Privacy overview.


  1. Zygmunt Bauman quote: The task for sociology is to come to the help

    famous sociology case studies

  2. Sociology case study by AsSpirit

    famous sociology case studies

  3. Pin on Introduction to Sociology

    famous sociology case studies

  4. Sociology and Interpretation

    famous sociology case studies

  5. Doing Sociology: Case Studies in Sociological Practice

    famous sociology case studies

  6. The 25+ best Sociology major ideas on Pinterest

    famous sociology case studies


  1. Sociology Quote

  2. Important questions of Sociology for NET Exam 2024

  3. Therapy Culture

  4. Sociology Quote

  5. sociology

  6. Know Your Key Terms: Case Studies


  1. What Is the Relevance of Studying Sociology in Nursing?

    Sociology, the study of human social behavior and interaction, has become a component of many nursing education programs because it is believed that undertaking formal study of human behavior can assist nurses in providing care and performi...

  2. What Is the Significance of Sociology?

    Sociology is important because it helps in solving social and international problems, gives better perspective into crime, helps in the study of institutional roles and in the understanding and planning of society.

  3. What Is the Sociological Perspective?

    The sociological perspective is the study of human life, social interactions and how those interactions shape groups and entire societies. The sociological perspective is rooted in three foundational theories.

  4. 15 Major Sociological Studies and Publications

    Discover some of the major sociological works that helped define and shape the field of sociology, from theoretical works to famous case

  5. 10 Sociological Studies That Prove Humans Are the Worst (and How

    The Milgram Experiment is among the most famous psychological studies in history and one of the darkest. Devised to study the proposition

  6. Seven Examples of Field Experiments for Sociology

    2014 – The Domestic Abuse in the Lift Experiment · 2010 – The Ethnicity/ Gender and Bike Theft Experiment · 2009 – The Ethnicity and Job


    Historically, the answer that sociologists have usually given to this question is that case studies are in-depth analyses of single or a few communities

  8. Sociology Case Study Examples That Really Inspire

    Lady Gaga, a famous American singer and songwriter, was born Stefani

  9. 25 Sociology Examples (2023)

    Studying educational inequality aids in crafting policies for educational justice and social mobility (Renzulli, 2005). Case Study. Prominent

  10. The 2010s featured a lot of great social science. Here are my ...

    Here are my 12 favorite studies. What economists, political scientists, sociologists, and philosophers taught me about the world in the 2010s.

  11. The Most Famous Social Psychology Experiments Ever Performed

    Social psychologists have performed many famous (and often controversial) studies ... In some cases, the re-evaluation of classic studies has

  12. Middletown studies

    The Middletown studies were sociological case studies of the white residents of the city of Muncie in Indiana initially conducted by Robert Staughton Lynd

  13. Famous Sociologists: History, Today, Theories

    Famous sociologists in history ; Émile Durkheim. 1858-1917; France. Functionalism. Positivism ; Robert E. Park. 1864-1944; United States. The Chicago School of

  14. Case studies towards the analysis of total social construction

    In such cases, empirical studies in sociology are in urgent need of ... The most prominent characteristic in case study is eventalization