A History of Sociology in Britain: Science, Literature, and Society

A History of Sociology in Britain: Science, Literature, and Society

A History of Sociology in Britain: Science, Literature, and Society

A History of Sociology in Britain: Science, Literature, and Society


This is the first-ever critical history of sociology in Britain, written by one of the world's leading scholars in the field. A. H. Halsey presents a vivid and authoritative picture of the neglect, expansion, fragmentation, and explosion of the discipline during the past century. The book examines the literary and scientific contributions to the origin of the discipline, and the challenges faced by the discipline at the dawn of a new century.


'It is the fate of those who toil at the lower employments of life to be rather driven by the fear of evil than attracted by the prospect of good; to be exposed to censure, without hope of praise; to be disgraced by miscarriage, or punished for neglect, where success would have been without applause, and diligence without reward.' That was Samuel Johnson in 1755 writing the preface to his dictionary, whose object, his mother tongue, he went on, had been 'hitherto neglected, suffered to spread, under the direction of chance, into wild exuberance, resigned to the tyranny of time and fashion, and exposed to the corruptions of ignorance, and caprices of innovation'. Much the same may be said of sociology by both friends and enemies.

When colleagues forty years ago began to suggest that I write a history of sociology in Britain, I was reluctant. It was a job for retirement and it was the 1960s when there was much sociological research to do. Now, after fourteen years of 'retirement', there can be no excuse for further delay.

Having begun as an undergraduate at LSE in 1947, I specialized in the sociology of higher education (Halsey, 1995) and in the techniques of survey and the use of Official Statistics (Halsey and Webb, 2000), I have advised the Secretary of State for Education and served on the Council of the Social Science Research Council (SSRC). Moreover, I have held teaching and research posts in Liverpool, Birmingham, the Centre for Advanced Study of the Behavioural Sciences at Palo Alto, Harvard, Chicago, and Berkeley, as well as in Oxford. This may sound all very creditable and may perhaps induce credulity in the reader. But it is salutary to remember W. G. Runciman's introductory text (Runciman, 1998), which ends (p. 211) with the point that 'only through the practice of sociology and psychology can we hope to understand not only how far but also why Dio Chrysostom, a famously eloquent stoic philosopher of the first century ad, was right to ask: why oh why are human beings so hard to teach, but so easy to deceive?'

Personal Confession and the Truth of this History

It is up to the reader to decide on the truthfulness of this history, but here let me sketch the biography of the author. I have already written an autobiography (No Discouragement, Macmillan, 1996). I also recount in Chapter 4 my experiences as an undergraduate at LSE in the late 1940s. As to the origin of the subject, I am aware that words change their meanings through space and time and that this is true not least for 'sociology'. It is well known that Philip . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.