Copyright Sociological Research Online, 2003


Sara Delamont (2003) Titans, Silverbacks and Dinosaurs
Sociological Research Online, vol. 8, no. 4, <>

To cite articles published in Sociological Research Online, please reference the above information and include paragraph numbers if necessary

Received: 17/11/2003      Accepted: 17/11/2003      Published: 28/11/2003

When I completed the manuscript of Feminist Sociology I had not read Ramazanoglu with Holland (2002). I sent off my text to Sage and went back to reading the literature on the anthropology of Brazil because my single module had become a double module and I needed to cover my course themes in more depth. When Evans (2003) and Letherby (2003) came out I did not read them either. I only focused on them when Wise and Stanley (2003) reviewed them alongside my book. Mea culpa. However those four authors do not cite me, even if Stanley and Wise think I am a Titan, so I am not going to be poleaxed with guilt.

It would be entirely churlish for me to object to anything in the Wise and Stanley article. I was amazed and delighted by it. The well known problem of 'the male in the head': the imagined man who will scorn, reject or despise what women write, so they self-censor (see Acker 1997for a discussion) had been replaced for me, the whole time I wrote Feminist Sociology, by the Wise and Stanley in the head. We are friends, their work figures centrally in the book. But I was very afraid of hearing their reaction to it. I had decided not to share a draft with them, and so I wrote about their ideas with some trepidation. I thought they would hate the result. I am now extremely relieved.

There is one issue on which we see the world very differently, and I have taken this opportunity to restate my position.

Wise and Stanley suggest my view of the impact and achievements of feminist sociology in Britain is too pessimistic. My account was meant to be a wake-up call: a reminder that the feminist perspectives in sociology need constant vigilance and energetic action to survive. Let me give four examples. The BSA series in which my book appears only has a book on feminist sociology because I made a fuss, offered to write one, researched and wrote a manuscript, and delivered it. In the first wave of editorial commissions there were books on nationalism, interactionism, class, inequality, race, ethnicity, work, and education. Several of those contracted have yet to be delivered, so although I started later, I delivered earlier. The original series editor was a man, and all the authors commissioned were men. We could have had eight to ten books in a BSA series without one about gender, or grounded in feminism, all written by men.

In the same period I was one editor of a Handbook with 33 chapters (Atkinson et al.2001). The first drafts by the male authors typically failed to cite any women. The drafts went off to two or three referees. If the referees were men they did not point that omission out. Male referees simply did not notice that draft chapters failed to mention any work by any women, and many of our authors were very resistant to remedying that omission when redrafting. When the editorial team asked for work by women authors to be included in the revised version, we received four types of response.
'Oh dear, how awful, I must rectify that'
(rare and contrite)

'I do not know any work by women - and I have no time to seek it out'
(common and feeble)

'There is not room for such marginal stuff - this suggestion is p.c. gone mad'
(common and resentful)

'None of this stuff is important in this field: it has not made any impact'
(common and dismissive)

While revising a paper (Delamont, 1999) for publication, I read some summary accounts of qualitative research in the sociology of education. My resultant anxiety is that work done by women scholars since 1968 is vanishing from the intellectual history of that proud lineage of world class research. A review of the qualitative research in the sociology of education by Woods (1996) cites 33 men and fifteen women, and valorises the work of four men by multiple citation, an honour only given to one woman. Only men, Woods implies, do exemplary ethnography. (Delamont, 2001 contains the detailed analysis).

As I am preparing this, I am sent an overview of the history of social science methods since 1800 to referee which does not cite a single female author, nor does it mention a single woman scholar, nor does it mention feminism. Of course I complain vociferously, and am told by the author that he or she does not know of any woman to cite, or discuss, so please will I provide details of important women in the history of social science, and of women scholars who have written about them. I find myself agreeing with Jo Eadie (2001: 575) who wrote:
There seems something oddly old-fashioned about assessing the contemporarity of a critical text by the number of women writers that it recognises - but then there are times when only the bluntest of tools will do.

Having searched for a 'core text' to use on a social theory module, Eadie concluded that:
reading the most recent surveys of the field, one could be forgiven for thinking that gender played a negligible role in the functioning of contemporary society.

Eadie reviewed six texts, and concluded that most of them:
construct feminism in ways that effectively exclude it from what purports to be a coherent and comprehensive overview of social theory (576)

Wise and Stanley want to describe male sociologists who reject or ignore the gender quake as dinosaurs: presumably because they think such men are on the way to extinction. Dinosaurs were the dominant species for 160 million years: not a good metaphor for a type of male scholar unless we are very sure that the great Cretaceous mass extinction is imminent. Silverbacks, the oldest male gorillas who still rule the pack even though their dorsal hair has gone white, arise anew in every generation. I do not believe that men who reject or ignore women sociologists, feminist ideas or past female scholars are a species heading for extinction. I wish I did.

I also wish I understood why feminist methods are so terrifying for so many men: the empirical research and the theory ought to be much more intrusive, more threatening to the comfortable myth that objectivity is real, and not a social construct or a standpoint of white middle class western men. Why do they get so angry about the methods, not the results? The attacks are so irrational and unsociological I keep expecting to be accused of consorting with the devil at black Sabbaths and causing England to lose the Ashes, just because I see merit in Sandra Harding, Dorothy Smith, and Stanley and Wise.


ACKER, J. (1997) My life as a feminist sociologist. In B. Laslett and B. Thorne (eds) Feminist Sociology New Brunswick, NJ.: Rutgers University Press 28-47.

ATKINSON, P.A., Coffey, A., Delamont, S., Lofland, J. and Lofland, L. (eds) (2001) Handbook of Ethnography London: Sage.

DELAMONT,S. (2001) Reflections on social exclusion. International Studies in Sociology of Education 11, 1, 25-40.

DELAMONT, S. (1999) Confessions of a ragpicker. In H. Hodkinson (ed) Feminism and Educational Research Methodologies. Manchester: Manchester Metropolitan University, 36-60.

EADIE, Jo (2001) Boy talk: social theory and its discontents. Sociology 35, 2, 575-582.

EVANS, M. (2003) Gender and Social Theory. Buckingham: Open University Press.

LETHERBY, G. (2003) Feminist Research in Theory and Practice. Buckingham: Open University Press.

RAMAZANOGLU, C. with Holland, J. (2002) Feminist Methodology. London: Sage.

WISE, Sue and Stanley, Liz (2003) Looking back and looking forward. Sociological Research Online 8, 3, /8/3/wise.html.

WOODS, P. (1996) Researching the Art of Teaching London: Routledge.

Copyright Sociological Research Online, 2003