“With the Practiced Eye of a Deaf Person”: Harriet Martineau, Deafness and the Scientificity of Social Knowledge

  • Nadav GabayEmail author


The paper explains the important role played by Harriet Martineau in the scientization of British politics and consequently in the development of Victorian Social Science. I suggest that there is much we can learn about the scientificity of social knowledge from the relationship between Martineau’s deafness, her career as a social investigator and a reporter, and her reflections about the practice of social science. Because Martineau was a pioneer who entered into a field that was not yet institutionalized, her knowledge making practices inevitably reflects the particular dispositions that guided her innovations. Martineau’s exposure, early in her career, to the modus operandi of governmental social investigations by royal commissions and her experience with popularizing the products of these investigations via wide public opinion campaigns, coupled with Martineau’s specific dispositions as a deaf woman, facilitated her interest in mediating credible knowledge about society and helped her to develop an innovative methodological skill-set as a social investigator, which later on in her career made her a pioneer figure in the field of social science.


Social science history Victorian politics Visual knowledge Disability Deafness 



  1. Bohrer, S. F. (2003). Harriet Martineau: Gender, disability and liability. Nineteenth-Century Contexts, 25(1), 21–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bourdieu, P. (1998). On television and journalism. London: Pluto Press.Google Scholar
  3. Bourdieu, P. (2000). Pascalian meditations. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  4. Davis, L. J. (1995). Enforcing normalcy: Disability, deafness, and the body. New York: Verso.Google Scholar
  5. Deegan, M. J. (2001). Making lemonade: Harriet Martineau on being deaf. In M. R. Hill & S. Hoecker-Drysdale (Eds.), Harriet Martineau: Theoretical & methodological perspectives (pp. 41–58). New York and London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  6. Durkheim, E. (1895/1982). The rules of the sociological method. New York: Free Press.Google Scholar
  7. Elias, N. (1956). Problems of involvement and detachment. British Journal of Sociology, 7(3), 226–252.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Fenwick, F. M. (1885). Harriet Martineau. Boston: Roberts brothers.Google Scholar
  9. Fliegelman, J. (1993). Declaring Independence: Jefferson, national language and the culture of performance. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Frankel, O. (2006). States of inquiry: Social investigations and print culture in nineteenth century Britain and the United States. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Gabay, N. 2007. The political origins of social science: The cultural transformation of the British parliament and the emergence of scientific policymaking, 1803-1857. A thesis submitted in fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the University of California, San Diego.Google Scholar
  12. Goody, J. (1987). The interface between the written and the oral. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  13. Habermas, J. (1989). The structural transformation of the public sphere: An inquiry into a category of bourgeois society. Polity Press.Google Scholar
  14. Hazlitt W. (1825/1902). “Advice to the patriot,” in A.R. Waller and Arnold Glover (eds.), The collected works of William Hazlitt. London: J.M Dent & CO.Google Scholar
  15. Heilbron, J. (2011). Practical foundations of theorizing in sociology: The case of pierre bourdieu, chapter five in Charles Camic. In N. Gross & M. Lamont (Eds.), Social knowledge in the making (pp. 181–205). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  16. Herbert, C. E. (1836). Anecdotes and annals of the deaf and dumb (second ed.). London: Robert H.C. Tims.Google Scholar
  17. Hill, M. R. (1988). Introduction to the transaction edition: Empiricism and reason," in Harriet Martineau’s Sociology, in H. Martineau, How to observe manners and morals, (pp.xv-lx). London: Transaction Publishers.Google Scholar
  18. Huzel, J. P. (2006). The popularization of malthus in early nineteenth-century England: Martineau, cobbett and the pauper press. London: Ashgate Publishing.Google Scholar
  19. Johnson, B. (1981). Introduction, in Jacques Derrida, Dissemination, trans. by Barbara Johnson. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  20. Kellner, D. (1999). Virilio, war and technology: Some critical reflections theory. Culture & Society, 1999(16), 103–125.Google Scholar
  21. Kitto J. (1848/2003). Lost senses. London: Kessinger Publishing.Google Scholar
  22. Lepenies, W. (1988). Between literature and science: The rise of sociology. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Lipset, S. M. 1968. "Harriet Martineau's America: An introductory essay," in Harriet Martineau, Society in America. Gloucester: Peter Smith.Google Scholar
  24. Martineau, H. (1832-4). Illustration of political economy, 9 vols. London: Charles Fox.Google Scholar
  25. Martineau, H. (1833). Poor law and pauperism illustrated. London: Charles Fox. Publish under the superintendence of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge.Google Scholar
  26. Martineau, H. (1834a). Illustration of taxation. 5 Parts. London: Charles Fox.Google Scholar
  27. Martineau, H. (1834b/1975). Letter to the deaf, In Harriet Martinea: Miscellanies, Vol1, pp. 248-295. Boston: AMS Press.Google Scholar
  28. Martineau, H. (1837/1981). Society in America. New Brunswick and London: Transaction Publishers.Google Scholar
  29. Martineau, H. (1838). How to observe morals and manners. London: Charles Knight.Google Scholar
  30. Martineau, H. (1845). Forest and game-law tales (Vol. 1). London: E. Moxon.Google Scholar
  31. Martineau, H. (1848). Eastern life: Present and past. London: Lea and Blanchard.Google Scholar
  32. Martineau, H. (1877). Harriet Martineau's autobiography, 3 Vols.; edited by Maria Weston Chapman. Elibron Classics: Adamant Media Corporation.Google Scholar
  33. Mulvihill, J. (2004). Upstart talents: Rhetoric and the career of reason in english romantic discourse 1790-1820. Newark: University of Delaware Press.Google Scholar
  34. Murphy, T. W. (1997). The Oldest Social Science? Configurations of Law and Modernity. Oxford: Clarendnon Press.Google Scholar
  35. Ong, W. (1977). Interfaces of the world. New York: Cornell UP.Google Scholar
  36. Ong, W. (2002). Orality and literacy: The technologizing of the word. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  37. Orazem, C. (1999). Political economy and fiction in the early works of Harriet Martineau. Frankfurt: Peter Lang.Google Scholar
  38. Pels, D. (2003). Unhastening science. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Richardson, H. S. (1877). Harriet Martineau account of herself. The Contemporary Review, 19, 1112–1123.Google Scholar
  40. Rona-Tas, A., & Gabay, N. (2007). The invisible science of the invisible hand–the public presence of economic sociology in the USA. Socio-Economic Review, 5(2), 319–367.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Rossi, A. S. (1973). The first woman sociologist: Harriet Martineau (1802–1876). In A. S. Rossi (Ed.), The feminist papers (pp. 118–124). Hanover/London: Adams to de Beauvoir.Google Scholar
  42. Sacks, O. (1989). Seeing voices: A journey into the world of the deaf. New York: Harper Collins.Google Scholar
  43. Schudson, M. (1997). Why conversation is not the soul of democracy. Critical Studies in Mass Communication, 14, 297–309.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Virilio, P. (1986). Speed and politics. An essay on dromology. New York: Semiotext(e).Google Scholar
  45. Webb, R. K. (1960). Harriet Martineau. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  46. Winter, A. (1998). Harriet Martineau. In G. Kelly (Ed.), Dictionary of literary biography: British reform writers (pp. 18321914). Washington, D.C.: Bruccolli Clark Layman.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology and AnthropologyAriel UniversityArielIsrael

Personalised recommendations