Who are the most influential thinkers in world?
Identify leaders in your chosen discipline, research top professors in your area of study, and search for schools based on the luminaries who most inspire you!
Note: These rankings change dynamically as our artificial intelligence system learns new things and incorporates new publications and citations. Academics are constantly doing research and publishing new insights, with the result that our measure of influence is subject to continual adjustments. For quality assurance reasons, however, we forgo real-time changes, with most public updates happening only quarterly. In any case, don’t be surprised to see our rankings change over time.Methodology: How and Why We Rank by Influence …
1864 - 1920 (56 years)
Maximilian Karl Emil Weber was a German sociologist, historian, jurist, and political economist, who is regarded as among the most important theorists of the development of modern Western society. His ideas profoundly influence social theory and research. Despite being recognized as one of the fathers of sociology along with Auguste Comte, Karl Marx, and Émile Durkheim, Weber saw himself not as a sociologist but as a historian.
1818 - 1883 (65 years)
Karl Heinrich Marx was a German philosopher, economist, historian, sociologist, political theorist, journalist and socialist revolutionary. Born in Trier, Germany, Marx studied law and philosophy at university. He married Jenny von Westphalen in 1843. Due to his political publications, Marx became stateless and lived in exile with his wife and children in London for decades, where he continued to develop his thought in collaboration with German thinker Friedrich Engels and publish his writings, researching in the British Museum Reading Room. His best-known titles are the 1848 pamphlet The Com
1858 - 1917 (59 years)
David Émile Durkheim was a French sociologist. He formally established the academic discipline of sociology and, with Max Weber, is commonly cited as the principal architect of modern social science.
1902 - 1979 (77 years)
Talcott Parsons was an American sociologist of the classical tradition, best known for his social action theory and structural functionalism. Parsons is considered one of the most influential figures in sociology in the 20th century. After earning a PhD in economics, he served on the faculty at Harvard University from 1927 to 1929. In 1930, he was among the first professors in its new sociology department. Later, he was instrumental in the establishment of the Department of Social Relations at Harvard.
1930 - 2002 (72 years)
Pierre Bourdieu was a French sociologist, anthropologist, philosopher, and public intellectual. Bourdieu's contributions to the sociology of education, the theory of sociology, and sociology of aesthetics have achieved wide influence in several related academic fields . During his academic career he was primarily associated with the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences in Paris and the Collège de France.
1798 - 1857 (59 years)
Isidore Marie Auguste François Xavier Comte was a French philosopher and writer who formulated the doctrine of positivism. He is often regarded as the first philosopher of science in the modern sense of the term. Comte's ideas were also fundamental to the development of sociology; indeed, he invented the term and treated that discipline as the crowning achievement of the sciences.
1910 - 2003 (93 years)
Robert King Merton was an American sociologist who is considered a founding father of modern sociology, and a major contributor to the subfield of criminology. He spent most of his career teaching at Columbia University, where he attained the rank of University Professor. In 1994 he was awarded the National Medal of Science for his contributions to the field and for having founded the sociology of science.
1858 - 1918 (60 years)
Georg Simmel was a German sociologist, philosopher, and critic.Simmel was influential in the field of sociology. Simmel was one of the first generation of German sociologists: his neo-Kantian approach laid the foundations for sociological antipositivism, asking what is society?—directly alluding to Kant's what is nature?—presenting pioneering analyses of social individuality and fragmentation. For Simmel, culture referred to "the cultivation of individuals through the agency of external forms which have been objectified in the course of history." Simmel discussed social and cultural phenomena
1929 - Present (92 years)
Jürgen Habermas is a German philosopher mostly associated with the influential Frankurt School in Germany, part of the Institute for Social Research, at Goethe University Frankfurt, and historically an important center for research on social theory and critical philosophy. Habermas, now 90, earned his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Bonn in 1954. Habermas is a famed philosopher who has taught a number of influential philosophers, including Hans Joas at the University of Chicago.
1820 - 1903 (83 years)
Herbert Spencer was an English philosopher, biologist, anthropologist, and sociologist famous for his hypothesis of social Darwinism whereby superior physical force shapes history. Spencer originated the expression "survival of the fittest", which he coined in Principles of Biology after reading Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species. The term strongly suggests natural selection, yet Spencer saw evolution as extending into realms of sociology and ethics, so he also supported Lamarckism.
1929 - Present (92 years)
Edward O. Wilson is the world’s leading expert on ants, a specialty known as myrmecology, but that’s not all. He is also considered the father of biodiversity and the father of sociobiology. He is the Pellegrino University Research Professor Emeritus of Entomology at the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University and a lecturer at Duke University. He earned his B.S. and M.S. in biology from the University of Alabama. He was named to the Harvard Society of Fellows, which enabled him to travel around the world studying ant species from Australia to Cuba. He graduated
1916 - 1962 (46 years)
Charles Wright Mills was an American sociologist, and a professor of sociology at Columbia University from 1946 until his death in 1962. Mills was published widely in popular and intellectual journals. He is remembered for several books, such as The Power Elite, which introduced that term and describes the relationships and class alliances among the US political, military, and economic elites; White Collar: The American Middle Classes, on the American middle class; and The Sociological Imagination, which presents a model of analysis for the interdependence of subjective experiences within a p...
1855 - 1936 (81 years)
Ferdinand Tönnies was a German sociologist, economist, and philosopher. He was a major contributor to sociological theory and field studies, best known for his distinction between two types of social groups, Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft . He co-founded the German Society for Sociology together with Max Weber and Georg Simmel and many other founders. He was president of the society from 1909 to 1933, after which he was ousted for having criticized the Nazis. Tönnies was considered the first German sociologist proper, published over 900 works and contributed to many areas of sociology and phil
1929 - 2017 (88 years)
Peter Ludwig Berger was an Austrian-born American sociologist and Protestant theologian. Berger became known for his work in the sociology of knowledge, the sociology of religion, study of modernization, and theoretical contributions to sociological theory.
1926 - 1984 (58 years)
Paul-Michel Foucault was a French philosopher, historian of ideas, writer, political activist, and literary critic.Foucault's theories primarily address the relationship between power and knowledge, and how they are used as a form of social control through societal institutions. Though often cited as a structuralist and postmodernist, Foucault rejected these labels. His thought has influenced academics, especially those working in communication studies, anthropology, psychology, sociology, criminology, cultural studies, literary theory, feminism, Marxism and critical theory.
1902 - 1994 (92 years)
Sir Karl Raimund Popper was an Austrian-British philosopher, academic and social commentator. One of the 20th century's most influential philosophers of science, Popper is known for his rejection of the classical inductivist views on the scientific method in favour of empirical falsification. According to Popper, a theory in the empirical sciences can never be proven, but it can be falsified, meaning that it can be scrutinised with decisive experiments. Popper was opposed to the classical justificationist account of knowledge, which he replaced with critical rationalism, namely "the first n...
1863 - 1931 (68 years)
George Herbert Mead was an American philosopher, sociologist, and psychologist, primarily affiliated with the University of Chicago, where he was one of several distinguished pragmatistss. He is regarded as one of the founders of symbolic interactionism and of what has come to be referred to as the Chicago sociological tradition.
1928 - Present (93 years)
Howard Saul Becker is an American sociologist who teaches at Northwestern University. Becker has made major contributions to the sociology of deviance, sociology of art, and sociology of music. Becker also wrote extensively on sociological writing styles and methodologies. Becker's 1963 book Outsiders provided the foundations for labeling theory. Becker is often called a symbolic interactionist or social constructionist, although he does not align himself with either method. A graduate of the University of Chicago, Becker is considered part of the second Chicago School of Sociology, which ...
1926 - 1995 (69 years)
James Samuel Coleman was an American sociologist, theorist, and empirical researcher, based chiefly at the University of Chicago.He was elected president of the American Sociological Association. He studied the sociology of education and public policy, and was one of the earliest users of the term "social capital." His Foundations of Social Theory influenced sociological theory. His "The Adolescent Society" and "Coleman Report" were two of the most cited books in educational sociology. The landmark Coleman Report helped transform educational theory, reshape national education policies, and ...
1938 - Present (83 years)
Anthony Giddens, Baron Giddens is an English sociologist who is known for his theory of structuration and his holistic view of modern societies. He is considered to be one of the most prominent modern sociologists and is the author of at least 34 books, published in at least 29 languages, issuing on average more than one book every year. In 2007, Giddens was listed as the fifth most-referenced author of books in the humanities. He has academic appointments in approximately twenty different universities throughout the world and has received numerous honorary degrees.
1893 - 1947 (54 years)
Karl Mannheim was an influential German sociologist during the first half of the 20th century. He is a key figure in classical sociology, as well as one of the founders of the sociology of knowledge. Mannheim is best known for his book Ideology and Utopia , in which he distinguishes between partial and total ideologies, the latter representing comprehensive worldviews distinctive to particular social groups, and also between ideologies that provide outdated support for existing social arrangements, and utopias, which look to the future and threaten to transform a society.
1956 - Present (65 years)
Judith Butler is the Maxine Ellio Professor in the Department of Comparative Literature and the Program of Critical Theory at the University of California, Berkeley. Butler earned a bachelor of arts in philosophy at Yale University in 1978, and her PhD at Yale in 1984. In addition to UC Berkeley, Butler has taught at Wesleyan University, George Washington University, Johns Hopkins University, Columbia University, and the University of Amsterdam.
1922 - 1982 (60 years)
Erving Goffman was a Canadian-born sociologist, social psychologist, and writer, considered by some "the most influential American sociologist of the twentieth century". In 2007 The Times Higher Education Guide listed him as the sixth most-cited author of books in the humanities and social sciences, behind Michel Foucault, Pierre Bourdieu, and Anthony Giddens, and ahead of Jürgen Habermas.
1864 - 1944 (80 years)
Robert Ezra Park was an American urban sociologist who is considered to be one of the most influential figures in early U.S. sociology. Park was a pioneer in the field of sociology, changing it from a passive philosophical discipline to an active discipline rooted in the study of human behavior. He made significant contributions to the study of urban communities, race relations and the development of empirically grounded research methods, most notably participant observation. From 1905 to 1914, Park worked with Booker T. Washington at the Tuskegee Institute. After Tuskegee, he taught at the
1926 - Present (95 years)
Dorothy Edith Smith is a Canadian sociologist with research interests in a variety of disciplines, including women's studies, feminist theory, psychology, and educational studies, as well as in certain subfields of sociology, such as the sociology of knowledge, family studies, and methodology. Smith founded the sociological sub-disciplines of feminist standpoint theory and institutional ethnography.
1857 - 1913 (56 years)
Ferdinand de Saussure was a Swiss linguist, semiotician and philosopher. His ideas laid a foundation for many significant developments in both linguistics and semiotics in the 20th century. He is widely considered one of the founders of 20th-century linguistics and one of two major founders of semiotics, or semiology, as Saussure called it.
1820 - 1895 (75 years)
Friedrich Engels , sometimes anglicised as Frederick Engels , was a German philosopher, economist, historian, political theorist and revolutionary socialist. He was also a businessman, journalist and political activist, whose father was an owner of large textile factories in Salford and Barmen, Prussia .
1927 - 1998 (71 years)
Niklas Luhmann was a German sociologist, philosopher of social science, and a prominent thinker in systems theory, who is considered one of the most important social theorists of the 20th century.Biography Luhmann was born in Lüneburg, Free State of Prussia, where his father's family had been running a brewery for several generations. He entered the Gymnasium Johanneum at Luneburg in 1937. In 1943, he was conscripted as a Luftwaffenhelfer in World War II and served for two years until, at the age of 17, he was taken prisoner of war by American troops in 1945. After the war Luhmann studied law
1897 - 1990 (93 years)
Norbert Elias was a German sociologist who later became a British citizen. He is especially famous for his theory of civilizing/decivilizing processes.Biography Elias was born on 22 June 1897 in Breslau in Prussia's Silesia Province to Hermann and Sophie Gallewski. His father was a businessman in the textile industry. After passing the abitur in 1915 he volunteered for the German army in World War I and was employed as a telegrapher, first at the Eastern front, then at the Western front. After suffering a nervous breakdown in 1917, he was declared unfit for service and was posted to Breslau
1943 - Present (78 years)
Mark Sanford Granovetter is a professor at Stanford University. He is a prominent sociologist who earned an A.B. in history at Princeton University and a Ph.D in sociology from Harvard University.
1948 - Present (73 years)
American sociologist Patrician Hill Collins currently holds the title of University Professor of Sociology at the University of Maryland, College Park. She previously was a professor of the University of Cincinnati (where she was also head of the Department of African-American Studies). Collins also holds the distinction of being the 100th president of the American Sociological Association, the first African-American woman to do so. Collins completed her BA in sociology at Brandeis University in 1965, her MA in social science education at Harvard in 1970, and her PhD at Brandeis in 1984.
1872 - 1950 (78 years)
Marcel Mauss was a French sociologist. The nephew of Émile Durkheim, Mauss, in his academic work, crossed the boundaries between sociology and anthropology. Today, he is perhaps better recognised for his influence on the latter discipline, particularly with respect to his analyses of topics such as magic, sacrifice and gift exchange in different cultures around the world. Mauss had a significant influence upon Claude Lévi-Strauss, the founder of structural anthropology. His most famous work is The Gift .
1848 - 1923 (75 years)
Vilfredo Federico Damaso Pareto was an Italian civil engineer, sociologist, economist, political scientist, and philosopher. He made several important contributions to economics, particularly in the study of income distribution and in the analysis of individuals' choices. He was also responsible for popularising the use of the term "elite" in social analysis.
1833 - 1911 (78 years)
Wilhelm Dilthey was a German historian, psychologist, sociologist, and hermeneutic philosopher, who held G. W. F. Hegel's Chair in Philosophy at the University of Berlin. As a polymathic philosopher, working in a modern research university, Dilthey's research interests revolved around questions of scientific methodology, historical evidence and history's status as a science. He could be considered an empiricist, in contrast to the idealism prevalent in Germany at the time, but his account of what constitutes the empirical and experiential differs from British empiricism and positivism in it...
1947 - Present (74 years)
Bruno Latour is an anthropologist, philosopher, and sociologist. He earned his Ph.D from the University of Tours. Soon after graduating, he became interested in anthropology, and set out on a study of race and decolonization in Ivory Coast.
1898 - 1979 (81 years)
Herbert Marcuse was a German-American philosopher, sociologist, and political theorist, associated with the Frankfurt School of critical theory. Born in Berlin, Marcuse studied at the Humboldt University of Berlin and then at Freiburg, where he received his PhD. He was a prominent figure in the Frankfurt-based Institute for Social Research – what later became known as the Frankfurt School. He was married to Sophie Wertheim , Inge Neumann , and Erica Sherover . In his written works, he criticized capitalism, modern technology, Soviet Communism and entertainment culture, arguing that they repre...
1922 - 2006 (84 years)
Seymour Martin Lipset was an American sociologist. His major work was in the fields of political sociology, trade union organization, social stratification, public opinion, and the sociology of intellectual life. He also wrote extensively about the conditions for democracy in comparative perspective. A socialist in his early life, Lipset later moved to the right, and was often considered a neoconservative.
1941 - Present (80 years)
Randall Collins is a contemporary social theorist focused on the sociology of intellectuals, politics, and economic change. He earned his B.A. in psychology from Harvard University, under the instruction of Talcott Parsons. He graduated from Stanford University with an M.A. before transferring to University of California, Berkeley to earn an M.A. and Ph.D in sociology.
1929 - 2008 (79 years)
Charles Tilly was an American sociologist, political scientist, and historian who wrote on the relationship between politics and society. He was a professor of history, sociology, and social science at the University of Michigan from 1969 to 1984 before becoming the Joseph L. Buttenwieser Professor of Social Science at Columbia University.
1930 - 2019 (89 years)
Immanuel Maurice Wallerstein was an American sociologist and economic historian. He is perhaps best known for his development of the general approach in sociology which led to the emergence of his world-systems approach. He was a Senior Research Scholar at Yale University from 2000 until his death in 2019, and published bimonthly syndicated commentaries through Agence Global on world affairs from October 1998 to July 2019.
1916 - 1996 (80 years)
Anselm Leonard Strauss was an American sociologist professor at the University of California, San Francisco internationally known as a medical sociologist and as the developer of grounded theory, an innovative method of qualitative analysis widely used in sociology, nursing, education, social work, and organizational studies. He also wrote extensively on Chicago sociology/symbolic interactionism, sociology of work, social worlds/arenas theory, social psychology and urban imagery. He published over 30 books, chapters in over 30 other books, and over 70 journal articles.
1895 - 1973 (78 years)
Max Horkheimer was a German philosopher and sociologist who was famous for his work in critical theory as a member of the Frankfurt School of social research. Horkheimer addressed authoritarianism, militarism, economic disruption, environmental crisis, and the poverty of mass culture using the philosophy of history as a framework. This became the foundation of critical theory. His most important works include Eclipse of Reason , Between Philosophy and Social Science and, in collaboration with Theodor Adorno, Dialectic of Enlightenment . Through the Frankfurt School, Horkheimer planned, suppo...
1859 - 1952 (93 years)
John Dewey was an American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer whose ideas have been influential in education and social reform. He was one of the most prominent American scholars in the first half of the twentieth century.
1332 - 1406 (74 years)
Ibn Khaldun was an Arab sociologist, philosopher and historian who has been described as the precursive founder of the proto-disciplines that would become historiography, sociology, economics, and demography. Niccolò Machiavelli of the Renaissance, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel and 19th-century European scholars widely acknowledged the significance of his works and considered Ibn Khaldun to be one of the greatest philosophers of the Middle Ages.
1840 - 1910 (70 years)
William Graham Sumner was a classical liberal American social scientist. He taught social sciences at Yale, where he held the nation's first professorship in sociology. He was one of the most influential teachers at Yale or any other major school. Sumner wrote widely within the social sciences, with numerous books and essays on American history, economic history, political theory, sociology, and anthropology. He supported laissez-faire economics, free markets, and the gold standard. He adopted the term "ethnocentrism" to identify the roots of imperialism, which he strongly opposed, and as a s
1883 - 1950 (67 years)
Edwin Hardin Sutherland was an American sociologist. He is considered one of the most influential criminologists of the 20th century. He was a sociologist of the symbolic interactionist school of thought and is best known for defining white-collar crime and differential association, a general theory of crime and delinquency. Sutherland earned his Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Chicago in 1913.
1908 - 2009 (101 years)
Claude Lévi-Strauss was a French anthropologist and ethnologist whose work was key in the development of the theories of structuralism and structural anthropology. He held the chair of Social Anthropology at the Collège de France between 1959 and 1982, was elected a member of the Académie française in 1973 and was a member of the School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences in Paris. He received numerous honors from universities and institutions throughout the world and has been called, alongside James George Frazer and Franz Boas, the "father of modern anthropology".
1939 - 2009 (70 years)
Allan Schnaiberg was an American sociologist known especially for his contributions to environmental sociology. At the time of his death, Schnaiberg was Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.
1886 - 1966 (80 years)
Ernest Watson Burgess was a Canadian-American urban sociologist born in Tilbury, Ontario. He was educated at Kingfisher College in Oklahoma and continued graduate studies in sociology at the University of Chicago. In 1916, he returned to the University of Chicago, as a faculty member. Burgess was hired as an urban sociologist at the University of Chicago. Burgess also served as the 24th President of the American Sociological Association .
1668 - 1744 (76 years)
Giambattista Vico was an Italian philosopher, rhetorician, historian, and jurist during the Italian Enlightenment. He criticized the expansion and development of modern rationalism, was an apologist for classical antiquity and the Renaissance humanities, finding Cartesian analysis and other types of reductionism impractical to human life, and was the first expositor of the fundamentals of social science and of semiotics. He is recognised as one of the first Counter-Enlightenment figures in history.
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