You will no doubt have already come across the founding fathers of sociology, the classical figures of the discipline, over the course of your studies or through your own reading. Indisputably, these include the German Max Weber (1864–1920) and the Frenchman Emile Durkheim (1858–1917). Their German contemporaries Georg Simmel (1858–1919) and Ferdinand Tönnies (1855–1936), and the Americans George Herbert Mead (1863–1931), William Isaac Thomas (1863–1947) and Charles Horton Cooley (1864–1929) are oft en mentioned in the same breath as the two disciplinary giants. Now we can argue till the cows come home about who else ought, or ought not, to be included in such a list of key authors, in the ‘canon’ of classical sociological theorists. The names of Adam Smith (1723–90) and above all Karl Marx (1818–83) crop up particularly oft en in this context and inspire intense controversy. Though not sociologists in a narrow sense, they have nonetheless had an enormous influence on sociological thought and, above all, on theory building in the social sciences as a whole.
As interesting as the debate on the classical status of certain authors may be, it is striking that the debaters tend to forget who was responsible for the formation of this canon, for drawing up this list of classical authors, who originally established the basic structure of the canon as pertains to this day. Should we examine this frequently neglected question, we will find that there is no getting away from the name of the American Talcott Parsons (1902–79).