Dorothy E. Smith

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For other people named Dorothy Smith, see Dorothy Smith (disambiguation).
Dorothy Edith Smith
Born Dorothy Edith Place
(1926-07-06) July 6, 1926 (age 90)
Northallerton, Yorkshire, England
Academic background
Alma mater University of California, Berkeley
Academic work
Main interests Feminist studies, sociology
Notable works Institutional Ethnography: A Sociology for People, The Conceptual Practices of Power: A Feminist Sociology of Knowledge, The Everyday World as Problematic: A Feminist Sociology
Notable ideas institutional ethnography, ruling relations, standpoint theory

Dorothy Edith Smith (born July 6, 1926) is a Canadian sociologist with research interests, besides in sociology, in many disciplines including women's studies, psychology, and educational studies, as well as subfields of sociology including feminist theory, family studies, and methodology. She also founded the sociological sub-disciplines of feminist standpoint theory and Institutional Ethnography.


Smith was born in Northallerton, Yorkshire England to Dorothy F. Place and Tom Place, into a family including three brothers. One of her brothers, Ullin Place, is well known for his work on consciousness as a process of the brain, another is a recognized British poet, Milner Place.

Smith did her undergraduate work at the London School of Economics, earning her B.Sc in Sociology with a Major in Social Anthropology in 1955. She then married William Reid Smith, whom she had met while attending LSE,[1] and they moved to the United States. They both attended graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley, where she received her Ph.D in Sociology in 1963, nine months after the birth of their second child. Not long afterwards she and her husband were divorced; she retained custody of the children. She then taught as a lecturer at UC Berkeley from 1964 to 1966.[2] In 1967 she moved with her two sons to Vancouver British Columbia to teach at the University of British Columbia, where she helped to establish a Women's Studies Program. In 1977 she moved to Toronto, Ontario to work at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, where she stayed until she retired. In 1994 she became an adjunct professor at the University of Victoria, where she continues her work in institutional ethnography.

Intellectual Influences and Core Ideas[edit]

It was during her time as a graduate student in the 1960s that led Smith to her notion of standpoint. During this time, Smith recognized that she herself was experiencing “two subjectivities, home and university”,[3] and that these two worlds could not be blended. In recognition of her own standpoint, Smith shed light on the fact that sociology was lacking in the acknowledgment of standpoint. At this point the methods and theories of sociology had been formed upon and built in a male dominated social world, unintentionally ignoring the women’s world of sexual reproduction, children, and household affairs.[3] Smith determined that for minority groups, the constant separation between the world as they experience it versus continually having to adapt to the view of the dominant group creates oppression, which can lead to members the marginalized group feeling alienated from their “true” selves.[3]


Dorothy Smith has influential ties to theorists such as Karl Marx and Alfred Schutz,[3] building on top of Marxist theory, Smith evolves alienation into gender stratified capitalism, explaining in her work Feminism and Marxism how “objective social, economic and political relations . . . shape and determine women's oppression.”[4] From Schutz, Smith explains, “Individuals are experienced as ‘types,’”[3] developing upon his concept of umwelt and mitwelt relations. In The Everyday World as Problematic: A Feminist Sociology, Smith explains mitwelt and umwelt relations of male dominance claiming, “women's work conceals from men the actual concrete forms on which their work depends.”[5]

Umwelt & Mitwelt[edit]

Alfred Schutz describes mitwelt relationships as less intimate than umwelt relationships. Mitwelt relations refer more to a type of relation, such as an individual and their mail carrier. Umwelt relations are found on a more intimate level, such as a husband and wife. Dorothy Smith extends these concepts by demonstrating how umwelt is more “central in women’s lives, and men regulate their umwelt relations to women.”[3]

Institutional ethnography[edit]

Institutional ethnography (IE) is a sociological method of inquiry which Smith developed, created to explore the social relations that structure people's everyday lives. For the institutional ethnographer, ordinary daily activity becomes the site for an investigation of social organization. Smith developed IE as a Marxist feminist sociology "for women, for people;" and is now used by researchers in social sciences, education, human services and policy research as a method for mapping the translocal relations that coordinate people's activities within institutions.

Ruling Relations[edit]

Smith developed of the concept of ruling relations, the institutional complexes that "coordinate the everyday work of administration and the lives of those subject to administrative regimes"[6]

Professional recognition[edit]

In recognition of her contributions in "transformation of sociology", and for extending boundaries of "feminist standpoint theory" to "include race, class, and gender", Dr. Smith received numerous awards from American Sociological Association, including the American Sociological Association's Career of Distinguished Scholarship Award (1999) and the Jessie Bernard Award for Feminist Sociology (1993). In recognition of her scholarship, she also received two awards from the Canadian Sociology and Anthropology Association: the Outstanding Contribution Award (1990) and the John Porter Award for her book "The Everyday World as Problematic: A Feminist Sociology." (1990).

Some argue that her work is some of the most important produced in 20th and 21st Century sociology, and that 'Institutional Ethnography' should be considered a contemporary classic.[7]

Selected works[edit]

  • Institutional Ethnography: A Sociology for People (2005)
  • Mothering for Schooling -- with Alison Griffith (2004)
  • Writing the Social: Critique, Theory, and Investigations (1999)
  • The Conceptual Practices of Power: A Feminist Sociology of Knowledge (1990)
  • Texts, Facts, and Femininity: Exploring the Relations of Ruling (1990)
  • The Everyday World as Problematic: A Feminist Sociology (1987)
  • Feminism and Marxism: A Place to Begin, A Way to Go (1977)
  • Women Look at Psychiatry: I'm Not Mad, I'm Angry—Collection edited by Smith and David (1975) Press Gang Publishing


  1. ^
  2. ^ Wallace,R. & Wolf, A., "Contemporary Sociological Theory" 6th Edition (2006), Pearson Prentice-Hall. p. 297-298
  3. ^ a b c d e f Appelrouth, Scott; Edles, Laura Delfor (2008). Classical and Contemporary Sociological Theory: Readings and Text (First ed.). Pine Forge Press. ISBN 978-0761927938. 
  4. ^ Smith, Dorothy (1997). Feminism and Marxism: A Place to Begin, A Way to Go. Vancouver: New Star Books. 
  5. ^ Smith, Dorothy (1987). The Everyday World as Problematic: A Feminist Sociology. Northeastern University Press. 
  6. ^ DeVault, Marjorie. "Ruling Relations". Blackwell Encyclopedia of Sociology. 
  7. ^ Hart, RJ. & McKinnon, A. (2010). 'Sociological Epistemology: Durkheim’s Paradox and Dorothy E. Smith’s Actuality'. Sociology, vol 44, no. 6, pp. 1038-1054.[1]