Putting Adam Ferguson in his place

John David Brewer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Citations (Scopus)


This paper re-conceptualizes the relationship between Ferguson's life and work by locating him in his biographical and geographical context for the purposes of better understanding his proto-sociological writings. Ferguson's work is relatively unknown outside limited sets of literature and current representations of the link between his life and work risk misplacing him as both Scotsman and sociologist. The popular portrayal suggests there is a strong connection between his Highland background and his famous book An Essay on the History of Civil Society. It will be argued that this claim reproduces the social construction of space in Scottish society and is based on stereotypical views of his birthplace and upbringing. Ferguson did not construct an autobiographical narrative to offer his own understanding of the link between his life and work. This reflects the strengths and weaknesses of sociology as it was developing in the eighteenth century. The 'self' was not recognized as an object of intention or symbolic construction. Ferguson's writings analysed modernity as it was emerging in eighteenth-century Lowland Scotland and contrary to common opinion, there was no self-identity as a Highlander to shape his understanding of that social process.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)105-122
Number of pages18
JournalThe British Journal of Sociology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2007


  • Adam Ferguson
  • civil society
  • Scotland
  • self
  • space
  • eighteenth-century Scotland
  • Scottish enlightenment
  • anticipations
  • Smith, Adam
  • sociology
  • history


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