History of the BSA

The British Sociological Association was formed by a group of academics involved in social research in May 1951. Its birth was announced in a letter to The Times: “The new association believes that it can render valuable service by providing opportunities for the discussion of both theoretical and practical problems...”

The BSA proved popular, and by October 1951 had 324 members. As universities across the UK began recruiting sociologists in the 1960s, its membership broadened. By 1972, it had risen to 1,450 members; today the total is around 3,000.

One of the most powerful ways the BSA has influenced sociology is the intellectual vigour of its journals. The BSA launched its first, Sociology, in 1967, which ranks in the top quartile of sociology journals in the world (Thomson Reuters Impact Factor).  The Association carried on its publishing success with Work, employment and society launched in 1987.

The BSA was quick to explore the opportunities for publishing online, launching Sociological Research Online in 1996, in a consortium of universities and the publishers SAGE. The newest BSA journal, Cultural Sociology, was launched in 2007 and has developed an international reputation in its early years.

The first general conference of the BSA was held in 1953, two years after the association was launched, on the theme of 'Social Policy and the Social Sciences'.  At first, the conferences were held every second year, becoming annual events in the 1960's.  Over the decades, the attendance at conferences rose as the number of BSA members grew. By the 1990's, conferences were attracting up to 500 delegates, rising to over 700 today. The BSA's 60th anniversary conference, held at the LSE in 2011, attracted 1,100 delegates - a record.  Conference themes are on topical issues, with recent subjects including 'Sociology in an Age of Austerity' and 'Global Societies: Fragmenting and Connecting'.

An important early development was the formation of study groups, which specialise in various areas of sociology. These began in 1955 with the launch of one for Industrial Sociology and one for Urban Sociology. By 1970, 17 had been set up and by 1980, 33. In a sign of how broad the remit of BSA members’ work is today, there are now more than 60 groups, covering health, religion, food, ethnicity and many other areas.

The BSA has always been conscious of the need to create links outside of universities. In 2005 it formed the Sociologists Outside Academia group, with around 250 members who work outside universities, mainly for businesses or non-commercial organisations. In 2012 the BSA incorporated the Association for the Teaching of the Social Sciences, which is now its Teaching Group for those working in schools and colleges. The BSA also played a major role in encouraging the Academy of Social Sciences to set up its Campaign for Social Science in 2011.

The BSA’s links are international, too. The BSA is a member of the International Sociological Association and was among the national associations that helped found the European Sociological Association in 1992. The BSA today is larger and more active than ever before in its work for sociology.

The BSA commissioned a history of the first 50 years of the Association, by Jennifer Platt. That was published as  ‘The British Sociological Association: A Sociological History’ in 2003, and is the source for some of the historical facts on this webpage. If you are interested in more historical detail, the book is currently published by Routledge and is available for to buy here.