Social Theory as a Renegade Student

I got a first wave of sociology books late last year and finally finished the last of them over Christmas. The books are as follows:

  1. Social theory in the real world by Steven Miles
  2. Thinking Sociologically by Zygmunt Bauman and Tim May
  3. The Sociological Quest by Evan Willis
  4. Introducing Social Theory by Pip Jones and Liz Bradbury
  5. Sociological Theory by George Ritzer
  6. The Research Process by Gary Bouma, Rod Ling and Tori Wilkinson
  7. Introduction to the Philosophy of Social Research by Malcolm Williams and Tim May

There was also an entire book devoted to detailed summaries of Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim and Max Weber, but since these three were covered in books 4, 5 and the textbook from which I’m drawing my recommendations, I decided I’d had enough of those guys. They were also at least mentioned in most of the other books listed above. 4 and 5 gave each one his own chapter and there’ll be plenty of opportunity to revisit them later.

The first of the books above, I started in October. It took me two and a half months to read them all. From here on, I’ll be taking a more focused approach. The textbook I’m reading has a comprehensive section for further reading at the end of each chapter. I read the first eight chapters before I decided to get some of the stuff being recommended. With this first batch, I chose a scattered list from the first three chapters, which have a lot of overlap in terms of content. Together, they form a sort of general introduction to sociology as a discipline, before starting to explore its components in subsequent chapters. I ordered these books pretty much all at once.

It wasn’t until the end of November that I started to focus on one book at a time. Instead of ordering a load from several chapters, I decided to put together lists of the books recommended. Last week, I went through the suggested reading lists at the end of each chapter in Social theory in the real world, Thinking Sociologically and Introducing Social Theory. I made a list of the most affordable ones. Once I’m finished with the books suggested in each chapter of the textbook, I can try some of these,

Right now, I’ve started reading books from chapter 4, Globalisation. Each further reading section takes the form of a few paragraphs written in prose (i.e. no bullet pointed lists). Each paragraph mentions books related to a theme discussed in the preceding chapter. The format isn’t too restricted. Sometimes the paragraphs start with introductory texts before moving onto more difficult or comprehensive treatments of the same subject. Sometimes, they just suggest books in no particular order, instead listing them according to the themes of the chapter. Chapter 4 is a good example of both. First, they suggest two overviews of global history. Today, I read the first (more anon!), which was the cheaper of the two. Then, the next paragraph suggests two books specifically about globalisation. I got the cheaper of the two, again. This one was written by George Ritzer, whose 650-page Sociological Theory I lived in for a month before finally finishing it shortly before Christmas. The third paragraph takes the latter approach, where three books are listed, each about globalisation but taking a distinctive framework through which to examine it. There is one about the sociology of globalisation, one called Cultural Globalization and one called Global Governance.

My intention now is to start Ritzer’s book (tonight or at work tomorrow) and order these next three books. Each chapter and associated set of texts will require some flexibility in approach, but I think that this is how I’ll try to do it. Going one chapter at a time, I’ll choose a text or texts from each paragraph. I’ll try to avoid buying more than three books at a time, depending on length and comprehensiveness. After the globalisation chapter are the chapters 5. The Environment and 6. Cities and Urban Life. I’m looking forward to each of these, but I’m particularly excited for chapter 6. Since living in Strasbourg for a brief time, I’ve been interested in cities, both in terms of how they operate and how they feel, in terms of atmosphere. Being from a modest city like Cork, in a country which seems more suburbanised than truly urbanised, I’m interested in the future of an urbanised world, especially how that could be accomplished more sustainably. As well as further reading, there is also a section at the end of each chapter called Society in the arts. I haven’t really considered adding this section into my scheme, mainly since most chapters don’t recommend books. Chapter 6 draws on the rich, rich tradition of literary exploration of cities, including works by Dickens and noir crime novels. Before I get the sociological works recommended (which include essay collections and a non-fiction novel describing what it feels like to live in a city), I’m probably gonna read the five or six novels suggested. They are a varied selection from the last 100 years and from various countries, including India.

I am committed to this introductory course to sociology that I have fashioned for myself. I know better than to commit to regular blogging, but maybe over the next few years, I’ll occasionally write down my impressions of these books, to appear here.

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