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Contemporary Sociological Theory

Contemporary Sociological Theory

  • Bert N Adams - University of Wisconsin - Madison, Chile, University of Wisconsin, USA
  • R A Sydie - University of Alberta - Edmonton, Canada

January 2002 | 304 pages | SAGE Publications, Inc

"The strengths of this text are the breadth of theories covered; the integration of gender-related topics¾ family, work, religion; the use of substantial quotes from primary texts; the consistent inclusion of methodological issues.…I have no doubt that it will find a solid position in the field of theory texts."
--Kathleen Slobin, North Dakota State University

A concise, yet surprisingly comprehensive theory text, given the range of ideas, historical context, and theorists discussed. Unlike other books of the type, Contemporary Sociological Theory focuses on how the pivotal theories contributed not only to the development of the field, but also to the evolution of ideas concerning social life.

A Note to Students
1. Introduction to Contemporary Sociological Theory
Nineteenth-Century Sociological Theory

Dominant Theories and Ideologies

Radical Theory and Ideology

Early-Twentieth-Century Sociological Theory

Sociological Theory by the 1930s

2. Twentieth-Century Functionalism
Talcott Parsons (1902-1979)

Robert K. Merton (1910- )

Final Thoughts


3. Systems, Structuration, and Modernity
Niklas Luhmann (1927-1998)

Anthony Giddens (1938- )

Final Thoughts


4. Critical Theory
The Institute of Social Research

Jurgen Habermas (1929- )

Final Thoughts


5. Marxism Since 1930
Marxism from 1930 to 1980

Marxism Now: Erik Olin Wright (1947- )

Final Thoughts


6. Sociocultural Change: Evolution, World System, and Revolution
Twentieth-Century Evolutionism: Elman Service (1915- )

World System Theory: Immanuel Wallerstein (1930- )

Revolution: Theda Skocpol (1947- )

Final Thoughts


7. Mid-Twentieth-Century Sociology
Ideological Disputes

Facts and Values

Macro/Micro Perspectives

Feminism and Feminist Sociological Theory

Race and Colonialism

Final Thoughts


8. Symbolic Interactionism
The Interactionist Tradition

Herbert Blumer (1900-1987)

Erving Goffman (1922-1982)

Arlie Russell Hochschild (1940- )

Final Thoughts


9. Rational Choice and Exchange
James S. Coleman, (1926-1995)

Final Thoughts


10. Feminist Sociological Theory
Sociology and Feminism

Dorothy E. Smith (1926- )

Patricia Hill Collins (1948- )

Final Thoughts


11. Knowledge, Truth, and Power
Michel Foucault (1926-1984)

Final Thoughts


12. Final Thoughts on Contemporary Sociological Theory
Sociological Theory Since 1930

The Future of Society

The Future of Sociological Theory



"The strengths of this text are the breadth of theories covered; the integration of gender-related topics¾
family, work, religion; the use of substantial quotes from primary texts; the consistent inclusion of methodological issues.…I have no doubt that it will find a solid position in the field of theory texts."

Kathleen Slobin
North Dakota State University
Key features
  1. More consistency + more coherence = a more "teachable" book: one of the flaws of existing texts is that with each new theorist they begin talking about, the nature of the ideas / flow of the chapter changes abruptly. There are no internally consistent sub-heads from one chapter to the next, no consistent standards for comparison – so that students are given a learning framework to compare/contrast, say, Marx with Simmel, or Weber with Adorno. This makes learning very difficult in this area. In contrast, Adams/Sydie structure each chapter around a consistent structure of presentation and then evaluation of each theorist.
  2. A Consistent Set of Themes as Well: our book also focuses readers' attention in a consistent way on what the social theorist had to say about a constant set of ideas (i.e. how modernity changed social life, the nature of social beings, observations on race, class, and gender). This accomplishes two things: it makes reading about "old fuds" like Weber and Durkheim meaningful to today's students – because they see that these social ideas remain central to our concerns today. Second, it helps students again evaluate social theorists, one to the other, which is one of the central learning goals of the course.

  3. A Flavor of Scholarship that Exists in Very Few Texts: there is a fine line in this market between being applauded for being "authoritative" and being criticized for being overly academic. Overall, Adams/Sydie do a superb job of having produced original work and a great deal of original research, but presenting it clearly and meaningfully to undergraduates.
  4. Different Voices for a Diverse Society: it is not new to throw in "a bit more" about social theorists who previously have either been ignored or marginalized by 'tradition.' That's what authors of revisions do, and the standard texts have been revised many times. But it's altogether different to actually incorporate these "new" social theorists fully into a new text. And that's what Adams/Sydie have done with Harriet Martineau, Mary Wollestonecraft, W.B. Dubois, Rosa Luxemburg, and others.
  5. Applying Theory to Everyday Life: this feature is not as abundant in every chapter as would have liked, but Adams/Sydie still do more of this than most texts. That is, they supply an example from everyday events students are familiar with to show the ongoing power and insight to be derived from seeing the world through the lens of social theory. This helps with the ongoing "selling" of the course.
  6. Differences from Comprehensive Volume: There are new first and final chapters in both the split volumes introducing and summarizing each of the books.


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