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Sociological Thinking: A New Introduction



Sociological Thinking: A New Introduction


John T. Pullinger






Liverpool Academic Press









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Sociological Thinking: A New Introduction - John T. Pullinger
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Full Description:

In writing this new introduction, the author has remained faithful to the aims of the previous volume that was published in 2008. The new volume has tracked some subsequent developments and reorientations in the subject which reflect social changes. As a result, the content of each chapter has been broadened and expanded.
In updating the earlier volume, a decision was made to retain and rework the sections covering founding theory and early research since one of the aims of the book remains to provide a sense of how the subject has developed historically as a mirror of social change.
Compared to the previous volume, the author has integrated a range of selective quotations. Also, to assist the reader in following up a broader range of resources, the original list of recommended books has been expanded into a short bibliography and key referencing has been provided.

The author has approached this work with the aim of providing a manageable length and accessible introduction to sociology. The text concentrates more heavily than standard A level texts on guiding the reader to develop the psychological and intellectual qualities that are necessary to effectively approach the subject. It is pitched at GCE A Level and is aimed at the sociology student or general reader who is looking for an alternative to the standard texts.
Based on this approach, the text caters for the following needs of sociology students and the general reader. It:
offers an inroad into the subject at an introductory level which makes no assumptions about the reader’s prior knowledge in the subject;
guides students / the reader through the process of breaking down preconceptions on the way that they view society and their own lives;
leads the reader into appreciating the challenges that sociological thinking poses;
provides a clear introduction to sociological concepts and theories and offers a
challenging learning curve in constructing sociological approaches and insights.

Table of Contents:

1 // Sociology – The Terrain and the Challenge
Sociology – not a pushover
The meaning of concepts
Key concepts of sociology – society as constraint and control
The individual and society
Some important implications
1 Use theories critically and selectively
2 Consider environmental explanations, even when genetic explanations may seem to be obvious
3 Question explanations of behaviour that are put in terms of human nature
4 Think about life profiles in terms of socially structured life chances and opportunities
5 Stand back and be prepared to question common sense views of society, especially your own
The sociological challenge
1 Developing your sociological imagination
2 Making the transition from layperson to sociologist

2 // Sociological Perspectives
Modernisation as the context for founding social theory
Founding social theorists: scientific laws of social change toward utopian futures
Early positivism and the problem of social order
Spencer’s science of evolutionism – social order through enlightened individualism
Classical Marxism and the science of class conflict
Early functionalism and the science of social engineering
Social action theory – social science and contingency
Pause and reflection
The emergence of micro perspectives
1 Symbolic interactionism – social self-identity
2 Phenomenology and ethnomethodology – the subjectivity of social structures
Structuration theory – combining purposive individual action and social structure
Sociological theory – the way ahead
Recap on the founding theories
Answers to multiple choice exercise

3 // Sociological Research Methods and Methodology
The sociological challenge
Definition of main concepts
The range of research methods
How do sociologists obtain information?
1 Primarily through asking questions
2 Primarily through observing behaviour
3 Primarily through utilising documents
Research methodology and founding perspectives:
Positivist methodology – social facts and hypotheses testing
Social action theory – an interpretive social science
Micro approaches – interpretive methodology:
Symbolic interactionism – a humanistic methodology
Phenomenological methodology – the study of subjective meaning
Ethnomethodology – facts are provisional; just the means by which they are constructed should be studied
More contemporary approaches to sociological research:
Critical theory – neo-Marxist methodology and consciousness raising
Feminist methodology and consciousness raising
Postmodernist methodology – the end of social science

4 // Sociology of Families and Households
The sociological challenge
Definition of main concepts
Founding sociological perspectives on the family
Functionalism – the functional fit of the nuclear family
Marxism – the nuclear family as a support mechanism for capitalism
Family change from a broad social historical context
Traditional sociological research:
1 The extended family
2 The nuclear family
Feminist viewpoint on family life
Symbolic interactionism – family as defined by participants
The family – decline or change?
1 Divorce
Increase in divorce
Understanding statistics
Why an increase in divorce?
Why a decrease in divorce?
2 Growing family and household diversity
Responses to changes in family life – sociology, politics and social policy
Pause and reflection
Developments in sociological approaches to family life
Postmodernism – almost anything goes
Variations of high modernism
From life cycle to life course and beyond
The social construction of age groups
A subjective refocusing of personal relationships

5 // Social Stratification
The sociological challenge
Definition of main concepts
A glimpse at closed stratification systems
Founding sociological perspectives on social stratification
Functionalism – the realisation of an open social structure
Marxism – capitalism remains a class stratified social structure
Weber – the importance of social status
Social stratification – traditional sociological issues:
1 How to measure social class
2 Measuring social mobility
3 Analysing society in terms of meritocracy
Class stratification – changing but how?
Gender stratification – continuity and change
Measuring gender stratification – a case for individual assignment?
Differentiating race and ethnicity
Post-war immigration
Traditional models and theories of ethnic stratification
Ethnicity and occupational profile – diversity remains
Racial discrimination – grounds for optimism?
New anxieties
Contemporary sociological thinking on social stratification:
The decline of social class?
The growing importance of social status?
Postmodernism – the demise of social class
High modernism / late modernism – the individualisation of risk
Globalisation and liquid modernity – the polarisation of mobility, the domination of capital and the detachment of the individual

6 // Sociology of Education
The sociological challenge
Definition of main concepts
Founding sociological perspectives on education:
Functionalism – education services a meritocratic society
Marxism – education perpetuates the appearance of a meritocratic society
Weber – education as an arena of struggle
Symbolic Interactionism – labelling and self-agency
Schooling – change in social and historical context
Post-war educational policy – the social democratic approach and social engineering
Traditional sociological themes and research:
1 Social class – the seemingly impenetrable barrier to equal opportunity in educational achievement
2 Gender – changing social and educational horizons
3 Ethnicity – early period educational performance levels and general explanations
Developments in educational policy:
1 New right (neo-liberal) policy – the promotion of diversity and choice
2 New Labour policy – no return to the social democratic model
3 Coalition policy – adding to diversity
Contemporary developments in education:
1 An emphasis on examination performance:
Grade inflation?
Grade deflation?
2 Types of illiteracy
3 The expansion of higher education
4 Meritocracy – advance or retreat?
Contemporary sociological perspectives on education:
Postmodernism – the liberating potential of education
High modernism – education for adaptation

7 // Power and Politics
The sociological challenge
Definition of main concepts
Founding sociological perspectives on power and politics:
Functionalism – representative democracy and the use of power in the collective interest
Marxism – representative democracy hiding the power of the capitalist class
Weber – representative democracy versus bureaucracy
Elite theory – representative democracy, fine as long as it does not amount to much!
Pluralism – representative democracy as a balancing of diverse interests
Elite pluralism or fragmented elites?
Society and the state
The vote – more an index of power than power itself?
Sociological approach to voting behaviour
A post-war baseline – voting behaviour and social class
The decline of social class based voting?
Contemporary sociological perspectives on power and politics:
Globalisation – the erosion of the power of the state and national
New social movements
Foucault – the power of discourse
Postmodernism – the illusion of politics
High modernism and risk society
High modernism – transformationism and the reconfiguration of political power
Deficiencies of supra-national organisations
High modernism, transformationism and third way politics
New Labour – the radical centre?
Civic Conservatism

8 // Sociology of Religion
The sociological challenge
Definition of main concepts
Founding sociological perspectives on religion:
Functionalism – the social utility of religion
Marxism – religion as political control
Weber – religion and western capitalism
Phenomenology – religion and ontological security
Modernism and secularisation
The secularisation debate – seeming victory for the rationalists?
Contemporary developments with reference to religion:
1. Tradition and reform – gender and sexuality
2. Secularisation revisited:
a) The collapse of communism
b) The rise of fundamentalism
c) New religious movements
Contemporary sociological perspectives on religion:
Globalisation – religious cosmopolitanism or fundamentalism?
Theories of the revitalisation of religion
Postmodernism – religious and cultural diversity
High modernism – fundamentalism as an escape from reflexivity

9 // Developments in Sociological Theory
Introduction – a rapidly changing world
Conceptualising globalisation
Dimensions of globalisation
Held’s classification of approaches to globalisation
Globalisation – an overview
Toward contemporary theory
Postmodernity or high modernity?
Postmodernism and the periodisation of history
Radical postmodernism – the end of society
Or capitalism in crisis?
The discourse of science and normative control
Queer theory
High modernist theories:
1. Extending life world rationality
2. Liquid modernity and disembedding
3. Informational society
4, Hybrid societies and reconfigured relationships
5. Society of manufactured risk
6. A post-social world?

Author Information:

John T. Pullinger has a BA Honours Degree Sociology with Professional Studies (North East London Polytechnic, 1978). He also completed a part-time postgraduate studies in Sociology at The London School of Economics, and has completed an M.Phil Degree in Sociology. He has extensive teaching experience at Access to Higher Education level and will be using the text on the current Access Sociology course.


Review of ‘Sociological Thinking – A New Introduction’
Dr Harshad Keval, Senior Lecturer, Sociology, Canterbury Christ Church University.

From the opening paragraphs of this second edition, it is clear that the text provides more than a standard introductory Sociology ‘cook-book’. Rather, in keeping with the ethos of the original edition published in 2008, it guides, introduces, and gradually facilitates an incremental but lively and engaged understanding of some core sociological themes. The contemporary introductory Sociology textbook market place is no safe haven for products which cannot make the subject lively, and most importantly relevant (one only has to regard the continued success of the excellent Haralambos and Holborn authored texts).

The author manages this difficult task substantially by not only covering a huge amount of material, but by sustaining a sociological narrative that asks the reader simply to look around their own social, cultural and political world. This in many ways is the defining strength of the text, its persistent but gentle development of a specific, intellectual curiosity, via the nurturing of critical sociological lenses. However similar to other texts in the field, before venturing into discrete topics, it builds an understanding of the deep, complex and sometimes forgotten philosophical foundations of the subject, but it does so in an interesting and lively manner. The author’s passion for the historical development of the subject is clear from this chapter, and the importance for the subject is not lost.

I am reminded of the seminal text “Modern Sociological Theory”, by the late Ian Craib, in which a comment made by Charcot to Freud is quoted: “Theory is good but it doesn't prevent things from existing.” In many ways this textbook brings that quote to life by allowing the new reader of sociology to understand that indeed, there is a deep and profound relationship between our personal situation in the world, and the complex relationship between the things we observe, and the theoretical explanations that may help us make sense of them. Oftentimes, for new students of the subject, there is little of practical import in the subject, and Pullinger’s text is a very welcome insurance policy against this. It maintains that as long as the appropriate kind of curiosity is developed - sociological questioning, then the appropriate analytical understand can develop.

The text itself includes the standard fare for introductory texts: Perspectives, Methodology, Families, Stratification, Education, Power and Politics, Religion and finally a chapter on Developments in Sociology. The range is broad and despite the author’s admission that the broad sweep comes at the cost of some depth, this does not compromise on the vital style of thinking being encouraged. As teachers and lecturers of Sociology will be familiar with, throwing mountains of detailed sociological information at new students is neither useful nor fun for either party. Enlisting the reader’s own biographical situation can on the other hand can often be effective. Therefore a welcome addition is that each chapter is prefaced by ‘The Sociological Challenge’ which is an explicit, brief discussion of the issues faced within that particular topic, and how Sociology might help. This sets the analytical tone for the reader, as the author gradually builds a conceptual, empirical and theoretical narrative for the reader to engage with. This functions to contextualise the relevance of sociological thinking for all social issues, and is important for newcomers to the subject. It pre-empts the popular (and often unspoken but easily perceived by experienced educators) question, “What does this have to do with me?” The resounding sociological answer is echoed in the text, and ultimately hopefully will spur the reader to make the myriad connections themselves, as they reveal their own embedded-ness within the heart of the sociological enterprise.

The author uses contemporary examples in the narrative, such as the education system, family, economic austerity, globalisation, unemployment and politics to carefully examine how using concepts, theories and data, readers can learn to view the world from a different perspective. Again this serves to situate Sociology in a contemporary milieu, and gives the reader some personal, social and intellectual purchase with which to start their own analyses. It also reminds the reader that the types of explanation for social phenomenon which are based on taken for granted knowledge can be tackled by undermining these assumptions and using alternative, potentially powerful thinking tools.

One of my few gripes regarding the content relates to the omission of colonial and post-colonial discourses. The text does indeed deal with some of the major relationships between race, the Atlantic slave trade, economic development, as well as the recent immigration histories of the UK and the related social stratification of minority populations. However, even at this level, I believe it is useful for newcomers to the subject to be exposed to the many ways in which European enlightenment philosophical foundations were intimately connected with an on-going and problematic relationship with particular constructions of countless other peoples across many continents. These inter-relationships can be difficult for new readers to absorb, but are not impossible – in fact John Pullinger’s style of writing shows the potential for integrating this subject area in future editions. This is not a huge omission for an introductory text, and there is plenty of substantial discussion here about race and difference for the reader to grasp the main ideas and then explore further.

In summary, a welcome textbook for all the audiences outlined by the book itself. More importantly, for all new introductory readers of the subject, it should establish in their minds a very ‘real’ and important sense of Sociology as a mature, reflective, intellectual project, which can be made accessible, engaging and relevant.

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