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A Good Book, In Theory

A Good Book, In Theory: Making Sense Through Inquiry, Second Edition

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 206
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  • Book Info
    A Good Book, In Theory
    Book Description:

    "A refreshing, thoughtful, and passionate book about social theory that is engaging and accessible. This is a must-read for those who want to know more about theory but are afraid to ask." - Aziz Choudry, McGill University

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-0669-2
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vi-vi)
  4. Preface to the First Edition: Users’ Guide for Students and Instructors
    (pp. vii-xvi)
  5. Preface to the Second Edition
    (pp. xvii-xviii)
  6. 1 An Interesting Idea, In Theory
    (pp. 1-30)

    Theory has a bad reputation. It can seem rather useless and is often very hard to understand. Indeed, the words “in theory” are often used to describe idealized thinking that does not fit with reality. For example, in the playThe Bald Sopranoby Eugene Ionesco (1958: 22–23) two English couples, the Smiths and the Martins, are sitting around chatting. The doorbell rings twice. Each time, Mrs. Smith goes to the door and returns to announce that no one is there. Then it rings a third time.

    Mr. Smith asks his wife to answer it. But Mrs. Smith says...

  7. 2 But How Do You Know?
    (pp. 31-60)

    There is nothing more human than the need to find things out. This is confirmed by watching children at play, as they explore the world around them and seek explanations for the phenomena they experience. It can become quite irksome for parents and caregivers to deal with the always present question, “Why?” But as Jenny Diski argues, it is difficult to fault a child’s inquisitive spirit, for inquiry is, after all, what children specialize in. In Diski’s (2008: 11) words, “children are born spies.” It is their “sole task … to find out what is going on,” a task that...

  8. 3 You Are Here: Mapping Social Relations
    (pp. 61-82)

    In malls, universities, and other confusing places there are often maps posted around to help you find your way. These maps sometimes include a very helpful spot marked “you are here.” Of course, you knew where you could find yourself before you even looked at the map. The “you are here” dot is to help you locate yourself in an abstract representation of the space you are navigating. A map is a very good example of abstraction, in which the unnecessary details are filtered out so that the key elements of the system (roads, rivers, walkways) stand out.

    Social theories...

  9. 4 The Real World: Making Sense of Perceptions
    (pp. 83-112)

    Each social theory provides us with a vision of what is realistic in the context of the world we inhabit. This chapter explores the idea of reality and its place in social theory. The prime focus is on phenomenology, a school of theory that has worked a great deal on the idea of reality.

    Reality seems like something outside us, the external world independent of our thoughts. Yet phenomenology reminds us that we produce the outside world by filtering and organizing the things we see, hear, smell, taste, and feel. We sort things into categories all the time, without thinking...

  10. 5 Nature and Culture: The Social Construction of Distinctions
    (pp. 113-134)

    Nature is one of the key concepts that frames the perspectives of many social theories. Most theories have a central vision of human nature and assumptions about our relationship with the environment we find ourselves living in. This chapter begins with a discussion of the relationship between nature and culture in our understanding of the human experience.

    The way we see the relationship between nature and culture underpins our vision of human nature, the core characteristics of people across time and through space. Every theoretical school is based on a set of assumptions about the core constituents of human nature....

  11. 6 Making Time: Clocking Social Relations
    (pp. 135-160)

    This chapter begins with time, which seems to be the most natural of measures. After all, time passes in nature, lives begin and end, seasons change, the sun rises and sets. This chapter will show the ways that this apparently natural system is deeply rooted in our social relations.

    Clock-time developed historically in the context of a specific set of changes to the way society worked. Our world has been organized around clock-time, which has required the development of a technical apparatus ranging from accurate time-pieces to a system of time zones.

    The increased focus on clock-time might be understood...

  12. 7 Conclusion: So Many Theories, So Little Time
    (pp. 161-182)

    Theoretical thinking provides useful tools for making sense of the world around us. It allows us to press beyond what we think we already know about our environment, putting aside the fear of sounding silly and asking the most naïve questions about the way things work. The preceding four chapters have taken apart familiar concepts (the classroom, reality, nature, and time) to demonstrate the ways that theoretical thinking within a methodical process of inquiry can reframe our understanding of reality.

    We have not yet penetrated very far into the tangled forest of formal theories that influence scholarly work in the...

  13. Glossary
    (pp. 183-188)
  14. References
    (pp. 189-198)
  15. Index
    (pp. 199-206)