recent theory for sociology grad students

The time has come to plan my syllabus for fall, 2009, graduate social theory. Last semester I screwed it up (yes, for those of you in the class, I admit it!) — I assigned a newish book I hadn’t read, by a reputable author, which turned out to be awful. The class was sporting about it, but this time around I would like my foray into contemporary sociological theory to be more interesting.

The backstory is this: after a few years in the wilderness, UNC now has enough of a critical mass to credibly produce a few grad students who are theory-oriented, if not purely theorists (whatever that would mean!). So I’d like a book or collection of articles that comes from within, or at least is centrally concerned with, contemporary American sociology, and is recognizably theoretical in character. What would you choose?

Author: andrewperrin

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

8 thoughts on “recent theory for sociology grad students”

  1. If you’re *not* totally committed to “American” I would suggest Bent Flyvbjerg’s Rationality and Power.

    If you are, perhaps Abbott? Time Matters is both really theoretical and allows you to talk about theory as more than just theory: revealing the implicit theoretical claims behind any method.


  2. Not at all American, but still I’d like to plug Latour’s Reassembling the Social. Important metatheory doesn’t come around that often.

    I’m sure you do this already but I also wanted to plug theory construction as a distinct project from theory indoctrination (I don’t mean the latter pejoratively – becoming disciplined in a field of course requires some indoctrination). Working toward theory from cases interpreted naively at first, through a problem-solving process of recursive questioning (hypothesis, test, revision), is a great way to show the tool-like quality of theories; and with a smart group I find you end up with stuff that looks a lot like this or that formal theory pretty quick. Then you can assign the relevant texts to particular students for further reading and report to the group.

    When is the class scheduled? I wonder if I might audit?


  3. A friend sent me this:

    “Three readings that provide useful conceptual tools for doing theoretically-relevant empirical work:

    Fraser, _Unruly Practices_

    Hedström and Swedberg (eds), _Social Mechanisms_

    Foucault, “Governmentality” (in _The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality_) and “Afterword: On the subject and power” (in Dreyfus and Rabinow, _Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics_)”


  4. By the way Andrew, it’s nice of you to be diplomatic and all but if that new book you assigned was really awful you should probably tell us what it is so we don’t make the same mistake!


  5. @6.Carl: I didn’t identify the book because I like (personally) and respect (professionally) the author very much, and think much of his other work is quite interesting, provocative, and outstanding. Hence I committed the cardinal sin of assigning the book without having read it (though its having won the Theory Section award didn’t hurt!). However, given that you’ve asked, and that you could probably figure it out by going to the syllabus, I’ll ‘fess up that it’s James Jasper’s Getting Your Way. The question of strategic dilemmas seemed very exciting, and I thought it would be a good hook for discussing research and theory — but each dilemma is quite vaguely delineated. More problematically, the book insists on a residual form of agency within each dilemma wherein agency is preserved by the theorist not being willing to consider probabilities for resolving the dilemmas, which left it reading more like a business school casebook than a work of social theory.


  6. Read the syllabus? Nah!

    Took a look at Jasper’s preview at google books. It looks to me like an able executive summary of a lot of social theory for a general policy/management kind of audience, just as you say. Kind of like Machiavelli’s Prince. I notice on Amazon that the blurb reviews include Financial Times and the UM business school.

    Can’t fault him for finding a way to cash in.

    I realize I’ve collapsed into sloth and turpitude at my sleepy regional SLAU, but I often assign books I haven’t read, as an excuse to read them. There’s almost always at least a little something to like, and when they’re bad, discussing why and how they could have been better is generally pretty productive.


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