ask a scatterbrain: advanced social theory

OK, it’s time to order books for the fall (zoinks!). I’m really excited about my graduate seminar in the fall, Advanced Social Theory, the first time we’ve been able to offer an advanced (meaning beyond one single semester!) social theory graduate course in the 9 years I’ve been here. I offered three general ideas for the course:

  1. Mid-20th-century American social theory and kin (e.g., Parsons, Merton, Lazarsfeld, etc.)
  2. Late Marxist and Postmodern theory (Frankfurt School, Foucault, Lyotard, Baudrillard, etc.)
  3. Theory in method, contemporary sociological work on theorizing the practice and result of sociological research

To my delight, the overall response has been most positive for option 3, so this time around it will be a “where the rubber hits the road” kind of course, considering current theoretical work that is in one way or another closely tied with empirical research.

So, dear scatterbrains – I ask you, what books shall I order? Of course article-based material will constitute a substantial portion of the syllabus, and that can be added later, but I need to order a few books. I think I’m looking for 3-4 books. Some of the possibilities I’m considering are below, but I’d love to hear your other thoughts too.

In no particular order, here are some of my ideas:

  • Ragin, Redesigning Social Inquiry
  • John Levi Martin, Social Structures
  • Ann Mische, Partisan Publics
  • Kurzman, The Unthinkable Revolution in Iran
  • Norton, 95 Theses on Culture, Politics, and Method


Author: andrewperrin

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

7 thoughts on “ask a scatterbrain: advanced social theory”

  1. cool!!
    I found Hedstrom and Swedberg’s book, Social Mechanisms: An Analytical Approach to Social Theory, dense but very very useful.


  2. If you want something historical, Sewell’s “Logics of History” is pretty fantastic. Abbott’s got some good theory/method pieces as well (“Methods of Discovery”, for exmaple).


  3. Everyone’s got their own take on this stuff, but for balance I think your students would benefit from selections from Firebaugh’s Seven Rules and Hedstrom’s Dissecting the Social (possibly also Stinchcombe’s Logic of Social Research). None of these are perfect books, nor necessarily better than those already on your list. But, they present a different perspective on the theory-methods connection than what is on your proposed list. Perhaps it is an old-fashioned perspective, but I think it is an important one for students to understand.


  4. If you want to extend “theorizing the practice and result of sociological research” to include theorizing the results and practices of scientific and economic research, you might want to include readings from:
    – Ian Hacking’s book “The Taming of Chance” about the emergence and history of probability. It sounds dry but its fascinating and very readable.
    – Theodore Porter’s “Trust in Numbers” — a classic, on a similar theme, but with more focus on cost-benefit analysis and engineering stats.
    – Either of the two essays by Michel Callon in his edited volume “The laws of the markets.” They’re about how economics performs, shapes and formats the economy. Very timely for talking about economists in the financial crisis.


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