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This Is Not All of Sociology

You are reading this book, so you probably want to know what sociology is. If we don’t tell you, you will likely want your money back. Many books like this one will tell you that it is the study of ‘society’. Stop there, job done, time for a snack… But wait, it is not that simple. Especially as there are debates within sociology about what a society is, and even whether ‘society’ actually exists. Sorry, you are going to have to read the rest of the book to really develop a sense of what sociology is. Even then we will only be giving you part of the story.

We were being a bit cheeky to call this book This is Sociology. Treat anyone, including us, with suspicion if they tell you something like that. There are many different approaches to sociology, and it is impossible for any single book to cover the whole discipline. We could have called the book ‘What sociology is to Dan and Steve: A partial at best introduction to some sociological concepts from the perspective of two white guys from Australia’. Our publishers did not think this would sell well. Even textbooks with 40 chapters and 600 pages cannot really do justice to the breadth of sociology, and there are plenty of these if you have $100 plus to spare. We cannot cover all of this diverse, amazing and rapidly changing field. In reality, this is our brief presentation of sociology and the history and concepts that we think will give you a helpful introduction, tailored to how we teach sociology to our own students. It aims to introduce you to the key concepts you will need as you develop your ability to look at the world like a sociologist. We have highlighted these concepts in bold throughout the text and you will find a comprehensive glossary of all these terms at the end of the book. We hope some of you who read it are inspired to delve deeper into the many approaches to sociology and the different lenses they provide for trying to understand, and make better, our complex social worlds.

As well as introducing important concepts, we also introduce you to the thinkers who developed these ideas. While it is important to know these names, one of the things you will discover as you read is that important ideas emerge in particular times and places, and often through the interaction of many people developing a way of thinking, as people have tried to understand the changing social world around them. Like any major discipline taught in universities, from sciences such as physics and astronomy, to arts and humanities such as literature or painting, sociology’s history and canonical texts are dominated by white European and American men. To tell the story of sociology and get an understanding of its history, those white males and the influential concepts that they developed need to be understood – many of their ideas are still of at least some use today. However, sociologists are increasingly recognising other writers from the past, who were – because of the biases they faced – not given the attention they deserved for their insights into social life. We have tried to highlight these contributions as well.

It is important to emphasise that sociology is changing, and the leading thinkers in the field today are much more diverse than when sociology was emerging. Things are improving, if too slowly. More recently non-white, non-male, non-gender-binary voices, and voices from the majority of the world beyond North America and Europe, have been making a major impact in sociology, and we introduce you to many of these thinkers in this book. Yet, there are still considerable institutional biases and marginalisations in sociology specifically, and academia generally. At the very beginning of what we hope will be your sociological journey we want you to know that sociology, like the social worlds it is part of, has its own problems of inequality and biases. One of the things sociology, at its best, can do is apply its own insights into these biases and how they emerge onto the discipline itself.

We hope that if our publishers let us write a second edition of this book in the future, sociology will be even more diverse. While the foundational concepts will still have value and we will still need to know how sociology emerged and changed over time, there will almost certainly be an even greater array of voices and perspectives in mainstream introductory sociology in the near future.

We always wanted this book to be small. Maybe when we started we thought it would be easier to write something short. We were wrong! It just meant tougher decisions to make about what to leave out. We also wanted to write a book that could introduce people to sociology – what has been for us a life-changing way to look at the world – that they could buy for the cost of a few coffees, not a week’s rent. We also wanted it to be small enough to keep in your bag, or even your pocket. If you get into sociology as much as us, you might want to have the book handy: we think sociology can make for better, more informed, conversation (though, to be honest, sociological insights can be challenging to people’s deeply held ideas, and this book is unlikely to make you more popular at parties).

To keep the book pocket-sized, and as engaging as we could, we’ve done a couple of things. Firstly, we have not used formal academic referencing in the body text of the chapters. In academic writing, referencing is the way writers note exactly where, in which book or other source, each idea they are discussing appears. If you study sociology, or any other subject, you’ll learn more about the academic rules for referencing others. This is incredibly important for learning to write academically and making sure you fully attribute ideas, but it can make a text longer and less readable. In this book you will find we give you the names of the scholars associated with each concept in the text, and then at the end of each chapter you will find a list of the important writings from that thinker.

Secondly, we have moved some of the material you might find in a longer textbook off the pages and onto this website, which contains an array of support materials beyond the glossary and key references we have included directly in the book. It includes:

  • A set of discussion questions for each chapter to check and extend your growing knowledge
    of sociology.
  • Recent articles on each topic, including studies that use the concepts we introduce to do new
    research into social life.
  • Some of the best contemporary examples of sociological thinking in the areas we cover, not
    just from sociologists working in universities but from journalists and activists.
  • Introductory videos and podcasts.

  • This is our version of sociology. We hope you enjoy it.

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