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The Sociologically Examined Life

Pieces of the Conversation

Fifth Edition

Michael Schwalbe

Publication Date - 16 February 2017

ISBN: 9780190620660

320 pages
5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches

In Stock

A lively and concise text that inspires students to think sociologically about society and about themselves as social actors


Now published by Oxford University Press, the fifth edition of The Sociologically Examined Life: Pieces of the Conversation teaches students how to think sociologically. Michael Schwalbe's conversational writing encourages discussion and pushes students to critically examine how social life leads them to think, feel, and behave in the ways they do. The Sociologically Examined Life encourages students to apply sociological thinking to both social structures and their everyday lives. It also guides students in reflecting on their potential power to change the social world.

New to this Edition

  • Two new chapters (12 and 13), one showing how to think sociologically about the relationship between nature and society, and another showing how to unpack the processes that make up the social world
  • Updated statistics and examples throughout

About the Author(s)

Michael Schwalbe is Professor of Sociology at North Carolina State University. He is the author of several books, including Rigging the Game: How Inequality Is Reproduced in Everyday Life, Second Edition (OUP, 2015) and Manhood Acts: Gender and the Practices of Domination (2014).

Previous Publication Date(s)

December 2007
April 2004
June 2000


"Michael Schwalbe uses his experience to highlight how a sociologist views the world; this is brilliant and what sets this book apart from all others. The Sociologically Examined Life is a practical guide to living in the world sociologically. This gets students excited about sociology. They also see that being sociologically mindful can help create a more just and equitable world. This is the best book for an introductory sociology course."--Sean Davis, MiraCosta College

"The approach, in its conversational tone and use of examples drawn from Schwalbe's experience as a teacher, is fantastic. The Sociologically Examined Life will help students make the connections that we want them to make between their personal lives and the cultures, institutions, and structures in which they live."--Tennille Allen, Lewis University

Table of Contents


    1. Making Sense of the World Differently
    Sociological Mindfulness
    A Justification for Sociological Mindfulness
    The Rarity of Sociological Mindfulness
    A Continuing Conversation
    Dialogue: Labels and Roots
    A Note on Bias
    Paths for Reflection
    Related Readings

    2. Inventing the Social World
    What the Social World Is Made Of
    Habits and Invisible Ideas
    Confronting the Social World as Ready-Made
    Making People Disappear
    Inventing Categories and Inventing People
    Inventing the Truth

    How to See the Social World Being Made
    Remaking the Social World
    Dialogue: Overcoming the One-Dimensional View
    A Note on Common Sense
    Paths for Reflection
    Related Readings

    3. Seeing Connections
    Awareness of Unintended Consequences
    Analyzing Moral Problems
    Reading Indexes
    Nonobvious Indexes
    Social Organization as an Index
    Connections to the Past
    Deepening the Present
    Dialogue: Little Things and Big Things
    A Note on the Future
    Paths for Reflection
    Related Readings

    4. Relationships, Groups, and Interdependence
    Beyond Individualism
    Mindfulness of Interdependence
    Perspectives and Groups
    Understanding Ourselves by Understanding Others
    "Personal Choices"
    Violent Sports
    Having Babies
    A Scientist's Dilemma
    Reexamining Our Choices
    Dialogue: Emotional Investments and Opinions
    A Note on Blind Spots
    Paths for Reflection
    Related Readings

    5. Becoming Human
    Gathering Meanings
    Taking on Identities
    Regulating Ourselves
    Silent Knowledge
    Keeping Things on Track
    Feeling for and with Others
    The Risk of Cutting Ourselves Off from Others
    Mindful Resistance
    Dialogue: Brains and Minds in the Social World
    A Note on Emotion
    Paths for Reflection
    Related Readings

    6. Behavior as a Product of Interaction
    Cultural Context
    Interactional Surprises
    Minding and Un-minding the Self
    Defining the Situation
    Seeing the Bigger Picture
    Historical Context
    Ordinary Insanity
    An Antidote to Ordinary Insanity
    Dialogue: Preconditions for Ordinary Insanity?
    A Note on Deviance
    Paths for Reflection
    Related Readings

    7. Seeing Patterns
    Patterns Within Patterns
    Patterns of Difference
    Interpreting Group Differences
    Trends and Tendencies
    Things That Go Together
    Relationships Among Variables
    Patterns and Individual Lives
    Dialogue: The Language of Social Structure
    A Note on Theory
    Paths for Reflection
    Related Readings

    8. Contingency and Cause
    Stability and Change
    Reasons, Conditions, and the Possibility of Choice
    Enabling Conditions
    Reason and Choice
    Rules as Constructed Causes
    A Life-and-Death Game
    Avoiding Reductionism
    Chance, Pattern, and Paths
    Dialogue: Freedom, Constraint, and Unforeseen Contingencies
    A Note on Luck
    Paths for Reflection
    Related Readings

    9. Images, Representations, and Accounts
    Resources for Creating Images
    The Necessity and Danger of Representations
    Misrepresentation by Stereotype and Habit
    Giving and Receiving Accounts
    Behind and Underneath Accounts
    Tools for Making Reality
    Significant Absences
    Organized Exclusion and Invention
    Challenging Representations
    Dialogue: Seeking Alternative Representations
    A Note on Passive Voice
    Paths for Reflection
    Related Readings

    10. Understanding Power in Social Life
    Ideas and Illusions
    Instilling Needs
    Impeding Critical Thought
    Controlling Information
    People-Filtering and Self-Censorship
    Information as a Resource for Power and Resistance
    Making Rules and Agendas
    Autonomy and Freedom
    Dialogue: Power and Legitimacy
    A Note on Nonviolence
    Paths for Reflection
    Related Readings

    11. Differences and Inequalities
    Forms of Inequality
    Invisible Resources
    Visible Origins of Invisible Resources
    Reconditioning Ourselves

    False Parallels
    Taking History and Context into Account
    False Gender Parallels
    Patterns in True Parallels
    Self-Justification and a Test for Justice
    Dialogue: Inconvenience and Oppression
    A Note on Common Wealth
    Paths for Reflection
    Related Readings

    12. Seeing the Social in the Natural
    Unnatural Disasters
    Unintended Environmental Consequences
    The Body as a Social Product
    Social Realities and Natural Illusions
    Seeing the Natural in the Social
    Dialogue: The Limits of Technology
    A Note on Ignorance
    Paths for Reflection
    Related Readings

    13. Unpacking Process
    Opening a Bigger Box
    Seeing Processes as Generic
    Processes and Conditions
    Multiple Processes at Once
    Dialogue: Achieving Analytic Distance
    A Note on Life Stage and Generational Differences
    Paths for Reflection
    Related Readings

    14. Studying and Changing the Social World
    Advantages of Systematic Research
    The Kinds of Questions We Can Ask
    Interpreting the Answers to Empirical Questions
    Resolving Disagreement
    Mindful Skepticism
    Partial Truth and Inevitable Uncertainty
    Perpetual Inquiry and Conversation
    Changing One's Self and the World
    Dialogue: Knowledge and Action
    A Note on Teaching Others
    Paths for Reflection
    Related Readings


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