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Understanding Society

A Survey of Modern Social Theory

Second Edition

Douglas Mann

Publication Date - January 2011

ISBN: 9780195432503

536 pages


Understanding Society: A Survey of Modern Social Theory, Second Edition, introduces the major streams of contemporary social theory and traces their evolution to the present day. This edition features an entirely new chapter on three recent schools of thought centering on the somatic (bodily) aspects of personal identity--race, gender, and queer theory. In addition, a series of fictional vignettes and "flashbacks" throughout illuminate the topics in each chapter and help students make connections between social theory and real-world issues. Using a contemporary and accessible writing style that will engage readers, the book features current debates on such topics as communication, popular culture, the global village, corporatism, and globalization.


  • Comprehensive. Focuses on contemporary social theory (1930s to present) while also providing an overview of classical theory in opening chapters, making the text suitable for full-year social theory courses.
  • Current. Explores contemporary debates relating to communication, popular culture, the global village, corporatism, globalization, race, gender, and sexuality, offering students an up-to-date treatment of modern social theory.
  • Logical organization. Groups theorists into major categories-including critical theory, structuralism and post-structuralism, and globalization-so they can be studied in the order that best suits individual courses, providing flexibility for instructors.
  • Student-friendly pedagogy. Extensive study questions and bibliographies at the end of each chapter, as well as illustrations, tables, and icons indicating additional material online help students understand important concepts.
  • Engaging. A lively, lucid writing style makes complex content accessible for students.

About the Author(s)

Douglas Mann is Assistant Professor in the faculty of information and media studies at the University of Western Ontario. In addition to authoring two editions of Understanding Society, Mann has published Structural Idealism: A Theory of Social and Historical Explanation (WLU Press, 2002), Philosophy: a New Introduction (Nelson, 2005), and dozens of academic and newspaper articles. His main research and teaching areas include social and political theory, pop culture, music, and science fiction.

Previous Publication Date(s)

August 2007

Table of Contents

    1. An Introduction to Social Theory
    The Basics: What Is Society?
    Science and Values
    Causality and Laws
    Modernity and the Enlightenment
    Flashback: Bonjour Monsieur Condorcet
    Modern Historical Trends
    Modernism in the Arts, Letters, and Sciences
    Paradigms of Social Theory
    2. Functionalism and Its Critics
    Hobbes's Question: Why Have a Society at All?
    Durkheim on Society as a Functional Organism
    Vignette: A Functional Life
    Talcott Parsons and Structural Functionalism
    Robert Merton
    Conflict Theory
    Flashback: A Party Disrupted
    C. Wright Mills
    Sociobiology: An Evolutionary Functionalism
    3. The Debate over Materialism
    Vignette: The Factory
    Marx's Main Ideas
    Two Marxists Who Shook the World: Lenin and Trotsky
    Antonio Gramsci and Hegemony
    Louis Althusser on Ideology
    Jean-Paul Sartre's Search for a Method
    Karl Mannheim's Sociology of Knowledge
    Pierre Bourdieu and the Varieties of Capital
    Jean Baudrillard on Consumer Culture
    Flashback: Sarah at the Mall
    The End of the Left?
    4. Slamming Society: Critical Theory and Situationism
    Vignette: The Free Spirits
    The Philosophical Foundations of Critical Reason: Hegel and Nietzsche
    Freud on Civilization and Its Discontents
    Theodor Adorno on Culture
    Herbert Marcuse on Modern Industrial Society
    Some Criticisms of the Frankfurt School
    Christopher Lasch on the Culture of Narcissism
    Jurgen Habermas on Capitalism and Communicative Action
    Culture Jamming
    Flashback: An Unexpected Visit
    5. Meaning in Society: Human Agency and Social Explanation
    Vignette: Athena's Tale
    Structure vs Agency: The Basics
    Weber on Understanding Society
    Ludwig Wittgenstein and Language Games
    R.G. Collingwood's Historical Idealism
    Peter Winch on the Idea of a Social Science
    Hans-Georg Gadamer's Hermeneutics
    Flashback: A Big Confusing Greek Wedding
    Rational Choice Theory
    Anthony Giddens on Agency and Structure
    6. Society as Symbols or Constructs: Symbolic Interactionism and Phenomenology
    Vignette: Saturday Night Dazzler
    Cooley, Mead, and the Birth of Symbolic Interactionism
    Herbert Blumer and Mature Symbolic Interactionism
    Erving Goffman's Dramaturgy
    Flashback: Dancing with a Star
    The Phenomenology of Everyday Life
    The Social Construction of Reality
    7. Structuralism, Semiotics, and Post-Structuralism
    Vignette: A Long Voyage
    The Basics of Structuralism and Semiotics
    Joseph Campbell and the Hero with a Thousand Faces
    Flashback: Mission Accomplished
    Semiotics and Popular Culture
    Post-Structuralism: The Theoretical Logic of Postmodernism
    Jacques Derrida and Deconstruction
    Michel Foucault on Power and the Docile Body
    8. Postmodernism: Political Economy and Communications
    Vignette: The Postmodern Guy
    Revisiting Postmodern Culture
    The Postmodern Condition
    The Post-Industrial Information Society
    Manuel Castells: The Network Society and the Information Age
    Flashback: Bart and Network Society
    9. Postmodernism: Time, Space, and Culture
    Vignette: Highway One Revisited
    Jameson on the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism
    Baudrillard on Postmodern Society as the Desert of the Real
    Postmodern Pop Culture
    Postmodern Space/Time
    Flashback: Going Down the Road
    10. Feminism
    Vignette: The Last Days of Disco
    The Three Waves of Feminist Theory and Practice
    Shulamith Firestone and the Dialectic of Sex
    Susan Moller Okin on the Family as a School for Justice
    Carol Gilligan and the Ethics of Care
    Feminist Standpoint Theory
    Donna Haraway's Cyborgs
    Camille Paglia's Attack on the Second Wave
    Flashforward: FemFriends@Y2K
    11. The Global Village
    Vignette: Welcome to the Global Village
    The Medium Is the Message: Marshall McLuhan
    Heather Menzies on the Global Village Today
    Negri and Hardt on Empire
    Flashback: Run Jessica Run
    12. Globalization, McDonaldization, and Corporatism
    A Short History of the Global Political Economy
    Theories of Globalization
    Flashback: Mallrats
    13. Who Am I? The Self and Society (NEW!)
    Vignette: Out of Africa
    The Philosophical Debate over Personal Identity
    Race Theory
    Judith Butler on Sex, Gender, and Performativity
    Coming Out of the Sociological Closet: Queer Theory