Understanding Everyday Life
Bennett, Tony and Diane Watson (Editors)
Blackwell Publishers, Oxford
Bennett and Watson take us on a journey into the mysteries of the everyday in this the first of a series of four books written by the Open University (OU) Sociology Course Team, being their core textbook for their Sociology and Society module. The book's stated aim to defamiliarise the everyday is achieved by the application of sociological insight to seven familiar aspects of British life by chapter; being the world of home, the 'religion' of love, the complexities of street life, dealing with day to day economics and the profound reach of this concept into our lives, advocating a broader less physically defined understanding of community (no doubt influenced by being written for the less physically defined OU) and, of course, the pub. Each chapter is structured to be a complete entity itself, with contents page, introduction and bibliography, with final readings and index, though it would have been nice to see a glossary of terms. The chapters have clearly stated aims, contain selected sociological readings, which are then discussed, interspersed with activities and concluding with a summary section. It is a well-structured book, which maintains its consistency of structure throughout. There are multiple images including the use of statistical data, a very good use of varied fonts which serves to break up the large volume of text that core textbooks must employ and they utilise the device of highlighting sociologically specific terms both in colour in the text and with reference in the margin, which would be particularly helpful to the newcomer.
It is without doubt one of the most readable core textbooks I have encountered. The feature that impressed me most with this text was the consciousness of the importance of interweaving classical sociological theory with current research and applicability to lived experience. No small task. This put me very much in mind of Mike O'Donnell's exhortation in the introduction to his Classical and Contemporary Sociology: Theory and Issues (2000), that 'there is a unity to sociology that is in real danger of being lost'. Bennett and Watson's attempt to write with the flow of the unity of our discipline, rather than fracturing against it, impressed me. It is this continuous interweaving that is the great strength of this text.
There are, however, limitations. I found the book quite culturally specific and was at times concerned at the abundance of use of social actors dialogue for a core text. Though I appreciate that this flows from Bennett and Watson's desire to maximise the relateability and everyday relevance of the discipline to their students. Perhaps in this sense they are justified. The largest limitation on this text is its specificity. Being written for a defined course naturally limits it to a wider audience. However, whilst I am not convinced it would be entirely appropriate as a core text for every sociology module, it could certainly be considered as a valuable addition to the recommended reading lists of those modules that investigate similar subject areas as the chapters, such as romance or everyday economics.
Above all I have to say that subsequent to discovering that my book to review was a core textbook! I was delighted to find that it was that rare breed of textbook that manages not to kill the vitality and inherently fascinating nature of the discipline beneath the weight of information it must present and, in this case, even manages to be a good read. Well done Bennett, Watson and Team.