The SAGE Handbook of Sociology

Calhoun, Craig, Rojek, Chris and Turner, Bryan
Sage Publications, London
0761968210 (hb)

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Cover of book This impressive SAGE Handbook of Sociology gathers 32 chapters and 35 contemporary contributors, who are writing about the many avenues of sociology or a narrow crosscutting specialty, from the study of consomption to communication, from demography to deviance, highlighting some of the current debates and recent issues in terms of globalization, risk, ethnicity, new technologies and emerging theoretical trends. In their introduction, the co-editors note the fact that before this new release, the most recent Handbook of Sociology published by SAGE had appeared about seventeen years ago, under the editorship of Neil Smelser (1988) (p. 1). In fact, many recent handbooks in this field would rather concentrate on social theory. Here, Calhoun, Rojek, and Turner have divided their big Handbook into three parts: 1. "Theory and Method"; 2. "The axial processes of Society" and 3. "Primary Debates". In this collection of recent essays, there are no exerpts from "classic" texts written by preeminent sociologists such as Robert Merton or Pierre Bourdieu, although their ideas (like Weber's, Parsons' and many others) are presented and discussed by various scholars, who synthesize current trends in contemporary sociology. Incidentally, the way most academics are doing sociology has changed through the years; for instance, as David Apter indicates, "in the not-so-distant past, comparative sociology was considerably more central in the general field of sociology than it is today" (p. 103).

This is not a book about famous or emerging sociologists. Each chapter focus on a specific subfield, giving elements of its evolution and concentrating on some current issues. For instance, in their contribution on "Qualitative Research", Paul Atkinson and Sara Delamont focus almost exclusively on ethnography and narratives such as biographies (p. 40). To explain this emphasis, both authors acknowledge the strong influence of approaches such as visual arts and cultural studies to confirm the explosion of qualitative methods in the social sciences (p. 40). In another fine essay about "Sociology and Philosophy", Randall Collins discusses the limits of sociology, reminding us the fact that some European authors who remain quite influential in social sciences, from Habermas to Bruno Latour, "have no training in sociology" and were educated in philosophical programs (p. 66). But sociologists are not only the critics who notice problems and contradictions in a chosen milieu: they could simply observe the logics behind the social world: "the task of the sociologist of science is not merely to show how social factors lead to the production of ideological or false knowledge, but to true knowledge as well ('The symmetry principle') " (Collins, p. 70).

About half of the following chapters focus on a more conventional (although essential) dimension of the social sciences that could not be avoided : stratification, culture, religion, health, family. Among these chapters presenting a core portrait, Stephen Yearley's excellent piece on "The sociology of environment and nature", which brings some "alternative interpretations of the specifics of contemporary environmentalism", reminding us about the contradictions between one's values and his/her effective behaving in terms of pollution (p. 318). Perhaps many sociologists will want to measure this SAGE Handbook of Sociology by the amount of emerging perspectives it brings, including its sections about the city, the body, plus an original chapter about "Sex and Power". Among others, chapter 32 on citizenship studies articulates ethnicity into the paradigm of symbolic interactionism, arguing that "ethnicity can most adequately be studied and explained by focusing on the individual and collective subjective perceptions of reality" (p. 565). Most contributions are new, although some chapters can be inspired by an author's earlier works, as Gerard Delanty's piece on "The sociology of the university and higher education", which is a derivate from his recent book on that same topic (p. 543).

I do not see this SAGE Handbook of Sociology as being made for undergraduates or beginners in the field; it would rather fit to graduate students and academics who are already aware of some of these works. Many perspectives and paradigms are being presented and compared, but there is often a lack of precise definitions of terms and concepts used. Another possible use would be for any scholar (let's say a researcher in geography, history, education) who would like to explore a precise approach in sociology that would be presented in a reliable fashion. I am sure this SAGE Handbook of Sociology will be instructive and relevant for any experienced social scientist.


SMELSER, Neil (ed.), Handbook of Sociology (1988), Newbury Park, CA: SAGE.

Yves Laberge
Institut québécois des hautes études internationales, Québec City