Understanding Education: A Sociological Perspective

Gewirtz, Sharon and Cribb, Alan
Polity Press, Cambridge
9780745633459 (pb)

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Cover of book The book Understanding Education: A Sociological Perspective sets out to 'make sense of the sociology of education and disputes within it', and begins with a chapter detailing the particular characteristics of this approach. It is always helpful to see a range of authentic examples which help to locate the reader in what can often seem to be a multi-complex range of positions and debates. The example of education as a contested domain using a case study of parents of disabled babies (Chapter 1) is particularly effective in locating the multifarious debates within this field. Discussions of structure and agency in Chapter 2 provide a clear and well-articulated discussion on the tensions inherent within the notion of agency, highlighting the differing conceptualizations and ontological approaches in this core element of sociological debate. Chapter 3 which deals with varieties of critique, renders explicit, areas which are sometimes implicit and often occluded in educational texts, providing both a valuable overview and incisive guidance to approaches in this area .

Discussions on the normative agendas that the authors describe as, 'entangled in the writings of sociologists', permeate throughout and lead into a persuasive argument for conceptualising 'a sociology for education as well as a 'sociology of education'. The exploration of both concepts develops into an engaging debate around a particularly thorny, complex and often under discussed area: the policy oriented sociology of education and the contribution that sociologists can make to this. The authors make a powerful case for the need for sociologists to engage with practice elements in order to understand the 'empirical, conceptual and normative complexity', providing a very useful resource for student debate.

Overall the book provides a thorough, cohesive and incisive account of the ways in which a value based approach to education has much to offer. The clarity of the arguments make it a good text to use with students whilst also providing an engaging resource for those who have a background in education but may not have considered their field in this light.

Jacqueline Baxter
The Open University, UK