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Contemporary Sociological Thinkers and Theories

Segre, Sandro

Ashgate, Aldershot (2014)
ISBN: 9780754671817 (hb)

Reviewed by Yves Laberge, University of Ottawa

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Cover of Contemporary Sociological Thinkers and Theories Neither an anthology of texts (‘reader’) nor an edited book with various contributors, Contemporary Sociological Thinkers and Theories presents sixteen sociologists and social theories, from Pierre Bourdieu to Talcott Parsons, and from ‘ethnomethodology’ to ‘Symbolic Interactionism’ and ‘Rational Choice Theory’. In order to focus on current social sciences, the usual ‘founding fathers’ of sociology (such as Marx, Durkheim, Max Weber, Herbert Spencer) have not been dedicated a specific chapter here, even though they are often mentioned in almost every chapter (p. 1). Rejecting a chronological approach in favour of a thematically organised presentation, Sandro Segre surprisingly begins this comprehensive book with a whole chapter dedicated solely to the prolific American sociologist Jeffrey Alexander, a leading figure in Neofunctionalism and the author of numerous books, including The Meanings of Social Life: A Cultural Sociology (Alexander 2003). This opening chapter focuses on many topics, including collective representations, cultural sociology, plus Alexander’s concept of ‘strong program’, and ultimately social theory: ‘Sociological traditions, ideologies, arguments, explanations and debates, which refer to disciplinary presuppositions, converge in theories’ (p. 3).

The most rewarding dimension of Sandro Segre’s book is the quality of the articulation about each thinker introduced here, explaining meticulously the specific elements of his thought. For example, Sandro Segre aptly situates Niklas Luhmann’s contribution in these terms: ‘Luhmann formulates a sociology of trust, power and risk in conformance to his social system theory, and connects these notions with the theme of complexity’ (p. 194). Elsewhere, when discussing social theories of networks and social identities, Sandro Segre articulates these concepts in clear terms: ‘Actors are not only people, but also social organizations and ‘disciplines’’ (p. 236). Writing about Erving Goffman’s conceptions and frameworks, Sandro Segre explains how Goffman, the author of The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959), progressively distanced himself from Symbolic Interactionism in 1974 and even before (p. 150). According to Segre, the older Goffman seemed to escape any school of thought, classification, or rigid paradigm (like ethnomethodology) in order to assume its own theoretical conception of the social interaction.

Contemporary Sociological Thinkers and Theories is efficient in its pedagogical efforts and in its balance between ‘famous’ sociologists and lesser-known authors, always trying to highlight what makes this particular trend or thinker’s contribution unique. A good telling example of this is the 14th chapter about the Phenomenological Perspective: ‘In keeping with Husserl, Schutz investigates on how subjects, starting from their lived experience of consciousness, constitute a world provided with a meaning, and take it for granted during their everyday life, considering it as an undisputed or paramount reality’ (p. 305). Such eloquent sentences are frequent and make this book valuable for scholars and students who need to situate a sociologist’s conception and positions as compared to others’ views and approaches.

Neither a dictionary nor a textbook, this Contemporary Sociological Thinkers and Theories is a rich, useful, and clear update on 21st century sociology which includes some salient thinkers for today’s social issues. Not many books nowadays are as instructive and rewarding as this one. My only quibble for the publisher Ashgate would be about the font size of the text that is much too small and therefore difficult to read; it seems like reading a whole book of endnotes (or in that format). This presentation is not meant to serve as an ‘Introduction to sociology’; most undergraduates would probably feel lost in the large amount of information gathered here. Although there are already a few similar books centred on key social thinkers (such as Rob Stones’ Key Sociological Thinkers [2007]), Sandro Segre’s latest opus brings an invaluable, in-depth study and mapping on social theory and social sciences in general. University libraries in English-speaking countries should offer this title to their readers, particularly because it presents so many thinkers into one single work. Social scientists that are unfamiliar with social theory will learn from this dense book. Let’s hope this excellent publication will soon be translated into international languages.

Works cited

ALEXANDER, J. (2003) The Meanings of Social Life: A Cultural Sociology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

STONES, R. (Ed.) (2007), Key Sociological Thinkers, 2nd Edition, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.