Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1998

Britain in Europe: An Introduction to Sociology

Tony Spybey (editor)
London: Routledge
0 415 11717 8 (pb); 0 415 11716 X (hb)
£14.99 (pb)
xvi + 485 pp.

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The role of the introduction is of paramount importance in all disciplines. In many cases it will be a students experience of the first few weeks of learning about a subject that will influence their overall impression. For this reason we often take greatest care when planning, re-working and resourcing introductory courses. In this context the selection of the appropriate supporting text(s) requires careful thought. Both content and presentation are key issues for such texts, not only must the material be sufficient it must also be accessible. Until now the tendency for introductory texts has been to cover a set of topics using the most important theoretical concepts, generally illustrated with empirical data from the UK. Appropriate justification is that we live here and our students arguably can most easily understand these concepts by relating to data closest to them. International material has often been present - particularly where a topic requires it, for example when examining globalisation. Nonetheless, most texts stop short of providing further data once a topic has been adequately illustrated with British data.

This approach has led to a blinkered understanding of social life, one which has relevance mainly to the UK. It has fostered a certain amount of British-centredness such that students will not automatically question how society is structured and how people live elsewhere. In addition, courses looking at Asia, Africa, North and South America from a sociological perspective may be in danger of using Britain as the benchmark for comparison. Such an error may lead to an assumption of homogeneity within Europe.

This is hence a very welcome addition to the range of already existing introductory sociology textbooks. It is a healthy antidote to a parochial sociology. By placing Britain alongside its European neighbours and examining sociological issues in a pan- European context this book represents an interesting departure from the other introductory texts. While it is by no means an exhaustive introduction to sociology it contains a wide range of sociological issues using data and research form around Europe.

Britain in Europe contains 22 chapters in all, which are arranged into five sections. Each section begins with a general introduction. Each chapter begins with a list of key concepts, have a structured text often with 'boxed' information which stands alone from the text, and ends with a summary and list of suggested further readings. These elements plus many tables diagrams and graphs will make the book an accessible and interesting resource. The first section provides the historical backcloth by examining the development of modern Europe in relation to industrialisation, urbanisation and the growing power of nation states. Subsequent sections develop the implications of these processes by concentrating on, for example, social stratification, employment, racism, young people, education, health crime and so on. These topics are contained within the three middle sections. The final section explores the implications of an expanding European Union in relation to contemporary urban change, nationality and globalisation. My only criticism is that in presenting so much European data there is an occasional tendency to give a breadth of knowledge without corresponding depth.

This is a well thought out book which has been written and compiled with clarity of purpose and a keen eye for its intended audience. I expect this book to be widely adopted on undergraduate sociology degrees. It will be of great use to students at the introductory level as well as for those students seeking wider perspectives on other courses.

Gary Pollock
Manchester Metropolitan University

Copyright Sociological Research Online, 1998