Contested Knowledge: Social Theory Today - Third Edition

Steven Seidman
Blackwell Publishers: Oxford
0631226710 (pb)
ix + 285

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Front CoverIn Contested Knowledge, Steven Seidman charts an amazing journey through sociological theory a journey that is impressive not only because of its intellectual clarity but also because of its breath and scope. He begins with the classical sociological tradition established by Auguste Comte, Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim and Max Weber, outlining not only their key intellectual contributions but also their visions of a just society. Seidman then turns to the American contributions of Talcott Parsons and Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann. The work of Parsons' most formidable critic, C. Wright Mills, is also discussed. Next Seidman explores the European work of Jürgen Habermas, Stuart Hall, Anthony Giddens and Pierre Bourdieu, followed by the "Postmodern Turn" which is represented by the work of Jacques Derrida, Jean-François Lyotard, Jean Baudrillard, Michel Foucault and Zygmunt Bauman. Finally, he examines the challenges to these theories from various theoretical positions associated with identity politics, namely feminism, critical race theory, queer theory and postcolonialism. In this context, he discusses the work of Judith Butler, Bob Connell, Dorothy Smith, Patricia Hill Collins, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Adrienne Rich, Jeffrey Weeks, Eve Kosofsy Sedgwick, Immanuel Wallerstein, and others.

These complex theorists are dealt with in a way that is engaging and accessible (itself a commendable feat) but more importantly, in a fashion that continually reminds us of the relevance of social theory to the central political issues of our times. Each chapter contains a brief biographical extract about the key figures of the discipline, as well as a small number of suggested readings. The structure of the book is also conducive to learning there are five sections, each containing an introduction and afterward which highlight key themes. The five sections are entitled "The Rise of The Classical Tradition", "Rethinking the Classical Tradition: American Sociology", "Rethinking the Classical Tradition: European Theory", "Revisions and Revolts: The Postmodern Turn" and "Revisions and Revolts: Identity Politics and Theory".

Perhaps the most important message which comes through this book is that sociology can offer a social and moral vision of the world that is passionate, inspired and provocative Seidman highlights this element in each of the theories he discusses. The book is incredibly accessible, and has already had a significant impact on the discipline. However, it has been 8 years since the first edition was published, and 4 years since the second edition was released. The first edition lacked a discussion of many important sociologists such as Stuart Hall, Pierre Bourdieu, Franz Fanon and Edward Said, and later editions address their contributions in much more detail. In the third edition, there are additional sections on white studies, critical heterosexuality studies, masculinity studies and on empire. These are some of the key intellectual issues facing contemporary sociologists, and the latest edition of this book should be essential reading for all sociological theorists.

Mark Sherry
University of Illinois at Chicago