Friday in the Stacks: Sociology Time

Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?

Gauguin’s Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?

Prompted by a vendor email, this week I’ve been doing a bit of thinking around what we have in these – I’m not sure what you call them – large reference works packages provided by Credo, Reference Universe and SAGE.  These platforms let you search for reference content across many electronic reference works.  They can be confusing at first (what am I looking at?  Entries for “baseball” in multiple different encyclopedias?  What source is this coming from?).  But when you spend some time browsing their sites, it becomes clearer what you are looking at.

In any case, the vendor had suggested that I purchase a book (the Routledge International Handbook of Globalization Studies) but it turns out we already have this book – though it’s not located in our reference collection.  It’s upstairs in the circulating collection!  Hurray!  So I thought today I’d do a bit of digging in the circulating collection for quasi-reference works – for things like this Handbook.

I perused this morning, in a fascinating TWO hours I am not ashamed to say, four books:

The two handbooks contain selected readings by various authors organized to convey a landscape of the field of sociology as it is now and the field of globalization studies (a topic of growing importance in the last decade or two).  The Routledge globalization handbook contains over thirty entries organized around major theories, major issues, new institutions and cultures, and solutions.  Sociology, it turns out, is very applied!  While there is no overall introduction to the work, the table of contents is enough of a guide to find a chapter of interest.  Chapters seem to be often grounded in real-world stories but many are heavy on the theory.  Skimming a few, I think these could be really useful to students if they knew to find the book and then look through at chapter headings (it’s a print book so they’d have to think to use the book first).  Luckily, the subject headings are quite easy to return to (globalization — social aspects, globalization — economic aspects, etc.)  Now that I know about this source, I will definitely put it on a guide for my sociology courses that touch on globalization – and I’ll remember it for those reference interactions that involve globalization.

The SAGE handbook feels more of a sociology textbook, I think.  This volume covers research methods, societal processes (e.g. the culture of work, the sociology of the family, the institution of money, class, race, ethnicity etc.), and major recent debates in sociology (e.g. how to connect micro and macro levels of analysis, marrying politics with global inequality issues, etc.).  Each entry again is written by a different author – and it covers quite a range of topics.  The subject headings in the catalog are scanty: simply “sociology.”  We have 922 books with that subject heading, and I think a student would be hard-pressed to find this in a catalog search.  Only were she browsing might she happen upon it.  There are certainly useful entries – for example, Chapter 11 by Patricia Hill Collins on the Challenges for the Sociology of Race and Ethnicity asks some interesting and critical questions (such as “Why has a field whose mission remains the study of social relations of race and ethnicity been repeatedly caught off guard by racial and ethnic conflict?”)*  Great read, but hard to find for a student!  Again, glad that’s why I’m doing this I suppose.  Now I can walk a student over to the stacks and find this and other handbook-type sources that may have chapters covering important topics in sociology that also would be valuable to her.

I had to pick up The Promise of Sociology – it’s written by a guy whose last name is Beamish which makes me think of “come to my arms my beamish boy!”  In truth, this is basically Beamish’s ode to introduction to sociology courses everywhere.  It’s a fabulous (and reasonably short) book covering classic, traditional sociology from Marx, Durkheim and Weber, and then contemporary sociology.  It’s written for undergraduates and I love it.  I am tempted to take it out to bolster my own knowledge but I’ll leave it on the shelf for now.  But, if you’re looking for an overview of sociology with a bent towards how the discipline has evolved, this is your volume!

Finally, I found myself engrossed in Exploring the Architecture of Everyday Life.  Just couldn’t put it down.  How prescient.  There is a chapter – this was published in 2002 – on grossly massive racial inequalities in East St. Louis, IL (that’s basically just the other side of St. Louis – which is near Ferguson).  There is an entry by Jill Nelson on her first interview with Ben Bradlee of the Washington Post and the racial tensions underlying it.  Each entry seems to be an excerpt from a book-length work (I could be wrong but I recognized several books that were summed up as chapters here).  I could have spent hours reading the entries and then googling the authors, searching the catalog for their books, etc.  Again, this work is more like a textbook with chapters organized by theme to tie together the major challenges and opportunities of sociology, but it reads so well.  At the end of each chapter there are some discussion prompts.  A few of these chapters could have worked perfectly for my book club back in Ann Arbor (that I so desperately miss right now)!  Ann Arbor Paginators – consider a chapter or two from this for some month coming up!

* These days, I find my thoughts rather consumed with dread, sadness, empathy and hopelessness with what has been happening in our country recently around institutionalized, system-created, system-propagated racism and police brutality. So I’m gravitating towards chapters on the topic.


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