Huddling on the shelves in the shadow of today's blockbusters, British sociology textbooks of the 1960s and 1970s seem slim volumes indeed. Since Michael Haralambos discovered the mass market in 1980, it seems as though old Uncle Tom Cobleigh et al have produced single-volume introductions for students who have not taken sociology before (and who may never take it again).
James Fulcher and John Scott's Sociology , which is now in its second edition, is Oxford University Press' contender for a slice of this market. Like its rivals, it is carefully structured with teaching needs in mind - bullet-point summaries, revision exercises, a glossary and so on. In addition, the text has its own website and teaching aids. Adherents of the McDonaldisation thesis will doubtless form their own opinions of the multiple-choice questions and PowerPoint slides to be found there.
Given the intended readership, the authors are successful in providing a comprehensive overview, covering not only familiar topics, but also including chapters that reflect recent research priorities, such as body and health, media, and globalisation. The authors' exposition is mostly clear, their examples generally apposite, their style accessible and only occasionally patronising (as when they warn students about "long words").
The book's organisation, with five chapters on identities preceding 12 on structures, also reflects the state of the field and should help to engage students. Sociological fundamentalists (like me) may be reassured that basic concepts and theories are set out at the start.
It is here, though, that one wonders whether the mass-market orientation has led to editorial timidity and the wish to keep everyone happy. Do today's beginners really need a relatively long introduction to structural functionalism? And could the division between identities and structures be a subliminal reinforcement of the old individual/society distinction that so much recent sociology has undermined?
Peter J. Martin is senior lecturer in sociology, Manchester University.
Author - James Fulcher and John Scott
Publisher - Oxford University Press
Pages - 933
Price - £21.99
ISBN - 0 19 925341 2