New buzzword for a global village

Sociology - Contemporary British Society. Third edition - Global Sociology. First edition - Sociology
March 1, 2002

These four introductory texts divide neatly into pairs on two criteria. Two are British (Nicholas Abercrombie and Alan Warde, Robin Cohen and Paul Kennedy), two North American to such an extent that their relevance for British students is questionable. What separates the pairs more starkly is the extent to which they focus on globalisation. For the British texts it is of central importance; for the American, relatively marginal. This is shown by the inclusion of a new chapter on globalisation in Abercrombie et al 's text, together with new chapters on associations and leisure that note tourism's "general globalisation". Indeed, in contrast to earlier editions, a declared premise of this "concrete sociological analysis" of contemporary Britain is the effect of globalisation and internationalisation on national identity, the media, industrial change and the environment.

The strengths of the text remain: this is as cogent and accessible an account of the social structure of a particular modern society as could be required for an introductory sociology course, and its revisions to include the results of recent work are likely to be as valuable for teachers as for students.

While each chapter is self-contained, the text is organised sequentially. The discussion of globalisation provides a basis for a sociology of the economy, which in turn grounds an account of employment. This leads into a discussion of inequality and social mobility, followed by chapters on social divisions of class, gender, ethnicity and racism. The new chapter on associations complements a chapter on the primary relations of families, households and life courses by examining how community is restructured in terms of rural/urban and religious differences. The state is examined in terms of political power, but also through education, health and welfare provision, and crime control. Chapters are divided into sections, each of which concludes with a summary, and the recommendations for further reading, bibliography and companion publication of a reader, should allow the book to provide for the needs of A-level and first-year higher-education students.

It is, however, a sociology of contemporary Britain. It does not pretend to address different traditions of sociological theory, or the variety of concepts or methods. Notwithstanding its commitment to the significance of globalising processes to the changing social structure of modern Britain, the absence of sustained comparisons with other societies means that this commitment remains indicative rather than substantive.

The strength of Cohen and Kennedy's text, by contrast, is the authors'

commitment to rescuing historico-comparative sociology from its decline in Europe and North America in the first half of the 20th century by applying it to globalisation, which they formulate as a controversial interpretation of major contemporary intersocietal processes.

The book is organised into four sections, the first of which sets out the arguments involved in redirecting sociology to the analysis of "profound changes at the global level" and the effects of these changes on "local communities and national societies". It forms an account of late modernity in terms of the evolution of a world society and the dominant role of the United States economy, Fordism and its implications for work in late-industrial society and the political tensions within and between nation-states over citizenship.

The remaining sections are used to organise an introductory analysis of societal structures and processes by a global sociology. One examines issues including global inequalities of gender, race and class and relates these to unevenness in economic development. A further section covers migration, tourism, consumerism, the media and urbanism, while the final section uses problems of global social movements and the role of international non-governmental organisations, environmentalism and global/local tensions in national, personal and gender identities to provide a basis for evaluating critically the prospects for a global society. All sections have self-contained examples and accounts of relevant theories, together with explanatory formulations of key terms. Each chapter concludes with concise annotated references for further reading and internet resources, suggestions for group work and topics for discussion. This is a comprehensive and innovative introduction to comparative sociology.

The American texts are thorough but conventional by comparison. Margaret Andersen and Howard Taylor's book is a rewritten abbreviation of a hardback text. The authors invoke a global perspective but in essentially ethnocentric terms "in order to understand some of the developments that are shaping contemporary life in the United States". A brief discussion of globalisation defines it as a trend to "increased interconnectedness and interdependence of different societies around the world", which has proceeded in Europe "as far as the development of a common currency, the euro, for all nations participating in the newly constructed common economy". Well, not exactly all...

Stark's definition of globalisation is as "the newest intellectual buzzword" and tied to "the famous and eccentric communication theorist" Marshall McLuhan's concept of a "global village". He elaborates the idea in terms of global communication, global economy and "a relatively uniform world culture". This oversimplification is compounded by invoking a critique of cultural globalism as "based on the ethnocentric assumption that others will want to become like us, overlooking the fact that we don't want to become like them."

These aberrations should not detract from the inclusiveness and accessibility of these texts. Both use some comparative examples and develop analyses of contemporary American social structure through applied examples of sociological theories and methods, alongside historical accounts of their development. The scale and complexity of the US makes this possible but rather insular.

The texts also provide a considerable range of supplementary resources. Stark's text declares itself the Internet Edition and Andersen and Taylor offer comparable online resources. Both texts share the same publisher, which provides further web-based resources and supplements, additional software and a CD-Rom.

Paul Filmer is senior lecturer in sociology, Goldsmiths College, London.

Sociology: The Essentials. First edition

Author - Margaret L. Andersen and Howard F. Taylor
ISBN - 0 534 56665 0
Publisher - Wadsworth/Thomson Learning
Price - £31.00
Pages - 483

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