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Explorations in Classical Sociological Theory

Explorations in Classical Sociological Theory
Seeing the Social World

Fourth Edition
  • Kenneth Allan - University of North Carolina at Greensboro, USA
  • Sarah Daynes - University of North Carolina at Greensboro, USA

October 2016 | 368 pages | SAGE Publications, Inc

Praised for its conversational tone, personal examples, and helpful pedagogical tools, the Fourth Edition of Explorations in Classical Sociological Theory: Seeing the Social World is organized around the modern ideas of progress, knowledge, and democracy.  With this historical thread woven throughout the chapters, the book presents a diverse selection of major classical theorists including Marx, Spencer, Durkheim, Weber, Mead, Simmel, Martineau, Gilman, Douglass, Du Bois, Parsons, and the Frankfurt School. Kenneth Allan and new co-author Sarah Daynes focus on the specific views of each theorist, rather than schools of thought, and highlight modernity and postmodernity to help contemporary readers understand how classical sociological theory applies to their lives.  

1. Beginning to See: A Sociological Core
The Making of Modernity and the Modern Way of Knowing  
Institutions of Modernity  
The Birth of Sociology: August Comte  
Comte’s Positivism  
The Evolution of Knowledge  
Advantages and Goals of Positivism  
Seeing Society  
Sociological Methods  
Practicing Theory—A Summary  
Building Your Theory Toolbox  
2. Seeing Society for the First Time: Herbert Spencer
Theorist’s Digest  
The Sociological Imagination of Herbert Spencer  
Spencer’s Life  
Spencer’s Social World  
Spencer’s Sociological Imagination: Functionalism  
Concepts and Theory: Social Evolution  
The Social System  
System Needs  
Differentiation and Specialization  
Types of Society  
Regulatory Complexity  
Industrial and Militaristic  
Concepts and Theory: Social Institutions  
Domestic Institutions  
Ceremonial Institutions  
Ecclesiastical Institutions  
Thinking About Modernity and Postmodernity  
Defining Postmodernity  
Religion: A Postmodern Case in Point  
Building Your Theory Toolbox  
3. Class Inequality: Karl Marx
Theorist’s Digest  
The Sociological Imagination of Karl Marx  
Marx’s Life  
Marx’s Social World  
Marx’s Intellectual World  
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel  
Ludwig Andreas von Feuerbach  
Adam Smith  
Marx’s Sociological Imagination: Critical Conflict Theory  
Human Nature  
History—The Material Dialectic  
Concepts and Theory: The Contradictions of Capitalism  
Value and Exploitation  
Industrialization, Markets, and Commodification  
Concepts and Theory: Class Revolution  
Class and Class Structure  
Concepts and Theory: The Problem of Ideology and Consciousness  
Alienation, Private Property, and Commodity Fetish  
False Consciousness and Religion  
Class Consciousness  
Thinking About Modernity and Postmodernity  
Machines of Production and Consciousness  
Machines of Reproduction and Schizophrenic Culture  
Building Your Theory Toolbox  
4. Diversity and Social Solidarity: Émile Durkheim
Theorist’s Digest  
The Sociological Imagination of Émile Durkheim  
Durkheim’s Life  
Durkheim’s Social World  
Durkheim’s Intellectual World  
Jean-Jacques Rousseau  
Durkheim’s Contribution to Functionalism  
Durkheim’s Sociological Imagination: Cultural Sociology  
Concepts and Theory: Primal Society  
Defining Religion  
Creating a Sacred World  
Concepts and Theory: Social Diversity and Moral Consensus  
Mechanical and Organic Solidarity  
The Division of Labor  
The Problem With Modern Society  
Organic Solidarity and Social Pathology  
Concepts and Theory: Individualism  
The Cult of the Individual  
Thinking About Modernity and Postmodernity  
Grand Narratives, Doubt, and Civil Religion  
Building Your Theory Toolbox  
5. Rationality and Organization: Max Weber
Theorist’s Digest  
The Sociological Imagination of Max Weber  
Weber’s Life  
Weber’s Social World  
Weber’s Intellectual World  
The Problems of Values and Meaning  
Specific Methods: Ideal Types  
Specific Methods: Verstehen  
Weber’s Sociological Imagination  
Concepts and Theory: The Process of Rationalization  
Types of Social Action  
Concepts and Theory: The Evolution of Religion  
From Magic to Religion  
From Polytheism to Ethical Monotheism  
Concepts and Theory: The Rise of Capitalism  
The Religious Culture of Capitalism  
Structural Influences on Capitalism  
Concepts and Theory: Class, Authority, and Social Change  
Status and Party  
Crosscutting Stratification  
Authority and Social Change  
Concepts and Theory: Rational-Legal Organization  
Ideal-Type Bureaucracies  
Effects of Bureaucratic Organization  
Thinking About Modernity and Postmodernity  
Building Your Theory Toolbox  
6. The Modern Person: George Herbert Mead and Georg Simmel
George Herbert Mead—Symbolic Interaction  
Theorist’s Digest  
Concepts and Theory: Truth, Meaning, and Action  
Pragmatic Truth  
Human Action  
Concepts and Theory: Meaning and Interaction  
Symbolic Interaction  
Concepts and Theory: Making Yourself  
The Mind  
Stages of Role Taking  
Self and Society  
The I and the Me  
Georg Simmel—Formal Sociology  
Theorist’s Digest  
Concepts and Theory: The Individual in Society  
Subjective and Objective Cultures  
Concepts and Theory: The Self in the City  
The Division of Labor  
Money and Markets  
Social Networks: Rational Versus Organic Group Membership  
Thinking About Modernity and Postmodernity  
Simulacrum and Hyperreality  
Reflexivity and the Fragmenting of the Self  
Fusing the I and the Me  
Building Your Theory Toolbox  
7. Seeing Gender: Harriett Martineau and Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Waves of Feminism  
Harriet Martineau—Gender and Democracy  
Theorist’s Digest  
Concepts and Theory: Observing Society  
Morals and Manners  
Preparing the Observer  
Safeguarding Observations  
Concepts and Theory: Gender and Democracy  
Gender and Family  
The Cultural Logic of Gender  
Workforce Participation  
Concepts and Theory: Religion, Education, and Democracy  
Religious Forms  
Religious Forms and Democracy  
Conditions of Religion  
Education and Freedom  
Charlotte Perkins Gilman—The Evolution of Gender  
Theorist’s Digest  
Concepts and Theory: Critical Evolution Theory  
Functional Evolution  
Adding Marx  
Gynaecocentric Theory  
Concepts and Theory: Dynamics of Social Evolution  
Morbid Excess in Sex Distinction  
Sexuo-Economic Effects  
Building Your Theory Toolbox  
8. Seeing Race: Frederick Douglass and W. E. B. Du Bois
Race Literature  
Frederick Douglass—The American Discourse of Race  
Theorist’s Digest  
Concepts and Theory: The Discourse of Slavery  
Race as Other  
Democracy and Universalism  
W. E. B. Du Bois—The Culture of Race  
Theorist’s Digest  
Concepts and Theory: The Experience of Oppression and Critical Knowledge  
Standpoint of the Oppressed  
Concepts and Theory: Cultural Oppression  
Exclusion From History  
Stereotypes and Slippery Slopes  
Double Consciousness  
Concepts and Theory: The Dark Nations and World Capitalism  
The Need for Color  
Gender and Race: Thinking About Modernity and Postmodernity  
Modernity and Identity  
The Postmodern Twist  
Building Your Theory Toolbox  
9. Seeing Ahead: Defining Moments in Twentieth Century Theory: Talcott Parsons and the Frankfurt School
Talcott Parsons: Defining Sociology  
Parsons’s Vision for the Social Sciences  
Parsons’s Theoretical Project  
Parsons and the Problem of Social Order  
Voluntaristic Action  
Patterning Voluntaristic Action  
The Frankfurt School: Critiquing Modernity  
Historical Roots  
The Problem with Positivism: Max Horkheimer and Theodor Adorno  
An Analysis of Art and Culture  
Building Your Theory Toolbox  
About the Authors

“I have [been] using Allan's books since I started teaching social theory courses as an adjunct in grad school. [He] takes complicated materials that can be very dense and obtuse [and presents] concepts in a straightforward manner. The writing clarity stands on its own.”

William G. Holt
Birmingham-Southern College

“Allan does a much better job of setting the scene for [an] understanding of Classical Theory than other texts I have used in the past. He also speaks in lay terms so that undergraduates [can] grasp the material.”

Eileen Connell
Colorado State University

“I feel that the Sociological Imagination sections, Theoretical Hints, Enduring Issues, and Theory Toolboxes are especially useful to my students.”

Stephanie Bucy
Columbia College

“[Explorations in Classical Sociology Theory] makes accessible to undergraduates rather difficult material. [It] sets theories in the context of major conceptual frameworks and orientations [and] offers contemporary interpretations and applications.”

Rachel Filinson
Rhode Island College

This is the clearest introduction to classical social and sociological theory available today. Dr. Allan's writing is straightforward, and invites his readers into the material. His examples are relevant to today's students. I have used it for many years, and my students who have gone on to do graduate work tell me it is the one undergraduate textbook they keep, and constantly return to. That is high praise for an undergraduate textbook.

Dr Linda Derksen
Sociology Dept, Vancouver Island Univ-Nanaimo
October 5, 2016
Key features


  • New co-author Sarah Daynes, an expert on European and especially French social theory, brings new insights to the book.
  • Ch. 1 has expanded discussions about the origins of modernity and the revolutions in thinking that led to the birth of sociology.
  • The chapters on Spencer, Marx, and the Frankfurt School in particular contain a number of new perspectives and scholarly interpretations.


  • Offering the context of modernity as a meaningful framework, this book encourages deeper comprehension by teaching readers to "think theoretically."
  • A focus on the particular perspective of each theorist, with its nuances intact, gives readers a fuller understanding.
  • A well-organized, categorical scheme helps students situate the theorists, compare their work, and ponder for themselves some of sociology's big questions.
  • Helpful features such as boxed definitions, “Theorist’s Digest,” and “Building Your Theory Toolbox” provide ways for readers to grasp and apply each theorist’s work.

Sample Materials & Chapters

Chapter 1

Chapter 9

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