The Handbook of Sociology Theory (Springer) is a monster. Editor Jonathan Turner jokingly calls it an “arm book” instead of a “handbook,” and at 745 pages, it’s really no joke. Instead of compiling a compendium of old, dusty standards, Turner gathered the newest, most-viable theories in sociology, “with an eye to capturing the diversity of theoretical activity.” So, you won’t find your classic Durkheim and Weber in here, but you will find a broad range of cutting-edge research that’s likely to be relevant for years to come.
From methodological and empirical concerns to cultural and communicative concepts, as well as computational and postmodern approaches, The Handbook of Sociology Theory covers the gamut of modern sociological research. It was also recently released in a quasi-affordable paperback volume, so it’s now feasible to own it yourself rather than just checking out of the campus library.
In Philosophy of the Social Sciences (Polity), Patrick Baert sets forth an innovative application of pragmatism for the social sciences. Digging through the dirt of social research and pulling up the relevant ideas — drawing on the work of Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, Karl Popper, The Frankfurt School, and, of course, John Dewey and Richard Rorty — Baert puts pragmatism in a historical context as well as a conceptual context in the social sciences. Philosophy of the Social Sciences isn’t quite written like a novel, but Baert’s style is crystal clear and a joy to read. Where this book could’ve been a staid text of weird names and opaque prose, Baert lays his argument out with flare and clarity, without skimping on the historical and theoretical minutia.
Though their foci and approaches are very different, these two texts will take one a long way to understanding the history and the current thought of sociology and the social sciences.
I marshal the middle between Mathers and McLuhan.