Book explores past, present, future of sociology


imageTim Delaney, an assistant professor of sociology, looks at where ideas about society have been—as well as where they may be going—in his new book “Contemporary Social Theory: Investigation and Application.”

When Delaney first pitched the idea of a book covering 500 years of social theory, publisher Prentice Hall “thought I was trying to do too much, so they offered me tentative approval for a two-book deal,” he recalled. The first book, “Classical Social Theory: Investigation and Application,” came out in June 2003.

“Whereas ‘Classical Social Theory’ primarily talked about specific theorists, by the time we get to contemporary times there are so many theorists that we organize them by schools of thought,” he said.

“Contemporary Social Theory” covers such prominent concepts as postmodernism, feminism, functionalism, conflict theory and social biology.

“What makes my book stand out from the competition is the focus on the application of the specific terms,” Delaney said. “I can show the students the relevance of these ideas to the everyday world.”

Delaney thinks this approach means that anyone—professional, student or just an interested reader—can get “a good basic knowledge of social theory” from the book. “Even if you’re not a sociologist, you’ll find it interesting, especially the final chapter,” he said.

In that chapter, “Applying Social Theory to Future Society,” Delaney looks at the evolution of his field and transposes it to the days ahead. “I’ve identified a number of key trends over the past 500 years of social thought and applied it to the future,” he said. “Basically, I’m predicting future society in this chapter.”

One new idea he injects is that of an “enviromare,” a sort of metaphorical “fifth horseman” that may threaten mankind in the future. Social theorists like Herbert Spenser and Thomas Malthus adapted the Biblical idea of the four horsemen of the apocalypse and translated those elements—famine, pestilence, war and death—as natural factors that keep population in check, he said.

With the addition of the enviromare, a term he coined for “environmentally induced nightmares,” Delaney said this new team of “five horrorists” serve as challenges to future society.

“My point is that these are as much man-made as they are forces of nature,” Delaney explained. “If the original four horsemen don’t lead to the end of humanity, the fifth horseman could. If we don’t take care of things and clean up the environment, we’re going down the wrong path.”

It may appear a dark vision of the future, but Delaney remains optimistic that human beings can once again adapt to stave off disaster. “Like most social theorists, I believe progress and cultural evolution will save us,” he said.

“Contemporary Social Theory: Investigation and Application” is published by Prentice Hall and retails for $61.60.

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(Posted: Nov 17, 2004)

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