Professor's new book explores classical, modern social thinkers

A new textbook from the prolific pen of SUNY Oswego sociology chair Timothy Delaney asks college students to apply 500 years of sociological theory to their own attitudes and actions in today’s world.

“Classical and Contemporary Social Theory: Investigation and Application,” published in August by Pearson, deals with prominent sociological thinkers from Machiavelli in the 16th century to today’s feminist and conflict-theory researchers.

Timothy Delaney with latest bookIt is one of the few textbooks that attempts to double up on classical and contemporary theory, as well as both inquiry and applications, said Delaney, who has taught for 20 years since earning his Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

“When you put it all in one book, you can see that classical theorists influenced the creation of these contemporary schools of thought,” he said. A decade ago, Delaney wrote separate books on classical and contemporary sociological thinkers.

As a practical matter, Delaney said, combining the subjects into a 480-page book means students need to buy just one textbook for both theory and methodology, almost universally taught as separate courses in colleges and universities.

“I’m trying to get students to think—get them to think abstractly—but then realize that social theory is not abstract, we try to support it with data,” Delaney said. “In this book, because it is so new, I consciously try to make sure to show relevance of the material to today’s world and projecting into the future.”

For example, Delaney added, “Why is there homelessness? Conflict theory is perfect for that—class struggle, people who don’t have the power want power, redistribution of wealth. Why would those who control what Marx called ‘the means of production’ want to give it away? Are they morally obligated to?”

Comprehensive volume

Besides Niccolo Machiavelli and Karl Marx, Delaney’s book covers classical theorists such as Herbert Spencer, Emile Durkheim, Georg Simmel and Max Weber, along with contributions to classical theory from women, including Harriet Martineau, Beatrice Potter Webb, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Jane Addams and the women’s rights activists of Seneca Falls.

Among contemporary sociological schools of thought, the book explores symbolic interactionism, postmodern theory, and social exchange theory and network analysis, among others, along with such influential 20th- and 21st-century thinkers as Jurgen Habermas, Herbert Marcuse, Sandra Harding, Barbara Risman, George Herbert Mead, Peter Blau and Karen Cook.

As Delaney’s own book has some 900 bibliographical references, so the noted sociological theorists down through the ages have been influenced by their predecessors and the times in which they lived, he said.

“In this class, you really have to think,” Delaney said, referencing his “Sociological Thought” class. “‘Obviously, you have to think in all your classes, but in this one, it’s right in the title. If you are not comfortable really trying to think about the world critically and to take this information and try to do something about it, you are missing out on the full benefit of this class.’”

Delaney said the book encourages students to discount what they decide does not apply and expand on what does, and to form their own perspectives on the world.

“Classical and Contemporary Social Theory: Investigation and Application” is Delaney’s 14th book in the last 15 years, not counting edition updates. Among other books in the past half-dozen years are “American Street Gangs,” “Shameful Behaviors,” “The Sociology of Sports: An Introduction” and “Connecting Sociology to Our Lives: An Introduction to Sociology.”

PHOTO CAPTION: Real-world applications—SUNY Oswego sociology chair Timothy Delaney, who last month published his 14th book, combining classical and contemporary sociological thought and methodology, said he consciously tried to relate the key ideas of the great thinkers of yesteryear and today to the 21st century world.

(Posted: Sep 25, 2013)

Tags: tim delaney, sociology