on September 14, 2003
Since my first introduction to sociology course, I have always been a fan of John Macionis. Typically, college textbooks are painful to read, filled with mundane facts, awkward prose, and very little visual aid. Not so with this textbook. Macionis clearly explains every sociological perspective, gives each side a fair and accurate account (this is very important to me since most professors will often distort information to fit within their ideological framework) of controversial views. After the class was over, I spent time reading this book during the summer. I never sold it. I have even had the ability to use most of the material -- particularly the citations -- for other courses. Sometimes professors will even be surprised that I can cite information that contradicts the stale information they are continuing to repeat but are contradicted by the more accurate and factual data contained herein. It's a great book. Professors: assign this book. Students: if your professor assigns this book, it will be a fun class! And layreaders: this is a highly recommended textbook!
on July 2, 2003
Having just taught a course using this text I do have some opinions about it.
First, the positive. Macionis has gone to great lengths to make the text interesting. One way in which he has done this is by scattering numerous relevant pictures and artwork throughout every chapter; I actually had one student comment specifically about the artwork and how it was well chosen. He has also included a number of very informative maps, tables and graphs, all in vibrant colors, that are designed in such a fashion that even first year undergraduate students with little or no background in sociology can understand them.
As for the coverage of the text, it is fairly comprehensive, hitting upon all of the major social institutions of interest to sociologists and sub-disciplines within the field of sociology. The text is also quite up to date for the most part, including references to recent world events (e.g. 9/11).
Now for the negative. I should note at this point that despite having more critiques than compliments, I did find the text to be the best of a number of current introductory texts, these are just ways that I felt the book could have been improved.
First, the information isn't flawless. Of course part of this criticism includes the fact that I disagree with the author on some points, but there are also several instances where the author makes claims without references to back them up and other claims that are either dated or simply erroneous. I don't know that a textbook will ever be able to adequately cover all of the information necessary and do so flawlessly, so to critique the book on this measure is probably asking too much. Besides, with how fluid sociological understanding is some of the claims in the text with which I disagree are controversial topics anyway. Perhaps to remedy this Macionis could attempt to incorporate both sides of the argument as he tries to do when discussing sociological theory; at least, he does so to a degree (see my critique of his coverage social theory below).
Second, the attempts at offering a global perspective are rather limited. Again, this may not be something that is easily remedied because information about large parts of the world just isn't as available as information about the U.S., or available at all for that matter. And, of course, the text is written to be an introductory text in the U.S., so to focus on the U.S. does make sense in that regard. I found this to be particularly lacking in light of the fact that Macionis claims to be something of a world traveler. Even though he includes occasional snippets from his journeys, there are numerous opportunities to incorporate a more global perspective that are overlooked. In an attempt to discourage ethnocentric American attitudes it would have been nice to have more information about the rest of the world and greater attempts could have been made to incorporate that information.
Third, the coverage of sociological theories is actually rather limited. There is no chapter looking just at sociological theories. Though the 'dominant' theories are included throughout (Structural-Functionalism, Symbolic Interactionism, and Conflict Theory), there is absolutely no discussion of Ethnomethodology, Conversation Analysis, Rational Choice Theory (there is a brief mention of this), World Systems Theory, Political Processes Theory, etc. I can understand why the coverage would be limited: Exposing novices to too many theories would likely confuse them and there is limited space in the text, but to fail to even mention or briefly summarize many of these theories, though their advocates are fewer than those of the 'dominant' theories, dismisses a large body of understanding in the discipline.
My last criticism (I do have more, but I doubt anyone wants to read more) is relating to the supplementary materials included on the companion CD-ROM. The CD does have some very useful information and a few exercises that might be useful to the students. However, it also includes some word games that I thought would be more appropriate for 8th graders than college students. Also, because I chose to present the course material using PowerPoint I would have preferred to have been able to copy and past some of the illustrative maps. However, all of the maps included on the supplementary CD are in Flash and can't be easily imported into PowerPoint. They would work great if you want to switch in between the two while teaching the class, but they don't work together very well.
Overall, the text is pretty comprehensive, well-written, and engaging. I don't particularly like making students pay this much for a text, but in order to get the engaging photos, artwork, and colorful graphs (which some would argue are worthless but I find to be helpful) you have to shell out the cash. Is the text worth it? Well, I guess it depends on your approach to introduction to sociology. If you would rather cover some very specific areas in depth rather than many areas broadly, you would be better off with a different text or a reader of your own creation. Or, if you don't belong to one of the three predominant theoretical approaches, continuously explaining your approach because Macionis doesn't incorporate it may become rather tedious. If you don't fall into either of these categories you would probably find the text to be very useful.