Introduction to Sociology: OpenStax

March 28, 2013 | Updated: October 17, 2016
Author: Nathan Keirns, Zane State College, Eric Strayer, Hartnell College, Heather Griffiths, Fayetteville State University, Susan Cody-Rydzewski, Georgia Perimeter College, Gail Scaramuzzo, Lackawanna College, Sally Vyain, Ivy Tech Community College

Good news! This book has been updated and revised. An adaptation of this book can be found here: open.bccampus.ca

Published by OpenStax College, Introduction to Sociology was written by teams of sociology professors and writers and peer-reviewed by college instructors nationwide. This free online text meets standard scope and sequence requirements and incorporates current events, such as the Occupy Wall Street movement. The text is designed for the Introduction to Sociology course at any two- to four-year school.

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Social Sciences, Sociology

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Introduction to Sociology: OpenStax by Nathan Keirns, Zane State College, Eric Strayer, Hartnell College, Heather Griffiths, Fayetteville State University, Susan Cody-Rydzewski, Georgia Perimeter College, Gail Scaramuzzo, Lackawanna College, Sally Vyain, Ivy Tech Community College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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Reviews (5) Avg: 4.28 / 5

Murray Shaw

Institution:Douglas CollegeTitle/Position: Sociology InstructorCreative Commons License

Q: The text covers all areas and ideas of the subject appropriately and provides an effective index and/or glossary

The coverage of topics in this text is comprehensive. In a 1-semester [4 month] course, out of the 21 chapters, I would use 14 full chapters, and incorporate parts of other chapters. The glossaries and references listed by section at the end of each chapter are useful, and the multiple choice and short answer questions are a helpful study aid for students. One issue is that the index at the end of the text could be lengthier and more detailed.

Comprehensiveness Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: Content is accurate, error-free and unbiased

In my courses, I make reference to sociological theories and methods throughout the course, and I found that the explanations of theories in chapter 1 and subsequent chapters are very clear and concise, and lend themselves to illustrations and examples. I particularly liked the fairly extensive explanations of theories in chapter 4, Society and Social Interaction. This is a chapter that I have not seen in other texts. Chapter 2 provides very clear explanations and illustrations of the different stages of the research process, in particular the explanations of hypotheses, x and y variables , and how to develop operational definitions.

In regards to biases, the explanations of research methods in chapter 2 are very clear and lend themselves to illustrations, though they seem biased toward a scientific model, which is in my experience pretty standard for introductory sociology texts. In this text even qualitative methods like participant observation and ethnography are presented almost solely in terms of the scientific model; as procedures for hypothesis testing. I understand that there are good reasons for emphasizing that sociology is a “social science,” employing the same level of rigor developing knowledge as other scientific disciplines. Notwithstanding this, it results in a lack of coverage of qualitative perspectives and approaches that are more concerned with exploring interactional processes, than testing hypotheses.

In reading through the text, I did notice a few other small issues:

-Page 41: Although the example of the comic writer who employed deception to make undercover observations at a dot.com firm is sociologically interesting, it is not itself sociological research, and by the standards of sociology could be seen as methodologically and maybe ethically flawed. Maybe it could be presented differently, and not as exemplifying “the lengths to which a sociologist will go to uncover material”(41), because he is not a sociologist and it is not sociological research.

-Page 61: “American teenagers are encouraged to value celibacy.” Certainly today, not all American [or Canadian] teenagers receive such encouragement from all agents of socialization. A more specific statement would fix this overgeneralization.

-Page 85: “Eventually, concerns over the exploitation of workers led to the formation of
labor unions and laws that set mandatory conditions for employees.” Here, again a slightly longer and more nuanced statement could make it clear that these changes came about not just because of public and official ‘concerns’ about the welfare of workers, but also as a result of activism on the part of emerging labour movements, and serious conflicts over a number of decades.

-Page 85: “Since the economy of information societies is driven by knowledge and not material goods, power lies with those in charge of storing and distributing information.” This statement makes it sound as though control over the production and distribution of material goods is no longer an important source of power. This statement could be qualified: “Since the economy of information societies is driven by knowledge and not [just] material goods, [much of the] power [in modern societies] lies with those in charge of storing and distributing information.”

Content Accuracy Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: Content is up-to-date, but not in a way that will quickly make the text obsolete within a short period of time. The text is written and/or arranged in such a way that necessary updates will be relatively easy and straightforward to implement

One of the strong points of the text is that sociological concepts and theories are explained very clearly. The examples and illustrations could easily be updated in future editions as required, and where necessary could be replaced with illustrations from other cultures, for example, Canada.

Relevance Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text is written in lucid, accessible prose, and provides adequate context for any jargon/technical terminology used

One of the strongest points of the text is that the explanations of theories and concepts are very clear and understandable.

Clarity Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text is internally consistent in terms of terminology and framework

I did not find any problems with consistency, or any areas where concepts were applied that had not been previously explained.

Consistency Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text is easily and readily divisible into smaller reading sections that can be assigned at different points within the course (i.e., enormous blocks of text without subheadings should be avoided). The text should not be overly self-referential, and should be easily reorganized and realigned with various subunits of a course without presenting much disruption to the reader.

For my purposes, the text’s modularity is good. In a one-semester course, I generally use 12-13 chapters of a text, along with readings from other sources. With this text, in any particular section of the course, in addition to the relevant chapter, I could also use parts of other chapters that I would not cover in whole. For example, the section on Bureaucracy (130-33) could be a useful when explaining Weber’s theories of the rationalization of modern society, and the section on “baby boomers”(282-84) could be useful for explaining population dynamics and social inequality and conflict. I can see that for all the sections of my course, in addition to the main chapter that I would use, there are sections from other part of the text that could easily be incorporated.

Modularity Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The topics in the text are presented in a logical, clear fashion

The topics follow the standard format for introductory sociology texts, with the most general theories and concepts in sociology presented first, leading into application of these to substantive areas of social life and social issues. I find that the ordering of topics within chapters is very good; one explanation leads into the next. For example, by the time the differences between sociology and psychology are briefly explained [102], these differences are both easy to grasp and their importance apparent. Also, I find that the explanations of concepts are relatively brief, which means that if I pursue a topic in class, I can fill in the detail with my own material. If not, the students are not bogged down with lengthy content that will not be discussed in class.

One thing that I really like about this text is that Sociological theories are introduced very briefly in chapter 1, and then explained in more depth in chapter 4, Society and Social Interaction, a chapter that is not included in other texts I have used and seen. I think this is a good idea, because it presents theory after students have had several classes’ exposure to sociological concepts. In all other texts I have used and seen, the “theory section” is all in chapter 1, which I have found to be a bit too much for students brand new to the discipline. If I used this text, I would add chapter 4 to my courses.

Organization Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text is free of significant interface issues, including navigation problems, distortion of images/charts, and any other display features that may distract or confuse the reader

I did not see any problems in this regard.

Interface Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text contains no grammatical errors

I did not come across any grammatical errors.

Grammar Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text is not culturally insensitive or offensive in any way. It should make use of examples that are inclusive of a variety of races, ethnicities, and backgrounds

The text is culturally inclusive, although [as discussed in the final section] the use of the US as the reference point for the text is problematic if the text is to be used in Canadian colleges.

Cultural Relevance Rating: 3 out of 5

Q: Are there any other comments you would like to make about this book, for example, its appropriateness in a Canadian context or specific updates you think need to be made?

This is a text that I would use, if it was adapted to the Canadian context. It is very clear and understandable, and all of the sections lend themselves well to illustrations, discussions, and other activities. So, while I do like the text, the issue of using a text with American content in a Canadian college course is very problematic.

It seems to me that one aspect of this problem could be fixed fairly easily, as the US illustrations and examples could be replaced by Canadian ones, although I would keep some of the US illustrations, as they lead into examination of similarities and differences between these two very closely linked cultures.

The other aspect of this problem is the use of the US context as the reference point for the explanations of concepts, structures and processes throughout the text. Canadian examples and illustrations can be fairly easily substituted for American ones, but sections in which explanations centre around conditions in the US may be more difficult to change, and would require considerable rewriting.

So, for the most part, it is a great text and one that I would definitely use, if it were not for the cultural issue. Because the text uses the US as its reference point I could not use it in its present form.

Rita Isola

Institution:Capilano UniversityTitle/Position: Instructor- Sociology- Faculty of Arts and SciencesCreative Commons License

Q: The text covers all areas and ideas of the subject appropriately and provides an effective index and/or glossary

I have rated this textbook's overall comprehensiveness a 2/5 (poor). It does not include Feminist Theory as theoretical perspective. At the end of each chapter the authors discuss the topic from the point of view of the major theoretical perspectives in sociology. They include Structural Functionalism (Functionalism), Symbolic Interactionist Theory and Conflict Theory but Feminist Theory has been left out for the most part. There is the occasional mention of the feminist perspective but it is subsumed under Conflict Theory. I would urge the authors to unlink Feminist Theory from Conflict Theory and treat it independently.

Comprehensiveness Rating: 2 out of 5

Q: Content is accurate, error-free and unbiased

I have rated this textbook 3/5 (good). It is accurate, and error-free. My previous comment points out the short thrift that this text gives to Feminist theories in Sociology. This reflects a 'male-streaming' bias which is reflected by my lower score fr this section on Content Accuracy.

Content Accuracy Rating: 3 out of 5

Q: Content is up-to-date, but not in a way that will quickly make the text obsolete within a short period of time. The text is written and/or arranged in such a way that necessary updates will be relatively easy and straightforward to implement

I have rated this text 4/5 (very good) in terms of relevance and longevity. The content is up to date and the examples and diagrams will for the most part withstand the test of time. My only query on relevancy is in Chapter 2 (Sociological Research) and the discussion about Jimmy Buffet and his fans known as Parrot Heads. This may be completely irrelevant to most of our first and second year students who may have never heard of Jimmy Buffet and certainly won't have heard of Parrot Heads!

Relevance Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: The text is written in lucid, accessible prose, and provides adequate context for any jargon/technical terminology used

I have rated this text 5/5 (excellent) for its attention to lucid, accessible prose. All of the chapters I have read and reviewed are well written and the authors have a done an excellent job explaining and describing sociological ideas. This is especially evident in Chapter 2- Sociological Research - which in some textbooks is a dry, tedious chapter. In this textbook it is well paced, interesting and makes you want to go out and do research.

Clarity Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text is internally consistent in terms of terminology and framework

I have rated this textbook 5/5 (excellent) for consistency in terms of terminology and framework. The authors have done an excellent job in maintaining the overall consistency between chapters.

Consistency Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text is easily and readily divisible into smaller reading sections that can be assigned at different points within the course (i.e., enormous blocks of text without subheadings should be avoided). The text should not be overly self-referential, and should be easily reorganized and realigned with various subunits of a course without presenting much disruption to the reader.

I have rated the textbook 5/5 (excellent) for its integrity both as a whole work and one that can be easily divided into stand alone chapters. It avoids being self referential by adhering to an internal framework in which each chapter begins with a general description of the topic, introduction to main concepts and ideas, connections to social issues and public policy and finally ending with a link back to the theoretical perspectives.

Modularity Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The topics in the text are presented in a logical, clear fashion

I have rated this textbook 5/5 (excellent) for its presentation of ideas in a logical, clear fashion.

Organization Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text is free of significant interface issues, including navigation problems, distortion of images/charts, and any other display features that may distract or confuse the reader

I have rated this textbook 5/5 (excellent) in terms of the text's interface. My review of the images, charts and graphs confirm that there is an ease of flow and navigation that the reader will appreciate.

Interface Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text contains no grammatical errors

I have rated this textbook 5/5 (excellent) as I did not come upon any grammatical errors in the chapters I reviewed.

Grammar Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text is not culturally insensitive or offensive in any way. It should make use of examples that are inclusive of a variety of races, ethnicities, and backgrounds

I agree that this text is culturally relevant and is not culturally insensitive or offensive. The examples used in the text to illustrate sociological ideas are taken from a wide range of cultural experiences - from the Inuit in the Canadian Arctic to illustrate cultural relativism to same sex marriages in the discussion of the changing definition of the family.

Cultural Relevance Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: Are there any other comments you would like to make about this book, for example, its appropriateness in a Canadian context or specific updates you think need to be made?

This textbook has many strengths: it is well organized, has a fresh lay-out that is easy to read and offers an excellent summary, section quizzes, references and resources at the end of each chapter. I would be excited to adopt it in my sociology 100 class (Current Issues) except that this textbook is written with an American sociology student in mind. It would not be appropriate for adoption in a Canadian classroom without a lot of changes. The second critique which is a more substantive one that would affect my decision to use this text or not, is the way in which Feminist Theory is incorporated into the text.

Below is an outline of the major changes needed for Chapters 1-5,8,10,15,18 and 21 in order to de-Americanize it. I will follow with my comments on the Feminist Theory. .

Chapter 1.
Page 11,p 2 :The US housing market…replace with a Canadian example
p.3-5 : SNAP – Food Stamps..replace
Table 1.1 Food Stamps Used by State…replace
Page 16 Making Connections: How Do Working Moms Impact Society…change to reflect Canadian stats.
Page 22 Why Study Sociology
p.1 Elizabeth Eckford…change this example to one that resonates with Canadian events
Page 26 Section Quiz: Question #14 (Kenneth and M Clark) change this question..

Chapter 2
Page 51 Section Quiz: Question # 13 b) In 2003 States like Arizona…change

Chapter 3
Page 62 Formal Norms p3. “For example money is highly valued in the United States…” change
Informal Norms “In the U.S”..change

Page 74 Section Quiz: Question #2 “The American Flag”…change question

Chapter 4
Culturally neutral no changes needed

Chapter 5
Page 107 p 4 “U.S Fathers…” change to discuss Canadian fathers
Page 107 Heading: School – “Most American Children spend about 7 hours a day..”
Page 108 “For example in the U.S”…
Page 109 “Americans”, ”American Males”…changes needed throughout this section on Agents of socialization
Page 110 p2 “In the U.S socialization”…
Page 112 p2. “71 Million Americans who lived in prisons…
Page 113 references to the United States military…
Page 116 Section Quiz: Question #16 Replace

Chapter 8
Page 167 Categorizing Technology: US patent office…replace this discussion to reflect Canadian issues
Page 168 p1. Radio: “older Americans”..replace (North Americans could work)
P2 American TV …replace this discussion

Page 172 Include a paragraph or two on the concentration and ownership of media in Canada
Page 181 Section Quiz: Question #6 Replace this question
Page 183 Short Answer: Replace this question regarding the US government

Chapter 10
Page 212 Global Stratification and Classification: replace “American with North American”

Chapter 15
Page 339 Learning Objectives 15.3 Religion in the US….change
340 Making Connections: “On the otherhand, the McDonaldization of the United States…” change
Pages 348-350 Change to reflect Religion in Canada

Appropriate changes need to be made in the section quiz, short answers, references and resources at the end of this chapter.

Chapter 18
Page 402 Learning Objectives 18.3 Work in the United States…change
Page 402 Capitalism in Practice
p2 “In the U.S” change
p3 “ In the U.S” change

Page 411-413 Work in the US needs to be replaced with Work in Canada

Appropriate changes need to be made in the section quiz, short answers, references and resources and further research at the end of this chapter.


Chapter 21
Page 482-483 Levels of Social Movements: local “Chicago..” change, National “gay rights” change and replace with Canadian examples
Page 490 Go to Population “In the US” change
Page 493 Section Quiz: Question #1 Change

Final Comments

Finally, I would like to suggest that before “Canadianizing” or “de-Americanizing” the text a more important project remains- and that is to include the feminist perspective in a serious and thoughtful way. Throughout the text it is either ignored or subsumed under conflict theory. For example in Chapter 18 Work and the Economy, there is no mention of feminist perspectives on this topic and a first year sociology student would leave this chapter with the mistaken idea that no feminist perspective on work and the economy exists. This is an important omission especially in light of the fact that the literature and research on both local and global economies, work and the division of labour is thickly populated with the voices and research of women from many different feminist perspectives.

In Chapter 15 on Religion the problem is not omission but oversimplification:
On page 341, the authors note that:

“The Feminist perspective is a conflict theory view that focuses specifically on gender inequality”.

This view seriously oversimplifies the many different strands of feminist theory that exist in sociology; Cultural Feminism for example, a Feminist perspective, wholeheartedly rejects many of the assumptions held by the conflict view and focuses on gender differences not gender inequality.

Thank you for the opportunity to review this text and I hope that my comments are helpful.














Francis Adu-Febiri

Institution:Camosun CollegeTitle/Position: Dr.Creative Commons License

Q: The text covers all areas and ideas of the subject appropriately and provides an effective index and/or glossary

Very comprehensive: All the major substantive topics, concepts and theories necessary to prepare students for other lower-level and also upper-level sociology courses are well covered. A glossary of key concepts is provided in the Chapter Review section of each chapter. The subject index section is comprehensive. What is lacking is author index showing the names of sociologists associated with key concepts, paradigms, theories, and research.

Comprehensiveness Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: Content is accurate, error-free and unbiased

Apart from the text’s bias for qualitative sociology and representation of the feminist perspective as theory rather than a paradigm, the content is accurate.

Content Accuracy Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: Content is up-to-date, but not in a way that will quickly make the text obsolete within a short period of time. The text is written and/or arranged in such a way that necessary updates will be relatively easy and straightforward to implement

Unlike many Introductory Sociology textbooks that are heavy on statistical illustrations of various topics/issues, this particular textbook is very light on statistical information. Although this may be a bias against quantitative sociology, it lengthens the shell life of the book and also makes necessary updates faster and easier.

Relevance Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text is written in lucid, accessible prose, and provides adequate context for any jargon/technical terminology used

Clarity of this text is among its major strengths.

Clarity Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text is internally consistent in terms of terminology and framework

The text has major consistency issues with regards to the application of sociological theories:

a) In the Table of Contents, learning objectives and content discussions, this feature is missing from the following chapters— 2 (sociological research) and 6 (groups and organizations),.

b) Theoretical perspectives, although found in the leaning objectives section and/or the content discussions of chapter 12 (Gender, Sex, and Sexuality), 14 (marriage and family), Chapter 15 (Religions), 18 (work and the economy), 20 (population, urbanization, and the environment), and chapter 21 (Social Movements and Social Change), is missing from the table of contents.
c) Theoretical Perspectives section in Chapter 1 used “Functionalism, Conflict Theory, and Symbolic Interactionist Theory” as titles, but in most chapters of the book “Functionalism, Conflict perspective, and Symbolic Interactionism” are used.

d) In Chapter 5 (Socialization), the titles of “Functionalism, Conflict Theory or Perspective, and Symbolic Interactionist Theory or Symbolic Interactionism” are not used.

e) The presentation of theoretical perspectives on Gender, Sex, and Sexuality is not consistent with that of the other chapters. For example, here there is “Conflict Theory” instead of “Conflict Perspective” in the other chapters. This inconsistency is also found in Chapters 14, 15, 16, and 17.

f) Another issue is that unlike in the other chapters, in the gender section of chapter 12 and also Chapter 16 “Feminist Theory” is isolated from “Conflict Perspective” for application.

g) In chapter 18 there is ‘symbolic interactionist perspective’ instead of ‘symbolic interactionism’ which is used as section heading in the other chapters. In the theoretical application sections of chapter 20 Symbolic interactionism is missing.

h) Social Conflict Perspective is missing from Chapter 21.

Consistency Rating: 3 out of 5

Q: The text is easily and readily divisible into smaller reading sections that can be assigned at different points within the course (i.e., enormous blocks of text without subheadings should be avoided). The text should not be overly self-referential, and should be easily reorganized and realigned with various subunits of a course without presenting much disruption to the reader.

This feature is present. The downside is that there are no transition connections for students to see the integration of the topics covered. That is, the topics are presented in silos, preventing students to see the big picture connections among the topics.

Modularity Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The topics in the text are presented in a logical, clear fashion

Yes, apart from the inconsistencies in the application of theoretical perspectives

Organization Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: The text is free of significant interface issues, including navigation problems, distortion of images/charts, and any other display features that may distract or confuse the reader

No interface problems

Interface Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text contains no grammatical errors

Did not see any.

Grammar Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text is not culturally insensitive or offensive in any way. It should make use of examples that are inclusive of a variety of races, ethnicities, and backgrounds

Very inclusive: no obvious culturally insensitive or offensive material/content

Cultural Relevance Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: Are there any other comments you would like to make about this book, for example, its appropriateness in a Canadian context or specific updates you think need to be made?

a) The context is American: Substitute the American context with a Canadian context.
b) There is no single “feminist theory”. Therefore this textbook defining and applying the feminist paradigm as “feminist conflict theory” or simply “feminist theory” limits the contributions of the feminist paradigm to the development of sociology.
c) The “Making Connections” boxes need introductions or comments and/or critical thinking questions to show the sociology in the issues presented in the boxes.
d) Given the significance of globalization in the post-industrial world, a whole chapter is need on this topic instead of tucking it on “Global Inequality” and “Work and the Economy” chapters.
e) The Chapter 12 needs to add a section on the “New Gender Gap” in gender relations, Chapter 16 needs to add a section on the “New Gender Gap” in Education, and Chapter 18 needs to add a section on the “New Gender Gap” on Work and the Economy.

Charles Quist-Adade

Institution:Kwantlen Polytechnic UniversityTitle/Position: Chair and Faculty, Sociology Dept, KPUCreative Commons License

Q: The text covers all areas and ideas of the subject appropriately and provides an effective index and/or glossary

Yes. The text does a really good job by capturing a wide range of sociological theories, concepts, and issues in both the content and glossary.

Comprehensiveness Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: Content is accurate, error-free and unbiased

I agree. The text is well-written and scrupulously edited. It adopts an appropriate scholarly and objective tone.

Content Accuracy Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: Content is up-to-date, but not in a way that will quickly make the text obsolete within a short period of time. The text is written and/or arranged in such a way that necessary updates will be relatively easy and straightforward to implement

I agree wholeheartedly.

Relevance Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: The text is written in lucid, accessible prose, and provides adequate context for any jargon/technical terminology used

Yes. I am impressed by the text's accessible, flowing and logical language. It should be easy read for first year students, non-sociology students, and laypersons.

Clarity Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: The text is internally consistent in terms of terminology and framework

Yes, it is. I did not find any inconsistencies.

Consistency Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: The text is easily and readily divisible into smaller reading sections that can be assigned at different points within the course (i.e., enormous blocks of text without subheadings should be avoided). The text should not be overly self-referential, and should be easily reorganized and realigned with various subunits of a course without presenting much disruption to the reader.

I agree absolutely.

Modularity Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: The topics in the text are presented in a logical, clear fashion

Yes

Organization Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: The text is free of significant interface issues, including navigation problems, distortion of images/charts, and any other display features that may distract or confuse the reader

Yes.

Interface Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: The text contains no grammatical errors

Yes

Grammar Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: The text is not culturally insensitive or offensive in any way. It should make use of examples that are inclusive of a variety of races, ethnicities, and backgrounds

Yes, The textbook uses appropriate language that is respectful of people of different racial, ethnic and other backgrounds.

Cultural Relevance Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: Are there any other comments you would like to make about this book, for example, its appropriateness in a Canadian context or specific updates you think need to be made?

The is well researched and written book. The language is accessible and the research and data are up to date. However, it has a huge downside, it is written for American students/audience. Its paucity in Canadian content is a worry. Canadian students will be hugely disadvantaged using this text, as it fails to provide Canadian examples/illustrations. I recommend a revamping of the text to include Canadian content and context, in order to make it relevant to the Canadian reader.

Neil Guppy

Institution:University of British ColumbiaTitle/Position: ProfessorCreative Commons License

Q: The text covers all areas and ideas of the subject appropriately and provides an effective index and/or glossary

Yes, see final comments

Comprehensiveness Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: Content is accurate, error-free and unbiased

Some errors exist. See final comments

Content Accuracy Rating: 3 out of 5

Q: Content is up-to-date, but not in a way that will quickly make the text obsolete within a short period of time. The text is written and/or arranged in such a way that necessary updates will be relatively easy and straightforward to implement

Test is far too US-centric, see final comments

Relevance Rating: 1 out of 5

Q: The text is written in lucid, accessible prose, and provides adequate context for any jargon/technical terminology used

Well written and basically jargon free.

Clarity Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text is internally consistent in terms of terminology and framework

yes

Consistency Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: The text is easily and readily divisible into smaller reading sections that can be assigned at different points within the course (i.e., enormous blocks of text without subheadings should be avoided). The text should not be overly self-referential, and should be easily reorganized and realigned with various subunits of a course without presenting much disruption to the reader.

Yes, good modular structure

Modularity Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The topics in the text are presented in a logical, clear fashion

The flow is coherent and sufficiently flexible to allow people to adopt alternative orders.

Organization Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text is free of significant interface issues, including navigation problems, distortion of images/charts, and any other display features that may distract or confuse the reader

Display features are fine, save for the US-centric focus

Interface Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text contains no grammatical errors

Well written

Grammar Rating: 5 out of 5

Q: The text is not culturally insensitive or offensive in any way. It should make use of examples that are inclusive of a variety of races, ethnicities, and backgrounds

The text makes no reference to Canada. This is its core weakness

Cultural Relevance Rating: 1 out of 5

Q: Are there any other comments you would like to make about this book, for example, its appropriateness in a Canadian context or specific updates you think need to be made?

Report on “Introduction to Sociology” N Guppy (UBC) August, 2013

In reviewing the OpenStax College textbook, Introduction to Sociology, I preface my comments, briefly, with two pieces of background. First, I say a bit about my own teaching experience as it bears on this review. Second, I describe a little about how sociology in BC/Canada differs from the United States. The remainder of the review addresses the substance of the book. I end by suggesting what some challenges would be in adapting this book for a BC audience. In all of this I have paid attention to, and responded to, the various issues raised in the BC Open Textbook review criteria.

Experience

Two issues are germane here. First I have taught versions of Introduction to Sociology at UBC since 1979 so I am quite familiar with the material typically covered in the course for which this book was designed. In my introductory course teaching I have used a range of different textbooks. I have also reviewed introductory level textbooks for various publishers, both in Canada and the United States so I am well acquainted with the range of material available and used in these courses. Second, I have recently spent ten months adapting one of the best-selling US Introductory Sociology textbooks for use in Canada. From this I know, firsthand, how much the standard US sociology book needs to be changed to work as an effective learning aid in Canada (compare George Ritzer’s Introduction to Sociology, Sage Publications with George Ritzer and Neil Guppy’s Introduction to Sociology, Canadian Version, Sage Publications). At its core the OpenStax text is a US centric-book. I also am aware that this latter experience, adapting a US text, might imply that I am in a conflict of interest in reviewing this book. I obviously do not hold that view because, in my judgement, insights from this experience outweigh any possible personal benefit I might accrue. Nevertheless, it is important that readers of my review are apprised of what some might interpret as a conflict of interest.

Sociology in Context

Mathematics and physics are disciplines whose basic content does not differ across societies. The fundamental core of these disciplines are largely invariant even if for various reasons scholars in different countries may begin in different places or stress different topics. Such would not be the case in literature, as a third disciplinary example, where every country would be expected to have, to a large degree, its own literary themes and traditions. Sociology is much like the latter. Societies differ and sociology, at its centre, is focused upon those differences. India’s caste system is much different from the class structure of Europe. Labour migration in China is fundamentally different from such migration in Mexico. Social movements in the Arab world follow different rhythms than do related movements in the industrial west. As these examples illustrate there are parallels across societies – caste versus class is about differentiation, for example – but sociology in India would approach things quite differently than would sociology in Europe.

This is true too of Canada versus the United States. Here are a few examples. Both societies are riven with differences that fracture social cohesion – in Canada the French-English divide is often paralleled with the differences between Blacks and Whites, and increasingly Hispanics, in the US. To understand these divisions requires quite separate analytic tools even though at one level it is a difference of ethnicity versus race. A second example comes in examining social mobility. The United States experiences greater levels of individual or circulation mobility than is true of Canada, although in both countries the cultural myths we live by exaggerate just how much such mobility actually occurs (inheritance of poverty or privilege is rampant, as Blacks and Aboriginal peoples will testify). [In both countries a large amount of the mobility that does occur is structural not individual, which suggests of course some sociological similarities across societies as would be expected.]

Not to belabour the point too much, but from a different angle the Canada-US difference is seen in how the discipline of sociology in North America articulates with European influences. These are much greater in Canada than in the US. Canadian scholars have found much more merit in using political economy perspectives shaped in part by Europeans, than have US sociologists. To a large extent that is a function of a much, much greater manufacturing presence, at least historically, in the US (and the idea of US exceptionalism) and a much less developed resource economy which is, of course, the lifeblood of many, many Canadian communities (whether in harvesting or transporting raw materials).

OpenStax College Introduction to Sociology

In my judgement this is an adequate, one-semester, introductory book for sociology. It highlights the core concepts, foundational scholars, and emerging theories that any competent sociologist in BC would employ to introduce students to the discipline. Most people who adopted such a book would add some of their own emphases and tastes, but the fundamental conceptual core is sound (with a few exceptions as noted below). Where the book is much weaker is with evidence, research, and illustration. Anyone using this book for BC students would have to do an enormous amount of work, relative to the amount involved if other books were used, in supplementing the evidence and examples. In my judgement many sociologists in the province would deem this book totally unsatisfactory for introducing sociology to BC students. I will illustrate this latter issue in much of what follows.

I should also note that in my judgement the book would not be used in most research intensive universities in the United States. The reasons for this are complicated, and have at least something to do with the snobbishness of such institutions. However the book just does not integrate solid research into its exposition of sociology. This is seen, for example, in the repeated use of Wikipedia commons as a source for evidence. But more profoundly it occurs because the book is more descriptive than explanatory. For example, the book describes social mobility (and structural mobility) but if fails to explain what social forces act to enable or constrain rates of mobility – either circulation mobility or structural mobility. This latter lacunae is the core reason that schools stressing research as opposed to social description would avoid this book.

The book is organized as a set of modules whose order can be changed. This is a very good feature since sociologists have idiosyncratic habits in teaching the discipline (this is unlike math or physics where a linear approach needs to occur as topics build on one another). There is no correct place to begin to dissect society – the analysis doesn’t necessarily start at ‘one’ or with ‘A’. Alternative starting points are feasible and there is no consensus in the discipline as to exactly where one ought to begin (and in my judgement the best starting place differs by time and place). Sociology is less about covering topics and building one upon the other, and more about understanding a way of thinking, a particular process of observing and analyzing. That process can be effectively highlighted in multiple ways.

There are clear learning objectives at the beginning of each module which is very helpful both for students and instructors. All of the basic features of contemporary textbooks are available – powerpoints, text banks, and the like. The materials at the end of each module (chapter) are generally well done and supply a variety of good learning aids for students.

The opening example chosen to begin the book is clever, unique, and compelling. Sociology is about linkages between individuals and societies. The book starts, quite reasonably, with an emphasis on how individuals act in crowds, and how crowds differ (e.g., rock concert crowds, political protest agitators, throngs of shoppers). The comparative framing of this is good and would clearly work in a BC classroom.

Problems begin on page 11 where issues of foreclosure are introduced. The Canadian/BC experience is substantially different from what has occurred in the US. Contrary to patterns south of the border, Canadian unemployment is not at record highs, foreclosures have not significantly increased in Canada, and subprime mortgages remain relatively rare in Canada. All of this material is therefore misleading, if not outright erroneous, for the Canadian case.

This first example, discussed throughout most of the third page of Chapter one, is meant to illustrate how social context (foreclosures, unemployment) can help people to understand their personal predicaments (their private troubles). But, of course, that example simply doesn’t work in Canada. The Canadian context is different and so the example just doesn’t ring true to students. The core point of page three, understanding private troubles in the context of public issues, is good sociology – but that will be lost on students who will correctly point out that these public issues are not as germane in Canada. Using ill-conceived examples is bad teaching and leads to students misunderstanding the core message. The US experience is simply not directly transferable to the Canadian context.

The second example in the Chapter, meant to reinforce the same basic point about social context, focuses upon food stamps. But food stamps are a core part of the US welfare system and are not used in Canada (where food banks would be more appropriate). Again the example not only lacks resonance, but effectively misleads students about the very workings of society. Table 1.1 reinforces the food stamps point and so the first instance of systematic evidence introduced in the book is irrelevant. Canadian students need to learn about Canada while they learn about sociology. The laws of physics are invariant to national borders, whereas the patterns of interaction in societies vary across nation states.

A third example of the same problem is found on page 264, in the chapter on gender, sex, and sexuality. Here readers are introduced to examples, and timing, of the elimination of “some blatant forms of gender discrimination,” including the timing of when women could vote, execute a will, and own property. Each of these dates differs in Canada (and depending upon example, varies by province). The illustration is erroneous for the Canadian case.

One final example will I hope suffice to signal a problem that is ubiquitous – that problem being the use of examples/evidence that is simply not germane to BC/Canada. The chapter on education is laced with US-centric issues and evidence. Except for the one page on “World Education,” the rest of the chapter uses exclusively US material. This involves students learning about busing for example. Busing in Canada, from remote areas to more populace neighbourhoods, is of course not the busing to which this chapter refers (i.e., they refer to the movements of primarily Black students to avoid school segregation). But the chapter also refers to charter schooling, differences in per student funding by different states, and teacher preparation, all of which are significantly different in the Canadian context where, for example, private schooling is much more about ethnic heritage, where funding models are much more egalitarian and very different from the US, and where the labour union climate for teaching is drastically different than in the US.

Significant sections of the book repeat this problem, sometimes in relatively subtle ways such as those just described (where examples mar the learning) but at other times, such as the following, which are simply inappropriate in the Canadian context:

Pages 152-154: “Crime Statistics” and “The US Criminal Justice System”
Pages 195-200: “Social Stratification and Mobility in the United States”
Pages 238-248: “Race and Ethnicity in the United States”
Pages 348-350: “Religion in the United States”
Pages 386-387: “Politics in the United States”
Pages 411-417: “Work in the United States”
Pages 430-436: “Health in the United States” and “American Health Care”
Pages 457-460: “Urbanization in the United States”

These are huge sections, often containing substantial amounts of evidence, which are irrelevant to the Canadian case. This would be obvious in politics and health care, but is true too in the workforce and in urbanization. The US is a different country with different findings and differing social processes.

Beyond the use of US evidence and examples that hamper learning, the book also contains a surprising number of outright errors. Table 1.1 is a first, but not isolated, example of such errors (page 12). The figures in the table are percentages yet the table subtitle refers to “the number of people receiving.” To state the obvious, absolute numbers and percentages are two different things. There are some explanatory notes signalled in the table (e.g., “have not exceeded time limita”) but these explanatory notes do not appear at the bottom of the table, or at the end of the chapter, or at the end of the book. There is a category “In E & T Program” that has only zeroes as entries implying that the column is useless as an analytic category. Finally the column labelled “Total Percent Eligible for FSP” has various entries, “73/80,” 64/74,” and “80/85,” that make no sense to readers unfamiliar with food stamp details. This is not only bad sociology irrelevant to Canadian students, but it is a bad illustration of how sociologists present evidence.

The book lacks a good peer review editing and as such it is plagued by little mistakes that subvert learning. Here is another example, about as bad as was Table 1.1. In the text box on page 45, discussing experiments, the following three sentences occur, in order: “Those were her independent variables – students, good driving records, same commute route. Next, she placed a Black Panther bumper sticker on each car. That sticker, a representation of a social value, was the independent variable.” Well, what was the independent variable? And, was ‘good driving record’ a variable or a constant? [the three items in sentence one, labelled by the authors as independent variables, are constants, and the independent variable is the presence (or absence!) of a Black Panther bumper sticker – so the example is wrong on a variety of counts].

There are some good attributes to the book and let me be certain to highlight a few of those. On page 12 the example from Elias about dance and dancers is very well done. This reinforces the basic point about society – individual linkages. This is one of the many signals that the book contains good sociology.

Page 12 and 13 contains a text box entitled “Making Connections: Careers in Sociology.” The material in the text box does a nice job of discussing individual-society connections, and it reinforces some good points about discrimination faced by gays and lesbians in cities versus smaller towns. However, the text box has nothing to do with “careers in sociology.” Good peer editing should have caught problems such as this, all of which are relatively easy to fix.
Many of my BC colleagues would prefer to see much more detail on the theoretical foundations of the discipline. The European roots of Canadian sociology are such that most instructors place much more emphasis than does this book on theoretical traditions. Also that Comte/Marx would get as much space as Durkheim/Weber is problematic – the latter two have been much more influential in most empirical, research focused, contemporary sociology (although some colleagues would disagree with me regarding Marx).

The rest of Chapter one and all of Chapter two are well done. They touch on core issues of the discipline and present the material in a useful manner that will help student learn some good sociology. As with Chapter one, Chapter two contains US-focused examples that illustrate the core arguments of the text and as such work as illustrations, but stress US-centric events (e.g., Disneyland, Jimmy Buffet, the US military).

Chapter 3 is again a good basic introduction to core elements of the discipline. Again it features almost exclusively US examples and so some of the core issues of culture in Canada are invisible – First Nations peoples, Francophone – Anglophone differences, and multiculturalism being three core examples. In my judgement there are two glaring weaknesses in the chapter. First, the chapter doesn’t account for where culture comes from. From where do norms, values, symbols, and language originate, and how do they change (or don’t they?)? Second, where is power? Surely some groups have the power to make their symbols the ruling symbols (e.g., branding). The good framework needs to be a little more complex or otherwise students will rightly dismiss it as too simplistic.
Although I have highlighted material from only a few chapters in writing this report, I would stress that the core problems exist throughout the book. For me to elaborate even further would simply be repetitive, and therefore a waste of your time and mine. This book compares unfavourably to current texts used in Canada to teach introductory sociology largely because the book under review is too US-centric. The examples and illustrations do not work because they are too frequently country specific.

Let me end my review of the book by noting a set of topics / issues that get short shrift in this volume relative to what Canadian scholars teaching first year introductory sociology would do. There is less weight than there needs to be on the following topics: comparative sociology, feminist theory, Indigenous/Aboriginal peoples, multiculturalism, poverty, and resource dependency.
What would it take to “fix” the book?

In my judgement, three changes would be essential before this book could work in the BC context. I also suggest a fourth change that I think would make the book a better introduction to sociology.

i. Change examples / evidence / illustrations

Every chapter would need to be reworked, sometimes with only minor alterations (e.g., Chapter 2 on research methods) but sometimes with total rethinking (e.g., education, religion). This would involve making the supporting material, the examples, pictures, evidence, and illustrations, relevant to the BC students. This would involve two or three months’ worth of fulltime activity.

ii. Incorporate Canadian sociological contributions

The ideas of scholars like Dorothy Smith and John Porter would bring a Canadian perspective to the issues discussed. Adding Canadian research evidence would enrich the book and make it more in step with issues of BC/Canada. This would take about a month of fulltime work for someone very familiar with the full range of Canadian sociology, or a series of specialists in selected areas.

iii. Correct some fundamental errors

As illustrated above, there are some basic errors that occur in the book. Correcting these would not take too long, although it would require new evidence in every case. This would likely be simply folded into the work undertaken in points one and two above.

iv. Make the book more explanatory than descriptive

This is less essential in certain regards but it would make for a better book in my judgement. As it stands the book is like very good journalism – it describes the social world in illuminating ways. What it is much weaker at doing, is explaining to readers how and why the social world is organized like it is, and how that organization might or might not change in the future. Social change, comparative sociology, and globalization are processes that are too invisible in the current text.

Neil Guppy
Professor of Sociology, UBC