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Sociology: Understanding and Changing the Social World

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Description: The book includes the most recent data in the following categories, so your students have access to the latest sociological trends: crime and victimization, income and poverty, life expectancy and aging, employment, marriage and divorce, education, medical care and health disparities, and fertility and population change.

Author: Steve Barkan, University of Maine

Original source: http://www.saylor.org/site/textbooks/Sociology, Understanding and Changing the Social World.pdf

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Sociology: Understanding and Changing the Social World by Steve Barkan, University of Maine is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.


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Reviews for 'Sociology: Understanding and Changing the Social World'

Number of reviews: 2
Average Rating: 3.7 out of 5

1. Reviewed by: Joshua Labove
  • Institution: Simon Fraser University
  • Title/Position: Sessional Lecturer
  • Overall Rating: 4 out of 5
  • Date:
  • License: Creative 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 is very comprehensive, though a simple omission that could have helped a great deal is a table of contents. Given the clunky UI of the pdf, having a table of contents would have been useful.

Comprehensiveness Rating: 4 out of 5

Q: Content is accurate, error-free and unbiased

Content is accurate, error-free, and unbiased in the best sense of the term, still there is a clear American bias in the examples and material presented. Given the way sociology is often taught at the most research intensive American schools, these examples are somewhat all for not; the lack of Canadian context will surely make this text less user friendly to BC students.

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

Content is modern, but not up-to-date. Compared to dusty American textbooks talking about Y2K, the text is much fresher and newer, with references to the McCain-Obama presidential campaign. Of course, that was 7 years ago now, so despite the modernized content, it still runs the risk of quickly becoming dated--and it does--as conversations around race, electoral politics, and income inequality have moved wildly in recent years.

Relevance Rating: 3 out of 5

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

Yes, the text is very clear--almost painfully so. Ambitious students may find the piecemeal dissection of key sociological discussions as boring at best, insulting at worst, but for most students the clear and easy readability will only serve to help convey complex topics.

Clarity Rating: 4 out of 5

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

Yes, but again, this could be more easily seen and confirmed with a table of contents.

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.

This should be much easier. In fact the text has no table of contents and the chapters do meander a bit; finding natural breaks to assign can be a challenge.

Modularity Rating: 3 out of 5

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

Well enough, but the logic is neither discussed in an introduction nor a table of contents so one must simply sense that information flows nicely.

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

The UI is clunky, dated, and quite annoying. Given that students must download a massive pdf file, a table of contents would have helped immeasurably negotiate the document. Still, a text heavy pdf file is not the most user friendly interface I've seen.

Interface Rating: 2 out of 5

Q: The text contains no grammatical errors

None that I could find.

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 did not find the text insensitive or offensive in any way.

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?

2. Reviewed by: Dr. Gagun S. Chhina
  • Institution: Langara College
  • Title/Position: Lecturer
  • Overall Rating: 3.4 out of 5
  • Date:
  • License: Creative Commons License

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

I do not see a table of contents or a glossary in either the PDF or Word textbook versions. A lack of both a table of contents, an index and a glossary of terms makes this textbook very different to navigate. I can see many first year students, particularly if English is there second language, becoming frustrated with trying explore this book.

With that being said, for a first year sociology textbook, the textbook covers the topics required (e.g. culture, sex, gender and race). However, a lack of an index, glossary, and table of contents makes this textbook very difficult to use.

Comprehensiveness Rating: 3 out of 5

Q: Content is accurate, error-free and unbiased

The diagrams are all quite easy to follow and clear. However, the majority of the diagrams and supplementary material from the United States. I find that Canadian students relate better to Canadian data. For example figure 1.1 shows American Presidents, Also, the data used in the figures is often not from students which represent the student population in Canada. On page 124 the chart depicts how children correlate obedience to learning. However, the countries listed - Mexico, Egypt, United States, Iceland, Denmark - are not countries that my students would relate to (other than the exception of the United States. Countries such as Canada, China, India, Brazil, Vietnam would serve as much better examples. The formatting in a few places is also strange. For example, the title for Figure 3.7 is on a different page than the chart. The aforementioned issue of relevant data is throughout the textbook, another example is in Figure 6.20, which illustrates race, ethnicity and poverty, the groups shown are Latino, African American and Asian.

The charts themselves use data that is not well sourced. For example, Figure 3.10 states that the source is from a general data survey from 2008. Firstly, this data is over ten years old, but secondly and more importantly, what is a General Social Survey? Using information from Census Canada would be more credible. The first time that the General Social Survey is mentioned is on page 16, states that the survey "was given to a national random sample of Americans". This again, makes the textbook less relevant to Canadian students. Also, there is no description that I could find that explains what the General Social Survey is.

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

The textbook is arranged in a way that it would be quite easy to update the material. However, the material in the textbook appears to be somewhat out of date. Most of the figures and data used in the book are from pre-2010. Nonetheless, I am quite impressed with a some of the illustrations used. For example in Figure 7.14, "Harvard University scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. was arrested in July 2009 in front of his house by police officer James Crowley, who was investigating a report of a possible burglary. This incident aroused a national controversy and led President Obama to invite both men to the White House for a beer" shows a picture of the three men having a beer together. The authors could have chosen to show a picture which simply illustrates discrimination, but rather than doing so, the picture depicts how Obama had dealt with the situation of the black Gates being arrested by the White officer Crowley. Obama chose to open a dialogue, which gives the incident a forum for discussion. Numerous such examples in the book are well chosen. However, there is a heavy focus on Obama and no information on Trump. This ages the textbook quite drastically. Furthermore, some of the content needs to be updated. There has been significant discussion about Marx within the context of the environment, which the textbook lacks, and the discussions on class are too simplistic. With that being said, these issues can easily be mitigated because of the way the textbook has been organised.

Relevance Rating: 3 out of 5

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

Generally, the textbook is well written and it is free of any jargon. However, it suffers from some ambiguity when attempting to explain certain concepts. For example, the explanation of social structures on page 19 could use more detailed example when comparing the social structure in a vertical and horizontal dimension. To be more clear, "Social structure can be both horizontal or vertical.Horizontal social structure refers to the social relationships and the social and physical characteristics of communities to which individuals belong. Some people belong to many networks of social relationships, including groups like the PTA and the Boy or Girl Scouts, while other people have fewer such networks. Some people grew up on streets where the houses were crowded together, while other people grew up in areas where the homes were much farther apart" (page 19), is a very verbose and slightly confusion introduction to a fundamental concept which could be articulated more clearly and in more depth. And perhaps linking the concept to social force earlier. Social forces and social institutions are related concepts, however, they are not contrasted to each other. Social forces are mentioned on page 14 for the first time, but they are specifically defined, "Sociology can help us understand the social forces that affect our behavior, beliefs, and life chances, but it can only go so far". Most students would have encountered the term 'social force' for the first time. However, the term is not defined in the textbook. Lacking both an index and a glossary of terms also makes it difficult to comprehend some of the passages.

There are some typos in the text, “that thepresentation of self” on page 128 for example. Regardless, overall most of the book flows well and is easily understood.

Clarity Rating: 4 out of 5

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

The framework of the text is very consistent. Each chapter very clearly states the headings and the overall framework used. This is a difficult question to answer because it appears that I am being asked about the consistency of the books layout? In that case, yes, each chapter follows the same framework. All figures and pictures are labelled according to the chapter so that they are easy to follow. All pictures and diagrams are approximately the same size and found in the same sections of each chapter. There are proper subheadings under each chapter and the sections are ordered well. For example, al first year sociology textbooks tend to discuss 'Sociology and Sociological Perspective', 'Culture and Society', and 'Socialization' in the first three chapters. The current textbook that I use by Macionis also follows the same basic format as this textbook. To conclude, the terminology used is standard for any first year sociology textbook. Both the terminology the books framework are adequate and what I would suspect for such a textbook.

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.

The textbook is very well divided into modular sections. Each section is easily read, and can be assigned individually. Also, students will not be overwhelmed with reading as each section is generally quite small. The end of each chapter keypoints and summaries also help to reinforce the way that the chapter sections are laid out. However, I think that dividing the summary into into sections that link back to the chapter subheadings would make the summary serve also as a reference back to the chapter material. I have mentioned earlier, some of the layout of the sections is odd. Subheadings will appear at the end of one page with the figure on the other, or a chapter heading will be on the bottom of one page and the section will begin on the next page. There are numerous examples of this (see bottom of page 337). This is a relatively minor criticism, however, it takes legitimacy away from the textbook. I found it particularly jarring on page 344, where three-quarters of the page is left blank after the figure heading, and the figure appears on page 345 occupying the entire page.

Modularity Rating: 4 out of 5

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

The lack of any table of contents still boggles my mind. However, after read the textbook the order of the chapters appear to be: Introduction, Culture, Socialization, Groups and Organizations, Crime and Deviance, Social Stratification, Race and Ethnicity, Gender and Inequality, Aging and Elderly, Politics and Economy, Family, Education and Religion, Health and Medicine, Social Change, and the Conclusion. I am very impressed in the way the topics are arranged both with the chapter order, but also the sections within the chapters. In fact, I organisation of this textbook is better than the current Macionis textbook that I use. With that being said, both books suffer from strange conflations of topics. For example, Macionis has one chapter on Race and Ethnicity, thus covering two related topics in a single chapter. However, there is both a separate chapter on gender and a separate chapter on sex. This textbook combines both the sections and ‘Gender and Inequality’, as it does with ‘Race and Ethnicity’. And this seems logical because they are heavily related topics. However, this textbook also combines the topics of education and religion, which makes very little sense to me. Religion and education are very much two separate topics. For example there are second year sociology classes in race and ethnicity or in gender and sexuality, again because the topics are heavily related; however, I have never heard of a second year sociology class on education and religion, simply because, as sated, the two topics do not relate enough to warrant being in the same section.

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

The text does not have any significant issues with its ‘interface’. However, has I have noted several times earlier, a lack of a table of contents, index and a glossary of terms makes this text exceptionally difficult to navigate. I do like the coloured layout where ‘Key Takeaways’ are green and ‘For Your Review’ is blue. I have found that this technique of side boxes has always been quite well received with students. However, some of the ‘For Your Review’ boxes include exercises that students simply will not do because they are too time consuming. For example, on page 750, the ‘For Your Review’ box states, “Have you ever taken part in a protest of some kind? If so, write a brief essay outlining what led you to take part in the protest and what effect, if any, it had on the target of the protest and on your own thinking. If you have not participated in a protest, write a brief essay discussing whether you can foresee yourself someday doing so.” Beginning with the question, ‘Have you ever taken part in a protest” allows the student to simply answer ‘no’. This terminates the rest of the exercise. Beginning with a more general statement such as, “Protests are a common form of social movement. Select a protest that you have either witnessed or taken part in and do x.” Also, the activity in the box is writing an essay. Writing an essay is too large a task to do in class. Students are extremely unlikely to write an essay for practice if it is not being graded for marks. Having short activity based questions that can be done in class would be more helpful.

Also, as colourful as the green and blue boxes are, the ‘Learning Objectives’ and ‘Making a Difference’ sections are always a grey colour. It would be helpful to differentiate these two sections with different colours, and making them a non-grey colour would also add to the visual appeal of the textbook. There is a pie chart and bar chart graphic which is used throughout the book. They both are utilitarian but look quite dated. Hence, they may benefit from a visual facelift.

Interface Rating: 3 out of 5

Q: The text contains no grammatical errors

I had only found three spelling errors in the textbook. One of them is on page 128, "stressed that thepresentation of self". Unfortunately, I cannot find the other two now that I am looking for them. The grammar seems fine, but I'm a sociologist and not an English major, so I am probably unintentionally quite forgiving with grammar. I notice that the authors have tried hard to keep the sentences short. This is wise as it makes the text more accessible. Highlighting key words in bold through the text would also be useful.

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

The textbook does not seem to do a very good job of reflecting diversity and inclusion. I am particularly concerned the data and the examples in the textbook do not reflect the student population at my college, or in most of Canada for that matter. The orientation of the book is aimed specifically at an American readership. It does not include any information which would be considered offensive or insensitive, mind you, given a subject such as sociology, one would expect there to be divisive information in the textbook. Thus, my criticism is that the textbook does not include enough sensitive material. For example, the white privilege discussion on page 406-407 is quite short. The section reads as if the authors were trying to hold back. The gender section, at about page 219 – 221, mentions pornography and prostitution, but it could have included pictures and more examples of the various topics. To be clear, I am not advocating nude pictures of women in the gender section of a first year sociology textbook; however, most textbooks that discuss such subjects tend to have pictures of johns, streetwalkers or upscale prostitutes. These sections in this textbook seem like they have been overly ‘sanitized’.

Furthermore, the textbook lacks data on key populations in Canada such as Chinese and South Asian. Also, it centres heavily on American politics, thus it contains no pictures of Canadian politicians. The discussion about religion in society also does not deal directly about the contemporary importance of religion and does not place religion into any international context. The lack of an international and diverse perspectives in this textbook will serve to isolate a large number of the students.

Cultural Relevance Rating: 2 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 difficult to answer. For a free open source textbook, I think that it is reasonable. It covers all the basics and falls within my minimal expectations. Unfortunately, there is nothing special about this textbook. Given the several that I have read, this book is fairly mediocre. The most significant issues that I have with it, is that the book focuses on an American audience and is lacking an international perspective. Hence, the textbook is quite insular. Therefore, I would not recommend this textbook.