An essential guide to the basic concepts that comprise the study of sociology with contributions from an international range of leading experts
Core Concepts in Sociology is a comprehensive guide to the essential concepts relevant to the current study of the discipline and wider social science. The contributing authors cover a wide range of concepts that remain at the heart of sociology including those from its academic founding and others much more recent in their development. The text contains contributions from an international panel of leading figures in the field, utilizing their expertise on core concepts and presenting an accessible introduction for students.
Drawing on the widest range of ideas, research, current literature and expert assessment, Core Concepts in Sociology contains over 90 concepts that represent the discipline. Coverage includes concepts ranging from aging to capitalism, democracy to economic sociology, epistemology to everyday life, media to risk, stigma and much more. This vital resource:
Sets out the concepts that underpin the study of sociology and wider social science
Contains contributions from an international panel of leading figures in the field
Includes a comprehensive review of the basic concepts that comprise the foundation and essential development of the discipline
Designed as a concise and accessible resource
Written for students, researchers and wider professionals with an interest in the field of sociology, Core Concepts in Sociology offers a concise, affordable and accessible resource for studying the underpinnings of sociology and social science.
J. MICHAEL RYAN, PhD, is currently a researcher for the TRANSRIGHTS Project at the Universidade de Lisboa (Portugal) funded by the European Research Council.
University of Kent, UK
Body matters have long been viewed as the province of the natural rather than the social sciences, as evident in Durkheim's insistence that sociology involves studying "social facts" that are qualitatively different from the subject matter of biology. Yet sociology has, since the early 1980s, focused increasingly on the physical constitution, the senses and affects of human being. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that the "rise of embodiment" has been one of the most influential sociological developments over the last thirty years, culminating in the establishment of an interdisciplinary field of "body studies." It is not just the social sciences, moreover, that have recognized the societal importance of bodies. Epigenetics has acknowledged that social factors can determine the expression of genes, for example, while bioarchaeology has revealed how human bones can illuminate patterns of migration and gender differences in diet. Perspectives from outside as well as inside the discipline have thus recognized the importance of studying the body as a social as well as an organic phenomenon.
It is social developments themselves, however, that have highlighted most visibly the importance of the body for understanding modern societies. The rise of consumer culture from the 1950s was associated with a proliferation of "slim, sexy and youthful" body images in advertising and social media. Relatedly, people's pursuit of the "body beautiful" has intensified recently, with 15.6 million cosmetic procedures performed in the United States alone during 2014. This obsession with bodily perfection has also been associated with social problems, including eating disorders, and the invention of new terms such as "muscle dysmorphia" and "tanorexia" to denote obsessions with physical appearance. The prominence of such issues helps account for why sociologists, interested in an array of contemporary developments, have felt compelled to incorporate body matters into their research.
Sociology has also become interested in the body as a means of reinterpreting its heritage in order to enhance the discipline's explanatory power. In this context, while the status of the body may have been submerged within classical sociology, analysts have unearthed a "secret history" of relevant writings. These include Spinoza's monism, Marx's materialism, and Nietzsche's analyses of Apollonian rationality and Dionysian sensuality. Within sociology itself, Comte linked morally harmonious societies with actions informed by mind and heart, while Tönnies understood the shift from medieval to modern societies as the outcome of contrasting embodied wills. It was the writings of Durkheim, Weber, and Elias, however, that have arguably proven of most enduring worth to sociological studies of the body.
Despite associating sociology with the study of institutions, Durkheim developed a theory of religion and society based on a concern with the body's social potential. While bodies generate egoistic appetites, they conceal "a sacred principle that erupts onto the surface" via markings or adornments that facilitate the circulation in social assemblies of a collective effervescence enabling individuals to become attached to and emboldened by entities greater than themselves (Durkheim  1995: 138, 233). These themes continue to resonate in studies of forms of embodiment, forms of sociality, and diverse manifestations of the sacred.
Emanating from the contrasting methodologically individualist tradition of German thought, Weber also recruited the body to his writings on the Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism. Weber analyzed how religious beliefs shaped bodily identities and behavior. Eschewing sinful pleasure, and immersing themselves in labor while searching for worldly signs of election, the physical habits stimulated by the Reformers provided a corporeal basis for rational capitalism. Weber's writings continue to influence body studies of rationalization, diet, frailty, and religion.
Norbert Elias's writings on long-term civilizing processes (recognized increasingly as an essential contribution to the foundations of the discipline) have inspired contemporary analyses of the intercorporeal interdependences that drive social developments. Elias explored how codes of body management gained increasing importance in almost every European country from the Renaissance onwards, promoting a heightened tendency among people to monitor and mold themselves in relation to these criteria. These developments were assisted by wider social contexts: in contrast to earlier periods, survival depended less on physical battles and more on skills of impression management in which the body became a location for social codes.
Embodying Structure and Agency
Classical sociological resources continue to influence contemporary studies, but two areas in which considerations of the body have exerted a particular effect across sociology concern conceptions of social structures and human agency. Social structures have often been conceived of as operating via ideological forces, while people's capacities to act have been linked to status or class-based capacities for cognitive thought. Yet this focus on the mind ignores the corporeal correlates of constraint and enablement, as evident in the work of two of the most important figures within the sociology of the body: Michel Foucault and Marcel Mauss.
Foucault (1975) wrote extensively on the operation of disciplinary structures. In the European penal system, for example, medieval displays of monarchical power focused upon destroying the bodies of offenders. In the late early modern era, however, there emerged a new "art of penal government" in which disciplining the body became more important than destroying it. Focused upon improving the population's human capital, this "art" was exemplified by the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham's design for a "panopticon" conducive to rehabilitation. Evident in developments across hospitals, asylums, prisons, and schools, the recent culmination of these more "positive" means of control is exemplified by a consumer culture that eschews "control by repression" in favor of control by stimulation.
In relation to human agency, in contrast, Marcel Mauss's ( 1973) writings on "techniques of the body" have been central to analyses of culture and action. Mauss identifies social, psychological, and biological dimensions to body techniques, and emphasizes that our knowledge is intimately related to how we sense and move within our environment. In contrast to conventional Western philosophical conceptions of a "brain-bound mind" trapped within an irrational body, learning involves transactions with our environment; taking our surroundings into our bodies through breath, sight, hearing, etc., while also transforming them through our actions. This approach towards the embodied basis of human agency has been complemented by studies of "body pedagogics" that draw on the writings of the pragmatists Dewey, Mead, Peirce, and James - and also on the phenomenologist Merleau-Ponty - in suggesting that action passes through cycles of habit, crisis and creativity as individuals experience equilibrium or disturbance within their environment.
If body matters are key to understanding structures and agency, so too they are for comprehending related social processes. Social divisions and power relations are articulated through various features of the body. Racism is a prominent example, with the history of plastic surgery highlighting how discrimination and persecution operate through the medium of the body. Social solidarities also emerge through the body. Tattooing and scarification have long been used to signify tribal and communal membership, while the food incorporated into or excluded from bodies during periods of religious observance including Ramadan has traditionally been associated with the promotion of collective experiences of belonging. Such examples suggest the body is our most natural symbol (Douglas 1970). It is often experienced intensely as a sign and vehicle of identity and belonging that can also signal deep differences between peoples.
Having outlined the background to and foundations of body studies, it is important to highlight the diverse trajectories associated with the subject as well as the contemporary conflicts with which it is associated. The distinctive factors that have shaped current writings on embodiment include "second wave" feminism's focus on gendered bodies, and ecological concerns about "one-dimensional" consumption-oriented lifestyles. Elsewhere, there has been a focus on commodification processes and the body, ranging from the brutal selling of women and children into the sex industry, to the global problem of organ trafficking and the pervasive standing of appearance as a form of physical capital. The significance of the body as a commodity has also added to the valuation placed upon youth, and the stigma associated with ageing and dependence.
From a different perspective, current sociological trajectories involving the body have also been influenced by the rise of embodied artificial intelligence...