Now in its third edition, Anthony Elliott’s comprehensive, stylish and accessible introduction continues to be the indispensable guide to social theory. Fully revised and updated, the book examines the major theoretical traditions from the Frankfurt School to posthumanism, and from feminism and post-structuralism to globalization theory and beyond.
Classical debates in social theory are given careful appraisal, as are the major contemporary theorists – including Jurgen Habermas, Judith Butler, Anthony Giddens, Pierre Bourdieu, Julia Kristeva, Slavoj Žižek, Manuel Castells, Ulrich Beck, Zygmunt Bauman, Shoshana Zuboff and Bernard Stiegler. This edition includes a new chapter on the digital revolution, with consideration of how digital technologies in general and artificial intelligence in particular are reshaping societies.
Like its predecessors, the third edition of Contemporary Social Theory combines stylish exposition with reflective social critique and original insights. This volume will prove a superb textbook with which to navigate the twists and turns of contemporary social theory as taught in the disciplines of sociology, politics, cultural and media studies and many more.
Table of Contents
1. The textures of society
2. The contemporary relevance of the classics
3. The Frankfurt School
6. Theories of structuration
7. Contemporary critical theory
8. Feminism and post-feminist theory
10. Networks, risks, liquids
12. The digital revolution: posthumanism and beyond
Afterword: social theory today and towards 2050
Anthony Elliott is Research Professor of Sociology at the University of South Australia, where he is Dean of External Engagement and Executive Director of the Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence and Network.
Praise for previous editions
‘This is the best contemporary social theory text currently on the market. It is highly accessible, explaining ideas in the clearest possible language without compromising depth and complexity. Accordingly, it is a book that would work well for students at all levels. Undergraduates with no background in social theory will be able to easily engage with this text, and this is something that cannot be said of any other contemporary social theory textbook that considers the range of theorists and complexity of ideas that this book does. More advanced students, including professional social theorists, will find that Elliott provides great clarity on some of the most difficult, yet most influential, ideas in contemporary social thought.’
Professor Ann Branaman, Florida Atlantic University, USA
‘It is very hard to write an outstanding introduction to any subject and particularly hard to do so for a subject as demanding as contemporary social theory. Anthony Elliott succeeds superbly. His book offers a reliable guide to the big debates in social theory while never glossing over the difficult questions.’
Professor David Held, previously of the London School of Economics, UK
‘Magnificent. Elliott visits a vast range of theorists and shows how they reveal the beautiful complexity of everyday social life. He makes social theory relevant and meaningful, simple, sexy and exciting.’
Tom Inglis, Emeritus Professor of Sociology, University College Dublin, Ireland
‘No one I know is better able than Anthony Elliott to get to the heart of complex theories, then to write of them clearly yet critically. Contemporary Social Theory is exceptional for the range of the authors presented. Students and teachers will treasure this exciting travel guide through the thickets of social theory today.’
Charles Lemert, Andrus Professor of Sociology at Wesleyan University and author of Thinking the Unthinkable, USA
‘This is an amazingly fluent analysis of contemporary social theory. It should be widely read for its careful and insightful dissection of the main theories and of their particular strengths and weaknesses. It will be a must-read on many "theory" courses around the world.’
John Urry, previously Distinguished Professor, Department of Sociology, Lancaster University, UK
‘Intelligent and lucid, Anthony Elliott’s introduction to contemporary social theory provides a remarkably complete overview of thinkers and themes. In exploring the organizing question – what is society? – he skilfully guides the student through a galaxy of major figures, including such luminaries as Bauman, Butler, Chodorow, Foucault, Giddens, Habermas, Lacan and Lemert. Incorporating many valuable pedagogical aids, Elliott makes social theory highly accessible. Contemporary Social Theory bristles with insights into our troubled world.’
Professor Bryan S. Turner, Australian Catholic University, Australia
‘This is quite simply the best introduction to contemporary social theory that I have read. Profound and subtle in its judgements, yet very easy to read, Anthony Elliott has done much more than rehearse familiar debates or identify key thinkers. He has brought contemporary social theory to life by placing it within everyday experiences, troubles and dilemmas. And he has done so with a remarkable breadth of theoretical virtuosity covering everything from sexuality to globalization, language to political institutions and governance. This book will be invaluable to students and teachers alike.'
Emeritus Professor Robert Holton, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland
‘Anthony Elliott is without question one of the leaders in the younger generation of sociologists. Contemporary Social Theory provides an overview of various recent sociological theories and is an essential text for anybody interested in sociological theories, including Japanese students and faculty.’
Professor Masataka Katagiri, Rissho University, Japan
‘Here is the latest example of what Anthony Elliott does best: he brings his readers in on the key social, personal and political issues of our time. Always readable and interesting, Contemporary Social Theory: An Introduction includes a wide range of modern social thought, from structuralism, to feminism, to globalization, and engagingly demonstrates these theories’ relevance in our own lives. As importantly, Elliott provides us a way to think critically, making the reader a more thoughtful reader of social theory as well as a participant in contemporary social debates. A book that is stimulating to both teacher and student alike and that enlivens the classroom experience.’
Professor Jeffrey Prager, Sociology, UCLA, USA
‘Anthony Elliott has written a wide-ranging and appealing book, setting new standards for introductory texts in social theory. Contemporary Social Theory is clear in style and accessible in presentation. It is sure to stimulate students and beginners in the field whilst proving of considerable interest to their teachers. It will also strike sparks with those with a professional research interest in social theory.’
Professor Paul du Gay, Copenhagen Business School, Denmark
‘Extraordinary in scope, Contemporary Social Theory takes the reader on a world tour of social theory since the Second World War and offers the student clear and accessible guidance around what are often complex and obscure theoretical edifices. More than this, Anthony Elliott provides not just description but evaluation and critique, and the originality of his mind will make this a pleasure to read for all thoughtful people engaged with the politics of living.’
Professor Paul Hoggett, University of the West of England, UK
‘The renewal of the teaching of social theory can now take place! For in Anthony Elliott’s scholarly, thorough and limpid volume, teachers of theory have the perfect support text, one guaranteed to bring students fully into the exciting drama that it lays out: the drama of contemporary social life as social theorists from the Frankfurt School to Giorgio Agamben have mapped it out.’
Professor John Lechte, Macquarie University, Australia
‘Social theory gives us the building blocks to make sense of our lives and explore how they link to the processes which shape what we can do and how we live. But it takes a master of the craft to turn the blocks into a building in which it is possible to live and flourish. This book shows that Anthony Elliott is a master of the craft.
The house that is built within the pages of this comprehensive book is one of many rooms, in which all students will find a place in which they can think and, moreover, in which they will be given in an exceptionally accessible and well-informed style the resources which that thinking needs if it is going to succeed.
I have little doubt that thanks to its encyclopaedic spread, authoritative content and keen eye for the excellent illustration, this book will be valued highly by everyone who wants or needs to think – and live – with social theory. And ultimately that means all of us.’
Professor Keith Tester, formerly of the University of Portsmouth, UK
‘Elliott provides a sweeping survey that is both accessible and sophisticated. Organized in thematic chapters that make excellent use of vignettes from the lives of everyday people to draw the reader into the issues, Elliott elegantly summarizes the main points of each theorist’s work, provides some discussion that stretches the reader’s understanding, and rehearses the main criticisms. The book weaves together the disparate strands of social theory, including psychoanalysis, feminism, (post)structuralism and critical theory alongside the issues of globalization and postmodernity. This book will set the agenda for many university courses in contemporary social theory.’
Professor Douglas Ezzy, University of Tasmania, Australia
‘Here, in his new introductory text, Elliott returns with new insights to some of the classics of social theory and charts a path through the most interesting and important contemporary social theorists. I can think of few writers better equipped to carry off this task and Elliott has done it here magnificently. Elliott combines his deep knowledge of social theory, his lightly worn erudition and an engaging style that is a pleasure to read. The personal stories that begin most chapters are a highlight and manage to bring home what is at stake in the theories and ideas that follow. What he has achieved here should win over a generation of new students to social theory.’
Anthony Moran, La Trobe University, Australia
‘Covering an impressive range of theories and theorists, and presenting them in an accessible and elegant fashion, reading Anthony Elliott’s text is an ideal way to navigate the often complex terrain of modern social thought.’
Professor David Inglis, University of Helsinki, Finland
‘This is the best introduction to social theory we are ever likely to need. The writing is crystal clear, the arguments are complex but accessible and this is likely to become the best friend of every sociology undergraduate. This book has been especially written for those who want to know why social theory is so important to understanding the world right now. At last, we finally have a book we can recommend to our students with confidence.’
Nick Stevenson, University of Nottingham, UK