The Unmasking Style in Social Theory: 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

The Unmasking Style in Social Theory

1st Edition

By Peter Baehr


174 pages

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pub: 2019-05-13
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This book examines the nature of unmasking in social theory, in revolutionary movements and in popular culture. Unmasking is not the same as scientific refutation or principled disagreement. When people unmask, they claim to rip off a disguise, revealing the true beneath the feigned. The author distinguishes two basic types of unmasking. The first, aimed at persons or groups, exposes hypocrisy and enmity, and is a staple of revolutionary movements. The second, aimed at ideas, exposes illusions and ideologies, and is characteristic of radical social theory since the eighteenth-century Enlightenment.

The Unmasking Style in Social Theory charts the intellectual origins of unmasking, its shifting priorities, and its specific techniques in social theory. It also explores sociology’s relationship to the concept of unmasking through an analysis of writers who embrace, adapt or reshape its meaning. Such sociologists include Vilfredo Pareto, Karl Mannheim, Raymond Aron, Peter Berger, Pierre Bourdieu, Luc Boltanski and Christian Smith.

Finally, taking conspiracy theories, accusations of social phobia and new concepts such as micro-aggression as examples of unmasking techniques, the author shows how unmasking contributes to the polarization and bitterness of much public discussion. Demonstrating how unmasking is baked into modern culture, yet arguing that alternatives to it are still possible, this book is, in sum, a compelling study of unmasking and its impact upon modern political life and social theory.


"Adroit, subtle, and fearless, this exceptionally well-written study will delight and infuriate. Readers will re-examine, or obstinately refuse to re-examine, their own ways of arguing. Those who grasp its central theses will, perhaps regretfully, never see the structure of debates about society in the same way. Concerned above all with sociology, it also makes an important contribution to the history of ideas and the understanding of novels." - Gary Saul Morson, Northwestern University, USA

"Peter Baehr’s iconoclastic book will be invigorating reading for anyone interested in social theory and the self-serving lies of the powerful. Baehr’s encyclopedic knowledge of the history of social theory sets the stage for a lively debate about the style, substance, and value of unmasking by social thinkers. Let the shouting begin!" - Daniel Little, University of Michigan, USA

"This elegantly written book will delight and enlighten. Its topic - the unmasking style in Western thought - turns out to be extremely interesting as well as relevant in the modern world. The book is recommended to the general public, academics and anyone interested in an intellectually exciting and alive work." - Richard Swedberg, Cornell University, USA

Table of Contents


Part 1: Elements and Origins of the Unmasking Style

1. Elements of Unmasking

2. Unveiling Religion, Unmasking Society

3. The Marxian Template

4. Illusion More Closely Considered

Part 2: O, Sociology

5. Unmasking in Sociology: For, Against, For and Against, Maybe

6. Humanism and Pragmatism: Unmasking, Debunking, and Unveiling in the Sociology of Peter Berger and Luc Boltanski

Part 3: Avoiding Unmasking in an Unmasking Age

7. Avoiding Unmasking

Appendix – Disclosing, Enclosing, Surveilling



About the Author

Peter Baehr is Research Professor in Social Theory at Lingnan University, Hong Kong. He is the author or editor of several books, among them Caesar and the Fading of the Roman World; Hannah Arendt, Totalitarianism and the Social Sciences; and Founders, Classics, Canons: Modern Disputes over the Origins and Appraisal of Sociology's Heritage.

About the Series

Classical and Contemporary Social Theory

Classical and Contemporary Social Theory
Classical and Contemporary Social Theory publishes rigorous scholarly work that re-discovers the relevance of social theory for contemporary times, demonstrating the enduring importance of theory for modern social issues. The series covers social theory in a broad sense, inviting contributions on both 'classical' and modern theory, thus encompassing sociology, without being confined to a single discipline. As such, work from across the social sciences is welcome, provided that volumes address the social context of particular issues, subjects, or figures and offer new understandings of social reality and the contribution of a theorist or school to our understanding of it. The series considers significant new appraisals of established thinkers or schools, comparative works or contributions that discuss a particular social issue or phenomenon in relation to the work of specific theorists or theoretical approaches. Contributions are welcome that assess broad strands of thought within certain schools or across the work of a number of thinkers, but always with an eye toward contributing to contemporary understandings of social issues and contexts.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Sociology / General