What is it to ‘Think Sociologically’?

Chamathka Devasirie

REVIEW- Zigmunt Bauman’s ‘Thinking sociologically

[Bauman, Z 1990, Thinking sociologically, Basil Blackwell Ltd, Oxford.]

Reading Zigmunt Bauman’s Thinking Sociologically, to do a book review for an assignment at La Trobe University (Australia) as requested by Prof. Peter Beilharz, (lecturer of the unit Current Issues in Sociology), helped answer a question that had bothered me for quite some time. Since I became a student of sociology, whenever I meet a person from a different field of study to that of the Social Sciences, he/she would ask me, ‘what are you studying?’ When I say ‘sociology’, the dreaded question immediately follows, ‘Oh really, what do you study in sociology?’ Then I mumble, ‘well, you know, sociology is the study of society, cultures, various institutions like politics, religion etc. etc.’, wondering to myself whether this is all sociology really means to me! Reading the introduction was such a relief because it made me realize that it was alright to be confused about the subject matter of sociology. Because it is hard to draw the boundaries of relevance in this discipline as its scope is quite wide; so wide that it includes almost everything that concerns humans. Also it made me realize that it is hard to explain to an ordinary person what sociology studies, since it is the same matters that he/she thinks and talks about, only difference being it’s looked at in a different light. After all sociology is all about us, the ordinary people!

Bauman states that ‘sociology’ is “first and foremost, a way of thinking about the human world” (Bauman 1990, p. 8). And all the raw material for sociological findings is derived from ordinary human experiences. “Anything sociology talks about was already there in our lives” (Bauman 1990, p.10). Thus Bauman proves the impossibility to study sociological phenomena with complete objectivity, as a sociologist too is at first, part of this ordinary human world. And he also emphasises the fact that “sociological discourse” is “wide open”. Bauman believes that thinking sociologically would make us more “sensitive” to our lives and the lives of other people and help us understand the universality of human experiences of happiness, sorrow, desire, disappointments, misery etc.

This essay is an attempt to understand what thinking sociologically really is by reviewing Zigmunt Bauman’s book “Thinking sociologically” which was first published in 1990. This review will take the reader through a summery and review of the significant points of each chapter of the book on everyday aspects of human life. I trust that this would create an interest to read this book, as I feel that this simple, easy to understand book carries a lot of depth to help a student of sociology to understand what thinking sociologically is all about!

First let me briefly summarize one main point Bauman talks of which I found particularly interesting, in order to give you a head start of what is to come. While reading the book, one of the key points which seemed to be screaming out to me was his concept of ambiguity; the uncertainty of the grey area between the black and the white in human interaction; the space-in- between which makes it ever so difficult to draw the line between two extremes. Bauman in almost every chapter explains how much of human interaction occurs within this space and how hard we try to classify them in to a controllable and predictable category; either ‘us or them’, ‘together or apart’, ‘friend or foe’, ‘order or chaos’. Anything in between is hard to explain, difficult to define, and is frustratingly unpredictable! Therefore, we don’t want anything in between the seemingly opposing, distinct categories, and try as much as we could to eliminate any. Bauman explains how all such attempts are in vain because there is no escape from this ambiguity. An attempt to dissolve one would inevitably lead to another.

Please download the complete review from the following link; What is it to ‘Think Sociologically’?

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  • riantiarno  On April 5, 2011 at 8:49 pm

    Riantiarno, from Sociology of University of Indonesia.

    nice to meet you.

  • Chamathka Devasirie  On April 25, 2011 at 8:37 am

    Hi, Riantiarno. Pleased to make your acquaintance. I’m glad you are interested in our articles.

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