Reading List

Sociology: Verso Student Reading

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Get a head start on your Soc 101 reading by diving into this Sociology reading list including classics like Darkwater: Voices From Within the Veil by W.E.B. DuBois, The Origin of Family, Private Property, and the State by Friedrich Engels, and Imagined Communities by Benedict Anderson.

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The distinguished American civil rights leader, W. E. B. Du Bois first published these fiery essays, sketches, and poems individually nearly 80 years ago in the Atlantic, the Journal of Race Development, and other periodicals. Part essay, part autobiography, Darkwater explicitly addresses significant issues, such as the oppression of women and Eurocentric standards of beauty, the historical rise of the idea of whiteness, and the abridgement of democracy along race, class, and gender lines. Reflecting the author’s ideas as a politician, historian, and artist, this volume has long moved and inspired readers with its militant cry for social, political, and economic reforms for black Americans.

In this classic work Engels argued that matriarchal communal societies had been overthrown by class society and its emphasis on private, not communal, property and monogamous, rather than polygamous, sexual organisation. This historical development constituted “the world-historic defeat of the female sex.”

In Automation and the Future of Work, Aaron Benanav uncovers the structural economic trends that will shape our working lives far into the future. What social movements, he asks, are required to propel us into post-scarcity, if technological innovation alone can’t deliver it? In response to calls for a universal basic income that would maintain a growing army of redundant workers, he offers a counter-proposal. 

The full magnitude of Benedict Anderson’s intellectual achievement is still being appreciated and debated. Imagined Communities remains the most influential book on the origins of nationalism, filling the vacuum that previously existed in the traditions of Western thought. Cited more often than any other single English-language work in the human sciences, it is read around the world in more than thirty translations. 

In Fully Automated Luxury Communism, Aaron Bastani conjures a vision of extraordinary hope, showing how we move to energy abundance, feed a world of 9 billion, overcome work, transcend the limits of biology, and establish meaningful freedom for everyone. Rather than a final destination, such a society merely heralds the real beginning of history.

First published in 1967, Guy Debord’s stinging revolutionary critique ofcontemporary society, The Society of the Spectacle has since acquired a cult status. Credited by many as being the inspiration for the ideas generated by the events of May 1968 in France, Debord’s pitiless attack on commodity fetishism and its incrustation in the practices of everyday life continues to burn brightly in today's age of satellite televisionand the soundbite. In Comments on the Society of the Spectacle, published twenty years later, Debord returned to the themes of his previous analysis and demonstrated how they were all the more relevant in a period when the “integrated spectacle” was dominant. Resolutely refusing to be reconciled to the system, Debord trenchantly slices through the doxa and mystification offered tip by journalists and pundits to show how aspects of reality as diverse as terrorism and the environment, the Mafia and the media, were caught up in the logic of the spectacular society. Pointing the finger clearly at those who benefit from the logic of domination, Debord’s Comments convey the revolutionary impulse at the heart of situationism. 

Over five decades since it was first published, Workers and Capital is a key text in the history of the international workers’ movement, yet only now appears in English translation for the first time. Far from simply an artefact of the intense political conflicts of the 1960s, Tronti’s work offers extraordinary tools for understanding the powerful shifts in the nature of work and class composition in recent decades.

Combining classical Marxism, psychoanalysis, and the new labor history pioneered by E. P. Thompson and Herbert Gutman, David Roediger’s widely acclaimed book provides an original study of the formative years of working-class racism in the United States. This, he argues, cannot be explained simply with reference to economic advantage; rather, white working-class racism is underpinned by a complex series of psychological and ideological mechanisms that reinforce racial stereotypes, and thus help to forge the identities of white workers in opposition to Blacks.

David Roediger’s influential work on working people who have come to identify as white has so illuminated questions of identity that its grounding in Marxism has sometimes been missed. This new volume implicitly and explicitly reminds us that his ideas, and the best studies of whiteness generally, come from within the Marxist tradition.

The extent and irreversibility of US decline is ever more obvious as America loses one war after another and its industries slip behind the competition. Richard Lachmann explains why the United States will find it impossible to retain global dominance. He contrasts America’s relatively brief period of hegemony with the Netherlands’ similarly short primacy and Britain’s far longer era of leadership.

Decline in those cases was not inevitable and did not respond to global capitalist cycles. It was the product of the success elites had in grabbing control of resources and governmental powers. In this process, not only are ordinary people harmed, but capitalists become increasingly unable to coordinate their interests as a class. They fail to adopt policies and make the investments necessary to counter economic and geopolitical competitors elsewhere in the world.

In Venezuela, poor barrio residents arose in a mass rebellion against neoliberalism, ushering in a government that institutionalized the communes already forming organically. In Building the Commune, George Ciccariello-Maher travels through these radical experiments, speaking to a broad range of community members, workers, students and government officials. Assessing the projects’ successes and failures, Building the Commune provides lessons and inspiration for the radical movements of today.

According to the United Nations, more than one billion people now live in the slums of the cities of the South. In this brilliant and ambitious book, Mike Davis explores the future of a radically unequal and explosively unstable urban world. From the sprawling barricadas of Lima to the garbage hills of Manila, urbanization has been disconnected from industrialization, and even from economic growth. Davis portrays a vast humanity warehoused in shantytowns and exiled from the formal world economy.

In Understanding Class, leading left sociologist Erik Olin Wright interrogates the divergent meanings of this fundamental concept in order to develop a more integrated framework of class analysis.

Erik Olin Wright’s major new work is a comprehensive assault on the quietism of contemporary social theory. A systematic reconstruction of the core values and feasible goals for Left theorists and political actors, Envisioning Real Utopias lays the foundations for a set of concrete, emancipatory alternatives to the capitalist system. Characteristically rigorous and engaging, this will become a landmark of social thought for the twenty-first century.

After a decade away from her ancestral family village, during which she became a writer and literary scholar in Beijing, Liang Hong started visiting her rural hometown in landlocked Henan Province. What she found was an extended family riven by the seismic changes in Chinese society and a village turned inside out by emigration, neglect, and environmental despoliation. Combining family memoir, literary observation, and social commentary, Liang’s by turns lyrically poetic and movingly raw investigation into the fate of her village became a bestselling book in China and brought her fame.

First published in 1990, Michele Wallace’s Invisibility Blues is widely regarded as a landmark in the history of black feminism. Wallace’s considerations of the black experience in America include recollections of her early life in Harlem; a look at the continued underrepresentation of black voices in politics, media, and culture; and the legacy of such figures as Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Cade Bambara, Toni Morrison,and Alice Walker.

Despite much talk of its decline, the nuclear family persists as a structure central to contemporary society, a fact to be lamented, according to the ideas of Michèle Barrett and Mary McIntosh. The Anti-Social Family dissects the network of household, kinship and sexual relations that constitute the family form in advanced capitalist societies to show how they reinforce conditions of inequality.

Traces of History presents a new approach to race and to comparative colonial studies. Bringing a historical perspective to bear on the regimes of race that colonizers have sought to impose on Aboriginal people in Australia, on Blacks and Native Americans in the United States, on Ashkenazi Jews in Western Europe, on Arab Jews in Israel/Palestine, and on people of African descent in Brazil, this book shows how race marks and reproduces the different relationships of inequality into which Europeans have coopted subaltern populations: territorial dispossession, enslavement, confinement, assimilation, and removal.

Based on major European statistical surveys, the new research in this work presents a map of social classes inspired by Pierre Bourdieu’s sociology. It reveals the common features of the working class, the intermediate class and the privileged class in Europe. National features combine with social inequalities, through an account of the social distance between specific groups in nations in the north and in the countries of the south and east of Europe. The book ends with a reflection on the conditions that would be required for the emergence of a Europe-wide social movement.

Late Victorian Holocausts focuses on three zones of drought and subsequent famine: India, Northern China; and Northeastern Brazil. All were affected by the same global climatic factors that caused massive crop failures, and all experienced brutal famines that decimated local populations. But the effects of drought were magnified in each case because of singularly destructive policies promulgated by different ruling elites.