Emergence through convergence

Introductory Essay: This Deserted Island is Out of Order The classic novel The Lord of the Flies helps us see that social order is both a product of our own making and something much more powerful than the sum of its parts. We move from the social facts of Durkheim to more contemporary takes on the enigma of social order.

Latour, Bruno. 2007. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. New York: Oxford University Press.

Inspired by fieldwork in scientific laboratories and ethnomethodological insights, a prominent social theorist introduces readers to Actor-Network-Theory, a novel approach that argues non-humans are just as integral a part of making social order as humans.

Hacking, Ian. 1999. The Social Construction of What? Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

In the decades since Berger and Luckmann’s famous treatise, the paradigm of social constructionism has exploded into a veritable theoretical industry. In this very smart and useful book, the philosopher Ian Hacking tells us that to sort out what social construction actually means as a theoretical paradigm, we need to think more critically about what exactly, people are arguing is being constructed. A critical but even-handed guide to social constructionism as it is used today.

Douglas, Mary. 1996 [1970]. Natural Symbols: Explorations in Cosmology. London: Routledge.

This foundational work by cultural theorist and anthropologist Mary Douglas introduces her ideas on “group” commitments and “grid” regulations. Consider pairing her chapter, “Away from Ritual,” with Durkheim’s Elementary Forms.

Berger, Peter. 1967. The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

Berger extends his theory of social constructionism to illustrate how religion gives cosmic support to more precarious social institutions.

Barry, Dan. “This Land” column. New York Times.

These compelling stories of how communities across America are coping with the recession provide a glimpse into the everyday world of social solidarity. Each of his columns can be read here.


This charming film explores how a 1950s community undergoes widespread social change when two 1990s teenagers enter and begin to disrupt the social fabric. Read more about how it can be used in the classroom here.

The Awful Truth

For vivid examples of “breaching experiments” (with a Marxist twist), check out Michael Moore’s television series, The Awful Truth, in which the filmmaker reveals the absurdity of everyday social situations and exposes powerful institutions. Click here for more information.

The Suicide Tourist

This PBS Frontline documentary (which can be watched in full online) examines the assisted-suicide system in Switzerland, the only country in the world where outsiders can enter for the sole purpose of ending their lives. Consider showing it for a lively discussion for what Durkheim might have said about so-called “suicide tourism.”

The Lost Children of Rockdale County

This PBS Frontline documentary about a 1996 syphilis outbreak in an affluent Atlanta suburb is a poignant depiction of Durkheim’s theory of anomie and the breakdown of social bonds during periods of rapid social change.

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