Book Review – Sociology of Globalization

Keri E. Iyall Smith was kind enough to send me an advance copy of her book, Sociology of Globalization and I am sorry I did not get around to it sooner (in my lame defense, my pile of “to-read” books is getting taller and taller, one lifetime will not be enough, I’m afraid).

The book is a collection of readings from some of the scholars one might expect on this subject (Anthony Giddens, Jan Nederveen Piederse, Roland Robertson, William I. Robinson, Arjun Appadurai, Benjamin Barber, George Ritzer, Judith Blau, Peter Singer, and a few others). It covers the usual three main subtopics on globalization: culture, economy, politics, with an introductory section. The author provides an introduction to each of the three sections. It is a nice combination of excerpts from different now-classic books on globalization presented in an economical way. Again, a regular reader in this field will not find anything really new but we are not the target audience. Students, relatively unfamiliar with globalization, are.

The readings themselves are mostly well-known in the field but they are relatively short. The advance copy I had ran 26 chapters for a total of 350 pages roughly (without index and bibliography). Some other big names are not there though (Beck, Bauman, Sassen, Sennett, or  Steger, for instance) but I guess you have to close a list of readings at some point. I do appreciate though the effort made to include women and non-Western authors and, of course, I was pleased to find one of my favorite critical globalization author, William I. Robertson.

From the names I listed above, one can see that the book aims to offer a nuanced view of globalization and its many layers and complexities. That is a good thing. The selection of readings only comprises materials that are understandable for advanced undergraduates but I still think it would require some assisted reading with the instructor as some of this stuff might feel dry. The copy I had only had a few boxes and illustrations, so it is mostly a lot of text. A few pictures here and there might have helped. I tend to be visual and find flow charts, graphs and other such representations useful to connect concepts and theories.

The aspect of the book that really interested me from a teaching point of view is the fact that the author included, after each reading two sections: questions for understanding (that stick close to the reading, recalling its major aspects) and questions for analysis (that are more about thinking about the reading beyond its immediate content). That is what gives the book its originality and I wish this feature had been expanded and diversified more because I think this is where the book could have been really different: the development of more pedagogical tools taking advantage of the technology (especially since there is an e-book version, more features could have been added).

Other than that, if you teach the topic at any level above sophomore, I would recommend using this book in combination with Manfred Steger’s Globalization: a Very Short Introduction. It would have been great to include a longer list of films. A list of website is useful but there is always the risk of them going dead. More class exercises would be great. Overall, I would say that this reader needs a good website as companion because it could be updated easily when some materials become unavailable and new stuff gets added.

That being said, it is a solid collection that should find its way into many globalization classrooms.

2 thoughts on “Book Review – Sociology of Globalization

  1. I teach Steger’s Globalization: A Very Short Introduction in my Intro. to Soc. class at Wilbur Wright College. My American-educated students hate it and have a hard time with the vocabulary, but my European-educated students often really like it. I haven’t seen a pattern with my students educated in Latin America, Asia, and Africa. I suspect that much of the historical base in that little text are covered in Europe, missed in the U.S., and covered differently in other parts of the world. I love the book for providing clear explanations and historical context.

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