Available in either Print or eBook

Available in either Print or eBook

Foundations of Social Understanding:

A Theory and Institutions Based Introduction to Sociology

Thomas J. Burns (University of Oklahoma)

Edward L. Kick (North Carolina State University)

with Dallos Paz


Chapter 1: Sociology: An Introduction

Chapter 2: Methods in Sociology

Chapter 3: Individual Development in a Social World: Socialization and Social Interaction

Chapter 4: Social Interaction at the Micro Level: The Sociology of Subjective Experience

Chapter 5: Social Definition and the Social Construction of Reality

Chapter 6: Human Behavior and Social Exchange

Chapter 7: Classical Sociology and Basic Concepts in the Study of Social Organization

Chapter 8: Building on the Classics: Studying Stratification in Modern Society

Chapter 9: Race and Ethnicity

Chapter 10: Gender and Society

Chapter 11: Historical and Comparative Development and Global Inequality

Chapter 12: Family and Kinship Institutions

Chapter 13: Education and Society

Chapter 14: Religion and Society

Chapter 15: Politics and Society

Chapter 16: Population and Modernity

Chapter 17: Environmental Sociology

Chapter 18: Crime and Deviance

Chapter 19: The Sociological Imagination in Late Modern Society: Postmodernity, Chaos and Complexity





Print Book

Print Book

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The goal of Foundations of Social Understanding: A Theory and Institutions Based Introduction to Sociology, is to convey the essential aspects of Sociology, keeping the focus on the theoretical ideas that form the backbone of the discipline. This book fills a niche for instructors and students who wish to have a rigorously presented, yet low-cost text that covers essential aspects of the field. 

The Burns, Kick and Paz text is distinctive in the density of material it covers. The authors move beyond the tiresome debates about which theoretical position is “really” correct and which is wrong. The guiding philosophy is that the discipline of sociology has a strong and integrated core. While no theory explains everything, each of those presented does well at shedding light on something. Part of what needs to be considered in conjunction with the study of theory is the question of what domain of social reality it is most useful at explaining. 

The very core of a discipline is the theories it has developed. For better or worse, the discipline of Sociology has spawned a sometimes dizzying array of studies, empirical and otherwise. These are necessary, but not sufficient, to have a rich and worthwhile discipline, and one that offers insight into the human condition. Theories—the worthwhile ones--come about more slowly. Theory is not about what happened in the latest studies. It is born of hard-won insight, sometimes over the course of years or decades, or even lifetimes.  

Rather than treating theory as if it were a sub-discipline of Sociology, the authors see the theories of Sociology as the backbone of the discipline itself. Thus, they focus on theoretical development throughout the text, so that students, from the very first day they begin to study Sociology, have access to this powerful set of tools in their foundational understanding of society. 

The authors have produced a book that appeals to the intelligence and sociological imagination of serious students and their teachers. Our approach is to offer students a “cognitive map” of the field in a scholarly, yet straightforward, way. The guiding philosophy is that Sociology, particularly when considering it through the framework of the theory that underpins it, is not only a worthwhile avenue of inquiry; it is endlessly fascinating in its own right.

Thomas J. Burns (PhD University of Maryland) is Professor of Sociology at the University of Oklahoma, and is active in the Religious Studies and Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Environment programs. He serves as Book Review Editor of Human Ecology Review, as a member of the Editorial Board of The Journal of World-Systems Research, and he has served on the Board of the Society for Human Ecology. Professor Burns was formerly at the University of Utah, where he was a member of the Sociology Faculty and also taught in, and served as Chair of, the interdisciplinary Master of Statistics (MStat) Program. He is a winner of the University of Utah’s College of Behavioral and Social Science Superior Teaching Award, has been nominated for numerous other teaching honors, and is recipient of the Society for Human Ecology’s Distinguished Leadership Award.

Dr. Burns’s research focuses on the outcomes, evolution and emergence of social institutions from a comparative and historical perspective, particularly as they pertain to issues of well-being and sustainability. He has published widely on topics that include cross-national studies of greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, pollution and health and well-being outcomes, environmental social movements, social theory, and religion and the environment.

Edward L. Kick (PhD Indiana University, Bloomington) is a Professor of Agricultural and Resource Economics, and Professor of Sociology, at North Carolina State University. Dr. Kick publishes articles and books on the world system, environment, community building, and sustainability.

Up until recently he served as the co-Editor of the Journal of World-Systems Research, and he has served for seventeen years as university administrator. His research and mentoring of students is primarily quantitative and cross-national in nature, although he also has conducted more intensive studies of countries, such as his case study of peanut farmers in Ghana, Africa. In recent years he has published on a variety of subjects that he ties together as part of writing and teaching. This work includes: decision making by disaster victims in the wake of catastrophic events, such as hurricanes and flooding; what is called “the ecological footprint” or the environmental well-being of the world and nations; the military and its influences on world and national hunger; the linkages between open markets, national sound money policies and “comparative advantage” on national modernization; community building in the US and abroad with its attendant displacement of populations, and the impact of human and infrastructural waste on the well-being of those who live close to dumping sites.

Dallos Paz is a graduate of the University of Oklahoma where he received a sociology degree in 2010. During his time at the University of Oklahoma, his area of emphasis was social stratification, particularly the effects of social stratification on health and social mobility. Today, he resides in Norman, Oklahoma where he enjoys a career in sociological writing and research. 

Read What These Students Have to Say About Foundations of Social Understanding: A Theory-Based Introduction to Sociology.

“The book encourages critical thinking. It goes into depth in the theories. The theories are valid for explaining current events. I’ve learned so much from this course it’s astonishing.”
“I really REALLY liked this class, and I’d definitely recommend it to anyone... I’d like to take more SOC classes now. The material assigned was not only relevant, but it was actually interesting.”
“The book in this course was very helpful in understanding the society that we live in. It taught a wide range of material in a short time. It gave a lot of complexity, while at the same time being able to follow” 
“Great book...It was very interesting, well organized, and applied to real life! The wide range of theories gave us a lot of leeway to study topics that specifically interested us. This course really made me enjoy studying…I'm seriously looking into Sociology as a major now."

Congratulations, Tom!

Tom Burns, University of Oklahoma, Professor of Sociology, has been named the winner of the 2016 Good Teaching Award at the University of Oklahoma.

The Good Teaching Award is a university wide award that recognizes excellence in teaching performance at the undergraduate level.