15 Major Sociological Studies and Publications

From Research to Theory to Political Declarations

Get to know the 17 major sociology studies and books you should know here.
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The following titles are considered extremely influential and are widely taught. From theoretical works to case studies and research experiments to political treatises, read on to discover some of the major sociological works that have helped define and shape the fields of sociology and the social sciences.

01
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'The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism'

A brother and sister count their savings, representing the Protestant ethic of saving money.
A brother and sister count their savings, representing the Protestant ethic of saving money. Frank van Delft/Getty Images

Considered a seminal text in both economic sociology and sociology in general, German sociologist/economist Max Weber wrote "The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism" between 1904 and 1905. (The work was translated into English in 1930.) In it, Weber examines the ways in which Protestant values and early capitalism intersected to foster the particular style of capitalism that's since become synonymous with the cultural identity of the United States.

02
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The Asch Conformity Experiments

A person dressed in a dragon costume demonstrates non-conformity to social norms and pressures.
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The Asch Conformity Experiments (also known as the Asch Paradigm) conducted by Solomon Asch in the 1950s demonstrated the power of conformity in groups and showed that even simple objective facts cannot withstand the distorting pressure of group influence.

03
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'The Communist Manifesto'

McDonald's workers strike for a living wage, symbolizing Marx and Engels' predictions for revolt in The Communist Manifesto.
McDonald's workers strike for a living wage, symbolizing Marx and Engels' predictions for revolt in The Communist Manifesto. Scott Olson/Getty Images

"The Communist Manifesto" written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in 1848 has since been recognized as one of the world’s most influential political texts. In it, Marx and Engels present an analytical approach to class struggle and the problems of capitalism, along with theories about the nature of society and politics.

04
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'Suicide: A Study in Sociology'

An emergency phone for crisis counseling sits on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, designed to prevent suicide. Sociologist Emile Durkheim found that there can be social rather than individual causes to suicide.
A sign for an emergency phone is seen on the span of the Golden Gate Bridge. An estimated 1,300 people are believed to have jumped to their death from the bridge since it was opened in 1937. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

French sociologist Émile Durkheim published "Suicide: A Study in Sociology" in 1897. This groundbreaking work in the field of sociology details a case study in which Durkheim illustrates how social factors affect the suicide rate. The book and study served as an early prototype for what a sociological monograph should look like.

05
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'The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life'

Hamilton actors Leslie Odom, Jr. and Lin Manuel-Miranda perform on stage, representing Ervin Goffman's dramaturgical perspective on social life presented in his book The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.
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"The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life" by sociologist Erving Goffman (published in 1959) uses the metaphor of theater and stage acting to demonstrate the subtle nuances of human action and social interaction and how they shape everyday life.

06
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'The McDonaldization of Society'

A Chinese woman serving food at a McDonald's drive-thru in Beijing is a classic example of George Ritzer concept of the McDonaldization of society.
A McDonald's employee hands out food in Beijing, China. McDonald's opened its first restaurant in mainland China in 1990, and operates 760 restaurants countrywide, which employ over 50,000 people. Guang Niu/Getty Images

First published in 2014, "The McDonaldization of Society" is a more recent work, but is considered influential nonetheless. In it, sociologist George Ritzer takes the central elements of Max Weber’s work and expands and updates them for the contemporary age, dissecting the principles behind the economic and cultural dominance of fast-food restaurants that's seeped into almost every aspect of our daily lives—much to our detriment.

07
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'Democracy in America'

Who are the Trump supporters, and what do they believe in?
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Alexis de Tocqueville's "Democracy in America" was published in two volumes, the first in 1835, and the second in 1840. Available in both English and the original French ("De La Démocratie en Amérique"), this pioneering text is considered one of the most comprehensive and insightful examinations of American culture ever written. Focusing on a variety of topics including religion, the press, money, class structure, racism, the role of government, and the judicial system, the issues it examines are just as relevant today as they were it was first published.

08
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'The History of Sexuality'

A condom in a wrapper symbolizes the research and theories presented in Foucault's The History of Sexuality.
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"The History of Sexuality" is a three-volume series written between 1976 and 1984 by French sociologist Michel Foucault whose main goal was to disprove the notion that Western society has repressed sexuality since the 17th century. Foucault raised important questions and presented provocative and lasting theories to counter those assertions.

09
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'Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting By In America'

Women working as hotel maids symbolize the kind of work and life portrayed in Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickle and Dimed.
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Originally published in 2001, Barbara Ehrenreich's "Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting By In America" is based on her ethnographic research on low-wage jobs. Inspired in part by conservative rhetoric surrounding welfare reform, Ehrenreich decided to immerse herself ​in the world of low-wage earning Americans to give readers and policymakers a better understanding of the realities regarding the day-to-day subsistence of working-class wage earners and their families living at or below the poverty line.

10
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'The Division of Labor in Society'

The interlocking parts and gears of a mechanism symbolize Durkheim's book The Division of Labor in Society
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"The Division of Labor in Society" was penned by Émile Durkheim in 1893. His first major published work, it's the one in which Durkheim introduces the concept of anomie or the breakdown of the influence of social norms on individuals within a society.

11
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'The Tipping Point'

Malcolm Gladwell's concept of "the tipping point" is illustrated by the ubiquitous though recent phenomenon of using smartphones to record live events.
Malcolm Gladwell's concept of "the tipping point" is illustrated by the ubiquitous phenomenon of using smartphones to record live events. WIN-Initiative/Getty Images

In his 2000 book, "The Tipping Point," Malcolm Gladwell examines how small actions at the right time, in the right place, and with the right people can create a "tipping point" for anything from a product to an idea to a trend that can be adopted on a mass scale to become part of mainstream society.

12
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'Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity'

A performing group of little people manages their stigma by using it to their advantage.
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Erving Goffman's "Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity" (published in 1963) centers on the concept of stigma and what it's is like to live as a stigmatized person. It's a look into the world of individuals who, regardless of how great or small the stigma they've experienced, are considered to be outside societal norms at least on some level.

13
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'Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools'

A girl studies molecules in a chemistry class room, illustrating the traditional opportunity structure of education as a pathway to success in the U.S.
A girl studies molecules in a chemistry class room, illustrating the traditional opportunity structure of education as a pathway to success in the U.S. Hero Images/Getty Images

First published in 1991, Jonathan Kozol's "Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools" examines the American educational system and the inequalities that exist between poor inner-city schools and more affluent suburban schools. It's considered a must-read for anyone interested in socio-economic inequality or the sociology of education.

14
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'The Culture of Fear'

Scared people in a movie theater symbolize Barry Glassner's Culture of Fear.
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"The Culture of Fear" ​was written in 1999 by Barry Glassner, a sociology professor at the University of Southern California. The book presents compelling evidence that attempts to explain why Americans are so engrossed with "fear of the wrong things." Glassner examines and exposes the people and organizations that manipulate Americans’ perceptions and profit from the often baseless anxieties they cultivate and encourage.

15
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'The Social Transformation of American Medicine'

Doctor and patient in an office symbolize the Social Transformation of Medicine
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Published in 1982, Paul Starr's "The Social Transformation of American Medicine" focuses on medicine and healthcare in the United States. In it, Starr examines the evolution of the culture and practice of medicine in America from the colonial era through the last quarter of the 20th century.