Major Sociological Studies and Publications

From Research to Theory to Political Declarations

Discover some of the major sociological works that helped define and shape the field of sociology, from theoretical works to case studies and research experiments, to political treatises. Each title listed here is considered influential within the field of sociology and other social sciences and are widely taught and read today.

Updated by Nicki Lisa Cole, Ph.D.

A brother and sister count their savings, representing the Protestant ethic of saving money.
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The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism is a book written by the sociologist and economist Max Weber between 1904-1905. Originally written in German, it was translated into English in 1930. An examination of how Protestant values and early capitalism intersected to foster the particular style of American capitalism, it is considered a founding text in economic sociology and of sociology in general. More »

A person dressed in a dragon costume demonstrates non-conformity to social norms and pressures.
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The Asch Conformity Experiments, 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. More »

McDonald's workers strike for a living wage, symbolizing Marx and Engels' predictions for revolt in The Communist Manifesto.
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The Communist Manifesto is a book written by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in 1848 and has since been recognized as one of the world’s most influential political manuscripts. 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. More »

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 October 10, 2008 in San Francisco, California. The Golden Gate Bridge District board of directors voted today to continue with a plan to build a suicide prevention net on the world famous bridge with a price tag of $40 to $50 million dollars. 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

Suicide, published by French sociologist Émile Durkheim in 1897, was a groundbreaking book in the field of sociology. It showcases a case study of suicide in which Durkheim illustrates how social factors affect the suicide rate. The book and study served as an early example of what a sociological monograph should look like. More »

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.
Actor Leslie Odom, Jr. (L) and actor, composer Lin-Manuel Miranda (R) perform on stage during 'Hamilton' GRAMMY performance for The 58th GRAMMY Awards at Richard Rodgers Theater on February 15, 2016 in New York City. Theo Wargo/Getty Images

The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life is a book that was published in 1959, written by sociologist Erving Goffman. In it, Goffman uses the metaphor of the theater and stage acting in order to demonstrate the subtle nuances of human action and social interaction and how they shape everyday life. More »

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 as she waits on customers at their new drive-thru facility on January 19, 2007 in Beijing, China. McDonald's opened its first restaurant in mainland China in 1990, in Shenzhen, Guangdong province and now operates 760 restaurants countrywide, which employ over 50,000 people. Guang Niu/Getty Images

In The McDonaldization of Society, sociologist George Ritzer takes the central elements of Max Weber’s work and expands and updates them for our contemporary age. Doing so, Ritzer sees that the principles behind the economic success and cultural dominance of fast food restaurants have infused all aspects of social and economic life, much to our detriment. More »

Who are the Trump supporters, and what do they believe in?
Donald Trump supporters gather at Settlers Park to attend a rally for Trump on the first day of the Republican National Convention (RNC) on July 18, 2016 in downtown Cleveland, Ohio. Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images

Democracy in America, written by Alexis de Tocqueville is considered one of the most comprehensive and insightful books ever written about the United States. The book deals with issues such as religion, the press, money, class structure, racism, the role of government, and the judicial system – issues that are just as relevant today as they were then. More »

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 of books written between 1976 and 1984 by French sociologist Michel Foucault. His main goal with the series is to disprove the idea that Western society had repressed sexuality since the 17th century. Foucault raised important questions and presented some provocative and lasting theories in these books. More »

Women working as hotel maids symbolize the kind of work and life portrayed in Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickle and Dimed.
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Nickel and Dimed: On Not Getting By In America is a book by Barbara Ehrenreich based on her ethnographic research on low-wage jobs in America. Inspired in part by the rhetoric surrounding welfare reform at the time, she decided to immerse herself into the world of low-wage earning Americans and reveal to readers and policymakers what their lives are really like. More »

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 is a book written, originally in French, by Emile Durkheim in 1893. It was Durkheim’s first major published work and the one in which he introduced the concept of anomie or the breakdown of the influence of social norms on individuals within a society. More »

Malcolm Gladwell's concept of "the tipping point" is illustrated by the ubiquitous though recent phenomenon of using smartphones to record live events.
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The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell is a book about 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 to become adopted on a mass scale and a part of mainstream society. More »

A performing group of little people manages their stigma by using it to their advantage.
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Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity is a book published by Erving Goffman in 1963 about the concept and experience of stigma and what it is like to be a stigmatized person. It is a look into the world of persons who society does not consider “normal" and relates to the experiences of many people, regardless of how big or small a stigma they may experience. More »

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.
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Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools is a book written by Jonathan Kozol that examines the American educational system and the inequalities that exist between poor inner-city schools and more affluent suburban schools. It's a must-read for anyone interested in inequality or the sociology of education. More »

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 for why America is a country that is engrossed with fear of the wrong things. Glassner examines and exposes the people and organizations that manipulate Americans’ perceptions and profit from the fears and anxieties they stoke. More »

Doctor and patient in an office symbolize the Social Transformation of Medicine
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The Social Transformation of American Medicine is a book written by Paul Starr and published in 1982 about medicine and health care in the United States. Starr looks at the evolution of the culture and practice of medicine from the colonial period into the last quarter of the twentieth century. More »