Sociocultural Systems:
Principles of Structure and Change
By Frank W. Elwell

Winner of the 2014 Mid-South Sociological Association
Stanford M. Lyman
Distinguished Book Award
Dr. Frank W. Elwell
Rogers State University
November 7, 2014

Sociocultural Systems provides a stimulating introduction to, and challenging overview of, macrosociology, that can be read with equal benefit by everyone from freshmen in Sociology 101 to graduate students in advanced theory courses. Elwell has done an excellent job of blending the development of macrosocial theory from the early classics to the present day with a strong emphasis on the substance and processes of social change throughout human history. Even faculty members who, themselves, have never been introduced to a truly comprehensive and coherent theoretical framework for the discipline (and, sadly, that includes far too many) will benefit from this volume and find it intellectually rewarding. I believe Sociocultural Systems merits serious consideration for the American Sociological Association's annual distinguished book award.”

—Gerhard Lenski, author of Power and Privilege and Human Societies: An Introduction to Macrosociology


Macrosociology—the study of large-scale social structures and the fundamental principles of social organization—was the style of sociology practiced by the founders of the discipline. Today, the social theories of Karl Marx, Max Weber, Émile Durkheim, and Herbert Spencer (among others) are commonly studied as part of the history of the field, but, although the macrosociological approach that these thinkers advocated is still employed, it no longer dominates the discipline. Instead, sociologists typically adopt a narrower focus, specializing in areas such as social psychology, medicine, religion, or the study of social stratification. Examining the bigger picture is a task often left to public intellectuals.

Sociocultural Systems aims to reinstate macrosociology as the heart of the discipline by demonstrating that both classical and contemporary macrosociologists stand upon common ground. Focusing on the broad issues that concerned the founders, Elwell addresses questions such as: Historically, what factors accounted for the origin, survival, and evolution of sociocultural systems? Why were some societies more technologically advanced than others? What is the origin of capitalism? What factors determine the allocation of goods and services within and among societies? What effects do changes in government and economic institutions have on communities?

Elwell argues that, as evolution does for biology, the macrosociological paradigm offers an analytical strategy that can be used both to guide and prioritize research in all of the myriad specialties within sociology and to lay forth an orderly body of knowledge for students. Clearly articulating important sociological principles, Sociocultural Systems provides a critical understanding of social institutions and issues, while also furnishing a framework for possible solutions to the perennial social crises that are part and parcel of the development of human societies.

Athabasca University Press
February 2013
978-1-927356-20-3 (SC)

Related sites:
Classical Theorists
In the Classical Tradition

Elwell's Homepage

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