Pool Side Social Sciences.
May 2, 2014 5:04 AM   Subscribe

I'm leaving for a much deserved vacation. I will be spending a lot of time reading by the pool. I'm looking for good social science reads.

I'm trying to plan a few books that I could bring on my next vacation (this month). I used to be a huge fan of fiction but have found myself struggling to get into it lately. Instead, I seem to spend my time reading in either sociology, anthropology or history.

I'm looking for "empirical" reads, that is, books that are focused on lived experiences. I've read and enjoyed theoretical stuff (Bourdieu, Foucault, Rancière, Butler, etc), but am looking for social science books that focus on telling stories about people, how we live and how we organize our lives.

Some books I have read and loved recently:

Righteous Dopefiend (Bourgois and Schonberg)
Nickel and Dimed (Barbara Ehrenreich)
Marriage, a history: How love conquered marriage (Stephanie Coontz)
From Front porch to Back seat (Beth Bailey)
Punishing the poor (Loic Wacquant)

Some themes I think I would like exploring:
-Eating disorders
-Relationships and dating (as evidenced by the Coontz and Bailey examples)
-Addiction (does anyone know of a good ethnography of AA, for example?)
-Living the good life or living in poverty (experiencing the unequal distribution of ressources).
posted by Milau to Society & Culture (16 answers total) 31 users marked this as a favorite

I have a shelf of books about poverty on Goodreads that you might want to peruse. My personal favorites are Random Family and Michael Harrington's The Other America.

I've also been hankering to read Thomas Piketty's Capital in the 21st Century, which is the hot book about inequality right now.
posted by anotheraccount at 5:47 AM on May 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Reviving Ophelia
posted by seesom at 6:04 AM on May 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

This is a bit different than your request, but Thinking, Fast and Slow is a masterpiece of popular social science. It's a review, not a narrative, but it's a hugely engaging read, with plenty of examples of both real life and experimental evidence.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 6:33 AM on May 2, 2014

Here are my suggestions (and bear in mind they might fit more with the "poolside" part of you question):

Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth Cline. Cline digs deep into her own closet and explores the origins of her clothing. Many things she owns - like many Americans - are cheap to the point of being disposable...which is great for our wallets, but comes at great cost to the environment and to the lives of the people who make the things we wear.

Committed: A Love Story by Elizabeth Gilbert (yes, the woman who wrote Eat, Pray, Love)...might not be as in-depth as you're looking for, but I mention it because it sounds similar in subject to "Marriage, a history" that you mention. In her struggle to be at peace with getting married again after a divorce, Gilbert explores the idea of marriage across time and cultures.
posted by Shadow Boxer at 6:50 AM on May 2, 2014

Have you read Margaret Mead's Coming of Age in Samoa? And if you have, have you read Blackberry Winter or her field letters?
posted by DarlingBri at 6:55 AM on May 2, 2014

There is a biography on Bill Wilson, founder of AA, that I haven't read but was written by Susan Cheever. I figure she's acclaimed enough that I can mention the book without having read it.

My favorite addiction memoir - and I've read plenty - is Night of the Gun by David Carr, writer for the NYTimes (among other places.) Or Broken by William Cope Moyers, son of journalist Bill Moyers.
posted by lyssabee at 7:12 AM on May 2, 2014

My favorite writer on poverty is Katherine Boo (here are some articles she has written). I recommend her book Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity.
posted by Juliet Banana at 7:18 AM on May 2, 2014 [3 favorites]

Eating disorders

I highly recommend Fasting Girls by Joan Jacobs Brumberg; it's an incredibly interesting history of anorexia that roots the disorder in social, not just psychological, changes in 19th century gender and class roles. It shows the change in modernity from religious to medical framings of fasting and it is a great read too that would be fine to read by the pool.

For an ethnography of addiction: You might be interested to see how differently alcohol abuse is configured in Japan in relation to different cultural discourses of gender, dependence and interdependence: Amy Borovoy's ethnography of gender and alcohol in Japan
from 2005 The Too-Good Wife: Alcohol, Codependency, and the Politics of Nurturance.
posted by third rail at 7:21 AM on May 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

CLICK why we click with certain people and how to increase the chances of clicking with someone
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:43 AM on May 2, 2014

What Remains by Carole Radziwill (relationships, loss, kennedys), Tender Bar (alcohol), Lit by Mary Karr (addiction)

Have you read any Joan Didion yet? The year of magical thinking is an analysis of loss which I read not when I had recently lost anyone but find her writing incredible. or The White Album by Didion as well.
posted by kmr at 8:14 AM on May 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Given the books you cited, I think you'd get a lot out of Philippe Bourgois' *In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio.* Originally published in 1995 and in a second edition in 2002, this book remains among the most memorable and important ethnographies (certainly of a poor community in the US) of the modern era for me despite being topically dated. In a nutshell: crack dealers are good capitalists. I can remember some of the scenes from that book (which PB researched by hanging out in a crack den in East Harlem for a year) nearly 20 years after reading them, and the book profoundly shaped my understanding of urban poverty, drug policy, and the relationship between addiction and (lack of) opportunity.
posted by spitbull at 9:06 AM on May 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Corner, by David Simon and Edward Burns--particularly if you like the TV series The Wire and Homicide (which is also based on a book by Simon).
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:39 PM on May 2, 2014

Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much by Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir.

I'm 2/3s through the book and think everyone on the planet should read it because it explains how scarcity makes people stupid courtesy of how our brains work.

People who are poor are not stupid but they can appear stupid because a scarcity mindset largely outside of our control causes people to focus on the scarcity, which creates some immediate benefits but also a lot of disadvantages that are really difficult to fight.

This is true for people facing a bunch of different types of scarcity: dieters, busy people with too little time, lonely people without friends, and, as always, the poor. So if you are interested in poverty, this has an unusual take on the issue. Lots of science but also personal stories.
posted by Bella Donna at 5:57 PM on May 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you liked Nickel and Dimed, you'll probably like Bait and Switch, also by Barbara Ehrenreich.

Also, Random Family, by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc, is really good.
posted by SisterHavana at 12:25 AM on May 4, 2014

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