Understanding Society through Popular Music. Routledge, 2013

This creative text uses popular music as a window to understanding the “sociological imagination“ and how to think sociologically, with an emphasis on the symbolic interactionist and social constructionist traditions of sociology. Written for Introductory Sociology and Sociology of Popular Music courses, the second edition of Understanding Society through Popular Music uses popular music to illustrate fundamental social institutions, theories, sociological concepts, and processes. The authors use music, a social phenomenon of great interest, to draw students in and bring life to their study of sociology. The new edition has been updated with cutting edge thinking on and current examples of subcultures, politics, and technology.


"Music is a basic feature of social life. This important book helps students to really understand the extent that music affects all major social institutions and clearly shows how popular music can illustrate key sociological concepts. I would certainly use this accessible and well-written book in any introductory sociology course."
- Christopher J. Schneider, Sociology, University of British Columbia

"Understanding Society Through Popular Music helps me to accomplish two of the main goals of my social history of rock course: 1) to get the students to see themselves and their relationships to music as part of an ongoing and evolving cyclic process -- the very same process of self-discovery and expression in which their great-grandparents, grandparents, and parents also participated; and which their children, grandchildren, etc., are likely to experience; and, 2), to be cognizant of the many ways in which music functions in our lives and influences our thoughts and behavior."
- John Siqueiros, Music, The University of Texas at El Paso 

" This book captivates students’ sociological imagination by exploring one of the most interesting subjects of the social world: music! Through providing engaging case studies, helpful theory summaries, and real life examples, this book not only enlivens students’ understanding of sociological concepts but will also deepen their appreciation of popular music.- Jeneve R. Brooks, Sociology, Troy University A good read all around. Excellent description/explanation of sociological theories plus current anecdotal application to musical situations that span a wide array of interests. It is an imaginative and fun journey for any ethnographic tourist – whether it is a student exploring sociology for the first time, or a student serious about the study of sociology and/or sociology of music."
- Sara Horsfall, Sociology, Texas Wesleyan University

" Written by four top scholars in the field of music sociology, Understanding Society through Popular Music provides an accessible yet theoretically sophisticated introduction to the key ideas and concepts in our discipline. Engaging to its core, students in my introductory level survey course and upper level seminar on popular music subcultures rave about its relevance to issues they encounter in everyday life. This is one of the few texts that students will read cover to cover, and come to class asking for more."
-Robert Owen Gardner, Sociology & Anthropology, Linfield College

" Our students swim in a sea of pop culture, music, images, objects and texts. This book speaks their language, telling sociological stories through music, and identifying the ways in which pop music permeates our social worlds. The authors have provided an engaging soundtrack for courses in introductory sociology, sociology of popular music and popular culture, and social psychology, among others. Students and professors will enjoy having this text on their playlist."
- Kerry O. Ferris, Sociology, Northern Illinois University 

"Understanding Society Through Popular Music deserves a sociological "high five" for a job well done. This revised edition connects the importance of sociology to "everyday Life" even further by focusing on a subject important to us all – music! By applying a sociological lens to popular forms of music at the individual and group level, this book delivers up important theories in our discipline but does so in an engaging and delightful writing style. From our individual experience and cultural understanding of music to studies of music scenes, subcultures and institutions, students will see how music influences and is influenced by key sociological concepts such as -- social identity, deviance, race, class, gender, technology, institutions (e.g., family and religion), globalization, power and politics. An excellent teaching tool, this book doesn’t just explain the significance of music in our lives -- it reminds us of the importance of sociology for all areas of social life. This book is an excellent text or supplemental text for undergraduates and a research primer for those who study music from a variety of other disciplines."
- Lori Holyfield, Sociology and Criminal Justice, University of Arkansas


Subcultural Theory: Traditions and Concepts. Polity Press, 2011

Subcultural phenomena continue to draw attention from many areas of contemporary society, including the news media, the marketing and fashion industries, concerned parents, religious, and other citizen groups, as well as academia. Research into these phenomena has spanned the humanities and social sciences and the subcultural theories that underlie this work are similarly interdisciplinary. Subcultural Theory brings these diverse analytic issues together in a single text, offering readers a concise discussion of the major concepts and debates that have developed over more than eighty years of subcultural research, including style, resistance, deviance, identity, space, and media. The text emphasizes methods, concepts and analysis rather than mere descriptions of individual subcultures, all the while ensuring readers will gain insight into past and present youthful subcultures, including mod, punk, hardcore, straightedge, messenger, goth, riot grrrl, hip?hop, skinhead, and extreme metal, among others. The book closes with an assessment of the subculture concept as a viable and useful sociological tool in comparison with other fields of study including social movements and fandom.


"In this book, Patrick Williams offers the fields of sociology, criminology, and youth cultural studies the most encyclopedic and visionary treatment of subcultural theory and youth sensibilities to date. Williams's fusion of classic theory, modern research, and contemporary popular culture trends is masterful and Subcultural Theory is an invaluable resource to professors and researchers working in the areas of youth subcultures, deviance, and social theory."
Tammy Anderson, University of Delaware

"Subcultural Theory is essential reading for anyone interested in subculture studies. Patrick Williams explores the central concepts of the field - style, homology, moral panics, identity, authenticity, and more - with depth, precision, and clarity. He carefully outlines the key contributions and controversies related to major schools of thought, from the Chicago School to post-subculture studies. The thoughtful discussions of hegemony and resistance will push the study of subcultures forward. This book will be one of the most important texts in this field for years to come."
Ross Haenfler, The University of Mississippi

"Thorough, accessible and engaging throughout, Subcultural Theory offers an invaluable guide for those new to the subject at the same time as providing a distinctive and thought-provoking critical contribution which will be of great interest to established scholars."
Paul Hodkinson, University of Surrey

"By far the most thorough and thoughtfully researched introduction to the field to date ... Highly recommended."

See full reviews in:

Young 20(3):323-326 [download]

Contemporary Sociology
41(1):127 [download]

Symbolic Interaction 36(3): 365-369 [download]

Journal of Sociology 50: 233-234 [download]



Authenticity in Culture, Self, and Society. Ashgate, 2009

Across sociology and cultural studies in particular, the concept of authenticity has begun to occupy a central role, yet in spite of its popularity as an ideal and philosophical value authenticity notably suffers from a certain vagueness; work in this area tending to borrow ideas from outside of sociology, whilst failing to present empirical studies which center on the concept itself. Authenticity in Culture, Self, and Society addresses the problems surrounding this concept, offering a sociological analysis of it for the first time, which provides readers in the social and cultural sciences with a clear conceptualization of authenticity. It offers a survey of original empirical studies focused on its experience, negotiation, and social relevance at the levels of self, culture, and specific social settings.

Compiled by a team of experts from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds, this volume not only offers important theoretical contributions to our understanding of authenticity, but also maintains an empirical focus on the sociology of everyday life. As such, it will appeal to scholars across a range of subjects, including sociology, anthropology, cultural sudies, social theory, psychology, and philosophy.


"What does it mean "to be real"? This is arguably the quintessential question of modern and postmodern times, but one that has been largely neglected by social science. Vannini and Williams' excellent edited volume zeroes in on this crucial question, bringing together an impressive and diverse group of scholars who examine the nature and multiple facets of authenticity in comtemporary social life.
Victor Gecas, Purdue University

See full review in:

Cultural Sociology 5 (3): 450-2. [download]

The Players' Realm: Studies on the Culture of Video Games and Gaming. McFarland, 2007

Digital games have become an increasingly pervasive aspect of everyday life as well as an embattled cultural phenomenon in the 21st century. As new media technologies diffuse around the world and as the depth and complexity of gaming networks increase, scholars are becoming increasingly savvy in their approach to digital games. While aesthetic and psychological approaches to the study of digital games have garnered the most attention in the past, scholars have only recently begun to study the important social and cultural aspects of digital games. This book sketches some of the various trajectories of digital games in modern Western societies, looking first at the growth and persistence of the moral panic that continues to accompany massive public interest in digital games. The book then continues with what it deems a new phase of games research exemplified by systematic examination of specific aspects of digital games and gaming.
Section one considers politics and the negotiation of power in game worlds. Section two details the ideological webs within which games are produced and consumed and offers a critical cultural analysis of the hegemony that exists within games and its influence upon players' personal ideologies. Section three examines game design features that relate to players' self-characterization and social development within digital game worlds. Section four explores the relationship between the producers and consumers of digital games.

Gaming as Culture: Essays on Reality, Identity and Experience in Fantasy Games. McFarland, 2006.

Since tabletop fantasy role-playing games emerged in the 1970s, fantasy gaming has made a unique contribution to popular culture and perceptions of social realities in America and around the world. This contribution is increasingly apparent as the gaming industry has diversified with the addition of collectible strategy games and other innovative products, as well as the recent advancements in videogame technology.
This book presents the most current research in fantasy games and examines the cultural and constructionist dimensions of fantasy gaming as a leisure activity. Each chapter investigates some social or behavioral aspect of fantasy gaming and provides insight into the cultural, linguistic, sociological, and psychological impact of games on both the individual and society. Section I discusses the intersection of fantasy and real-world scenarios and how the construction of a fantasy world is dialectically related to the construction of a gamer's social reality. Because the basic premise of fantasy gaming is the assumption of virtual identities, Section II looks at the relationship between gaming and various aspects of identity. The third and final section examines what the personal experiences of gamers can tell us about how humans experience reality.


See full reviews in:

Journal of Popular Culture 41(1):178-180. [download]

Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly 85(4):932-934. [download]

Scrye Magazine #111 (Sep. 2007)