I’m a huge sociology nerd, and a lot of my philosophical interests directly stem from that. I could go on about existentialist or Marxist schools of thought and the level of impact they had on me, but as of late I’ve mainly been interested in post-structuralism and Queer Theory. In no particular order, some of my favorite books out of there would be:
Mythologies - Roland Barthes – I really like anthologies of short essays, and this one was huge for me. Not only did it – weirdly enough – get me into professional wrestling, but it also introduced me to entirely new styles of criticism. I learned that I could look outside of what a text or event itself presents, and incorporate new interpretations informed from my own worldview. Barthes’s other seminal work, Image Music Text is often hailed as his most groundbreaking work (and I wouldn’t disagree), but Mythologies was my “first” foray into new criticism, and I’ll always cherish my time with it.
Discipline & Punish - Michel Foucault – It took me years to finally wrap my mind around what Foucault talks about. That was largely due to my hubris in thinking I could just pick it up and understand his prose without any prior understanding of Nietzsche, Durkheim, or Weber – but it was also because I just wasn’t “ready” for it. I came back to it last year when I was taking a sociological theory course, and suddenly I could easily parse the logic and rationale behind it all. I could understand what distinguished a disciplinary society from a spectacular one, and I saw how much these 18th Century executions Foucault speaks of matter today. Now I joke about how everything is a panopticon – which while I say in jest, I also cannot help but think of this book whenever issues of surveillance or immigration enforcement or policing are brought up.
Gender Trouble - Judith Butler – Especially as of late, I’m really into queer theory. I desperately need to pick up Foucault’s The History of Sexuality again, but this book here is probably one of the most impactful works I’ve ever read. Butler deconstructs not only the very concept of gender, but the embodiment of gender. She makes a logical evolution on previous ideas of social constructionism and suggests that not only is gender a totally arbitrary and societal phenomenon, but our methods for understanding it are based in those same failings. As with Foucault, despite my interest in her work at an earlier point in time, it took me a long while to finally get her philosophy. Like Foucault, also, her prose is near-impenetrable and demands that you learn how to read it. Now I can (though my own writing now makes extreme use of em-dashes, semi-colons, and sentences made up of a dozen fragments) and I’m left with a far deeper understanding of how gender affects individuals at phenomenological and interactional levels.
How to Travel with a Salmon - Umberto Eco – As dry as it tends be, I’m firmly of the belief that social theory can also be entertaining and humorous while retaining its insight. If you’re like me and enjoy jokes about Max Weber. you’ll probably find this book hilarious. There’s lighter fare like “How to Use the Coffee Pot from Hell” and the eponymous essay, but there’s also seemingly lighthearted pieces like “How to Eat Ice Cream,” which also speak of deeper issues in addition to being outright comedic (e.g. in the case of this one: the moral dubiousness of opulent consumerism and self-presentation in that image…by eating two ice cream cones at the same time). It’s a very light and fun read if you’re into philosophy or critical theory, and I can’t recommend it enough.