ASSOCIATES (vol. 8 no. 1, July 2001) -


Sociology for Everyday Life

Lorne Tepperman, with the assistance of Janaki Weerasinghe
Harcourt Brace Canada
1994 (Second Edition)
ISBN: 0-7747-3216-4

[Price varies]

Reviewed by

Sylvia Skene
Library Technician
Advanced Education Media Acquisitions Centre
Langara College
Vancouver, B.C., Canada

I had reservations about reviewing this book. First, it is out of print, although copies are available. Second, it is a textbook companion for college and university sociology courses, meant to personalize the abstract theories and concepts in "Dead Guys 101", as the author irreverently puts it, so I was afraid it might have limited appeal. Third, the focus is unabashedly Canadian, although it contains many references to American and other foreign studies.

The acid test for a book is to read the first few pages. I couldn't put it down. Every well-written page revealed another thought-provoking assertion, often at odds with what society would have us believe. For example, in the chapter titled "Patterns of Opportunity":

"What keeps our society together in the face of [this] systematic inequality and demonstrated untruth? Surveying studies of public opinion from several capitalist countries, Mann (1970) finds little evidence that people generally agree with the central tenets of liberal democracy. To a large degree, it is people's ambivalence that keeps the system working. "Cohesion in liberal democracy depends on the lack of consistent commitment to general values of any sort and on the 'pragmatic acceptance' by subordinate classes of their limited roles in society" (Mann, 1970, p.423)." (p. 45)

Frankly, I was ready to throw all the self-help books ever written into the dustbin once I'd read this book. Tepperman 'nails it' and he does this by looking at sociological research from all over the world on how we as human beings actually organize ourselves as opposed to how we think we do, and relating it to how it impacts each of us.

Tepperman has divided up the book into a series of chapters on life choices and patterns: Patterns of Desire; Patterns of Opportunity; Education; Career Choices; Single or Married; Childless or Parent; Locations and Lifestyles; What You Want and Get: Closing the Gap. Most of these chapters are subtitled "What You Want and What You Get," which is the underlying theme of this book.

He emphasizes that choices are demonstrably more limited the lower on the various 'rungs' of society you are, your ethnicity, and other factors - despite all the messages that you can succeed at anything if you just try hard enough - but conversely, that what also keeps you back is how little you expect or have come to expect to improve yourself and your situation, or in other words, "you get what you want, and want what you get." Tepperman has obviously written this book with his own students in mind, although the book is general enough to be helpful for any reader. Here's a glimpse into Tepperman's personal philosophy and background, in the chapter on education:

"Every year, when I begin my Introduction to Sociology course, I ask ... the following questions: How many of you have parents who were born in another country? (a forest of hands goes up: the vast majority); How many of you belong to the first generation of your family to attend university? (again ... ). I look around the room and see people of every age, colour, size, and shape. I tell them that the University of Toronto is a working-class university for upwardly mobile immigrants. Welcome to the University of Toronto!

"Yet if we take Canadian higher education as a whole, white middle-class people continue to be overrepresented. They are overrepresented because they are more likely than other people to fill out the application. This "self-selection" begins long before the end of high school. It is based on gender, place of residence, social class and SES [socio-economic status], and ethnicity much more than on ability." (p. 65)

As you can see, Tepperman writes in an engaging yet straightforward style that is very readable. However, he does not spare us from uncomfortable truths, such as in "Single or Married":

"However you revise the shopping list and extend your range and number of contacts, the chance of finding the perfect mate ... is nearly zero... Rather, people fall in love with those who are close at hand - often, people they know through others. As in so many areas of life, we come to value what we know best and have available: people like ourselves. We become satisfied with the possible, not the ideal; then come to love the person who satisfies us... and *that* is what's so amazing about falling in love." (p. 127)

Another strength of this book lies in how it liberates those of us who have had less opportunity than others from blaming ourselves totally for our present situation (and thus weakening ourselves further), and gives us a toolkit of strategies for choosing intelligently how to change our situation for the better. It does not attempt to be an authority on how people behave. In fact Tepperman goes out of his way to include contradicting research when he makes his various arguments, and the fifty page bibliography at the back emphasizes this. He finishes by asserting that only through group effort, toward a goal that helps others, can good choices and change for more people become a reality.

I would definitely recommend Choices and Chances to all my friends and colleagues, especially those needing some career or life guidance, and to young people, who are bombarded every day with media fictions about the "good life" and what they can or should get out of it.

I will end this review by quoting excerpts from Tepperman's last words, which relates to our own library work:

"We are well acquainted with the forces that limit the information that people have at their disposal. And we know that limited information exacts a price. According to the multiple discrepancies theory (discussed in Chapter One), people with limited information set low goals for themselves because they make modest comparisons - meaning, comparisons with others like themselves. They judge what is possible from their own history and the life histories of others just like them.

"More and better information about the possibility of other lives leads to behavioural change that can make people's desires a reality..."In closing, then, this book carries no simple message. It encourages you to question your life more systematically, with information and awareness. Above all, recognize that as human beings we all make choices, and that all our choices are constrained. This play of choices and chances will determine your future and the future of us all." (p. 241-2)

I couldn't have said it better.

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