Anthony Elliott’s Contemporary Social Theory: An Introduction is a fascinating little book. Well ok, it may not be little, but it is fascinating none-the-less. The structure of the book makes it very usable as a reference book. The Kindle version, in particular makes it easy to navigate from the contents page to the chapters and from the chapters to the individual sections. The summaries at the end of each chapter and the hyperlinks to other resource websites makes it easy to gather a brief overview of the information as well as a starting point to dig deeper.
While social theory is not a topic that would pique most people’s interest, Elliott points out that “most people—most of the time—possess a basic social theory, which they use to orientate themselves to others and the wider world.”
He goes on to say, “What Lemert underwrites is the very fact that social theory is implicated in how we live in the present. The present for us is always filtered through certain social-theoretical assumptions, precepts and ideas—however basic or elementary—of the social realities all around us. Thus we cannot choose to live non-theoretically: social life, its regulations, orderings and structurings, is quite as much theoretical as practical.”
 The fact is, we all live by “rules” or “structures” that regulate how we live, how we interact, where and how we work, what we do for leisure, etc. If there is any doubt to this theory, we need not look any further that a high school classroom where “social misfits” (those who do not comply to society norms) either are lauded, ridiculed, or chastised for “being different”. Elliott references Anthony Gidden’s argument that the social “rules” are so distinct that they function as clearly and regularly as a mathematical formula. “Understanding a formula, says Giddens, enables an agent to carry on in social life in a routine manner, to apply the rule in a range of different contexts. The same is true of bureaucratic rules, traffic rules, rules of football, rules of grammar, rules of social etiquette: to know a rule does not necessarily mean that one is able to explicitly formulate the principle, but it does mean that one can use the rule ‘to go on’ in social life.”
The question that comes to mind is, “Where do these societal rules come from? Does social structure shape human lives or do human’s shape social structure? This is similar to the question, “Does art reflect culture or does culture mimic art? While we could look at both sides of these issues and probably reach the conclusion that both happen, culture shapes people and people shape culture, I believe that there is a missing piece to the whole social theory question.
The missing piece is that there is a bigger picture. It is not adequate to simply talk about social theory and human beings; we must consider God’s role in social theory. What happens when someone conforms to the “rules” or “norms” of society while disregarding God’s standards for human existence? What happens when an individual or a society experience a transformation through the Holy Spirit and begin to understand their very reason for existing?
I appreciated the fact that Elliott included critiques of the various theories and theorists. My greatest critic of social theorists and theories in general is that they often try to understand social theory without acknowledging God. Without considering God’s role in social theory, will never get a clear understanding because we neglect the very context in which human society exists.
 Anthony Elliott, Contemporary Social Theory: An Introduction (London: Routledge, 2009), 9.
 Ibid., 11.
 Ibid., 128.