Contemporary Sociological Theory
Full course description
“Many people, ordinary ones and scientists alike, hate theory. Yet they could not live without it. When all is said and done, theory is the more or less disciplined talk by which people make what sense they can of their social worlds” (Charles Lemert in The Blackwell Companion To Major Classical Social Theorists (2003), p. 267). This course is part two of a sequence tracing back through the historical development of sociological theory (the first part being Classical Sociology). Whereas in Classical Sociology we focused on sociological theory up until the 1930s, in this course we will be dealing mainly, but not exclusively, with social theory that has emerged from the 1960s onward. During this time, the historical context started to change in important ways, since it brought about an inclusion of new voices from the Global South, the beginnings of the greatest phase so far of the women’s movement, and a variety of other social movements from environment to gay rights. The 1960s pushed sociological theorists to focus more on processes of social change, on social inequality and processes of marginalization and exploitation that shape it, power relations and social movements that contest them, and on cultural and other differences among individuals and groups. In the first portion of the course, you will be introduced to four major theoretical schools of thought in modern sociology. They are: functionalism, the Frankfurt School, Structuralism, and Interactionism. We will discuss these traditions on the basis of a well founded and accessible text called Understanding Modern Sociology which comes out of the UK. The text includes a comprehensive representation of European and US-American sociological theory. This first part of the course will be enhanced by reading original works by Herbert Marcuse, Howard Becker, Nancy Chodorow and Michel Foucault. Reading original theoretical material is important since students are then given the opportunity to form their own opinion about what the theorists are saying. Reading original works, of course, can be a very difficult and challenging, but also elating task. In the second part of the course we will continue the work of reading original theoretical texts by focusing on more alternative ways of theorizing about the social world. We will be reading works by Patricia Hill Collins, an African-American standpoint theorist, Pierre Bourdieu, a French sociologist, and Edward Said and Franz Fanon, two thinkers who are classified as post-colonial theorists. Some of the questions we will be dealing with in this course include: How can we make sense of the social world? How does capitalism impact our social reality? How is social reality constructed? What causes social change? What is the link between agency and structure? How is knowledge produced and by whom?
- To familiarize students with theories in contemporary sociology and give them the necessary skills to analyze, use, and criticize those theories.
- To discuss what a theory is, how we can theorize, and how theories can illuminate real social problems or issues.
One of the following courses: SSC1003 / SSC2065 Theories of Social Order, SSC2028 Classical Sociology, SSC 2059 Social Movements, HUM2031 Cultural Studies II, HUM 2014 Philosophers of the 20th Century.
SSC2028 Classical Sociology or HUM 2014 Philosophers for the 20th Century. This course is not recommended for first year students.
- Calhoun, C., et al. (2002). Contemporary Sociological Theory. Malden: Blackwell Publishing.
- Sharrock, W.W., et al. (2003). Understanding Modern Sociology. London: Sage Publications.