Contemporary Social 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 that traces the historical development of social theory (the first part being Classical Social Theory). Whereas in Classical Social Theory students focus on social theory up until the 1930s, in this course we will be dealing with social theory that has emerged from the 1960s until the year 2000. During this time, the historical context changed in important ways and has brought about an inclusion of new voices from the Global South, the beginnings of the greatest phase of the women’s movement, and a variety of other social movements from the environment to gay rights. The 1960s pushed social theorists to focus more on processes of social change, social inequality and processes of marginalization and exploitation that shape change, on power relations and social movements that contest them, and on cultural and other differences among individuals and groups.
In this course, you will be introduced to several major theoretical bodies of thought in modern social science, such as the Frankfurt School, Symbolic Interactionism, Post-structuralism, Feminism (e.g. Standpoint Theory, Ecofeminism) and Post-colonial Theory. We will discuss these traditions mostly on the basis of original works by eminent social theorists like Herbert Marcuse, Patricia Hill Collins, Immanuel Wallerstein and Pierre Bourdieu. Reading original works can be, of course, a very difficult and challenging, but also elating task. Reading original theoretical material is important since students thus have the opportunity to form their own opinions about theorists’ ideas. Some of the questions we will be dealing with in the 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? A crucial component of the course is applying the different theoretical approaches to social phenomena in order to explore the world around us through the lens of these theories.
To become familiar with social theories in the 20th century as well as to analyze, apply, compare 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/Classical Social Theory, HUM2031 Cultural Studies II, SSC2029 Political Sociology, HUM2054 Back to the philosophers themselves!
SSC2028 Classical Sociology/Classical Social Theory. This course is not recommended for first year students.
- Excerpts from books and articles from academic journals.