Theories of Social Order
Full course description
I the past decade, societal order seemed to be under attack in many Western countries. Activists from the right and the left challenged existing orders and increased societal strife. Political polarisation has eroded social cohesion and pitted people against one another. And then, the covid-19 pandemic struck.
BLM, #MeToo, alt-right movements, mass shootings, popular uprisings, police violence, fierce debates about climate change and gender equality and LGBTQ-rights and rising inequalities: they all relate to social order in one way or another. In tempestuous times, questions about social order become important. What makes society work? What unites us? What divides us? In “Theories of Social Order”, we use a sociological perspective to study the different types of glue that hold societies together. For sociologists, the root of the problem of social order lies in the sometimes conflicting interests of individuals and those of groups (and societies. Whenever individual interest conflicts with group interest, social order is at risk. A solution to the problem requires the reconciliation of individual and collective interests, but how to do that is not a given. Theorists have provided several answers to this vexing question.
We consider five mechanisms that produce social order: individuals, hierarchies, markets, groups and networks. Foundational texts by classic sociologists are combined with contemporary extensions and empirical applications on contemporary problems of social order, i.e. (1) political polarisation in the US and Europe, and (2) the corona pandemic. The editorial introductions by Hechter & Horne provide the background for each of these texts and link them to the central problem. The strengths and weaknesses of the various theories are discussed, by relating them to contemporary events whenever feasible. We also explore how to test theories against evidence. In this way, students will improve their understanding of the social world and will learn to apply the analytical tools to real-life phenomena.
To introduce students to the way classical and modern sociologists theorize about society and in particular, to introduce students to a core theoretical issue in the social sciences: the problem of social order.
To develop skills in identifying and analyzing theoretical arguments.
To understand how sociologists use different types of evidence to understand society.
To apply abstract theories to new concrete empirical situations.
SSC1029 Sociological Perspectives or SSC2028 Classical Sociology or COR1005 Theory Construction and Modelling Techniques
- Hechter, M. & Horne, C. (2009). Theories of social order. A reader. 2nd edition. Stanford University Press.