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Social Theory

SO2360 Social Theory (10 ECTS credits)

Lecturer(s): Prof Richard Layte and Dr Jemimah Bailey

Module Content/Outline:

This module provides students with a thorough grounding in the theory of the social sciences and the specific form that it takes in sociology. In Michaelmas Term Jemimah Bailey introduces key theorists, both classical and more contemporary and explores how these theorists have addressed core themes in sociological inquiry. The course will explore how social theories seek to explain social change, and critically examine ideas about the individual and society, social conflict, and the nature of sociology. The class will look at the work of Marx, Durkheim, Weber, Simmel, Parsons, Foucault, Giddens and Bourdieu, and examine the concepts of functionalism, conflict theory, social interactionism, symbolic interactionism, hegemony, cultural capital and habitus. Contemporary social theory has been critiqued as being predominantly North-Western (white), middle class, and masculinist in its influences and perspectives. The Michaelmas Term concludes by looking at some of the critiques from feminist and black perspectives.

In Hilary Term Richard Layte identifies key issues in the conceptualisation of social life and the impact of these for the form of explanation offered. Specific conceptual devices to solve these issues are identified and students are taught how to deploy these concepts and mechanisms to provide insight into different sociological phenomena. The course provides students with a structured understanding of what constitutes an explanation in the social sciences and makes a social theory sociological, i.e. an ability to integrate social network and group context into models of human behaviour, social interaction and change in these. The course provides students with different models of social processes as well as a toolkit of social concepts and processes with which they can build powerful hypotheses to understand and explain phenomena in the social sciences.

Learning Objectives:

Students successfully completing this module will be able to

  • Apply different classical sociological perspectives to various aspects of social life;
  • Critically assess the texts examined during the course;
  • Outline the key debates in classical social theory;
  • Conduct comparative analysis of theorists’ main ideas;
  • Critically assess the explicit and implicit theories deployed in empirical sociological research;
  • Be able to list and understand the components of social explanation;
  • Know and understand different models of individual and group behaviour and their implications for social explanation;
  • Be able to deploy different conceptual devices and processes to explain specific social phenomena.

Lectures & Tutorials/ Contact hours:

One lectures and one tutorial per week.

Workload: Lectures: 22 hrs; Tutorials: 22 hrs; Exams/assignments: 44 hrs; Self-study: 160 hrs. Total: 250 hours


Recommended Texts/ Key Reading:

    • Ritzer, George (2008) Sociological theory. 7th ed. Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.
    • Lemert, Charles (ed) Social theory : the multicultural and classic readings
    • James Coleman (1990) Foundations of Social Theory, Harvard University Press, Cambridge. 
    • Hedström, P. (2005) Dissecting the Social: On the Principles of Analytical Sociology, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.


    • Part One of the module will be assessed by a 2500 word essay to be submitted online by Friday the 15th of December (50% of total module mark).
    • Part Two of the module will be assessed by a three hour exam (50% of total module mark).

    Attendance at tutorials is compulsory. Failure to attend at least half of the tutorials will automatically result in a 10% (one full grade) deduction from the overall module grade.


    Penalties for late submission: Without an authorised extension, the mark given will be lowered by one grade

    Examination: 1 x 3-hour end-of-year examination