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Social Theory

SO3201 Social Theory (10 ECTS credits)

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

Module Content/Outline:

This module examines some of the key theoretical issues in sociology. In Michaelmas Term the class will be introduced to key theorists, both from the ‘classical’ and the more ‘contemporary’ periods, and will explore 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, Parsons, Foucault, Giddens and Bourdieu, and examine the concepts of functionalism, conflict theory, social interactionism, symbolic interactionism, cultural capital and habitas.

The focus in Hilary Term changes to contemporary social theory.  The course reiterates the core issues in sociological theory and then builds upon classical theory to develop conceptual devices to solve these issues using actual examples from sociological research. 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 pressures or expectations into models of human strategic behaviour and social interaction.  In so doing it provides theoretical tools that can explain how social coordination and cooperation can both emerge and break down. The course provides students with different models of human behaviour 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:

On successful completion of this module, you 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 human behaviour and their implications for social explanation;
  • Understand the necessary components of social cooperation and coordination:
  • Be able to deploy different conceptual devices and processes to explain specific social phenomena.
  • Lectures & Tutorials/ Contact hours:

    One lecture and one tutorial per week

    Lectures: 22 hrs; Tutorials: 22 hrs; Exams/assignments: 80 hrs; Self-study: 126 hrs. Total: 250 hours.

    Recommended Texts/ Key Reading:

    • Craib, I. (1997) Classical Social Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
    • Holloway J. (2002) Change The World Without Taking Power, Pluto Press.
    • Calhoun, C. et al (eds.) (2012) Contemporary Sociological Theory, Wiley Blackwell.
    • Coleman, J.S. (1994) Foundations of Social Theory, Bleknap, Harvard.


    Part One of the module will be assessed by essay (40%) and attendance and tutorial contribution (10%). Part Two of the module will be assessed by exam (50%).

    Date for submission: TBA

    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