SOCI-202 Sociological Theory
Fall for 2011-2012
What explains the differences between rich and poor? Why do people in different societies
behave differently? What can be explained by individual choice and what cannot? What does
religion do? These are some of the questions that the field of sociology began with. This course
is an introduction to sociological theory, encompassing both the “classical” sociological works of Durkheim, Marx, Simmel, and Weber, who merged empirical and normative interests in their
arguments about social change during the 19th and early 20th centuries, as well as contemporary
theoretical developments. Our goals are twofold: a) to understand the arguments the authors
make, and b) to see how these arguments relate to current issues and events in our own society.
To this end, many weeks include writings from one of the theorists on a particular theme and a
news item or two. The news item is meant to inspire you to see how these social theories can beused to explain phenomena that we are familiar with.
My goal is that you learn how to think like a sociologist. This means, first, that you understandwhat theory is, which in turn requires understanding the difference between theory, hypothesis,and empirical data. It means that you will have the ability to think backwards and forwardsthrough each of these: that is, for each piece of empirical data that you see, you might be able tothink of several theories that could possibly explain it. Conversely, for every theory that youencounter, you will be able to think of hypotheses and empirical data that would confirm ordisprove it. I will introduce you to these in the first class, but you will continue to develop yourmastery of them throughout the term. By the end, I hope that your ability to distinguish betweenthem will feel almost instinctive.
Thinking like a sociologist also means that you see how events are rarely isolated phenomena,
but have causes and effects on social life. When you read something on Google News, my goal is
that you be able to think about some of the possible explanations for the event, how it might
affect other things, and how it might be part of a cycle or ongoing back-and-forth social process.
The following syllabi may help you learn more about this course (login required):
Spring '12: Casanova, Jose (file download)
Fall '11: Hsu, Becky (web site, description, file download)
Additional syllabi may be available in prior academic years.
SOCI-202-01 Sociological Theory
Spring for 2011-2012
The course will examine the major theories of society and different types of sociological theorizing. We will dedicate about half of the term to the study of the classical theorists who established the foundations of the discipline and still serve today as a source of insights for much of contemporary sociology: Karl Marx, Émile Durkheim, Max Weber, Georg Simmel, George H. Mead, Robert Park and the Chicago School. In the latter part of the course we will survey a variety of contemporary perspectives on society, including structural-functionalism, symbolic interactionism and phenomenological approaches, conflict and exchange theories, neo-Marxisms and critical theory, feminism, and theories of globalization and multiple modernities. Throughout, we will pay attention to the socio-historical and organizational contexts in which classical and contemporary theory have emerged.
Other academic years
There is information about this course number in other academic years: