Theories are tools to help us understand and negotiate the world better. Because social life is messy, sociological theories can never be as exact as the theories that physicists or mathematicians use. But good theory can help us see things that we did not (or could not) see before in new and exciting ways. Theories can help us explain both the mundane and the bizarre, as well as the big and the small.
In this class, we cover a range of social thought, from the classical works of Marx, Durkheim and Weber, through more contemporary theories of the social world. Some theories are very “macro” in orientation, focusing on entire societies, while others focus on the “micro” contexts of interaction between individuals. Some theories place emphasis on how human interaction creates broader social structures, while others examine how material and cultural structures shape and constrain our actions. Some of these theories will confirm existing beliefs while others will challenge your basic preconceptions about how the world works.
This is my favorite course to teach. I hope that by the end of the semester it was your favorite course to take. My goal is to have helped you:
- Build your ability to read and engage with complicated arguments.
- Understand some of the key classic and more contemporary theories that have shaped the discipline and academic thought in general.
- Develop tools to make sense of the social world.
- See connections and patterns where you had not before.
- Improve your ability to ask questions, both big and small.
- See that social theory is something to be enjoyed not hated.
* This is a survey course. We cannot cover all of the important theorists or discuss the ones we do read in as much depth as I like. However, if there is any topic or theory that particularly excites you, let me know and I will do my best to incorporate it into this course or, at the very least, I can recommend further reading.