Sociological debates effective Term: Autumn and Spring

Скачать 298.57 Kb.
НазваниеSociological debates effective Term: Autumn and Spring
Размер298.57 Kb.
  1   2   3   4   5   6
SESSION 2007/2008



Sociological Debates



The Harvard System Inside Front Cover

Course Specification (the official version) p.1

Understanding Sociological Debates p.3

Lecture List p.5

Reading List and Seminar Topics p.6

Coursework Guide p.17

Lecture Notes p.19

Sample Examination Paper p.48


Thomas Acton

Room Queen Mary 207

Phone: 0208 331 8923




SOCIOLOGICAL DEBATES Effective Term: Autumn and Spring

Course Coordinator: Prof.T.A.Acton

General Level: UG Specific Level: 2

Credit: 30 University Department: Sociology, Criminology and Cultural Studies

Specific Entry Requirements: 120 credits at Level 1 on a designated Sociology programme

Introduction and Rationale:

This course deals with the theoretical framework of Sociology as a discipline and cognate disciplines such as Psychology, Anthropology and History, through the medium of explanations of substantive issues that address fundamental concerns about the nature of human social life and individual behaviour. It builds upon work at foundation level; covers a number of concepts and forms of theorizing in sociology and related disciplines; addresses a number of competing explanations, and begins to raise the question of the object of sociological work and the matter of disciplinary boundaries. As one half of the core at Level 2, Sociological Debates is designed to pave the way for students to undertake the Sociology Project at Level 3 by making them aware of the structure of sociological and other forms of explanation and beginning to build in them the skills to construct a sustained explanation of their own.


The purpose of the course is for students to examine how explanations, in sociology and in cognate disciplines like History and Anthropology, are put together. As such, it is designed to identify for them the fact that explanations necessarily involve theories (in other words, relatively stable accounts of what the world is like), concepts (in other words descriptions of things or ideas), that may or may not derive from these theories, an evidential base (which may or may not be successfully related to those concepts and theories and may or may not be well founded) and forms of argumentation (in other words strategies for persuading people of the value of a particular way of accounting for, analysing or describing something).

Sociological Debates seeks to do this by giving students the opportunity to examine in depth fundamental issues surrounding human social life: the social character of and significance given to the body; the nature of the human person and of human agency; the role that knowledge and beliefs play in the ordering of the human world and the structuring and regulation of conduct; the question of the nature of individuality, moral regulation and sociality; the question of human universals and social relativity, and the nature and limits of the social. It will accomplish this by presenting students with a number of substantive areas of investigation which provide discussion points for such issues.

Learning Outcomes2:

On completion of the course, students will

  • be able to show an awareness of the way in which sociological and other forms of argumentation, belonging to different disciplinary frameworks, are constructed (6.1.8; 6.3.1);

  • have an understanding of the ways in which such argumentation deploys evidence in the discussion of substantive issues and be able to review and evaluate such evidence (6.1.7; 6.2.3);

  • appreciate the potentially wide range of theoretical frameworks and disciplinary approaches – both competing and complementary – that might be able to be deployed in the discussion and explanation of particular issues (6.1.4; 6.2.1);

  • have acquired an understanding of some key concepts in contemporary sociological discourse (6.1.1);

  • have begun to consider the nature of human individuality, sociality and group life (6.1.4);

  • be able to reflect on the question of knowledge and beliefs and their implication in the ordering of human existence and the social institutions that flow from this (6.1.4);

  • begin to be able to reflect on the nature and limits of the social realm (6.1.3; 6.1.8);

  • appreciate some of the complexity surrounding the question of human universals and cultural variability and the value of comparative analysis (6.1.3);

  • have developed their capacity to gather, retrieve and synthesize information (6.2.2)

  • be capable of constructing a reasoned argument and of presenting it in a scholarly manner (6.2.4; 6.3.6)

Indicative Content3:

The Human Body and Social Life; The Person; Power, Authority and Knowledge; Living in Other Worlds; Human Instincts and Social Life; The Nature of the Social Bond; Understanding Genocide: the Holocaust; Rethinking ‘Individual’ and ‘Society’.

Assessment Details4:

Methods of Assessment

Word Length

Weighting %

Outline Details

Coursework Exercise

Coursework Essay


2,5 00 – 4,000

2,500 – 4,000





“The celebrated and the obscure” 25%

Essay from question list.

3 hours including reading time

Key5 texts:





Andrew Arato and Eike Gebhardt

Hannah Arendt

Zygmunt Bauman

Robert Darnton

Mary Douglas

Michel Foucault

Norbert Elias

Sigmund Freud, S.

Harrington A. ed

Paul Hirst and Penny Woolley

Claude Lévi-Strauss

Marcel Mauss













The Essential Frankfurt School Reader

The Origins of Totalitarianism

Modernity and the Holocaust

The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History

Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo

Discipline and Punish: Birth of the Prison

The Civilising Process

Civilisation and its Discontents (in Standard Edition [SE], vol. XXI)

Modern Social Theory

Social Relations and Human Attributes

Structural Anthropology

Sociology and Psychology: Essays

Continuum International

Random House






Hogarth Press



Basic Books

Routledge and Kegan Paul

Understanding Sociological Debates

This course is not about society, except indirectly. It is about an activity called “sociology” which gradually became perceived as a distinct academic discipline in the century between 1840 and 1940, and has been practised by a tiny minority of intellectuals in industrialised societies up to the present.

Although tiny, its scientific pretensions have been vast. Where historians had largely been content to record and classify human actions retrospectively, sociologists endeavoured (largely unsuccessfully) to synthesize history with other “human sciences” like biology, anthropology, psychology and political economy to explain, predict and even enable policy to modify the way society works, in the way that an understanding of physics and chemistry enables the engineering of matter.

The heyday of the social acceptability of sociology came in the 30 years after 1945, when the memory of the devastation of the second world war prompted governments to look at sociology, and the social sciences more generally to try to engineer a better world in which the horrors of the past could not be repeated. Sociology spread throughout the universities of the capitalist industrial world, and its technical methodologies were appropriated to enrich the official Marxism of the Soviet bloc. Government funding of research enabled a brief flowering of “big sociology”, and the subject even began to be taught in some British schools for GCSE and A-level.

For the last 25 years, however, sociology has been in a curious kind of retreat. Governments have lost confidence; research funding has dried to a trickle. Although “sociology” remains a component in the training of teachers, nurses and doctors, what they study bears ever less relation to what is done in the remaining “sociology degrees”. One consequence of this loss of confidence is that that postwar sociology is seen as having failed in its promises, and not even to be worth studying. So if you actually look at the sociologists to who you have been introduced so far, you will remember a number of “founding fathers” of whom the last is perhaps Parsons – and then there is no-one until the emergence of Giddens in the 1970s who put together a modern sociology textbook for modern students (not!), and Turner in the 1980s. If you look at most contemporary Sociological Theory courses, there is little reference to any sociological writing between 1930 and 1970.

So one of the first question we need to ask in the course is “Why has contemporary British sociology written such a huge chunk of its past out of its own historical understanding of itself?” What happened in the missing years?

We will be studying sociological debates not just as an abstract tool for looking at the nature of argument in society – although it can be that. We will be trying to identify the important debates which shaped the history of sociology, as well as their connection with clashes and arguments in society itself. We will assume that the most important starting point for understanding the work of any writer is to understand with whom it is they disagree and why. Sometimes this is easy: Marx, for example is only too eager to tell you what is wrong with the writers he criticises. Sometimes it is hard: synthesists like Durkheim and Giddens, who present themselves as bringing together the best of previous writers, make it very hard to work out what alternatives they fear their readers might prefer to their own understandings. Most writers are somewhere in between, sometimes attacking their targets/opponents, sometimes ignoring them.

So the first key to understanding the history of ideas (in sociology or any disciplinary theory) as a social process, is to understand with whom the key thinkers were debating. Sometimes this may be camouflaged. For example Adorno after 1950 is invariably polite in writing about Heidegger, but really rude and contemptuous about the official Marxism of the Soviet bloc and much of the old Left in Europe; but he continues to use Marxian arguments as part of a devastating demolition of Heidegger and his philosophical tradition, and in the end his most telling accusation against the communists is that their vicious authoritarianism in government is morally no better than that of the Nazis supported by Heidegger.

You have been taught that there are no right or wrong answers to the interesting questions in sociology; only more or less plausible arguments. Yet, as the arguments get stale, conventional positions emerge which are criticised only by a minority. “Scientific racism” was the conventional wisdom until the late 1940s. Today as big a majority opposes scientific racism as supported it in the 19th century. Yet if we look back we can find individual thinkers, like the almost forgotten German philologist Johann Rüdiger, who in 1782 spotted the nonsense in scientific racism without thinking twice about it. Even if there are no right or wrong answers in theoretical debates, there are big winners and big losers in the history of ideas, and winning or losing is not necessarily related to what we now understand as the truth. There are a number of social scientists and sociologists who were hugely influential in their own day, but today are ignored, or their names are remembered only because they are briefly cited in some book which has become a classic text. So in this course, for every writer we look at who is still a hot topic in contemporary debates, we will try to look at one who has been neglected, and ask why the great majority of pre-1970 sociological thinkers (including all the women) have been more or less forgotten. And we will speculate on who among today’s big names will still be read 30 years from now, and who will be forgotten.

Is this way of teaching/studying sociological debates itself just taking sides in a big ongoing clash between classical sociological theory and contemporary cultural analysis? I hope not. It seems to me that neither classical embedding or contemporary relevance are as fascinating as the very fragility and ephemerality of sociological debate. Only when we face up to that can we judge how the questions formulated by sociology may help us to study and to change the world in which we live.

The Process of Teaching and Learning

This course will be taught by lectures, seminars and workshops. All students will be expected to make presentations in seminars, either of their proposals for exercises and essays, or of successful achievements if asked. This is the third time the present lecturer has taught the course, and experience shows the lecture programme set out below is subject to constant slippage; but we can live with that.


Topic No.

Lecture Title




What do we mean by “a debate”?


Who now reads ………..?


Are there alternatives to the Parsonian account of the start of Sociology? Medical men, synthesists, Critics and Prophets


Making Social Change the problem


Making Theorising Change the problem (I). Marx and the Past


Making Theorising Change the problem (II). Marx and the Future


Theorising Change III: Durkheim


And back to the theory of Order: Max Weber


And were they part of one story? Functionalism as Synthesis.


Variants of Functionalism


A pigeonhole for Women?


The Missing Years I: The Nemesis of the Paradigm Shifters:. British Sociology from the L.S.E. to the E.S.R.C.: Ghosts of the Welfare State


The Missing Years II: Sociology under State Socialism and Neo-Marxism: Which one was the Evil Twin?


Restoring Synthesis: From Interactionism to Post-Structuralism: The Curse of Amnesia


From Psycho-Analysis to Post-Modernism: The Grandest Weirdest Narrative Ever Told.


Summary and Conclusion



Reading List and Seminar Topics

The main textbook for this course, as is evident below, is

Harrington A. ed. (2005) Modern Social Theory, Oxford: OUP

This doesn’t mean that I agree with what it says.

Conveniently the writers in this book have put questions for students at the end of their chapters. Sometimes these are a good alternative to the questions given below: sometimes they are rather noddy. Further reading, and allegedly useful websites are also given for each topic. Not all the contributors have equally good judgment in their choice of websites, (they clearly were told by the publisher that without e-learning they wouldn’t be up-to-date, ) so just watch out!

A quick crib to ideas you may find puzzling or that you read about once and have half-forgotten is :

Crossley, N. 2005 Key Concepts in Critical Sociology London: Sage.

It also has sections of relevance to most of the topics below and often good advice on primary and secondary sources. It is not a good starting point for any topic – but it may rescue you if you get stuck.

There are a lot of books below. I don’t need to tell you can’t read them all. This list serves also as a reference list for books I might quote in the lectures. Have I read them all? Of course not – but when preparing this course I was surprised to find how much I had read over 40 years – perhaps about half of what follows. But the other half I have skimmed, looked at, trawled their indices : I think I know what’s in them – but extra marks to anyone who shows me I’ve got any of them wrong! And you need to know how to skim books too. Get as many as you can from the library shelves, and give them 5 or 10 minutes of your time (and a couple of notes in your file) before you decide which ones not to borrow.

To help you choose, I have marked primary texts with two asterisks **. This means the texts referred to are important original historical contributions to the development of sociological thought.. They are not usually the last word on their own subject. All the other texts are secondary, in that they are conceived as critical discussions of the ideas of others. But of course, sometimes these are themselves seen as having original ideas, which are then discussed by others. Such works I mark with a single asterisk*. The unasterisked remainder are seen as more purely secondary, aimed at explaining sociological debates, carried on by others, to students. If you seek a boring route to a safe lower second, best stick to ones like this published after 1990, - and hope they don’t become as useless as the older ones, eh?

It is not planned to show any videos.


A good guide to internet searches is at

And follow the link to Sociological theory Sites

Seminar Topic Reading Lists

1 Introduction:

What is Sociology – What happened in Sociology? How are the two questions related?

Collins R. 1994 Four Sociological Traditions Oxford:OUP pp.3-46, 291-295

*Gouldner, A. 1970 The Coming Crisis of western Sociology London Heinemann, Part One

Harrington A. 2005 “Introduction: What is social theory” in Harrington A. ed. (2005) Modern Social Theory, Oxford: OUP pp.1-15

Hughes, J.A., Martin, P.J and Sharrock W.W. 1995 Understanding Classical Sociology, London Sage pp. 1-17

*Parsons T. 1937 The Structure of Social Action NY:McGraw-Hill, Vol.2 ch.18

Scott J. 2006 Social Theory: Central Issues in Sociology London:Sage, Chapter 2

*Turner B.S. 1999 Classical Sociology London: Sage Ch.1

2 What do we mean by “a debate”?

i) What was at issue between a) Empiricism and Rationalism

b) Positivism and Dialectics

ii) Did “The Enlightenment” really happen?

**Adorno, T. 1973 Negative Dialectics London: Routledge Kegan Paul

*Chomsky, N. 1966 Cartesian Linguistics: A Chapter in the History of Rationalist Thought New York: Harper and Row 1966

**Descartes R. (Originally 1649) 1968 Discourse on Method Harmondsworth: Penguin

*Edmonds, D. and Eidinow J 2006 Rousseau’s Dog: Two Great Thinkers at War in the Age of Enlightenment, London: Faber (c.f also Edmonds, D. and Eidinow J 2006, “Enlightened Enemies”, Guardian Saturday Review, 29 April, p.4

Harrington A. 2005 “Classical Social Theory: Contexts and Beginnings” in Harrington A. ed. 2005 Modern Social Theory, Oxford: OUP pp.16-23

**Hegel G.W.F. (Originally 1817) 1892 Logic Oxford: OUP

**Hume D. (originally 1777) 1975 An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding Oxford: Clarendon Press

Jenks C. ed. 1998 Core Sociological Dichotomies London:Sage

*Marcuse H. (Originally 1963) 1991 2nd Ed. One-Dimensional Man London: Routledge

*Merton R.K. 1968 (enlarged ed.) Social Theory and Social Structure London: Collier Macmillan Ch.1

Porter R. 1990 The Enlightenment Basingstoke: Macmillan

**Rousseau, J-J (Originally 1762) 1973 The Social Contract London:Dent (Everyman) or

*Turner B.S. 1999 Classical Sociology London: Sage Ch.16

3 Who now reads Goldthorpe/Parsons/Brinton/Spenser/the Scottish Hegelians/ any women who wrote before 1965?

Who are Sociology’s forgotten writers? Why are they forgotten?

**Addams, J. 1902 Democracy and Social Ethics. New York: Macmillan,

Anon. 1895 Editorial American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 1, No.1

*de Beauvoir, S. 1953 The Second Sex London: Cape

Bernard L. & Bernard J., 1933 “A century of Progress in the Social Sciences” Social Forces Volume 11, Issue 4 pp.488-505, available at

Brinton, C.C. 1933 English Political Thought in the Nineteenth Century London:Benn
  1   2   3   4   5   6


Sociological debates effective Term: Autumn and Spring iconReading Genre 1 – Autumn term 2011 Reading Genre 2 – Spring & Summer Terms 2012

Sociological debates effective Term: Autumn and Spring iconSummer/Autumn term 2008

Sociological debates effective Term: Autumn and Spring iconModule supervisor: Jonathan Lichtenstein Module tutors: Annecy Lax (Autumn); Elizabeth Kuti (Spring)

Sociological debates effective Term: Autumn and Spring iconCurrent Debates in ir theory

Sociological debates effective Term: Autumn and Spring iconEconomic Theory and Reality: a sociological Perspective on Induction and Inference

Sociological debates effective Term: Autumn and Spring iconRepublican Presidential Debates, 2008 From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (Printed November 2007), (Each link is provided for replay)

Sociological debates effective Term: Autumn and Spring iconAn ordinance of spring lake heights borough, county of monmouth, state of new jersey enacting chapter 22-530 "stormwater control"," to the borough of spring lake heights land use regulations

Sociological debates effective Term: Autumn and Spring iconThe Iron Triangle Autumn, 533 ad

Sociological debates effective Term: Autumn and Spring iconThis article investigates the specificity of sociological materials and methods in relation to other disciplines and practices art, literature, science and

Sociological debates effective Term: Autumn and Spring iconMismatch of the Day Issue 10 Spring 2003 *Trainschedulespotting Issue 12 Fall 2003/ Winter 2004 *100,000 Bottles of Beer in the Wall Issue 13 Spring 2004 New Scientist

Разместите кнопку на своём сайте:

База данных защищена авторским правом © 2014
обратиться к администрации
Главная страница