Contemporary Social Theory

Course Level: 
Course Open to: 
Students on-site
Academic Year: 
US Credits: 
ECTS Credits: 
Course Code: 
Course Description: 

This class builds up on the classical theory and Logic of Social Inquiry courses of the first semester to introduce the basic notions, debates, and findings of contemporary social theory. “Contemporary Social Theory” generally refers to theory produced in the post-World War II, post-colonial era and through the present. We focus on conceptual and historical dialectics that are central to the interests of qualitative sociologists and ethnographers of the global with a special attention to the disciplinary crossovers between sociology and anthropology. This includes in particular: the mechanisms of systemic change vs. reproduction; conceptualizations of the micro-macro link; the interplay between subjectivity/individuality/ agency and social forces; the opposition between power/domination/structure and equality/ resistance/freedom. We also consider and elaborate tools for critical and reflexive meta-theoretical thinking.

Learning Outcomes: 

--Substantive knowledge: familiarity with the main paradigms of contemporary social theory; ability to define and discuss structure, culture, agency, structuration and practice; social and political power; epistemological issues concerning the possibility and conditions of solid social-scientific accounts; historical change and social reproduction; critical thinking and reflexivity.

--Portable skills: learn to face, handle (read and question), and interpret difficult conceptual works; practice academic essay writing; approach questions of knowledge production in the social sciences in an interdisciplinary way, mobilizing relevant ; think critically not just about the social but about one’s own intellectual production and one’s own place in the production of the social.


1. Attendance, preparedness and participation. Students are expected to come to class having read ALL the assigned texts (meaning: at least the flagged out excerpts), and ready to ask 2-3 questions on the texts. The share of participation in the final grade is relatively large (1/3 of grade); therefore all aspects of participation and attendance will be recorded. There won’t be a penalty for a class missed. Any additional miss requires an official justification and/or a make-up assignment.

2. Lexicon of 20 concepts with definitions and three bibliographic examples (an original source, a re-conceptualization, a re-use). 1/3 of grade. Half of this assignment is due by the time of the class meeting at week 7.

3. An essay (1/3 of the grade) made of two distinct parts each applying a different theory to a case of your choice (preferably the one you research for your thesis). The theoretical approaches will be chosen among the ones reviewed in class. The essay should discuss the relative merits incl. the blind spots of the approaches compared. The bibliography should include at least some of the references reviewed or read in class. Approx. 2000 words, max. 2500. Draft including outline due at mid-term, week 7.

NB: students are responsible for keeping track of possible changes to syllabus or schedule.