Key Issues in Sociological Theory

Course Level: 
Course Open to: 
Students on-site
Academic Year: 
US Credits: 
ECTS Credits: 
Course Code: 
SOCL 5115
Course Description: 



What is classical sociological theory, and why read it? The simplest oft-repeated answer is that it is theory that helped found the discipline we call “sociology,” that these theories provide accounts of the emergence of modernity and its essential features, and that these are “classical” because contemporary theorists continue to draw upon them.

- We will begin with Social thinking before sociology, with two samples: one from the Medieval Muslim philosopher Ibn Khaldun, often considered as the “founder” of sociology and one from Adam Smith, whose writings were so important to create a tradition in the analysis of the division of labor.

- The course already takes for granted to a certain degree the rethinking of the “canon” and critiques by figures like Raewyn Connell.


For further reading on this debate see Connell and Collins

Raewyn Connell, “Why is Classical Theory Classical” American Journal of Sociology 102 (6): 1511-57, 1997.

Randall Collins, "A sociological guilt trip: comment on Connell", American Journal of Sociology, 1997, vol. 102 no. 6, 1558-64.


The course does not entirely take a chronological approach but rather surveys some of the central categories, epistemologies, and “key issues” that emerged when sociology was established as a distinct academic discipline in the early twentieth century. We will also read work by thinkers who did not identify as sociologists, nor strictly as academics, such as Karl Marx, Rosa Luxemburg and Antonio Gramsci, who came to play a crucial role in twentieth- and twenty-first-century sociological theory.

Each text will be considered along four axes:

-its contribution to epistemological debates in the social sciences

-its relevance to the analysis of our societies.

-its historical limitations.

-its aptitude to engage with comparison and generalization.


Even if you have read some of these theorists before, you are strongly encouraged to read and discuss them with an open – and critical – mind. I also encourage plain language in class and in your written assignments, and have little patience with jargon.

I have carefully selected relatively short excerpts with the heightened expectation that you will read all the material before class, which thereby enables a deep and detailed discussion of assigned texts. The majority of the chosen texts are primary texts, with a few exceptions.

Learning Outcomes: 

Pedagogical Goals: The goals of this course are to:

- Gives students a foundation for sociological thinking;

- Familiarize students with the basic categories and concerns still shaping contemporary sociology;

- Critically assess how sociology was institutionally positioned between a claim to autonomous social science, and critical-political engagement;

- Understand some of the ongoing tensions within sociology since its founding;

- Develop students’ oral and written argumentation skills

- Develop detailed critical analysis and interpretation skills. 



The final grade will be composed as follows:

1. Class participation 30%

2. Mid-term Essay 30%

3. Final Group presentations 40%