Course Logic


This is a challenging course because it must server several masters.

One goal is to increase your knowledge of intellectual history. By this we mean your familiarity with particular thinkers, concepts, and schools of thought along with their historical context and their "genealogical" relationships. What we can achieve along these lines in 14 weeks is necessarily limited. We will be selective in what we read and biased in the direction of (1) building a coherent narrative, (2) familiarizing you with "the canon," and (3) gathering building blocks for a cumulative social theory that can be a science of society (see below).

The second goal is to become familiar with actual pieces of theory that can be assembled into a theory of society that actually explains things and can be tested empirically.

What we will not do is take a politically correct bus-tour survey that visits every perspectival variation for a superficial one hour visit. This course will not slavishly follow the Lemert anthology — rather, I've selected this anthology so that you will have ready access to many of the texts and authors and perspectives that we are NOT reading for this course.

The Project of Social Theory

A theory is an abstract description of something that helps to understand how it works and to predict how it will behave or evolve under various conditions. Our theory should help us to understand how human beings behave "in groups." This has typically involved a few basic ideas

  • Human nature : what kind of thing is a person?
  • Collective nature : what kinds of "things" do humans create collectively?

A little more familiarly, we inquire into

  • the individual
  • the state (and other collectives)
  • knowledge of the world, the public sphere, society
  • control and conflict
  1. We begin the course by re-invigorating our sense of the parameters of human social phenomena — space, time, and number. We'll have a look at a space vs. time chart and think through the different human things which appear at different time-space intersections. The purpose of this is to remind us of the wide ranges of phenomena that we end up thinking about under the banner of social science.
  2. We will then think about two specific ways that time/history is implicated in what we are doing in this course.
    1. First, we'll review the periodization of human history as we know it. We will then locate within it the major events, transformations, etc. that form the contexts of the history of social theory.
      • There will be a quiz on this as this is something we want to commit to memory, at least in its broadest outlines
    2. Then we talk a little about the temporal size of the phenomena that social theory attempts to explain.
      • Assignment: take a list of human phenomena and locate them in time/space

What do we take from each thinker?

Weber. The methodological move of constructing ideal types. The utilization of ideal types to establish a relationship between styles of thinking and social structure. Emergence of rationalization as important component of modernity. Description of ideal typical formal organization. Distinction between science and politics. Analysis of domination and legitimacy. Distinction between structural dimensions of class and status.

Durkheim. Social facts. Solidarity as important and as having more than one variety. Methodological move of concomitant variation. Classification and categorization as social. Sociology of knowledge. Collective representations. Ritual.


Marx. Conflict as basic mode of human experience. Seinesgebundenheit of knowledge. Structure vs. idea. Ideology. False consciousness. Relative position in class structure matters (though we might need to look elsewhere to see how and why). State, organizations, industries are not value-neutral players.

Freud. Mead. William James. Humans have an inside. Self is developed. Development of self is embedded in social relationships.

Smith. Structure can emerge from individual actions. Unintended consequences.



Collins, Sociological Insight, preface and chapter 1, "The Nonrational Foundations of Rationality" (30 pages).

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