Sociological Theory: The Classics - SOCI4080

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Module delivery information

Location Term Level1 Credits (ECTS)2 Current Convenor3 2024 to 2025
Spring Term 4 15 (7.5) Alexander Hensby checkmark-circle


This module provides an introduction to the major issues and controversies surrounding the definition, development and teaching of 'classical' social theory. It introduces students to the key problems that have set the agendas for sociological inquiry as well as the main concepts and theoretical traditions that have shaped sociological thought. A considerable debate surrounds the meaning of ‘classical’ social theory and what should be associated with this term. For some, ‘classical’ social theory refers to ideas developed by a generation of thinkers whose works belong to a particular period of our cultural/intellectual history (usually dated c.1880- c.1920). Others understand this as a label for ‘canonical’ texts that define the project and enterprise of sociology. For many, it simply means the works of Karl Marx, Émile Durkheim, Max Weber and Georg Simmel (the so-called ‘founding fathers’ of the discipline). Classical sociology has also been identified as a critical tradition of placing society in question so as individuals may be better equipped to understand how their personal troubles are the product of determining socio-economic structures and processes. Each of these approaches to understanding ‘classical’ social theory will be explored and analysed.


Contact hours

Total contact hours: 22
Private study hours: 128
Total study hours: 150


Sociology BA – compulsory
Sociology with a Year Abroad BA - compulsory
Criminology and Sociology BA - compulsory
Sociology and Social Policy BA - compulsory
Sociology with Quantitative Research BA - compulsory
Sociology and Economics BA - compulsory
English and American Literature and Sociology BA - compulsory
Law and Sociology BA/LLB - compulsory
Sociology and Politics BA - compulsory
Philosophy and Sociology BA - compulsory
Sociology and Social Anthropology BA - compulsory
Criminology BA - compulsory
Criminology and Cultural Studies BA - compulsory
Criminology with Quantitative Research BA - compulsory

Method of assessment

Main assessment methods
Coursework - Essay plan (500 words) – 20%
Coursework - Essay (2500 words) – 80%

Reassessment methods
100% coursework

Indicative reading

Adams, B. N. and Sydie, R. A. (2002) Classical Sociological Theory, Sage Publications
Allan, K. (2012 3rd edition) Explorations in Classical Social Theory: Seeing the World, Sage Publications
Ashley, D. and Orenstein, D. M. (2005) Sociological Theory: Classical Statements (6th edn), Allyn & Bacon
Callinicos, A. (2007 2nd edition) Social Theory: A Historical Introduction, Polity
Craib, I. (1997) Classical Social Theory: An Introduction to the thought of Marx, Weber, Durkheim, Simmel, Oxford University Press
Dillon, M. (2010) Introduction to Sociological Theory: Theorists, Concepts and their Applicability to the Twenty-First Century, Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell
Hall, S. and Gieben, B. (1992) Formations of Modernity, Cambridge: Polity
Hughes, J. A. et al (1995) Understanding Classical Sociology: Marx Weber Durkheim, Sage Publications
Jones, P. Bradbury, L and Le Boutiller, S. (2011) Introducing Social Theory, Cambridge: Polity
Meghji, A. (2021) Decolonizing Sociology: An Introduction, Cambridge: Polity.
Morrison, K. (1995) Marx Durkheim and Weber: Foundations of Modern Social Theory, Sage Publications

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

The intended subject specific learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module students will be able to demonstrate:
8.1 A basic knowledge of key sociological theories and concepts in the 'classical' tradition.
8.2 An understanding of the historical contexts and problems for which theories are developed.
8.3 An understanding of the phenomena that theorists seek to explain.
8.4 An understanding of what theorists are treated as 'classical' within sociology and how the 'canon' has been critiqued.
8.5 An understanding of how theoretical ideas have shaped the discipline of sociology.

The intended generic learning outcomes.
On successfully completing the module students will be able to:
9.1 Demonstrate knowledge of the underlying concepts and principles associated with their area(s) of study and an ability to evaluate and interpret these within the context of that area of study.
9.2 Present, evaluate, and interpret qualitative and quantitative data, to develop lines of argument and make sound judgements in accordance with basic theories and concepts of their subject(s) of study.


  1. Credit level 4. Certificate level module usually taken in the first stage of an undergraduate degree.
  2. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  3. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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