Sociological Theory: The Classics - SO408

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Module delivery information

Location Term Level1 Credits (ECTS)2 Current Convenor3 2020 to 2021
Spring 4 15 (7.5) PROF I Wilkinson 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.


This module appears in the following module collections.

Contact hours

11 one hour lectures and 11 one hour seminars

Method of assessment

100% coursework (two 2500 word essays)

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 6th edition) Sociological Theory: Classical Statements, 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
Crow, G. (2005) The Art of Sociological Argument, Basingstoke: Palgrave
Dillon, M. (2010) Introduction to Sociological Theory: Theorists, Concepts and their Applicability to the Twenty-First Century, Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell
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
Morrison, K. (1995) Marx Durkheim and Weber: Foundations of Modern Social Theory, Sage Publications
Pampel, F. C. (2000) Sociological Lives and Ideas: An Introduction to the Classical Theorists, Word Publishers

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

On successfully completing the module students will have:

A basic knowledge of key sociological theories and concept in the 'classical' tradition.
An understanding of the historical contexts and problems for which theories are developed.
An understanding of the phenomena that theorists seek to explain.
An understanding of what theorists are treated as 'classical' within sociology.
An understanding of how theoretical ideas have shaped the discipline of sociology.


  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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