Sociological Theory: The Classics - SO408

Location Term Level Credits (ECTS) Current Convenor 2019-20
Canterbury Spring
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4 15 (7.5) PROF I Wilkinson




unavailable to stage 3 students



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:

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

By the end of the module, students should be able to:
Describe and assess a range of ‘classical’ approaches to theorising society
Summarise the key concerns featured in the works of Karl Marx, Max Weber, Emile Durkheim and Georg Simmel
Explain the relevance of ‘classical’ social theory for sociological methods of investigation and analysis
Demonstrate an understanding of the links between sociological theories and the socio-historical context in which these are developed
Engage with the task of practising a ‘sociological imagination’ in their writing

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