Foundations of Sociology - SO867

Looking for a different module?

Module delivery information

Location Term Level1 Credits (ECTS)2 Current Convenor3 2021 to 2022
(version 2)
Autumn 7 20 (10) PROF C Shilling checkmark-circle


This course is designed to provide a guide to the foundations of sociology by exploring the most influential traditions of writing in the discipline and examining how these were forged on the basis of an ongoing dialogue with the legacy of the Enlightenment. After situating sociology in its historical, philosophical and theological contexts, the course analyses how the founders of the discipline developed a series of a competing visions of those processes elementary to social and moral life. Focusing mainly on the French and German traditions of sociology, but also incorporating the British tradition, we progress by examining the tensions that have arisen between collectivist visions of the social whole and competing conceptions of voluntarist inter/action, before focusing on Parsons’s attempt to reconcile these approaches within an overarching conception of ‘the sociological tradition’. The second part of the course moves away from these classical visions of sociology to those post-classical attempts to reconstruct the discipline on the basis of alternative concerns such as conflict, culture and post-modernity. Here we study a number of perspectives that have contributed to a fragmentation of the discipline. Whilst most sessions are concerned with debating the dominant theoretical interests that have defined the discipline, others are devoted to investigating key junctures in the development of methodology and research practice. The course aims to provide students with critical insights into the ways in which sociology has been configured as a discipline in response to key junctures in its history.


Contact hours

Teaching will be by means of one two hour session each week (11 x 2 hours contact time for the course).



Method of assessment

1. 4000 word essay (worth 85% of the total mark)
2. Seminar contribution (worth 15% of the total mark)

Indicative reading

Abrams, P. (1968) The Origins of British Sociology 1834-1914, Chicago
Collins, R. (1985) Four Sociological Traditions, Oxford
Gouldner (1970) The Coming Crisis of Western Sociology, Heinemann
Gouldner, A. (1973) For Sociology: Renewal and Critique in Sociology Today, Penguin
Halsey, A. H. (2004) A History of Sociology in Britain, Oxford
Lemert, C. (1995) Sociology After the Crisis, Westview
Levine, D. N. (1995) Visions of the Sociological Tradition, Chicago
Nisbet, R. (1993 [1966]) The Sociological Tradition. New Bruswick, NK.: Transaction. Ch.2.
Shilling, C. & Mellor, P.A. (2001) The Sociological Ambition. London: Sage. Chapter 1.

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

At the end of this module successful students will:

• have acquired a clear understanding of the historical, philosophical and theological foundations of sociology
• be able to identify and critically discuss the sociological visions and ideological values that underpin contemporary sociological theories of modern societies.
• be able to communicate in written form the complexities of current sociological debates in modern societies.
• have developed their ability to present sociologically reasoned arguments

Key Skills:

On successful completion of this module, students will be able to show:

• Demonstrate skills commensurate with postgraduate study in presentation and debate, both verbal and written, and in utilization of research and empirical data (in relation to Key Skills 1 and 4; programme outcome 12.19);
• Be able to synthesize complex theoretical items of knowledge from different schools and disciplines of enquiry (in relation to Key Skills 6; programme outcome 12.1);
• Be able to gather library and web-based resources appropriate for postgraduate study; make critical judgments about their merits and use the available evidence to construct a developed argument to be presented orally or in writing (in relation to Key Skills 1, 3 and 6; programme outcome 12.10);
• Advance research skills including the ability to identify a research question and to answer it by gathering and analysing appropriate data and information from a variety of secondary and some primary sources (programme outcome 12.10);
• Be able to understand the nature and appropriate use, including the ethical implications, of diverse social research strategies (programme outcome 12.11);
• Distinguish between technical, normative, moral and political questions (programme outcome 12.12).


  1. Credit level 7. Undergraduate or postgraduate masters level module.
  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.
Back to top

University of Kent makes every effort to ensure that module information is accurate for the relevant academic session and to provide educational services as described. However, courses, services and other matters may be subject to change. Please read our full disclaimer.