Contemporary Social Theory - SO883

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Module delivery information

Location Term Level1 Credits (ECTS)2 Current Convenor3 2021 to 2022
(version 2)
Spring 7 20 (10) DR C Pedwell checkmark-circle


Social theory is a nebulous field of inquiry with fuzzy boundaries. Some of the most significant contributions to it in terms of ideas and concepts have historically originated in the work of thinkers diversely identified with a wide range of disciplines - such as psychoanalysis, philosophy, anthropology, literary and aesthetic theory, historical and cultural studies, as well as with sociology. This module approaches contemporary social theory by exploring a set of themes through close readings and analyses of several texts by 20th and 21st century theorists whose work has been to varying degrees appropriated across the social sciences and the humanities, but yet whose contribution to ‘social theory’ per se is still open to question, in any case far from canonical.
In working through these selected primary texts within a seminar group, the aim is to critically investigate and evaluate what they offer to social theory, and to critically assess their usefulness for understanding various social and political phenomena characteristic of contemporary life and society in a globalised world. During the course of such detailed discussions, we will also, no doubt, reflect on the distinction between modern and postmodern social theory; the ‘linguistic turn’, the ‘cultural turn’, the ‘ethical turn’, the shift from narrative to image based culture, and other general parameters of social theorizing in recent times.


Contact hours

The module will be composed of 22 seminar hours.



Method of assessment

1. A 4,000 word essay (worth 85% of the final mark)

2. Seminar contribution (worth 15% of the final mark)

Indicative reading

Barthes, R., and A. Lavers. 1972. Mythologies. New York: Hill & Wang.

Boltanski, L.and L. Thévenot. 2006. On Justification: Economies of worth. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Bourdieu, P. 1990. The Logic of Practice. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Foucault, Michel. 1978. The History of Sexuality. New York: Pantheon Books.

Habermas, J. 1989. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. Cambridge: MIT Press.

Latour, B. 2005. Reassembling the social: An introduction to actor-network-theory. Oxford University Press, USA.

Luhmann, N. 1977. “Differentiation of society.” The Canadian Journal of Sociology/Cahiers Canadiens de Sociologie 2:29–53.

West, C., and D. H Zimmerman. 1987. “Doing gender.” Gender and society 1:125–151.

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

The intended subject specific learning outcomes and, as appropriate, their relationship to programme learning outcomes

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

1. Make links between important debates about social and political life and their theoretical underpinning
2. Display an understanding of the implications of different theoretical approaches for the way society is known
3. Employ analytical tools in various traditions of social theory to examine a range of analytical aspects of social life and a range of empirical cases
4. Evaluate competing theoretical perspectives logically and with relevant empirical evidence
5. Discuss issues in social theory within a global framework

The intended generic learning outcomes and, as appropriate, their relationship to programme learning outcomes

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

1. Respond to written sources and presenting information orally and in writing in a clear and organized way
2. Work with others by co-operating on seminar presentation and expressing reasoned arguments orally in conversation
3. Develop argumentation based upon sound reasoning and understanding of the material and express these arguments in a written format
4. Undertake desk-based research. Students will be able to gather library and web-based resources appropriate for postgraduate study; make critical judgements about their merits and use the available evidence to construct a developed argument to be presented orally or in writing


  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.
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