Skip to main content

Unit information: Contemporary Sociological Theory in 2019/20

Please note: Due to alternative arrangements for teaching and assessment in place from 18 March 2020 to mitigate against the restrictions in place due to COVID-19, information shown for 2019/20 may not always be accurate.

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Contemporary Sociological Theory
Unit code SOCIM3101
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Skinner
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law


This unit provides a broad grounding in contemporary sociological theory by combining three different but related foci: a range of prominent perspectives within social theory, the contribution of particular theorists, and the central concepts that any aspiring theory must develop in its own distinctive way. Thus, important approaches or schools of thought within social/sociological theory such as symbolic interactionism, rational choice theory, structuralism, critical theory, and feminism are engaged with, and the ideas of individual thinkers such as Foucault, Giddens, Habermas and Bourdieu are explored. The various paradigms and authors are then evaluated in terms of their contribution to the resolution of some long-standing conceptual dualisms and problems in social thought, such as structure/agency, economy/culture, system/lifeworld, power/resistance, and scientific/normative understanding.


  • To explicate and evaluate some key theorists, themes, and perspectives in sociological/social theory
  • To provide a coherent account of the way sociological theory has developed over the last fifty years
  • To address the question of the complementarity/incompatibility of different theoretical perspectives
  • To highlight the interaction between explanation, ideological orientation, and rhetorical expression in social theorising

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of the unit, students should be able to:

  • exposit and analyse a range of schools and thinkers
  • show a critical, comparative and independent-minded approach to evaluation
  • demonstrate close familiarity with at least one substantial advanced presentation of the field of sociological theory (ie. the set book)
  • appreciate debates in sociolog ical theory as contrasts between different 'styles of reasoning'

Teaching details

The main method of teaching will be weekly face-to-face seminar sessions which will involve a combination of lecturing, group discussion and student presentations.

Assessment Details

The assessment will relate directly to one of more of the learning outcomes specified above in 15 and will be an extended essay of 4000 words (or equivalent) showing an in-depth understanding and integration of key aspects of the unit.

Reading and References

  • Craig Calhoun et aI., eds. Contemporary Sociological Theory, Oxford, Blackwell, 2002
  • Habermas, J. The Habermas Reader, ed. W. Outhwaite, Polity, 1999
  • Foucault, M. The Foucault Reader, ed. P. Rabinow, Penguin, 1984
  • Jenkins, R. Pierre Bourdieu, Routledge, 1988
  • Giddens, A. & S. Turner, Social Theory Today, Polity 1986
  • Osborne, T. Aspects of Enlightenment, UCL Press, 1988