Sociology 322: Social Theory

Fall 2004. 10-10:50 MWF

17 Newcomb Hall


Professor Kevin F. Gotham

Sociology: 220 Newcomb Hall                   

Office Hours: 4-5:00, MF, and by appointment      

Phone: 862-3004                                                             



Course Description     

Sociology 322 is designed as an introductory survey of social theory.  The majority of the course will focus on “classical” or modern social theory, in particular, the pioneering work of Karl Marx (1818-1883), Max Weber (1864-1920), Emile Durkheim (1858-1917), Georg Simmel (1858-1918), and others. We focus on these four theorists because they represent four different approaches to understanding the transition from traditional to modern society, the nature of urbanization and industrialization, capitalism and social organization, democracy and individuality, and the dynamics of culture and social change.  We will examine the theories of Marx, Weber, Durkheim, and Simmel not just as intellectual history, but as sources of unique and powerful systems of thought that continue to have a major impact on our understanding of the contemporary world.  We will read original writings by these theorists in an effort to grasp concretely how they understood and explained the dramatic societal changes affecting Europe and the United States during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.  In the last five weeks of the course we will focus on contemporary social theory.  We will cover the work of the symbolic interactionism, contemporary neo-Marxian theories, feminist theories, and contemporary theories of modernity.

Course Objectives     

The objectives of this course are to present an overview of sociological theory in the historical context of its development, illustrate the links between theory and research, and foster a critical understanding of society. This means developing the ability to approach the social world in a deeper and more systematic way, using empirical evidence and logical assumptions in order to answer questions of sociological interest.  Social theory is the backbone of the sociology discipline and all major substantive questions of sociological interest are directly related to theory.  We will examine different meanings and definitions of theory, how theories are evaluated, and how we can build on past and existing theories to build new ones to investigate society.  We will also seek to understand how theories are shaped by the historical context in which they are produced.

<>One advantage of studying social theory is that it can help you cultivate and develop a “sociological imagination.”  C. Wright Mills referred to the sociological imagination as the quality of mind necessary to grasp the relationship between individual biography, social structure, and human history.  It is the mission of sociology, according to Mills, to help individuals achieve “lucid summations” of what is going on in the world and what is happening in their own lives.  Developing a sociological imagination requires a background in social theory.


Required Readings

Chapters from Ritzer, George, and Douglas J. Goodman. 2004.  Sociological Theory. Sixth Edition. McGraw-Hill Company. On electronic library reserve. 

Antonio, Robert J. 2003. Marx and Modernity: Key Readings and Commentary. Blackwell Publishing.

Gerth, H. H., and C. Wright Mills (editors and translators). 1972. From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. Oxford University Press.

Robert Bellah. 1973. Emile Durkheim: On Morality and Society. University of Chicago Press.  

Online articles by Georg Simmel (see Week 10 , p. 7 of this syllabus). 


Course Expectations and Requirements

<>This course will generally follow a lecture format. The purpose of lectures is to provide necessary background material (e.g., historical, biographical, and conceptual), exegesis of the original texts, as well as commentary and critique.  Readings are to be completed prior to each class meeting for which they are assigned.  The readings are extensive, complex, sophisticated, and will require many hours of hard work and effort. You cannot read the texts like a newspaper or magazine. You should locate a distraction-free environment (far away from the TV, radio, and other interruptions) and set aside a large block of time each day to read and concentrate. 

Everyone is encouraged to participate through open discussion and questions, including sharing thoughts and ideas, observations, and assessments during class time. Thoughtful and active participation means attending class regularly and being prepared to discuss the assigned subject matter.  In line with that, I ask you to be mindful that education is not a process whereby a professor dumps a bunch of information into the heads of passive receivers (students).  Learning is a collaborative process whereby information and knowledge is to be shared between the professor and students.  Please do not be worried about asking “dumb questions.”  If you are confused, chances are there are numerous other people who are also befuddled and will welcome your efforts at clarification.

I require students to attend all classes and will take roll at the beginning of each class period.  Be aware that just because I do not take attendance does not mean that I have overlooked absent students.  Four or more unexcused absences will result in the lowering of your final grade by one letter grade.  An unexcused absence is missing class without the professor’s permission or without presenting a valid excuse within twenty-four hours.  All students are required to attend all classes unless they are ill or prevented from attending by exceptional circumstances. Preparedness, attendance, and participation are expected and will have a bearing on final grades.  Be on time to class and do not bring your cell phones. Anybody who has ever spoken in front of a group knows that it can be very confusing for a speaker when people wander in and out or when phones ring.  I always try to treat students with courtesy and respect.  It makes life easier for all of us when you reciprocate.

Your grade for this course will be determined by your performance on two (2) tests, two (2) papers (6-10 pages each), attendance, and my evaluation of your participation in class. Each of the two tests will contain a combination of fill-in-the-blank and short-answer questions, and two or more essay questions. Each exam will be worth 50 points.  There will be no true/false questions.  In each of the two (6-10) page papers, you may be asked to compare and contrast the way in which two different theories explain a given phenomenon. You may also be asked to connect the work of one or more classical theorist to some current event(s).  Another typical assignment could be to consider the strengths and weaknesses of a contemporary theory (neo-Marxian theory, feminist theory, etc.) in relation to a major concern of  the classical theorists.  All papers are to be typed, double-spaced, with one inch margins, and page numbers in the top right hand corner. You will have one week to write each paper.  Papers will be graded on a scale of A, A-, B+, B, B-,C+, C, C-, D+, D, and D-.  One letter grade will be deducted for each day the paper is late. You are to hand in a disk copy and two hard copies of each paper.  One hard copy is to be turned in with a “Social Theory Paper Evaluation” (see last page of syllabus) stapled to the back of the paper. 

<>Finally, ten percent of your grade will be based on my evaluation of your participation in class and six group discussions where each group will do a textual analysis of  a major chapter or series of chapters, and turn in an outline at the end of class.  A textual analysis explains what the author’s main points are, how they are connected, and offers a critique of the author’s argument. The class will be divided into 6-7 groups composed of 5-6 people. The membership of these groups will be in  alphabetical order and will remain the same throughout the semester.  On the specified Fridays, we will break into groups and each group will analyze the readings.  Everyone is required to read the assigned chapter(s) before we meet on Fridays and break into groups (I would recommend that each student put together a brief outline on the chapter(s) before meeting on Fridays).  Each group will discuss the reading, asking questions about the text, and identify the main points.  At the end of the Friday discussion each group will turn in a written outline that provides a brief summary, critical analysis, and evaluation of the chapter(s) using the following format:

1. Summary. Provide a brief summary outline of what the author is saying.  Identify the central questions, main points, and core arguments.  Rather than analyzing all the ideas that the author presents, you should focus in depth on one or two significant aspects of the text.  Keep in mind that the summaries are not as easy as they seem.  A good summary of a chapter requires an awareness and knowledge of the author’s style of thinking, not just the particular facts that are presented to support an argument. 

2. Analysis. Analysis involves going beyond what the author says.  It means examining relationships between evidence and conclusions, between concepts in the text, and relationships between concepts in the work being analyzed and other texts.  Moreover, analysis means identifying and clearly explaining the devices the author uses to convince the reader that he or she is correct.  These devices can include logical reasoning (i.e., if/then statements), anecdotes (stories used to illustrate a point), appeals to authority, controlled study, and rhetorical virtuosity (skill at using language: big scientific words, humor, satire, irony, or nostalgia).  What is important is that you understand what the author is doing, to be able to analyze the devices the author is using.

3. Evaluation. How well does the author answer his or her question and verify that answer?  This is the realm of criticism and it assumes that you cannot really judge a text until you comprehend what the author is doing and how he or she does it.  Evaluation involves answering the following questions:

A. What is the argument of the text?

B. What are the implicit assumptions of the author’s argument? Identifying and evaluating an author’s assumptions are two intellectual skills most often demanded in social theory courses.  All authors make assumptions about the way the world works.

C. What are the conclusions and implications of the author’s work?  How do they connect with other readings?

D. Is the craftsmanship of the writing sound? Do the parts fit into a whole? Is the prose understandable? Do the ideas flow smoothly from one to another?

Mastering the skill of textual analysis will help you write better papers and, more important, help you evaluate more clearly all books and articles you encounter in your academic career and beyond. Each unexcused absence for the Friday discussions will result in the lowering of your participation grade by one letter grade.  On the last day of class you will fill out a confidential evaluation of each member in your group.  This evaluation will ask you to evaluate the intellectual contribution, courteousness, and respectfulness of each member of your group.  

All grades, paper assignments, study questions and other important information about the class will be posted on the Blackboard Learning System ((http://

Course Grades

<>Test #1 (Sept. 17)                                                                22.5% of final grade.
Paper #1 (due on Oct. 15)                                                        22.5% of final grade
Paper #2 (due on Nov. 12)                                                       22.5% of final grade
Test #2 (Dec. 9)                                                                       22.5% of final grade
Class Participation and Friday Discussion Outline (6)                 10% of final grade. 

I do not give extra credit, extra assignments, nor other opportunities for improving grades.  Moreover, I do not negotiate about grades, except when you believe there is an explicit error in the grading procedures.  No grades will be determined by a curve. 

All students are required to abide by the Tulane University Honor Code.  This means that “the presence of a student’s name on any work submitted in completion of an academic assignment is considered to be an assurance that the work and ideas are the result of the student’s own intellectual effort, stated in her or his own words, and produced independently, unless clear and explicit acknowledgment of the sources for the work and ideas is included.  This principle applies to papers, tests, homework assignments, artistic productions, laboratory reports, computer programs, and other assignments” (Tulane University Undergraduate Catalog 2003-2005, p. 16).




Week 1: Introduction and Background.

8/25 (Wednesday) and 8/27 (Friday)

“A Historical Sketch of Sociological Theory: The Early Years.” Chapter 1 in Sociological Theory by George Ritzer and Douglas J. Goodman. On electronic library reserve.

 “Sociological Metatheorizing and a Metatheoretical Schema for Analyzing Sociological Theory.” Appendix in Sociological Theory by George Ritzer and Douglas J. Goodman.  On electronic library reserve.


Week 2-4: Karl Marx.    

8/30 (Monday). Introduction to Karl Max.

C           “Karl Marx.” Chapter 2 in Sociological Theory by George Ritzer and Douglas J. Goodman.  On electronic library reserve.

C           “Introduction: Marx and Modernity.” Pp. 1-50 in Marx and Modernity: Key Readings and Commentary. Edited by Robert J. Antonio. 2003. Blackwell Publishing.


9/1 (Wednesday) - 9/3 (Friday). Marx’s Theory of History.

Robert J. Antonio Marx and Modernity: Key Readings and Commentary.

Part 1. Marx’s Vision of History: Historical Materialism. (Pp. 51-73). 

                        Part 2. The Juggernaut of Capitalist Modernity (pp. 75-100).


L9/6. 9/8 (Wednesday). Labor Theory of Value, Commodities, and the General Formula for Capital.

Robert J. Antonio Marx and Modernity: Key Readings and Commentary

Part 3. Marx’s Labor Theory of Value (pp. 101-30)

Part 4. From Manufacture to Modern Industry (pp. 131-52).


9/10 (Friday).  Negative Consequences of Capitalism

Robert J. Antonio Marx and Modernity: Key Readings and Commentary.

C           Part 5. “Downside of Capitalist Growth.” Pp. 153-174.

C           Group Discussion #1.


9/13 (Monday) - 9/15 (Wednesday). Globalization, Colonization, and the International Division of Labor

Robert J. Antonio Marx and Modernity: Key Readings and Commentary.

C           Part 6. “Globalization and Colonialism.” pp. 175-194.

C           Part 7. “New Society Rising in the Old.” pp. 195-212.

C           Part 8. “Revolutionary Proletariat and the Vicissitudes of History” pp. 213-248.


9/17 Friday. Exam #1.


Week 5-7: Max Weber

9/20 (Monday). Introduction to Max Weber.

C           “Max Weber.” Chapter 4 in Sociological Theory.   On electronic library reserve.

C           Gerth and Mills. From Max Weber. “Introduction” (pp. 1- 77).


9/22 (Wednesday). Religion and the Rise of Modern Western Capitalism.  

Gerth and Mills. From Max Weber

Chapter XI (pp. 267-301). “Social Psychology of the World Religions .”

Chapter XII (pp. 302-322). “Protestant Sects and the Spirit of Capitalism.”

            Chapter XIII (pp. 323-362). “Religious Rejections of the World and Their Directions.”


9/24 (Friday). YOM KIPPUR. NO CLASS


9/27 (Monday) - 9/29 (Wednesday) Class, Status, and Party.  

Gerth and Mills. From Max Weber.

Chapter VII (pp. 180-195). “Class, Status, and Party.”

            Chapter XVI. “India: The Brahman and the Castes.” Read only pp. 405-409 on “Caste and Status Group.”


10/1 (Friday ). Domination, Legitimacy, and Authority. 

Gerth and Mills. From Max Weber.

Chapter IX (pp. 245-252). “Sociology of Charismatic Authority.”

Chapter X (read only pp. 253, 262-64) in “Meaning of Discipline.”

Group Discussion #2.


10/4 (Monday), 10/6 (Wednesday), 10/8 (Friday). Rationalization and Bureaucracy

Gerth and Mills. From Max Weber.

Chapter IV (pp. 77-128). “Politics as a Vocation.”

Chapter VIII (pp. 196-44). Excerpts from “Bureaucracy”

Group Discussion #3 on Friday, 10/8.

Hand out first theory paper topic on Friday, 10/8.  Papers due Friday, 10/15 (in class). 


Week 8-9: Emile Durkheim.

10/11 (Monday). Introduction to Emile Durkheim.

“Emile Durkheim.” Chapter 3 in Sociological Theory.  On electronic library reserve.

Robert Bellah. “Introduction.” Emile Durkheim: On Morality and Society.  


10/13 (Wednesday). What is Sociology? 

Robert Bellah. Emile Durkheim: On Morality and Society.

Chapter 1 (pp. 3-22). “Sociology in France in the Nineteenth Century.”  

                     Chapter 3 (pp. 34-42). ”Principles of 1789 and Sociology.”

            Chapter 4 (pp. 43-57). “Individualism and the Intellectuals.”


10/15 (Friday) - 10/18 (Monday). Social Solidarity, the Division of Labor, and Anomie.

Robert Bellah. Emile Durkheim: On Morality and Society.

Chapter 6 (pp. 63-85). “Progressive Preponderance of Organic Solidarity.”

Chapter 7 (pp. 86-113). “Organic Solidarity and Contractual Solidarity.”

Chapter 8 (pp. 114-33). “Division of Labor in Society.”

Chapter 9 (134-146). “Division of Labor in Society: Conclusion.”


10/20 (Wednesday) - 10/22 (Friday). Sociology of Religion.

Robert Bellah. Emile Durkheim: On Morality and Society.

Chapter 10 (pp. 149-166) “The Dualism of Human Nature and Its Social Conditions.”

Chapter 11 (pp. 167-186). “Origin of the Idea of the Totemic Principle or Mana.”

Chapter 12 (pp. 187-224). “Elementary Forms of Religious Life.”

Group Discussion #4 on 10/22 (Friday).



Week 10: Georg Simmel

10/25 (Monday).  Introduction to Georg Simmel.

C           “Georg Simmel. Chapter 5 in Sociological Theory.  On electronic library reserve.


10/27 (Wednesday) What is Sociology?  On the web:

C           “How is Society Possible?”

C           “The Adventurer.”

C           “The Stranger.”


10/29 (Friday). The Metropolis, Culture, and Modernity.  On the web:

C           “Metropolis and Mental Life.”



Week 11: Symbolic Interactionism

11/1 (Monday) - 11/3 (Wednesday).

“A Historical Sketch of Sociological Theory: The Later Years.” Chapter 2 in Sociological Theory by George Ritzer and Douglas J. Goodman.  On electronic library reserve.

 “Symbolic Interactionism” in Sociological Theory by George Ritzer and Douglas J. Goodman.

Guest Lecturer: Michele Adams.


11/5 (Friday)

Group Discussion #5.

Hand out Second Theory paper topic.  Paper due November 12 (Friday).



Week 12: Feminist Theories

11/8 (Monday) - 11/10 (Wednesday).

“Early Women Sociologists and Classical Sociological Theory: 1830-1930.” By Patricia Madoo Lingerman and Jill Niebrugge. Chapter 9 in Modern Sociological Theory by George Ritzer.   On electronic library reserve.

 “Contemporary Feminist Theory.” Chapter 13 in Sociological Theory by George Ritzer and Douglas J. Goodman. On electronic library reserve.

Guest Lecturer: Mimi Shippers. 


11/12 (Friday).

Second Theory Paper due.  


Week 13: Contemporary Neo-Marxian Theories.

11/15 (Monday).

C           “Varieties of Neo-Marxian Theory.” Chapter 8 in Sociological Theory.  On electronic library reserve.

C           Guest Lecturer: Jim Elliott.


11/17 (Wednesday) - 11/19 (Friday). 

Robert J. Antonio. Marx and Modernity.

 John Cassidy. “Return of Karl Marx.” Chapter 41.

 Jeremy Rifkin. “The Connected and Disconnected.” Chapter 42.

Thomas Frank. “The Architecture of a New Consensus.” Chapter 43.

 William Julius Wilson. “Societal Changes and Vulnerable Neighborhoods.” Chapter 44.

 Mike Davis. “Fortress L.A.” Chapter 45.

Saskia Sassen. “America’s Immigration ‘Problem.’” Chapter 46.

William Greider. “‘These Satanic Mills’” Chapter 47.

 John Gray. “From the Great Tansformation to the Global Free Market.” Chapter 48.

Group Discussion #6 on Friday, 11/19.


Week 14-15: Contemporary Theories of Modernity

11/22 (Monday). 

C           “Contemporary Theories of Modernity.” Chapter 16 in Sociological Theory.  On electronic library reserve.


11/24 (Wednesday)  - 11/25 (Friday). THANKSGIVING BREAK.


11/29 (Monday) - 12/1 (Wednesday).

C           “Contemporary Theories of Modernity.” Chapter 16 in Sociological Theory.  On electronic library reserve.


12/3 (Friday). Summary, Review, Evaluations.  All students will fill out two in-class evaluations: (1) a course evaluation, and (2) a confidential evaluation of each member in your group.  The confidential evaluation will ask you to rate the  performance of yourself and the other group members.


12/9 (Thursday). 1:00 - 5:00PM.  Second Exam.