Sociology 322: Social Theory

Spring 2003. MWF. 11:00-11:50.

119 Newcomb Hall


Professor Kevin F. Gotham 

Sociology: 220 Newcomb Hall 

Office Hours: 2:30-5:00, Fridays.

Phone: 862-3014

Phone: 862-3004

Email: kgotham@tulane.edu

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), and Georg Simmel (1858-1918). We focus on these four theorists because they represent four very different approaches to understanding the transition from traditional to modern society, the nature of urbanization and industrialization, capitalism and social organization, and democracy and individuality. 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 understanding the contemporary world. In the last five weeks of the course we will focus on contemporary social theory. We will cover the work of the Chicago School sociologists, structural-functionalism, symbolic interactionism, contemporary neo-Marxian 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.

Originally, sociology was founded as a self-conscious attempt to understand the changes that swept across western Europe and eventually the rest of the world from 1500 onward. Modern Society or "Modernity," as theorized by sociologists and other scholars is a historical periodizing term that refers to the epoch that follows the 'Middle Ages' or feudalism. Modernity is associated with the rise of industrial capitalism, the dominance of bureaucratic systems of authority, and new forms of social solidarity and cohesion, and the dominance of the money economy and the modern metropolis. For the classical sociologists, modern life is a distinctive mode of experience that takes place within a landscape of powerful nation-states, sophisticated mass communication and transportation technologies, changing forms of production and consumption, spectacular wealth and prosperity, and appalling waste and devastation. On the one hand, modern society offers immense possibilities for economic growth, abundance, and human creativity. Extraordinary achievements and innovations in agricultural production, health care delivery, and transportation offer hope that human needs will be satisfied and miseries overcome. On the other hand, modern society is a society of chaos and turbulence, a perpetual clash of conflicting groups and mass social movements, and a world marked by destruction and devastation on an unparalleled scale. "To be modern," as social theorist Marshall Berman notes, "is to find ourselves in an environment that promises adventure, joy, growth, transformation of ourselves and the world - and, at the same time, that threatens to destroy everything we have, everything we know, everything we are."(1)

In the nineteenth century, modern life developed within a landscape of capitalist economic activity, steam engines, industrial factories, rapid urbanization, bureaucratized nation-states, and new forms of mass media (e.g., telegraphs and telephones). Marx, Durkheim, Weber, and Simmel experienced modernity as a whole at a moment when only a small part of the world (e.g., Europe and the United States) was truly modern. Over the course of the twentieth century, the processes of modernization have cast a net that no one, not even in the remotest corner of the world can escape. Today, modern life is "globalized" such that the entire world is dominated by automobiles, radio and television, computers, air and space travel, satellite communication, bureaucratic organizations, and multinational aggregations of capital. Modern society is both revolutionary and conservative, homogeneous and diverse, alive to new possibilities for experience and adventure but marked by a dizzying pace of change and upheaval. The miseries and mysteries of modern life, its ambiguities and ironies, its immense variety and richness, its progressive and emancipatory capacities are the subject matter of modern social theory.

What is distinctive about sociology is its attempt to provide coherent and scientific explanations of historical change and social order, to connect the present with a past and a future, and to help men and women understand their lives in a constantly changing world, where as Marx says, "everything is pregnant with its contradictory," and "all that is sold melts into air." One of the virtues of social theory is that it can help you connect your life with the lives of millions of people who are living through the trauma and excitement of modernization thousands of miles away, in societies radically different from our own, and with millions of people who lived through it a century or more ago. Another 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 background in social theory.

My goal in this course is to get you to understand how important theory is to sociology. Without theory, we have no possibility of understanding what goes on around us. Without theory, we have no guide to decide what to study about society. Without theory, we cannot create any critical understanding of what is society and what might lead to progressive social change. Indeed, to construct a sociological theory requires figuring out a number of things. What is society? What are its components and levels of organization? What role do individuals play? How do we study society? What is social theory and what is it good for? Can we use our analysis of society to create a more just and better society?

Required Readings

Tucker, Robert (editor). 1978. Marx-Engels Reader. Second Edition. W.W. Norton and Company.

Bellah, Robert N. (editor). 1973. Emile Durkheim: On Morality and Society. Selected Writings. University of Chicago Press.

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

Kivisto, Peter. 2000. Social Theory: Roots and Branches. Roxbury Publishing Company.

Ritzer, George. 2000. Sociological Theory. Fifth Edition. McGraw-Hill Company.

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.

Class Participation

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.

Attendance and Cell Phone Policy

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 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.

Tests and Papers

Your grade for this course will be determined by your performance on two test and two papers (8-10 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. The comprehensive final exam will cover all assigned readings, handouts, regular lectures, in-class discussions, and all other class activities, from the first day to the last day of the course.

In each of the two (8-10 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 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 two copies of each paper. You will turn in one copy of the paper with a "Social Theory Paper Evaluation" (see last page of syllabus). The evaluation sheet should be attached to the back of the paper.

Group Discussions

Finally, ten percent of your grade will be based on my evaluation of your participation in class and five group discussions where each group will do a textual analysis of a classical treatise 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 a major chapter or series of chapters from 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, ask 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 classical text 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 being used.

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 sociological theory classes. 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, and courteousness and respectfulness of each member of your group.

Course Grades:

Test #1 (Friday, 1/31) 22.5% of final grade.

Paper #1 (Friday, 2/28) 22.5% of final grade.

Paper #2 (Friday, 3/28) 22.5% of final grade.

Comprehensive Final Exam (Friday, 4/25) 22.5% of final grade.

Class Participation and Friday Discussion/Analysis Outline (5) 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. Finally, I do not like the informal and impersonal nature of email. You may not ask me questions about the course over email (or by phone). If you have questions, please make an appointment and come talk with me.

Honor Code

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 Undergraduate Catalog 1999-2001, p. 15).

TENTATIVE COURSE SCHEDULE


Week 1-2: Introduction and Background.

1/8 (Wednesday), 1/10 (Friday), and 1/13 (Monday).

CLASSICAL SOCIAL THEORY

Week 2-4: Karl Marx.

1/15 (Wednesday). Introduction to Karl Marx.

1/17 (Friday). Analysis of Capitalism.

1/20 (Monday). NO CLASS. MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR. DAY.

1/22 (Wednesday). Alienated Labor.

1/24 (Friday). Introduction to the Materialist Conception of History. Read the following from the Tucker book for Group Discussion #1:

1/27 (Monday). Materialist Conception of History and the Theory of Ideology.

1/29 (Wednesday). Commodities, Commodification, and Fetishism.

1/31 (Friday). EXAM #1.

Last Day to Drop without Record: Feb. 7 (Friday).

Week 5-7: Max Weber.

2/3 (Monday). Introduction to Max Weber.

2/5 (Wednesday) - 2/7 (Friday). Protestant Ethnic and the Spirit of Capitalism.

2/10 (Monday). What is Sociology?

2/12 (Wednesday). Class, Status, and Party.

2/14 (Friday). Domination, Legitimacy, and Authority.

2/17 (Monday) - 2/21 (Friday). Rationalization and Bureaucracy.

2/21 (Friday). Group Discussion #2. HAND OUT FIRST THEORY PAPER TOPIC. Papers due on Friday 2/28.

Week 8-9: Emile Durkheim.

2/24 (Monday). Introduction to Emile Durkheim.

2/26 (Wednesday). What is Sociology?



2/28 (Friday). Mechanical Solidarity, Organic Solidarity, and the Division of Labor in Society.

MARDI GRAS BREAK. 3/3 (Monday) - 3/7 (Friday).

3/10 (Monday). Analysis of Suicide.

3/12 (Wednesday) - 3/14 (Friday). Sociology of Religion.

3/14 (Friday). Group Discussion #3.

Week 10: Georg Simmel.

3/17 (Monday). Introduction to Georg Simmel.

3/19 (Wednesday) - 3/21 (Friday). What is Sociology?

3/21 (Friday). Group discussion #4. HANDOUT SECOND THEORY PAPER TOPIC. Papers due on Friday, 3/28.

CONTEMPORARY SOCIAL THEORY

Week 11: The Chicago School and Structural Functionalism.

3/24 (Monday).

3/26 (Wednesday).

3/28 (Friday).

Week 12: Symbolic Interactionism.

3/31(Monday) - 4/4 (Friday).

Week 13: Contemporary Neo-Marxian Theory.

4/7 (Monday) - 4/11 (Friday).

Week 14-15: Contemporary Theories of Modernity.

4/14 (Monday) - 4/23 (Wednesday).

4/18 (Friday). NO CLASS. SPRING BREAK.

Recommended Reading:

4/23 (Wednesday). Summary, Review, Evaluations.

4/25 (Friday). COMPREHENSIVE FINAL EXAM.

Soc. 322. Social Theory.

Professor Gotham.

Tulane University.

How to Read the Texts.(2)

The required texts for this semester are not easy to read. You cannot begin to understand what the authors are saying if you think that you can read the texts like a newspaper or magazine. You must 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. The selections are often long and we are going to cover an enormous amount of material in a very short period of time. As such, I suggest that you start early and keep ahead of the readings. Come to class with questions about the readings. If you do not understand something then ask about it.

My main goal is to introduce you to social theory. I want you to understand the political, economic, and socio-cultural context surrounding the rise and development of social theory. This will help you make sense of what is social theory, what are the basic components of theory, and why social theory is important. I have included readings that show how different theorists developed their theories and analyzed societies in general. I have also included readings that highlight how various theorists conceive of premodern and modern society. Finally, I include readings that bear on the question of how society can be made a better place.

When you read the selections, I would like you to think about four issues:

1. What is the author's argument

2. How does this argument fit in with their general theory?

3. Does the argument and theory make sense?

4. How could you use this theory to explain happenings in today's society and in your own life?

Consider these other questions:

1. With whom is the author arguing?

2. What is the position the author is arguing for?

3. What role does the selection you are reading play in the author's overall theory?

4. What is society according to the author?

5. What is the author's conception of the individual (e.g, what motivates individuals to act, what is the relationship between the individual and social structure, norms, interests, ideas, ideologies)?

6. What is the author's conception of social structure?

7. What is premodernity? What is modernity?

8. What is power? Who has power? How is power exercised?

9. What is the role of the economy, the state, and ideas in the maintenance of society?

Social Theory Paper Evaluation.

Spring 2003. Gotham.




Name:

Paper #_____. Question #_____.

Paper grade: _____.





Analysis and Criticism:

POOR EXCELLENT

1 2 3 4 5 Thoughtfulness and organization of essay (e.g., is the essay well conceived and thought out or does it have a rushed and superficial quality to it).

1 2 3 4 5 Follows the directions of the assignment (e.g., answers questions sufficiently).

1 2 3 4 5 Coherence of explanation. Clear statements. Succinct.

1 2 3 4 5 Key terms and concepts are defined and explained.

1 2 3 4 5 Assertions and arguments supported with specific cites to the original works.

1 2 3 4 5 Assertions and arguments supported with specific quotes from the original works.

1 2 3 4 5 Depth of coverage of existing literature and original works.



Technical presentation:

X denotes that attention should be paid to this problem.

XX denotes that extra attention is warranted.

_____ Late paper (one letter grade is deducted for each day the paper is late).

_____ Paper format: pages numbered in top right hand corner, one inch margins, double-spaced.

_____ Appropriate citation format not followed.

_____Text is too long or too short.

_____ Redundancy (wordy; can be trimmed without loss of meaning).

_____ Some statements are unsupported (e.g., undeveloped and/or vague statements).

_____ Insufficient coverage of existing literature.

_____ Insufficient depth of coverage.

_____ Typographic errors, misspelled words, punctuation errors.

_____ Incomplete sentences, awkward sentence structure.

_____ Some paragraphs are too long or too short.

Social Theory Paper Evaluation.

Spring 2003. Gotham.




Name:

Paper #_____. Question #_____.

Paper grade: _____.





Analysis and Criticism:

POOR EXCELLENT

1 2 3 4 5 Thoughtfulness and organization of essay (e.g., is the essay well conceived and thought out or does it have a rushed and superficial quality to it).

1 2 3 4 5 Follows the directions of the assignment (e.g., answers questions sufficiently).

1 2 3 4 5 Coherence of explanation. Clear statements. Succinct.

1 2 3 4 5 Key terms and concepts are defined and explained.

1 2 3 4 5 Assertions and arguments supported with specific cites to the original works.

1 2 3 4 5 Assertions and arguments supported with specific quotes from the original works.

1 2 3 4 5 Depth of coverage of existing literature and original works.



Technical presentation:

X denotes that attention should be paid to this problem.

XX denotes that extra attention is warranted.

_____ Late paper (one letter grade is deducted for each day the paper is late).

_____ Paper format: pages numbered in top right hand corner, one inch margins, double-spaced.

_____ Appropriate citation format not followed.

_____Text is too long or too short.

_____ Redundancy (wordy; can be trimmed without loss of meaning).

_____ Some statements are unsupported (e.g., undeveloped and/or vague statements).

_____ Insufficient coverage of existing literature.

_____ Insufficient depth of coverage.

_____ Typographic errors, misspelled words, punctuation errors.

_____ Incomplete sentences, awkward sentence structure.

_____ Some paragraphs are too long or too short.

1. Berman, Marshall. 1988. All That Is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity. Second Edition. New York: Penguin Books. (Quote appears on page 15).

2. This page is adapted from Fligstein, Neil. Sociology 201. Sociological Theory. Syllabus.