New West 219, Tues., Thurs., 11:00 a.m.-12:15 p.m.
Professor Charles Kurzman. Telephone: 962-1241. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Office hours: Tues., 2:00-3:30 p.m., 227 Hamilton Hall; and by appointment.
Teaching Assistant: Didem Turkoglu. E-mail: email@example.com. Office hours: Mon., Wed., 10:00-11:00 a.m., 254 Hamilton Hall.
Additional resources in Sakai:
Purpose of the Course:
You already know social theory and have been practicing it for years. In casual conversations you may have remarked that “Money makes the world go ’round” or “All the world’s a stage.” In your sociology courses you may have studied social theories more formally. This course is intended to help you develop tools for practicing social theory more self-consciously and more effectively. These tools are called paradigms, theories, and concepts, and we will study them through short excerpts from important works in social theory, through class lecture and discussion, and through the development of research proposals.
Why bother studying social theory? I offer four reasons, which will be discussed in the first day’s lecture: (1) To address some of the “big questions” that humankind has pondered for years, such as inequality and why people put up with it; social change and how it occurs; self/identity and where it comes from. (2) To explore some of the assumptions that underlie social-scientific explanation, the ontological, epistemological, and paradigmatic starting points of various social theories. (3) To initiate you into the tribe of sociologists, who share a common, though always contested, history of theoretical and conceptual tools. (4) To force you to decide where you stand on the major analytical issues of the day, which paradigm(s) you subscribe to, and why.
The course covers six of the most important paradigms in social theory. Within each paradigm readings have been selected to represent the development of debates, from the “classical” period, which lasted roughly until 1930; through the “modern” period of the middle of the 20th century; to the “contemporary” period since roughly 1965. (These labels and dates are by no means set in stone!) The readings are very short, but some of them are hard going. You are expected not just to do the readings but to think about them before class and to take reading notes that show you have thought about them. For the more difficult readings you may wish to consult a sociological theory textbook or encyclopedia. The idea is to focus in detail on significant passages rather than dump a large reading load on you, but this strategy only works if you are willing to treat the subject seriously enough to supplement the assignments with the outside reading you feel you need.
Goals of the Course:
The course has 10 goals, the first six of which will be graded. At the end of the course, you should be able to:
(1) Define the major paradigms, theories, and concepts in social theory. (This will be tested through short-answer questions on the two exams.)
(2) Describe the relations among these. (Short-answer and essay questions on exams.)
(3) Identify these in social-analysis texts. (Short-answer and essay questions on exams.)
(4) Propose empirical tests of these. (Two 1000-word papers.)
(5) Apply these to empirical settings. (One 1000-word paper.)
(6) Express your personal paradigmatic preference and defend it coherently. (Class discussion, possible essay questions on exams.)
(7) Construct a reasoned argument combining theory and evidence. (This is a prerequisite, but you will get further practice in this course.)
(8) Sense in your gut the social ramifications and the social bases of individual action, especially your own. (Not graded.)
(9) Acknowledge and tolerate the existence of multiple perspectives on all social issues. (Not graded.)
(10) Feel a warm sense of camaraderie with your classmates, your instructors, and the discipline of sociology. (Not graded.)
These goals are ambitious. Accomplishing them will require a joint effort on the part of the instructors and the students. On the instructors’ side, we pledge to:
(1) Be as respectful, helpful, and clear as possible in our communications with students.
(2) Hand out reading questions and lists of major concepts to look for in advance of each reading assignment.
(3) Lay out the ontological, epistemological, and theoretical starting points for each paradigm.
(4) Give background information, definitions of concepts, and the structure of the argument for each theorist covered, relating these where possible to the readings.
(5) Lead discussion of comparisons among theorists, empirical applications, and hypothesis testing for each theorist covered.
(6) Return submitted material in one week or less with constructive comments and fair grades.
At the end of the course, you will be asked to grade the professor with a student-evaluation form. In addition, we welcome feedback, especially constructive feedback, throughout the semester, in whatever form (office hours, e-mail, anonymous notes, etc.) that you feel comfortable with.
Students’ responsibilities in this course are directly related both to the course goals and to the grading system. We ask of you:
(1) Attendance. Attend all class sessions. Please bring to each class the course reading material and a notebook or laptop containing this syllabus, your class notes from the entire semester, and your reading notes (described in the next section) — you will need to refer to these during class. For each class that you miss, you will lose 1 point from a total of 19 points for the semester. If illness or an emergency prevents you from attending, please inform the professor by e-mail prior to the class, or as soon as possible; attendance credit will then be arranged on a case-by-case basis. Students are responsible for all class material that they miss.
(2) Honor. All assignments are subject to the university’s Honor Code: do not claim other people’s work as your own, and be very careful to give credit for words and ideas that you quote or paraphrase.
(3) Reading, Reflection, and Reading Notes. Read and think about all assigned material. Most of this appears in Charles Lemert, editor, Social Theory, 4th edition (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 2009), which is available at the campus bookstore. Short additional Focus Readings are available in Sakai (you will need a password to access this file). Prior to each reading, please consult the Reading Questions/Key Concepts that will orient you to the main points we will be drawing out of each text. For each reading assignment, please take notes in a word processing program, following the set format for these notes. These reading notes will encourage you to read actively, rather than passively, and will serve you well as an index to the reading when you wish to review the course material (for example, it may be useful to keep the Theorist Grid in mind). Reading notes and all assignments should be submitted to the course’s Sakai dropbox prior to the beginning of class on the assigned date, and will receive one point for each class’s readings, for a maximum total of 21 points during the semester. Partial notes and late notes will receive partial credit, and you will be notified by e-mail prior to the following class session if you have not received full credit. Reading notes that receive full credit will not be notified by e-mail, but the credit will be posted on the Sakai grade sheet prior to the following class session.
(4) Class Participation. Participate actively in class, in particular through attentive listening, accurate note-taking (using the class PowerPoint presentations, if you wish — these will be posted prior to each class, linked from the class date on this syllabus), appropriate questions and comments, and helpful collaboration in small-group discussions. This will not be graded.
(5) Two Hypothesis-Testing Papers. Propose an empirical test of a hypothesis drawn from the theories we are covering in the class in two short papers of about 1,000 words each, due before the start of class on October 4 and December 6. Each paper will be worth 10 points. The paper should be structured according to the set format. (Sample hypothesis-testing papers.)
(6) Theory-Application Paper. Apply a theory of your choice (from among the theories we will have covered) to a social setting that you are familiar with in a short paper, approximately 1,000 words long, that is due before the start of class on November 6. The paper will be worth 10 points. The paper should be structured according to the set format. (Sample theory-application papers.)
(7) Examinations. Demonstrate your abilities in two 75-minute, open-book/open-note examinations, each of which will be worth 15 points, to be held in class on October 16 and December 13 (note special time for final exam: 12:00 noon). These exams will include both short-answer questions asking you to define various concepts, identify the author of a passage, explain differences between one paradigm and another, give an example illustrating a particular concept, and so on; and an outline-format essay question asking you to compare and contrast specific paradigms and theorists. The material covered in the exams will be cumulative; that is, material from early in the semester may appear on the final exam. (Sample exams.)
Those of you keeping score will notice that these points add up to 100:
Attendance: 19 points
Reading Notes: 21 points
3 Papers: 30 points
2 Exams: 30 points
Student performance will be graded on a 100-point scale. I anticipate that a grade of 93 1/3 and above will qualify for an A, 90 and above A-, 86 2/3 and above B+, 83 1/3 and above B, 80 and above B-, and so on. However, I reserve the right to maintain some flexibility in this scale, in case the course turns out to be “too easy” or “too hard.”
1) Charles Lemert, editor, Social Theory, Fourth Edition (Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 2009). Also on reserve at the Undergraduate Library. (Sorry, earlier editions of the anthology do not include all of the assigned readings.)
2) Focus Readings are available in Sakai.
Schedule of Assignments:
Note: All readings refer to the Lemert anthology unless otherwise noted. Lecture slides will be available in Sakai.
August 21: No readings.
August 23: Auguste Comte, focus reading #1; Thomas Kuhn, focus reading #2; Lewis Carroll, focus reading #3.
August 28: Emile Durkheim, pp. 78-81, 94-103.
August 30: Emile Durkheim, pp. 81-89, 77-78.
September 4: Robert Merton, pp. 308-312; Jean Baudrillard, pp. 479-484.
September 6: Discussion session.
September 11: Karl Marx, pp. 32-38, 38-39, 39-43.
September 13: Karl Marx, pp. 50-51, 51-60, 60-62, 62-67.
September 18: Immanuel Wallerstein, pp. 398-405, 597-602.
September 20: Discussion session.
September 25: Max Weber, pp. 104-108; Ulrich Beck, pp. 636-640.
September 27: Max Weber, pp. 119-129; Pierre Bourdieu, focus reading #4; Paul Fussell, focus reading #5.
October 2: Max Weber, pp. 116-119, 108-114; Michel Foucault, focus reading #6.
October 4: Discussion session. First hypothesis-testing paper due.
October 9: William James, pp. 161-166; Charles H. Cooley, p. 189; George Herbert Mead, pp. 224-229.
October 11: Erving Goffman, pp. 338-343; Hal Niedzviecki, focus reading #7; Harold Garfinkel, pp. 439-443 and focus reading #8.
October 16: Mid-term exam.
October 18: No class (Fall Break).
October 23: W.E.B. DuBois, pp. 167-172, 242-245; Robert E. Park, focus reading #9.
October 25: Martin Luther King, Jr., pp. 351-354; Frantz Fanon, pp. 364-369.
October 30: Molefi Kete Asante, pp. 500-502; Cornel West, pp. 511-521.
November 1: Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, focus reading #10.
November 6: Discussion session. Theory-application paper due.
November 8: Simone de Beauvoir, pp. 345-347; Betty Friedan, pp. 361-364.
November 13: Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, pp. 663-665; Patricia Hill Collins, pp. 541-552.
November 15: No class.
November 20: Naomi Wolf, focus reading #11.
November 22: No class (Thanksgiving).
November 27: Discussion session.
November 29: Mulla Nasreddin, focus reading #12; Paul Feyerabend, focus reading #13; and Larry Laudan, focus reading #14.
December 4: Charles Tilly, pp. 650-653; Avery Gordon, pp. 641-646.
December 6: Second hypothesis-testing paper due.
December 11: Review session (rescheduled from December 6).
December 13, 12:00 p.m.: Final examination.
This file was last updated on September 28, 2012.