Skip to main content

Sociology 250, Fall 2023
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


Class Meetings:

206 Phillips Hall, Tues., Thurs., 3:30-4:45 p.m.
To be included on the waiting list for this course, please contact the instructor before the semester begins and attend the first two class sessions.


Professor Charles Kurzman. Telephone: 919-962-1007. E-mail:
Office hours: Tuesdays, 4:45-5:45 p.m., 227 Pauli Murray Hall (formerly known as Hamilton Hall) and by appointment.

Teaching Assistant: Ian Wallace. E-mail:
Office hours: Tuesdays-Wednesdays, 2:00-3:00 p.m., 168 Pauli Murray Hall (formerly known as Hamilton Hall) and by appointment.

Additional resources on the course’s Canvas page:

Mini-Lectures (to view before each reading)
Assignment Guidelines (including grading rubrics)
Readings, Reading Questions, and Key Concepts
Sample Exam Questions
Sample Hypothesis-Testing Papers
Sample Theory-Application Papers

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 I will discuss further in the first class of the semester: (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 help you decide where you stand on the major analytical issues of the day, which paradigm(s) you subscribe to, and why.

The course covers some 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 of the late 19th and early 20th centuries to contemporary writings in the early 21st century. The readings are 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 11 goals, the first six of which will be graded. At the end of the course, you should be able to:

    (1) Define selected major paradigms, theories, and concepts in social theory. (This will be tested through readings notes and short-answer questions on the two exams.)
    (2) Engage with challenging texts through close reading. (Reading notes.)
    (3) Apply theories to empirical settings. (Reading notes, class discussion, and one 1,000-word paper.)
    (4) Distinguish between presuppositions and testable hypotheses. (Reading notes, class discussion, two 1,000-word papers.)
    (5) Propose empirical tests of hypotheses by important theorists. (Two 1000-word papers.)
    (6) Understand the implications of hypothesis-testing research for your own hypotheses. (Not graded.)
    (7) Express your personal paradigmatic preferences and defend them coherently. (Class discussion, possible essay questions on exams.)
    (8) Construct a compelling argument combining theory and evidence. (This is a prerequisite, but you will get further practice in this course.)
    (9) Sense in your gut the social ramifications and the social bases of individual action, especially your own. (Not graded.)
    (10) Respectfully acknowledge and engage multiple perspectives on all social issues, especially perspectives different from your own. (Not graded.)
    (11) Feel a warm sense of camaraderie with your classmates, your instructors, and the discipline of sociology. (Not graded.)

Faculty Commitments:

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) Foster an inclusive space for students from all backgrounds and perspectives.
    (2) Be as respectful, helpful, and clear as possible in communications with students.
    (3) Hand out reading questions and lists of major concepts in advance of each reading assignment, to assist in close reading of the text.
    (4) Lay out the ontological, epistemological, and theoretical starting points for each paradigm.
    (5) Give background information, definitions of concepts, and the structure of the argument for each theorist covered, relating these where possible to the readings.
    (6) Lead discussion of comparisons among theorists, empirical applications, and hypothesis testing for each theorist covered.
    (7) 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.

Student Commitments:

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 unapproved absence, you will lose 1 point from a total of 20 points for the semester. If you are unable to attend because of illness, an emergency, or a University Approved Absence, please inform the professor by e-mail prior to the class, or as soon as possible, and attendance credit will be arranged on a case-by-case basis. Students are responsible for class material that they miss.

    (2) Honor. All students are expected to follow the guidelines of the UNC Honor Code. In particular, students are expected to refrain from “lying, cheating, or stealing” in the academic context. If you are unsure about which actions violate the Honor Code, please see the instructors or consult

    (3) Reading, Reflection, and Reading Notes. Read and think about all assigned material in advance of class. All readings are available in Canvas (you will need a password to access this file), along with a recorded introductory lecture and reading questions and 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 format listed in the Assignment Guidelines document on Canvas. 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 in mind the Theorist Grid, which is also available in the Assignment Guidelines document). Reading notes should be submitted via Canvas 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 20 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 Canvas 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 on the course Canvas page prior to each class), appropriate questions and comments, and helpful collaboration in small-group discussions. Take care to act respectfully, including toward people and comments you disagree with. 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, to be submitted via Canvas before the start of class on the assigned dates. Each paper will be worth 10 points. The paper should be structured according to the format specified in the Assignment Guidelines. (Sample hypothesis-testing papers are also available on the course Canvas page.)

    (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, to be submitted via Canvas before the start of class on the assigned date. The paper will be worth 10 points. The paper should be structured according to the format specified in the Assignment Guidelines. (Sample theory-application papers are also available on the course Canvas page.)

    (7) Examinations. Demonstrate your abilities in two 75-minute, open-book/open-note examinations, each of which will be worth 15 points. These exams may 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 outline-format essay questions 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 are available on the course Canvas page.)

Those of you keeping score will notice that these points add up to 100:

Attendance: 20 points
Reading Notes: 20 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.”

Schedule of Assignments (check your e-mail regularly to be notified of revisions):

Introductory Sessions:
1. August 22: No readings.
2. August 24: Auguste Comte, reading #1; Thomas Kuhn, reading #2; Lewis Carroll, reading #3.

3. August 29: Emile Durkheim, reading #4, reading #5.
4. August 31: Emile Durkheim, reading #6; Qing Lianbin, reading #7.
September 5: Well-being day, no class.
5. September 7: Michel Foucault, reading #8.
6. September 12: Discussion session.

Class Analysis:
7. September 14: Karl Marx, readings #9 and #10.
8. September 19: Karl Marx, reading #11; Erik Olin Wright, reading #12.
9. September 21: Ngai Pun, reading #13; Shoshana Zuboff, reading #14.
10. September 26: Discussion session.

11. September 28: Max Weber, reading #15; Ulrich Beck, reading #16.
12. October 3: Max Weber, reading #17; Achille Mbembe, reading #18.
13. October 5: Max Weber, reading #19; Pierre Bourdieu, reading #20; Nira Yuval-Davis, reading #21.
14. October 10: Discussion session. First hypothesis-testing paper due.

October 12: University Day ceremony, no class.

The Self/Social Psychology:
15. October 17: William James, reading #22; W.E.B. Du Bois, reading #23.
October 19: Fall break, no class.
16. October 24: Erving Goffman, reading #24; Yasmin Ibrahim, reading #25.
17. October 26: Discussion session.

October 27: Midterm exam (take-home) due at 4:45 p.m.

18. October 31: Dorothy Roberts, reading #26; W.E.B. Du Bois, readings #27 and #28.
19. November 2: Eduardo Bonilla-Silva, readings #29 and #30.
20. November 7: Michelle Christian, reading #31; David Naguib Pellow, reading #32.
21. November 9: Discussion session. Theory application paper due.

22. November 14: Olympe de Gouges, reading #33; Simone de Beauvoir, reading #34.
23. November 16: Patricia Hill Collins, readings #35 and #36.
24. November 21: Judith Butler, reading #37; Alok Vaid-Menon, reading #38.
November 23: Thanksgiving, no class.
25. November 28: Discussion session.

Paradigms Compared:
26. November 30: Mulla Nasreddin, reading #39; Paul Feyerabend, reading #40; Larry Laudan, reading #41; Raewyn Connell, reading #42; Avery Gordon, reading #43.
27. December 5: Review session. Second hypothesis-testing paper due.

Final examination: Saturday, December 9, 2022, 4:00 p.m.

Acceptable Use Policy

By attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, you agree to abide by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill policies related to the acceptable use of IT systems and services. The Acceptable Use Policy (AUP) sets the expectation that you will use the University’s technology resources responsibly, consistent with the University’s mission. In the context of a class, it’s quite likely you will participate in online activities that could include personal information about you or your peers, and the AUP addresses your obligations to protect the privacy of class participants. In addition, the AUP addresses matters of others’ intellectual property, including copyright. These are only a couple of typical examples, so you should consult the full Information Technology Acceptable Use Policy, which covers topics related to using digital resources, such as privacy, confidentiality, and intellectual property.

Additionally, consult the Safe Computing at UNC website for information about data security policies, updates, and tips on keeping your identity, information, and devices safe.

Accessibility Resources and Service

Accessibility Resources and Service (ARS – receives requests for accommodations, and through the Student and Applicant Accommodations Policy determines eligibility and identifies reasonable accommodations for students with disabilities and/or chronic medical conditions to mitigate or remove the barriers experienced in accessing University courses, programs and activities.

ARS also offers its Testing Center resources to students and instructors to facilitate the implementation of testing accommodations.

Counseling and Psychological Services

UNC-Chapel Hill is strongly committed to addressing the mental health needs of a diverse student body. The Heels Care Network website is a place to access the many mental health resources at Carolina. CAPS is the primary mental health provider for students, offering timely access to consultation and connection to clinically appropriate services. Go to their website or visit their facilities on the third floor of the Campus Health building for an initial evaluation to learn more. Students can also call CAPS 24/7 at 919-966-3658 for immediate assistance.

Title IX Resources

Any student who is impacted by discrimination, harassment, interpersonal (relationship) violence, sexual violence, sexual exploitation, or stalking is encouraged to seek resources on campus or in the community. Reports can be made online to the EOC at, or by contacting the University’s Title IX Coordinator (Elizabeth Hall, or the Report and Response Coordinators in the Equal Opportunity and Compliance Office ( Confidential resources include Counseling and Psychological Services and the Gender Violence Services Coordinators ( Additional resources are available at

Syllabus Changes

The professor reserves the right to make changes to the syllabus, including project due dates and test dates. These changes will be announced as early as possible.

This file was last updated on August 21, 2023.