Jean-Louis Fabiani
Office Hours:
WED 1.30-3.30 pm
FRI 3.30 pm

TA: Marton Szarvas

Key Issues in Sociological Theory (online)
2 Credits/4 ECTS
Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology, CEU
Mandatory course for MA in Sociology and Social Anthropology
What is classical sociological theory, and why read it? The simplest oft-repeated answer is that it is theory that helped found the discipline we call “sociology,” that these theories provide accounts of the emergence of modernity and its essential features, and that these are “classical” because contemporary theorists continue to draw upon them.

- We will begin with Social thinking before sociology, with a sample by the work of Adam Smith.
- The course already takes for granted to a certain degree the rethinking of the “canon” and critiques by figures like Raewyn Connell.
For further reading on this debate see Connell and Collins
Raewyn Connell, “Why is Classical Theory Classical” American Journal of Sociology 102 (6): 1511-57, 1997.
Randall Collins, "A sociological guilt trip: comment on Connell", American Journal of Sociology, 1997, vol. 102 no. 6, 1558-64.

The course does not entirely take a chronological approach, but rather surveys some of the central categories, epistemologies, and “key issues” that emerged when sociology was established as a distinct academic discipline in the early twentieth century. We will also read work by thinkers who did not identify as sociologists, nor strictly as academics, such as Karl Marx, xxx and Rosa Luxemburg, who came to play a crucial role in twentieth- and twenty-first century sociological theory.
Each text will be considered along four axes:
-its contribution to epistemological debates in the social sciences
-its relevance to the analysis of our societies.
-its historical limitations.
-its aptitude to engage with comparison and generalization.
Even if you have read some of these theorists before, you are strongly encouraged to read and discuss them with an open – and critical – mind. I also encourage plain language in class and in your written assignments, and have little patience with jargon.
I have carefully selected relatively short excerpts with the heightened expectation that you will read all the material before class, which thereby enables a deep and detailed discussion of assigned texts. The majority of the chosen texts are primary texts, with a few exceptions.
Pedagogical Goals: The goals of this course are to:
- Gives students a foundation for sociological thinking;
- Familiarize students with the basic categories and concerns still shaping contemporary sociology;
- Critically assess how sociology was institutionally positioned between a claim to autonomous social science, and critical-political engagement;
- Understand some of the ongoing tensions within sociology since its founding;
- Develop students’ oral and written argumentation skills
- Develop detailed critical analysis and interpretation skills.

Good critical analysis entails:
- As a first basic step, showing mastery in understanding a text;
- Going beyond summary;
- Paying attention to details, and harnessing those details to make a claim about an author’s ideas, or the ideas articulated by a peer;
- Providing detailed evidence for claims made.

Participation: Attendance and participation are mandatory. Your marks will suffer if you miss classes or fail to participate in class. You are expected to be conversant, to come to class having read the assigned reading, to offer critical commentary of the texts, to raise questions and concerns, and to engage in constructive conversation and debate with me and your class colleagues.

Participation is assessed through a combination of attendance record and active, meaningful participation in class. By “meaningful” participation I mean contributions to class discussions that are based on having done the assigned readings, and which indicate genuine consideration of the ideas from the texts along with ideas raised in class. Participation is also graded based on your activity in the small group work.

If you miss three classes or more, you cannot pass the course.

Essay: You will write one essay for the course (3000 words).

Group Presentations:
The final class will be devoted to group presentations. Further instructions will be provided later in the semester.

The final grade will be composed as follows:
1. Class participation 30%
2. Mid-term Essay 30%
3. Final Group presentations 40%

Late papers: Late papers will be penalized 10% for each day beyond the deadline. I will deduct marks if they are emailed even a few minutes late.

Plagiarism: Please be sure to read CEU’s plagiarism policy:

Extension policy: Extensions will be granted only under the following conditions:
1. Medical illness: A letter from a medical doctor must be provided.
2. A serious personal or family crisis. Please make sure to speak with me if such a situation arises.

All texts listed below are available on my moodle page

Week 1:
October 2: Sociology Before Sociology
Adam Smith, and the Secular Social Order

How do society and economy “hang together”?
- Some question related to the putative historicism

Wealth of Nations, Book I, pp. xxiii-xxvi, 3-23;
876-878 (mentions in passing the “invisible hand.”)

October 9: The Birth of Sociology
Durkheim on Religion and the Glue of Social Life
How is society possible? How do emotions and symbolic life bind us together? What role does religion play in this, and where does that leave modern society with the rise of science at the expense of religion?

The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, pp. 1-18, 141-149, 216-241, 418-448

October 16
Capitalism 1: Is modern society primarily a social relation between commodities?
What is capitalism? What does it change in the organization of collective life and in social relations? Is modernity a synonym of capitalism?

Capital, pp. 302-312, 319-336

October 23
Capitalism 2: Must we think globally? (global capitalism)
After Marx and Engels, the analysis of capitalism developed with respect to the emergence of new forms of domination related to imperialism

José Carlos Mariatégui, Seven Interpretative Essays on Peruvian society, chapter 3. “The Problem of Land”, Austin, The University of Texas Press, 1971 (1928)

Rosa Luxemburg, The Accumulation of Capital. An Anti-Critique,New York, Monthly Review press, 1972. Ch1 “The Questions at Issue”; and ch. 6 “Imperialism.”

October 30
Modernity from the Outside:
Modernization has generated new forms of contradictions, urban and racial. Far from unifying society, it has contributed to segregation and inequalities.

Georg Simmel: “The Stranger” In Georg Simmel: On Individuality and Social Forms,
, Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1971, pp. 143–50)

W.E. B. Du Bois, "Of Our Spiritual Strivings", The Souls of the Black Folk, New York, Dover, 1994 (1903)

November 6
Modern Power and Inequality 1: Max Weber
Capitalism is not only an economic phenomenon. It has cultural and religious roots. Weber initiated an endless debate on the intertwining of religion and capitalism that innerves contemporary scholarship. The concept of status allows us to have a more complex view of the place of the market in modern societies, by analyzing the complexities of the distribution of power.

The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, pp. 47-92; 155-162; 180-183

“Class,Status and Party” In From Max Weber, ed. by Hans Gerth and Charles Wright Mills, Oxfors, Oxford University Press, 1946, pp. 180-195.

November 13
Modern Power and Inequality 2: Gramsci
Although he did not coin the concept of hegemony, Gramsci enriched it and analyzed the cultural forms of domination in a way quite different from orthodox Marxism.

Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks. New York: Columbia UP, 1992 (1921-26), p. 501-535

Peter Thomas, “Gramsci and the political. From the state as ‘metaphysical event’ to hegemony as ‘philosophical fact’ “, Radical Philosophy, N. 153, 2009, pp. 27-36.

November 20
Modern Power and Inequality 3: Critical Theory
Critical theory is one of the first attempts to introduce a reflective dimension in the analysis of modern societies. Traditional theory is challenged as well as simplified forms of Marxism.

Karl Mannheim, “Ideology and Utopia”, Max Horkheimer, “Traditional and Critical Theory”, Theodor Adorno, “Cultural Criticism and Society”,
Reprinted in Classical Sociological Theory, Blackwell, 2002, 292-330.

November 27
Self 1: Race, Colonialism, and Self-Emancipation
How does Fanon believe that we can achieve emancipation? Is Fanon embracing, or expressing skepticism of, the universal abstract subject? Does he offer a satisfactory account of racism, inequality, and equality?

Black Skin, White Masks, 17-40, 109-140, 216-232

Dec 4
Self 2:
Beauvoir: Embodiment, Sexuality, and Freedom
Why has woman been historically constructed as the Other? How can we attain freedom despite the facticity of the sexed body? How can human sexuality be a path to transcendence? Does she offer a satisfactory account of inequality and equality?

The Second Sex, pp. 13-29, 69-83, 93-97, 510-514, 725-741

Dec. 11
Final discussion
Can we synthetize what we have learned from our reflective and critical take on social theory? Michael Burawoy helps us clarify our positionality and our revised ambitions.

Burawoy, Michael (2016). “Sociology as a Vocation.” Contemporary Sociology, 45(4), 379–393.

Dec. 18
Last class: Group presentations (final assignment).