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Modern social theory

Offer semester
2nd semester

Lecture time
Monday 2:30 pm-5:20 pm

Lecture venue

Course description

This course introduces the major trends of social theory in the 20th century. We will cover important works by Michel Foucault, Erving Goffman, Norbert Elias, George Herbert Mead, John Dewey; Pierre Bourdieu, and the Frankfurt school. The course follows both theoretical and thematic sequences. We will discuss and evaluate the theories of rational choice school, pragmatism, culture and symbolic interactionism, neo-Marxism, structuralism and post-structuralism. We will also examine how such theories can be applied to analyze the key social problems of modern society, including but not limited to power and domination, resistance and revolution, mass culture and consumerism, identity politics, and the construction of global society. ​

Course learning outcomes

  1. The students are expected to map out the major trends of modern social theory and develop their own responses to the question of “what is theory and how theory can be useful?”.
  2. Reflectively evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each theoretical school and to investigate their relevance to empirical analyses.
  3. The students will hone their analytical skills through group discussion and paper writing.



Required reading

Selected chapters from the following books:

Foucault, Discipline and Punish
Bourdieu, Distinction
Olson, The Logic of Collective Action
Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life

Recommended reading

Other materials uploaded on Moodle.

Course co-ordinator and teachers