Modern social theory

Offer semester
2nd semester

Lecture time
Friday 09:30 - 11:20

Lecture venue

Course description

As social scientists, we draw from theories to provide a framework for discourse, research and understanding of social phenomena. In the present day, as we consider emerging issues such as Black Lives Matter, climate change and the response to the COVID pandemic, these theories of function, conflict, structure, social construction and power can inform our understanding of contemporary society.

This course provides an introductory overview of a broad field and will focus on the more influential modern social theories and identify any links these have with classical theory traditions.

Course learning outcomes

  • 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?”;
  • Reflectively evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each theoretical school and to investigate their relevance to social reality and empirical analyses;
  • Improve their analytical skills through group discussion and paper writing;
  • Synthesize theory with practice and acquire the tools required to be a social theorist.



Required reading

Ritzer, G. & Stepnisky, J. (2019). Contemporary Sociological Theory and Its Classical Roots: The Basics (5th edition). Thousand Oaks, CA; London, UK: Sage.

Harrington, A (2005) Modern Social Theory: An Introduction. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Recommended reading

Ritzer, G. & Stepnisky, J. (2017). Sociological Theory (10th edition). Thousand Oaks, CA; London, UK: Sage

Goffman, Erving. 1959. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.

Crenshaw, K. (1989). ‘Demarginalizing the intersection of race and sex: A black feminist critique of antidiscrimination doctrine, feminist theory and antiracist politics.’ University of Chicago Legal Forum, 139-167.

Allan, K. (2013) Contemporary Social and Sociological Theory. 3rd Edition. London: Sage.

Archer, Margaret S. “Morphogenesis versus Structuration: On Combining Structure and Action.” The British Journal of Sociology, vol. 33, no. 4, 1982, pp. 455–483. JSTOR,

Bourdieu, P. (1989) Social Space and Symbolic Power. Sociological Theory, 7: 14-25.

Bourdieu, P. (1999). Outline of a Theory of Practice. Chapter 4: “Structures, Habitus and Power:” pp. 159-197.

Calhoun, C. et. al. (2012) Contemporary Sociological Theory. 3rd. Edition. Oxford: Blackwell.

Elliott, A. (2009) Contemporary Social Theory. London: Routledge.

Elliott, A. Lemert, C. (2014) Introduction to Contemporary Social Theory. London: Routledge.

Foucault, M. (1975) Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. “Panopticism” (195- 228).

Foucault, M. ( l979). Discipline and Punish, New York: Vintage. 3-131 and 195-228.

Giddens, A. (1990) The Consequences of Modernity. Stanford: SUP. Pp. 1-53. Cambridge: Polity Press, pp. 1-40.

Hsu, E.L. (2010) ‘Social theory and Globalization’, in Elliott, A. (ed.) (2010) The Routledge Companion to Social Theory. London: Routledge. Pp. 203-218

Lorde, A. (1980). ‘Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference.’ The Audre Lorde Compendium: Essays, Speeches and Journals. London: Pandora, 162-171.

Mann, D. (2011) Understanding Society. 2nd Edition. Oxford: OUP.

Merton, R. (1938) Social Structure and Anomie. American Sociological Review, 3(5): 672-682.

Merton, R.K. (1945) Sociological Theory. American Journal of Sociology, 50 (6):462-473.

Parsons, Talcott. (1951) The Social System. “The Action Frame of Reference and the General Theory of Action Systems:” pp. 3-23.

Stein, A. & Plummer, K. (1994). “I Can’t Even Think Straight: ‘Queer’ Theory and the Missing Sexual Revolution in Sociology.” Sociological Theory 12(2): pp. 178-187.

Stones, R (2008) Key Sociological Thinkers (second edition). Palgrave, Hampshire.

Turner, J. (2013) Contemporary Sociological Theory. London: Sage. Zygmunt Bauman, selections from Modernity and the Holocaust (pp. 510-530 in Contemporary Social Theory Third Edition, ed. Craig Calhoun et al, Oxford: Wiley- Blackwell, 2012)

Course co-ordinator and teachers