Sociology | Sociological Theory
S540 | 4149 | Gieryn


This is the boring old required graduate theory survey, in which
students are forced to ponder conceptual abstractions that have
nothing to do with why they chose sociology as a career and that are
completely useless when it comes time to write the Big D...

NEVER!  This class will be a valiant (possibly foolhardy) attempt to
make social theory not only interesting but useful for students
entering careers of teaching and doing research in sociology.  How?
Our vision throughout the semester will be presentist: that is, we
shall focus our attention on the theoretical choices facing
sociologists today.  Now, perhaps more so that at any other moment in
the history of our discipline, it is essential to keep asking the
question: how shall I do sociology?  The question is difficult not
because answers are scarce, but because there are so many answers to
choose from.  Frankly, I celebrate the diversity of sociologists on
the menu these days; tired formulas are not why I chose this line of
work.

Have no fear: the greats will be covered.  But our presentist focus
will have us read the Holy Trinity (M, D and W) not as intellectual
history but as resources for doing sociology in the new millennium.
The classics offer a legacy of concepts, explanations,
interpretations and methodologies, from which we must pick and choose
the parts useful for the agenda each of us has set.  But, by the end
of February, we'll quite the antiquities and move on -- over half the
semester will be spent on social theory since WWII.  Once upon a
time, our predecessors chose among Marxism, functionalism and
symbolic interactionism (and we'll certainly look at each if those);
today, we face the bewildering array of post-modernism, critical
theory, rational choice, feminism, constructivism and neo-positivism,
There is no mainstream any more in social theory, just many babbling
brooks.

What are the contentious theoretical issues that face us now?  Here
are some questions, old and new, that sociology will continue to
answer in different ways: what is scientific sociology, or is that an
oxymoron?   how are politics related to intellectual inquiry?  if you
choose micro units of analysis, how do you then deal with the macro
(and vice versa)?  how are structure and agency linked?  is culture
something we should leave to anthropologists? is the demarcation
social organization / social psychology (ossified in the curriculum
of this Department) a dusty impediment to good sociology?  is
reductionism inevitable?  who, besides sociologists, does sociology?
is it desirable to explain?  whatever shall we do with the non-human,
or the non-social?  is nomothetic knowledge dangerous?

At the end of the semester, each of us should be able to answer these
questions (and others) in an informed, principled way, drawing on our
readings of how other smart social theorists answered them.  Of
course it's impossible to do this in fifteen weeks that overlap
basketball season; but if we at least get close, maybe the Department
will recognize the need for a two-semester required sequence in
social theory.

The size of this class will be restricted to a manageable number of
participants, and preference for admission is given to students
enrolled in the graduate program in Sociology.