Sociology | Sociological Theory
S540 | 20371 | Gieryn
This is the boring old required graduate theory survey, in which
students are forced to ponder the conceptual abstractions that have
nothing to do with why they chose sociology as their life’s work 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 than any 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 sociologies on the
menu these days; tired formulas are not why I chose this profession.
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 soon we’ll quit 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; today, we
face the bewildering array of post-modernism, critical theory,
rational choice, feminism, neo-institutionalism and constructivism.
There is no mainstream any more in social theory, just many babbling
What are the contentious theoretical issues that face us now? Here
are some old questions – old and new – that sociologists 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 is impossible to do this in fifteen weeks, but…
The reading load is heavy (no escape from that). Those students
enrolled for credit will write two take-home exams, and participate in
one e-mediated conversation (graded). A course syllabus is available
from Tom Gieryn upon request.