Sociology | Sociological Theory
S540 | 3913 | Gieryn

S540:     Sociological Theory  (3 CR)

3913 9:05A - 11:00A MW   BH 241

Thomas 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
Asocial 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.