Sociology 318

Classical Social Theory

Fall 2002

Introduction and Organization of Class

Office Hours My office hours may need to be changed depending on the other commitments that I have during the semester, but for now start with these as office hours. If you wish to see me at another time, give me a call (leave voice mail mes sage), send an email, or contact me after class. I’ll try to respond relatively quickly to emails – within a day. My other class is at 9:30.

Textbooks You are expected to read the assigned readings in Tucker and a considerable amount of the assigned readings from the various writers – primarily Marx, Weber, and Durkheim. The text surveys the classical sociological theories, provid es critical comments on them, and attempts to show the contemporary relevance of the classical approaches to social theory.

You need not buy each of the volumes by Marx, Weber, and Durkheim. However, you are expected to read and be familiar with the approach of each of these writers. For the volumes of Marx and Durkheim, I will provide a reading guide and for Weber, you s hould read all or most of Protestant Ethic.

In addition to the text, from time to time I will provide class handouts or place articles or other readings on reserve in the University Library. You will be expected to read and be familiar with these as well.

I have put one other text on classical sociological theory and its origins on reserve in the University Library. This is Irving M. Zeitlin, Ideology and the Development of Sociological Theory HM19 Z4. This book was used last year as a text and p rovides an excellent explanation of the background to sociology and good descriptions of the theories of Marx, Weber, and Durkheim.

Capitalism and Modern Social Theory, HM19 G53, by Anthony Giddens has been used in various Sociology classes for many years. Although written thirty years ago, it provides a good summary of each of the three main sociological currents. This book shows how the theories emerged from and are connected with the develop of industrialization and capitalism in Europe and North America. Sociology majors should be familiar with this book by the time they graduate. This may be listed under Soc iology 250 at the reserve desk.

If you require other alternatives, I can find a couple more books to place on reserve.

I have set up a web site for Sociology 318 for this semester. Once a week or so, I will try to update the web site with the notes from that week. I will also place a printed copy of the week's notes on reserve in the Library. Posted on the web site are also the notes, exams, and assignments from other courses in previous semesters. These can be used as a guide to the types of assignments and examinations I give. But since this is the first time I’ve taught this class, the assignments will differ somewhat from those of other classes – note though that there is considerably overlap with Sociology 250, but we study the classical theorists in more depth in this class.

In terms of using the notes that I have written, you are free to copy them and use them for the course. If you quote from them in a paper for this or another class, cite them as you would any reference from a book or article. Note that these are note s and not a finished manuscript that has been reviewed by other sociologists. As a result, there may be some errors in my notes – hopefully these are minimal but when I am rushed I may not correct all the grammar or may make other errors. But students i n the past have found these notes useful so I will do my best to make the notes from this semester available on the web site and on reserve.


The timing of the assignments through the semester is such that there is usually something that you should be reading or working on.

The short paper should be approximately five pages. The first paper will be on some specific part of the theories of Marx or Durkheim. I will have a list of topics ready next week.

The long paper is to be a more detailed exploration of the theoretical approach of one or more of the sociological approaches discussed in the class. If you wish to have it marked before the final examination, hand it in earlier and I should be able to grade it before the examination.

Each paper is to be properly referenced, and I will give you some guidelines on how this can be done.

The midterm examination is on October 28. It will cover the approaches of Marx and Durkheim. The final examination is December 13 from 9 am to 12 noon. The final examination will cover material from the whole class, although the empha sis will be on the theoretical approaches discussed in the latter parts of the class.

Special Needs

Please contact me if you have any special needs as a result of a disability. We will provide a means to accommodate you in this class.



Course Outline

Today I will provide a quick overview of the course and briefly discuss some aspects of the nature of sociological theory. On Wednesday, I would like to cover the background to the major sociological approaches. We will spend a day on this and then s tart examining Marx’s approach to social theory. Note that the dates attached to each section are anticipated dates – we may not be able to spend exactly the amount of time indicated on each of the sections.

The three major classical theorists of the nineteenth and early twentieth century are Marx, Weber and Durkheim. We will spend the majority of the semester examining their theoretical approaches – these form the basis for much later sociological theory and are reference points for other theories. Almost all later theories position themselves with respect to the theories of one or all of these three writers. We will spend approximately three weeks examining and discussing each of these theoretical app roaches. In Sociology 250, these were also a major part of the course. The difference here is that we examine these classical theoretical approaches in greater detail. As part of the more detailed examination, you are expected to become familiar with s ome of the original writing of each theorist, and hopefully will be able to make some reference to these in your papers. Tucker provides a good description, critique, and idea of contemporary relevance of each approach, but does not provide the details t hat you can obtain by reading the original works.

Following the discussion of Marx, Weber, and Durkheim, we briefly examine some ideas of four late nineteenth or early twentieth century approaches – Simmel, Mead, Gilman, and DuBois. Each of these wrote around the same time as Weber and Durkheim, so c ould also be regarded as classical theorists. While the approach of Simmel and, to some extent, Mead have been used in later sociological theory, their theoretical stature is not as great as that of Marx, Weber, and Durkheim. Charlotte Perkins Gilman an d W. E. B. Du Bois would not have been included in a course such as this until very recently. Gilman is considered an early feminist writer and Du Bois was an African-American sociologist and political activist. By including these two writers, we are re cognizing that classical theory was and is incomplete. It tended to be structural and at the societal level, with limited analysis of individual action, although Weber did analyze this and both Marx and Durkheim had some discussion of it. But Simmel and Mead provide more thorough analyses of micro-level social interaction.

The three major classical approaches and some contemporary approaches to sociology ignored women and non-Europeans or made questionable assumptions about them. Sociological theory tends to be a theory based on Western European males – leaving out wome n and much of humanity outside Europe and North America. Sociological theory was developed in Western Europe by males, so this is no surprise. What is questionable about these approaches is their claim to universality, that is, whether the sociological models are general models that are useful for all humans, in all places, and at all times.

As a result, it is necessary to look at writers such as Gilman and Du Bois to see how some writers of one hundred years ago were more sensitive to issues of race, gender, and colonialism and developed theories that included women, people of colour, the colonized, and all people as part of society.

In addition, the approach of the three major classical writers was to limit the realm of what they regarded as social, or subject to study by sociology. The classical approach was generally to argue that society did not involve the private sphere of household and family, and these were generally not part of sociological study. Since these have tended to be the sphere in which women have played a disproportionate role, the effect of this was to limit the discussion of the role of women in society. B y the mid-twentieth century, some sociologists (such as Parsons) began to redefine the realm of the social, and in the last thirty years, feminists have shown the weaknesses and one-sided nature of many of these traditional approaches. While feminist the ories have not provided an overall model of society, the insights of feminist, post-colonial, queer, and racialized approaches can often be used to alter or develop the traditional approaches, thus improving them.

Today, sociological theory is in a state of transition, with a great variety of theoretical views and different approaches. Many of these have been widely attacked by feminists, postcolonial writers, postmodernists, and others, and none of these appro aches by itself is capable of dealing with all aspects of sociology. By examining some of the ideas of these latter writers, I hope that we can gain some idea of how a better sociological theory could be constructed and made useful in the study of social issues.

Issues of personal and the social – Tucker, pp. 5-12

  1. Democracy and public sphere
  2. Rationality, science, power
  3. Colonialism
  4. Individual and cultural identity

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Last edited September 15, 2002