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Module SXS-2035:
Classical Social Theory

Module Facts

Run by School of History, Philosophy and Social Sciences

20 Credits or 10 ECTS Credits

Semester 1

Organiser: Dr Marcel Stoetzler

Overall aims and purpose

This course introduces students to a range of key perspectives in classical social theory. The basic ideas and the key questions that constitute the foundations of contemporary social theory were established during the 19th century and developed during the first half of the 20th century. The different meanings of 'theory' are explored, especially through the contrast between theory as (apparently disinterested or 'objective') 'explanation' and theory as 'interpretation' from the point of view of participants in human interaction. These differences are influential in the choices that social researchers make between different ways of thinking about what is being studied and the methods used to study social phenomena. Students are encouraged to reflect upon the connections between the subject matter of this module, the research methods module and other modules in Social Sciences.

Course content

The module introduces the classic contributions of theorists such as Comte, Marx, Tocqueville, W.E.B du Bois, Marianne Weber, Max Weber, Durkheim and Simmel and the development of their thinking concerning modernity, capitalism, rationalisation and bureaucracy, and the question of moral and social order. The module then considers how the classic tradition has been transformed and new paths have been pursued in the contexts of critical theory, feminist theory, 'system theory' and symbolic interactionism.

Assessment Criteria


To pass the module students must have achieved the expected outcomes at a basic level. They will be able to identify the main contributors to classical sociological theory and offer a basic description to their theories. They will show an adequate awareness of subsequent trends and the main similarities and contrasts between them. They will show some understanding of how theories may be applied to contemporary social issues.


Identify the main contributors to classical sociological theory, summarise their theories and explain their origins. They will show a good awareness of subsequent trends and the main similarities and contrasts between them. They will show a good understanding of how theories may be applied to contemporary social issues.


Identify the main contributors to classical sociological theory, expound their theories and explain their origins. They will display an excellent awareness of subsequent trends and the main similarities and contrasts between them. They will be able to exercise independent, critical judgement in the application of theories to contemporary social issues.

Learning outcomes

  1. Recognise the meaning of sociological theory.

  2. Understand and explain the social and intellectual origins of sociological perspectives and traditions

  3. Identify and use key concepts in the domain of social theory.

  4. Demonstrate knowledge of the plurality of sociological theories and the links between different approaches.

  5. Use a variety of concepts from the classical and modern traditions in sociological theory to interpret social issues.

Assessment Methods

Type Name Description Weight
Written assignment, including essay 3,000 word essay 80
Written assignment, including essay Short Essay 5
CLASS TEST Unannounced classroom test s1 5

Teaching and Learning Strategy

Private study 166

The module is delivered via two weekly one-hour lectures for the whole class and a weekly seminar in a smaller group. The lecture topics are based on a roughly chronological sequence of key authors and themes.


The seminars are designed to encourage focused discussion and learning on set topics related to the lectures. Seminars are based on selected primary source materials. Each seminar will consist of: (a). a presentation by students and (b). class discussion


They will be complemented by individual tutorial support for assessment work.


Transferable skills

  • Literacy - Proficiency in reading and writing through a variety of media
  • Computer Literacy - Proficiency in using a varied range of computer software
  • Self-Management - Able to work unsupervised in an efficient, punctual and structured manner. To examine the outcomes of tasks and events, and judge levels of quality and importance
  • Exploring - Able to investigate, research and consider alternatives
  • Information retrieval - Able to access different and multiple sources of information
  • Inter-personal - Able to question, actively listen, examine given answers and interact sensitevely with others
  • Critical analysis & Problem Solving - Able to deconstruct and analyse problems or complex situations. To find solutions to problems through analyses and exploration of all possibilities using appropriate methods, rescources and creativity.
  • Presentation - Able to clearly present information and explanations to an audience. Through the written or oral mode of communication accurately and concisely.
  • Teamwork - Able to constructively cooperate with others on a common task, and/or be part of a day-to-day working team
  • Argument - Able to put forward, debate and justify an opinion or a course of action, with an individual or in a wider group setting
  • Self-awareness & Reflectivity - Having an awareness of your own strengths, weaknesses, aims and objectives. Able to regularly review, evaluate and reflect upon the performance of yourself and others
  • Leadership - Able to lead and manage, develop action plans and objectives, offer guidance and direction to others, and cope with the related pressures such authority can result in


Reading list

Most readings will be made available online or can be found in the library. Students who want to do some reading in advance may wish to acquire the book Beginning Classical Social Theory (Manchester University Press 2018) by Marcel Stoetzler, but buying the book, or any other book, is not a requirement.

Pre- and Co-requisite Modules

Courses including this module

Compulsory in courses:

Optional in courses: