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UW-Madison SOC 475 - Sociology 475 Syllabus

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1Sociology 475: Classical Sociological Theory Lecture 2, Monday & Wednesday 2:30-3:45, 6101 Social Science Contact Info Peter Brinson [email protected] Office: 8107 Social Science Phone: 262-1933 Office Hours: Monday & Wednesday after class (3:45-5:00) Description Theory is not just philosophy. It is not the province of dead white guys only. Fundamentally, theory is about explaining what we observe about the world around us. Sociological theory, then, is oriented towards understanding society, with a particular emphasis on how the thoughts and actions of you, the individual, are shaped by interactions, the political and economic systems, your religious and cultural contexts, and other societal institutions. What people do cannot be explained without considering the relations among individuals, groups, and large social structures. This relationship between the individual and the collective is, in a nutshell, what sociological theory is all about. That’s the easy part. The hard part is figuring out what those relationships are, how they work, and why. In this course, our labor will consist in examining three of the most influential such efforts. Hence, we will be studying primarily the writings of three dead white guys: Karl Marx, Max Weber, and Emile Durkheim. In these writings, we find some of the most powerful and influential theories of the social world ever conceived. It is why we still read them today. At times, the reading will be dry and boring; other times, and I kid you not, it will be beautiful and poetic. The course will not be easy; but an investment of time and energy from you will hopefully make it rewarding. “But to what end?” you ask. In the humble opinion of Yours Truly, there are two really good reasons for putting forth this intellectual effort, and they will serve as our two goals for the course: 1) Dedicated, meticulous reading of these classic texts is its own reward. You will learn much about the world around us that we take for granted: what we often refer to in the abstract as “modernity.” What are the significant features of capitalism, democracy, science, religion, and civil society, and how do they shape the social world? These writers lived long ago, but they can teach us how modern society is different from other societies in different times and places. You will learn important concepts like alienation, rationalization, and the collective consciousness and why they matter. In these readings, you will also learn the ways in which sociologists conduct research, make arguments, and construct theories.2 2) Reading how other people have attempted to understand and explain the social world around them can help you understand and explain your own world. All of the “classical” sociological theorists passed away by roughly the end of World War I. It is worth considering how these social theories fit in today’s world: in what ways can we follow the old paths through today’s sociological woods, and in what ways might we need to blaze a new trail? In what ways does our post-modern, post-industrial, post-whatever society still resemble the modern societies these authors wrote about, and in what ways has it fundamentally changed? As students of sociology and the social world, the goal of understanding and explaining what we observe around us is an unfinished task. It is with these two goals in mind that we begin this class, and I have tried to design this course around the pursuit of them. I cannot promise that you will reach the destination, but as with life itself, the reward is in the journey. Readings The following texts are on sale in Rainbow Bookstore (426 W. Gilman). These books will also be on reserve in College Library. All texts are required reading, but you do not have to purchase them. If you do decide to purchase them used, in most cases, you do not have to purchase the exact edition that I have ordered. The pagination may be different in some versions, but the content will be more or less the same. • Tocqueville, Alexis de. Democracy in America. 1966. Harper and Row. • Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels. The Marx-Engels Reader, ed. Robert C. Tucker. 1978. Norton. • Weber, Max. From Max Weber. ed, H.H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills. 1958. Oxford University Press. • Weber, Max. Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. 1992. Routledge. • Durkheim, Emile. The Division of Labor in Society. 1997. Free Press. • Durkheim, Emile. The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. 2001. Oxford University Press. (abridged edition) • Ritzer, George. McDonaldization of Society. 2004. Pine Forge Press. There will also be a course packet available for purchase in the Social Science Copy Center, down the hall. There are only six readings in it, and it should be relatively inexpensive. However, you do not have to purchase it; a copy will also be placed on reserve in College Library. In addition, the sources from which the copies come are widely available in the campus libraries, so you can get these readings in a number of ways. Requirements Your grade will be composed as follows. Details are below: 15% Attendance & Participation 10% Weekly Questions/Comments 25% First Exam325% Second Exam 25% Third Exam Attendance & Participation I will take attendance every day during lecture. You will get 2 free absences before you are penalized. As for participation, you will be graded on your engagement with the readings and contributions to class discussion. While I could spend each class period lecturing at you, it would be a waste of both your time and mine. The more that you ask questions, make comments, and critically interrogate the readings and ideas, the more you will learn. The readings in this class are very difficult, and the ideas contained in them are even more difficult, so THERE ARE NO STUPID QUESTIONS. If you don’t know what’s going on, you are probably not alone. I would much rather you speak up than let me ramble on about things you don’t understand. The same goes for analyzing and evaluating the readings. Everyone learns more when you don’t just accept things at face-value and instead critically examine and question the ideas. Weekly Questions/Comments Each week, you will be responsible for posting one question or comment that is substantively relevant to the class on the course website on [email protected] These questions and comments are intended to be forums for you all to discuss issues that are raised by


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