Not available in 2019/20
SO426      Half Unit
Classical Social Thought

This information is for the 2019/20 session.

Teacher responsible

Professor Nigel Dodd  Room STC S106 & Dr Sara Salem Room TBD


This course is available on the MSc in Culture and Society, MSc in Political Sociology and MSc in Sociology. This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Course content

A critical review of classical social theory. The origins and development of classical sociological theory; exploring the work of Marx, Weber, Simmel, Durkheim and De Bois through a close reading and interpretation of primary texts. This course will also explore subsequent developments within these theoretical traditions, including their elaboration into alternative 'canons' of social theory. It is not assumed that students have a basic grounding in classical social theory, although it is expected that students who register for this course will be prepared to develop their understanding through primary readings, and not rely on textbooks.


10 hours of lectures and 10 hours of seminars in the MT.

Reading week: week 6 (MT)

Formative coursework

1000-word formative memo, due in Week 6 of MT.

Indicative reading

Relevant books that provide an overview include:

  • A Callinicos, Social Theory;
  • N Dodd, Social Theory and Modernity;
  • A Giddens, Capitalism and Modern Social Theory;
  • G Ritzer, Sociological Theory

The reading list for each seminar will be divided up into essential and additional reading. Students will be asked to read between 50 and 100 pages of primary text per week.

The following is a sample list of readings:

  • Marx, K: The Communist Manifesto & Grundrisse & Capital (sections of vols 1 & 3);
  • Weber, M: The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism & 'Science as a Vocation';
  • Simmel, G: The Philosophy of Money (various sections)

And various essays such as:

  • 'The Metropolis and Mental Life', 'The Stranger', etc.;
  • Durkheim, E: The Division of Labour in Society & The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (various sections from each).
  • Du Bois: Souls of Black Folk & Black Reconstruction in America & The Philadelphia Negro (various sections).


Essay (90%, 3000 words) in the LT.
Group exercise (10%).

The group exercise will be a summative seminar plan and presentation, in pairs, due throughout MT.

Two hard copies of the assessed essay, with submission sheets attached to each, to be handed in to the Administration Office, S116, no later than 16:30 on the first Thursday of Lent Term. An additional copy to be uploaded to Moodle no later than 18:00 on the same day. Attendance at all seminars and submission of all set coursework is required.

Student performance results

(2015/16 - 2017/18 combined)

Classification % of students
Distinction 21.2
Merit 43.9
Pass 33.3
Fail 1.5

Teachers' comment

The course is designed for students who haven't studied this material before, although there is plenty here too for those who just want to dig more deeply into the work of the four thinkers. I encourage students to read these theorists not just in terms of the history of ideas (important as this is) but also in a present day context. This is the focus of the classes that accompany each lecture.

Key facts

Department: Sociology

Total students 2018/19: 27

Average class size 2018/19: 13

Controlled access 2018/19: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills