Study Abroad and Exchanges



SOC3073 : Exploring Social Complexity (Inactive)

Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


Exploring Social Complexity tackles questions about what the social is, how societies change, and how we define, understand, feel, interpret and experience social life. To do this we employ a range of theoretical approaches that allow us to trace the complexity of contemporary social life across multiple social domains. Our primary focus is on the ideas, theories, core debates and research projects that have shaped modern societies since the Enlightenment and are at the heart of the sociological discipline.
We are keen to look especially at analytical approaches that attempt to develop theory building and comprehension in direct engagement with empirical research. As such, the module conceives of theory as a problem solving orientation, a type of perception that attempts to find real life solutions to some of the pressing problems of the day. In this sense, we will attempt to literally grasp theory, not simply as something abstract and located in the mind, but as something we can take into our hands and use like a tool.
This module will explore challenging and provocative debates about contemporary social, political and cultural life including: have we lost our faith in overarching narratives like truth and progress? Is the humanist project of enlightenment and equality one that we can still sign up for? Does the culture industry keep us docile? Does climate change make social theory irrelevant? Is capitalism inevitable and irreversible? We will reflect on how theoretical approaches and debates shape core areas of research within sociology such as identity formation, affective life, cultural activism, inequality, and meaning making.
This module provides the main study of social theory in Stage 3 of the Sociology degree and is designed to build upon and complement the second year social theory modules. It covers key perspectives and developments in social theory in the 20th-21st centuries and reflects the enduring importance of social theory to the discipline of sociology. This module is designed to help you appreciate how social theory enables us to think systematically, think productively, think critically and think differently about what the social is and why it matters. It also aims to develop students’ skills in the comparative and critical analysis of theoretical ideas and in reading and engaging with original theoretical writing.

Outline Of Syllabus

The module will be taught through 12 x 2 hour lectures, 8 x 1 hour seminars, and 2 x 2 hour workshops.
It will focus on the following general questions: interdisciplinary approaches to social theory; the social, historical and intellectual contexts that shape theory building; social theory’s relationship to social change; the complex epistemological and philosophical reflections underpinning social theory; the contemporary relevance of social theory.
Lectures in the module will change from year to year (depending upon and building upon theory provision in the second year) and topics will be chosen from among the general areas highlighted below. We seek to explore the importance of social theory to an understanding of the complexity of modern society across a variety of social spheres.
We will start with the interplay of the subjective and objective, experience and the everyday, decision making and reasoning, emotions and affective life. In this vein, we will explore critiques of positivism and structuralism; interpretevist approaches (Simmel, Weber); phenomenological approaches (Schutz, Garfinkel); the construction of the social self (Mead); habitus and socialized subjectivity (Bourdieu).
We will explore the way in which social theory attempts to explain social structures and historical change. This section could include the Frankfurt school critique of capitalist modernity (Adorno, Horkheimer, Benjamin); critical theory (Habermas, Benhabib) and the development of civil society and the public sphere; capitalism as a social structure (Harvey, Sewell, Wallerstein); nature and social theory; structures of difference (feminist theory, structuralism and post-structuralism).
We will investigate the relational and interactional sphere of social life, looking into theories of social networks and fields (Bourdieu, actor-network theory), social processes and social mechanisms (Boudon, Tilly); culture and meaning making.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture11:001:00Structured feedback
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture122:0024:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching81:008:00Seminars
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesWorkshops22:004:00Workshops
Guided Independent StudyIndependent study1163:00163:00N/A
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

The module is taught through 2 hour lectures which reflect the module structure and aims of providing in-depth engagement with a smaller number of topics and themes. The lecture series is supported by 8 1 hour small group seminars in which students are supported to develop their understanding of theoretical ideas and skills in reading original theoretical material.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay1M401500 word essay exploring a question in social theory
Essay1M602500 Independent Project applying a theoretical framework encountered in module
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

Assessment is designed to test both the breadth and depth of students' knowledge of debates in social theory and selected topics/theorists. It is also designed to support students to build their knowledge of theory by finding a real life, modern phenomenon, event or identity to work with.

Reading Lists