Skip to main content


SOC2058 : Understanding Social Change and Transformation

  • Offered for Year: 2020/21
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Emma Clavering
  • Lecturer: Dr Lisa Garforth
  • Owning School: Geography, Politics & Sociology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


This module is an introduction to the history of ideas in sociology and in anthropology, exploring some of the main theoretical traditions in the two disciplines as they have developed over the past century and more. Taking a broadly chronological approach, we examine in turn how these disciplines emerged as distinctive approaches for trying to understand our changing world, and how their founding assumptions and ideas have been challenged and revised over the course of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Classical sociology and social anthropology came into being in response to and as part of the major transformation in the Western world that we call modernity, a set of historical shifts associated with the rise of rationality and science, industrial production and urbanisation, democracy and the nation- state, capitalism and individualism. Classical sociology was born out of attempts of European white men to describe and analyse changes within their own societies, and to do so systematically - even scientifically. Social anthropology, on the other hand, developed out of a fascination with the (often colonial) other, with forms of social organisation, institutions, practices and ways of being that were profoundly different from the West. But how could these different systems be understood?

This module aims to examine how we can use enduring traditions and ongoing theoretical debates in sociology and social anthropology to understand a changing and increasingly globalising world. Is the idea of ‘modernity’ still relevant to understanding societies and social change? Is it still possible to understand societies near and far objectively – was it ever? Are we moving into a new era ‘after’ modernity? What frameworks and ideas do we need to understand a range of contemporary societies, their institutions and ideas, and the identities and forms of life they offer us?

Outline Of Syllabus

The module introduces the key ideas and concerns that have made and remade sociology and social anthropology, focusing particularly on how the two disciplines have made sense of social change and transformation. The module explores the two disciplines in a dialogic way, considering shared questions about what constitutes the social, how we make sense of social change, how we understand to fluid subjectivities and identities, the role of culture in social life, and the status (scientific or otherwise) of sociological and anthropological knowledges.

The module covers sociology and social anthropology in two distinct blocks, taking each discipline in turn to consider ways in which the changing social world has shaped and informed how we understand and interpret events, and consider what is possible, and what is desirable. In both blocks we will take a broadly chronological approach around 4 key ‘moments’ to: examine modernity as a concept; follow the emergence, and development of classical theories; acknowledge and reflect on changing ideas and challenges to white-male-euro-centric imperialism; and, consider this legacy for post-modern, post-colonialist, post-structuralist thought. Where appropriate, each ‘moment’ will be illuminated through case studies, including films and video footage.

Teaching Methods

Module leaders are revising this content in light of the Covid 19 restrictions.
Revised and approved detail information will be available by 17 August.

Assessment Methods

Module leaders are revising this content in light of the Covid 19 restrictions.
Revised and approved detail information will be available by 17 August.

Reading Lists