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SOC2058 : Understanding Social Change and Transformation

  • Offered for Year: 2024/25
  • Module Leader(s): Dr Emma Clavering
  • Owning School: Geography, Politics & Sociology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus

Your programme is made up of credits, the total differs on programme to programme.

Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0
European Credit Transfer System


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

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion130:0030:00N/A
Structured Guided LearningLecture materials11:001:00Non-Synchronous, non-timetabled pre-recorded lecture materials remote delivery
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture191:0019:00PiP timetabled lectures
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading1136:00136:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching81:008:00Seminars PiP
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesWorkshops22:004:00PiP timetabled workshops to support assessments
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesDrop-in/surgery21:002:00N/A
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

The combination of lectures, workshops and seminars is suitable to offering an in-depth understanding of the topics covered in the module. The lectures will introduce students to key theoretical approaches. These will be explored and discussed in more detail in the workshops and student-led seminars. Seminars are organised around exploring both the ideas of major theorists and significant themes and concepts in sociology and social anthropology based on set reading which students are expected to undertake in preparation. This mix enables students to build up relevant knowledges while practicing key disciplinary and transferable skills. There will be assignment workshops in which students can explore the key features of the assessment requirements and discuss ideas and raise questions as appropriate. As a compulsory module for L300 the materials covered in this module are foundational to student understandings of sociology and anthropology and so the extra 4 hours are justified. Students are also invited to 2 x drop-in surgeries focused around supporting assignment preparation. In addition, there will be an optional film series to further stimulate students to think critically about topical issues. There will also be feedback sessions offered (1:1 and in group workshops) to enable students to receive detailed feedback on assignments.

The resit will conform with the unit norm.

Assessment Methods

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

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Written exercise1M501500 words theoretical reflection
Essay1M502000 words
Formative Assessments

Formative Assessment is an assessment which develops your skills in being assessed, allows for you to receive feedback, and prepares you for being assessed. However, it does not count to your final mark.

Description Semester When Set Comment
Essay1MOne page essay plan
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

The combination of a critical theoretical reflective written exercise (Sociology) and choice of essay questions (Social Anthropology) will give students a wide-ranging opportunity to broaden their critical understanding of both disciplines and apply theory in practice.

Both components encourage students to explore selected theoretical ideas and their contexts in depth and detail.

Reading Lists