Social Theory I

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Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation CoreSLS2SC0014

Semester and Year Offered: 1st Semester MA, Monsoon Semester

Course Coordinator and Team: TBD

Email of course coordinator:TBD

Pre-requisites: None

Aim: This course begins by asking what theorizing is for; it’s relation to critical thinking and social justice

concerns. As we will see, the need for theorizing is intimately tied to an attempt to understand social

and material realities existing within socio-political structures and institutions, to intervene in the

existing status quo and imagine different futures. For sociologists, such need for theorizing has a

history and context, residing primarily within traditions of the enlightenment, French and industrial

revolutions. This course will cover a range of thinkers/writers that have enagaged in the practice of

theorizing at the turn of the last century and the current one to understand modernity and its effects,

includinghierachies and inequalities that are endemic to our lives. We will enagage with

thinkers/writers such as Karl Marx, Max Weber, Emile Durkheim and Georg Simmel (and more) to

not only historically situate the ‘birth’ of sociological theorizing, but more importantly, to understand

with them the unique characteristics of modernity – both during their times and ours. We will also

juxtapose our understanding of modernity with its dilemmas and discontents through their writings.

Marx, Weber, Durkhiem and Simmel typically exists within sociological traditions as the ‘founding

thinkers’, as the classicists, whose writings are supposed to alert us to the foundations of the discipline

of sociology and its development into different streams of thought such as Marxism, functionalism,

structural-functionalism, etc. Rather than approaching these thinkers/writers as bounded within certain

schools of thought, we will think with them to analzyethemes such as division of labor, solidarity,

alienation and community. These themes will also be tagged with the question of the impossibility of

engaging with modernity without locating the self. Our selves, as they are imbricated within realities

of class, caste, race, gender and sexuality,will be brought forth in our analytical exercises through the

writings of Anna Julia Cooper, B. R. Ambedkar, W.B. Dubois, Nivedita Menon and bell hooks. Our

classroom pedagogy will be premised upon a spirit of constant reflection and possible action, through

in-class reading and writing exercises. Through such pedagogical modes we will not only theorize but

also see how we may question the strict binary of theory and practice in our own lives and work. The

practice of theorizing ultimately can be a deeply political act; using the past, bringing it into a

dialogue with the present and across contexts will be an unsettling process, but hopefully also

potentially transformative.

Course Outcomes:

  1. Students will know the historical and social contexts within which sociology as a discipline emerged.
  2. Students will have hands on approach on how to apply sociological theories to their everyday life.
  3. Students will learn how to think theoretically and analytically about social issues.

Brief description of modules/ Main modules:

Module 1: The practice and uses of theory

This module will introduce the concept of theory as healing and intervention and the connection between theorizing and consciousness.

Module 2: In developing an understanding of and critique of the social

This module will discuss the concept of the social and introduce the modalities and spaces of critique.

Module 3: Modernity: characteristics, dilemmas, discontents

This module will focus on the concept of modernity and its theorization in early sociological thinkers. Concepts such as division of labor, solidarity, anomie, alienation, historical materialism, self, rationality and bureaucracy will be discussed.

Module 4: Class and power

This module will elaborate on the concept of class and power through the writings of Karl Marx and Max Weber.

Module 5: Caste and race

The importance of understanding questions of caste and race to both early and contemporary modernity will be discussed in this module.

Module 6: Gender, sexuality and the feminist question

The significance of gender and sexuality and the feminist reflections on social theory will be the focus of discussion in this module.

Assessment Details with weights:

  • Theory journal (30%): Students are expected to maintain a journal where they write down questions, comments, general points for discussion and reflection around the theme under
  • discussion throughout the semester. Twice during the semester they will submit a summary of their reflections in 1000 words.
  • In-class writing reflective writing exercises (20%). There will be two unannounced in-class
  • writing exercises. Each will carry 10% weightage. Prompts/guiding questions will be provided in class. Each writing exercise will be followed by a sharing of the writing with the
  • class. These writing exercises and reading of our writing are meant to not only facilitate our analytical and critical thinking skills but is also an exercise in recognition and importance of all voices in the classroom.
  • A brief paper of 2000 words (30%) to be submitted end term. In-class presentation of the paper (20%) to be held end semester.

Reading List:

  • bell hooks. 1994. ‘Theory as Liberatory Practice’ in Teaching to Transgress. New York: Routledge. Pp. 59-75.
  • Kant, Immanuel. 1784. ‘What is Enlightenment?’ In An answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment? England: Penguin Books Great Ideas.
  • Foucault, Michel. 1984. ‘What is Enlightenment.’ In The Foucault Reader. Paul Rabinowed. New York; Pantheon Books. Pp. 23-50.
  • Durkheim, Emile. 1984 [1893]. The Division of Labor in Society. New York: The Free Press. [Excerpts]
  • Marx, Karl. and Friedrich Engels. 1978 [1845]. ‘The German Ideology Part 1.’In The Marx- Engels Reader.Robert C. Tucker ed. New York and London: W.W.W. Norton and Company. Pp. 146-200.
  • Marx, Karl. 1959 [1844]. Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. Translated by Martin Mulligan. Moscow: Progress Publishers. [Excerpts]
  • Cooper, Anna Julia. 2013 [1892]. ‘The Colored Woman’s Office.’ In Social Theory. Charles Lemert ed. Westview Press.Pp.135-139.
  • Simmel, Georg. 2013 [1908]. ‘The Stranger.’ In Social Theory. Charles Lemert ed. Westview Press.Pp.139-142.
  • Weber, Max. 1958 [1904]. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. [Excerpts] Weber, Max. 2013 [1909]. ‘The Bureaucratic Machine.’ In Social Theory. Charles Lemerted. Westview Press.Pp.83-87.
  • Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels.1978 [1845]. ‘The German Ideology Part 1.’In The Marx- Engels Reader.Robert C. Tucker ed. New York and London: W.W.W. Norton and Company. Pp. 146-200.
  • Weber, Max. 2013 [1909-1920]. ‘Class, Status, Party.’ In Social Theory. Charles Lemerted. Westview Press.Pp.90-97.
  • Ambedkar, B.R. 1936. Annhilation of Caste. Dubois, W.E.B.1997 [1903]. The Souls of Black Folk. Boston and New York: Bedford/St. Martin’s. bell hooks. 1981. Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism. Boston: South End Press [Excerpts].
  • Menon, Nivedita. 2007. ‘Introduction.’ In Sexualities. New Delhi: Women Unlimited. Pp. xiii-


  • Friere, Paulo. 2005 [1970]. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York and London: Continuum.
  • Ritzer, George. 1996.‘A Historical Sketch of Sociological Theory: The Early Years.’ In Classical Sociological Theory. New York: Mc-Graw Hill. Pp.1-37.
  • Giddens, Anthony and Christopher Pierson. 1998. ‘Interview Four: Modernity.’ In Anthony Giddens: Making Sense of Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press. Pp. 94-117.
  • Rawls, Anne. 2003. ‘Conflict as a Foundation for Consensus: Contradictions of Industrial Capitalism in Book III of Durkheim’s Division of Labor.Critical Sociology.Vol. 29, No. 3. Pp. 295-335.
  • Lefebvre, Henri. 1968. The Sociology of Marx. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Berman, Marshall. 1988. All that is Solid Melts into Air: The Experience of Modernity. New York: Penguin.
  • Giddens, Anthony. 2001. ‘Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age.In The New Social Theory Reader.Steven Seidman and Jeffrey C. Alexander ed. London and New York: Routledge. Pp. 354-361.
  • Deshpande, Satish. 2004. ‘Modernization’. In Handbook of Indian Sociology. Veena Das ed. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Pp. 172-199.
  • Giddens, Anthony. 1972. Politics and Sociology in the Thought of Max Weber. London: Macmillan.
  • Marx, Karl. 1978 [1852]. ‘The Eighteenth Bruimaire of Louis Bonaparte.’ In The Marx-Engels Reader.Robert C. Tucker ed. New York and London: W.W.W. Norton and Company. Pp. 594-617.
  • Kapoor, S.D. 2003. ‘B R Ambedkar, W.E.B. Dubois and the Process of Liberation.’ Economic and Political Weekly. Vol 38, No. 51-52. Pp. 5344-5349.
  • Hartmann, Heidi. 1979. ‘The Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism: Toward a More Progressive Union.’Capital and Class. Vol 3, No. 2.Pp.1-33.