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Social Theory in Everyday Life


Admission requirements



“Thoughts without contents are empty; observations without concepts are blind” (I. Kant)

What has social theory got to do with our daily life? Can social theory help us to understand social difference? Is social theory useful to decode the differences between the west and the rest? Does social theory give us insights, enabling us to respond to, global issues such as climate change, population displacement, nationalism, and social fragmentation? In light of the demanding challenges our societies face today, why bother at all about social theory?

In this course, you are invited to a theoretical approach to think about your daily life ― the ways in which you understand yourself, others and the shape of our interactions. Even more, you are challenged to think about your life in 2020 by means of theories and concepts coined in the 19th and 20th centuries. In this course, social theory (ST) is presented as a conceptual grammar and mode of disciplinary reasoning that makes such thinking possible. A mode of thinking that gave birth to the interpretative social science, particularly anthropology and sociology.

The purpose of ST was, and it still is, to help us to think about the myriad types of social relations that underpin the economic, scientific, political and cultural spheres of our lives; to understand their historical transformations and distinct genealogies; and to imagine future challenges and collective responses.
In order to introduce students to foundational debates in sociology and anthropology, this course will address the following themes on a weekly basis:

WEEK 1 Modernity and the emergence of Social Theory
WEEK 2 Karl Marx and the Frankfurt School
WEEK 3 Max Weber and Georg Simmel
WEEK 4 Emile Durkheim and Gabriel Tarde
WEEK 5 Theorizing everyday life
WEEK 6 Performing the classics: Social Theory today
WEEK 7 Alternative visions in theorizing the social in the 21st century
WEEK 8 Reading week

Course Objectives

The objective of this course is to acquaint students with the roots of social science thought: the disciplinary heritage with which we understand our societies in sociology and anthropology. Students will develop an intellectual appreciation of the value of classic and contemporary social science thought, and learn to cultivate relevant, informed, and critical ways of using social theory to assess today’s plural and meshed world, and most importantly, their position in it. In other words, this course aims to introduce students to foundational works in social theory, so as cultivate their capacity to reflect and respond to the lived world.

By the end of the course students should develop:

  • A broad understanding of how and why classical social theories emerged, alongside the emergence of the disciplines of sociology and anthropology, in the 19th and 20th centuries. Students will learn to read and analyze how key concepts developed by social theorist sought to both examine and explain the changing features of “modern” society.

  • The capacity to appreciate the strengths and limits of foundational western social thought and examine the relevance of the development of social theory today.

  • The ability to use social theory to identify, understand, and analyze current political preoccupations and global entanglements.

  • A theoretically informed, and critically


Timetables for courses offered at Leiden University College in 2020-2021 will be published on this page of the e-Prospectus.

Mode of instruction


Assessment Method

Block 3

  • Weekly reflections, Weeks 1-7 (35%);

  • Group podcast, Week 6 (25%);

  • Final essay (40%), Reading Week.

Reading list

The Brightspace site of the course serves as support for course updates, the main source of course readings, and where you will upload the electronic version of your take-home midterm and final essay. The readings are compiled and organized by weeks.

Please note that readings for certain weeks may be adjusted. There will be notice in advance if, and when, this happens. ALWAYS consult the Brightspace page for updates.

Recommended Supplementary Literature:

  • Bhambra, G. (2007) Rethinking Modernity. Postcolonialism and the Sociological Imagination. Palgrave.

  • Turner, B. S. (2009) The New Blackwell Companion to Social Theory. Blackwell.

  • Gutiérrez, E., Botacă, M. & Costa, S. (2010) Decolonizing European Sociology: Transnational Approaches. Ashgate.

  • Inglis, D. (2012) An Invitation to Social Theory. Polity.

Recommended Online Sources:

  • Open Yale Courses: Foundations of Modern Social Theory (Prof. Iván Szelényi),

  • For those particularly interested in Karl Marx, you can follow Prof. David Harvey’s online lectures at CUNY, “Reading Marx’s Capital”,


Courses offered at Leiden University College (LUC) are usually only open to LUC students and LUC exchange students. Leiden University students who participate in one of the university’s Honours tracks or programmes may register for one LUC course, if availability permits. Registration is coordinated by the Education Coordinator,


Dr. Daniela Vicherat Mattar (coordinator),