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Social Theories


Admission Requirements

This course is open to the following categories of students:

  • Bachelor’s CADS

  • Minor CADS

  • Premaster’s CADS admitted for this specific course during their application procedure

Language of Instruction

Lectures are given in English.

Tutorials: First year bachelor’s students CADS have chosen their preferred language of instruction for tutorials during their application.

Minor and premaster’s students must follow the course entirely in English.

Exam(s) and assignment(s) are in the same language as tutorials.

Course Description

In this course we take a global and historical perspective on social theories. What are social theories? How do social theories differ? The course highlights how social theories differ in assumptions about the relation between individuals and society. How is ‘society’ defined, which social categories shape the place of individuals in society, and how is this related to social inequalities and identities of individuals? How do social theories differ in postulates concerning the importance of societal structures and individual agency?

Traditionally, courses on social theories mainly focused on 'modern' societies and their ideological emphasis on individual freedom. In the course we discuss this Eurocentrism and offer a more diversified, global and world historical approach. In the first part of the course, we do that by placing sociological approaches within the broader, colonial histories of Europe in the world. The focus here is on the question of how different forms of labor – wage labor, slavery work of peasants – have influenced social inequality and characteristics of living together. We discuss how division of labor and the organization of work has been considered in our social theories. The students read original texts by classical authors – Karl Marx, W.E.B. Dubois and Fei Xiaotong - and compare the ideas of these sociologists concerning: 1) historical transformations, 2) contrasts between 'modern' and 'traditional' societies, 3) property relations and division of labor, 4) colonialism and capitalism, 5) social engineering and emancipation processes.

The second part of the course focuses explicitly on interpersonal relationships: how do individuals relate to others within social networks? We place sociology in a global perspective by comparing social theories based on local Western and Asian notions of sociality. This shows that 'universal' theory formation always has a localized, culture-specific origin. We systematically elaborate this cross-cultural perspective on the basis of the memoirs of Stuart Hall, a cultural theorist who analyzes his own multicultural life history – travelling between Jamaica and England – with a good eye for the relationship between social-historical context and personal development / characteristics. In his work, Stuart Hall shows connections between intersectionality and identity: he analyzes the combined influences of class, gender, race and belief on personal and social characteristics of individuals. Following this, we question how children socialize and learn in specific (school) contexts. We explore different approaches to nature / nurture, universalism / particularism, society / individual, inequality / emancipation and between context / individuals.

Course Objectives

  • Providing knowledge about global perspectives on social theories that focus on the areas of tension between individual and society, between intersectionality and identity and between inequality and emancipation.

  • Acquaintance with canonical texts, and conceptualization of processes of canonization.

  • Providing insight into the culture-specific characteristics of sociological analyzes of interpersonal relationships by discussing theories that originate from European but also from Asian notions of sociality.

  • Providing skills for analysing key contributions to social theories

  • Providing skills in written communication

  • Providing students with capacities to reflect critically on inequalities and hegemonies in societies as well as in the social sciences

  • Improving skills for collaborating with other students


Dates and room numbers can be found on the website.

Mode of Instruction

This is a 10 ECTS course, which means 280 hours of study (1 ECTS is equivalent to 28 study hours or sbu's). These 280 study hours are composed from the following components:

  • Lectures: 17 x 2 hours = 34 hours x 1,5 = 51 sbu

  • Tutorials: 4 x 2 hours = 8 hours x 2 = 16 sbu

  • Literature ca. 1,000 pages, including study for written assignments = 173 sbu

  • Written assignments max. 3,000 words = 40 sbu

Assessment Method

After block 1 a midterm exam takes place. In the first half of block 2 classical work by Karl Marx, W.E.B. Dubois, and Xiaotong Fei is read and analysed in detail in working groups. These working groups are concluded with a graded essay of 1,000 - 1,200 words. The course is rounded off with an examination and group assignments.

  • Mid-term exam in Block 1 (20% of final grade)

  • Written assignment related to tutorials (30 % of final grade)

  • Final exam (40 % of final grade)

  • Fulfilling the requirements for in class assignments (10% of final grade)

There is no re-take option for the first interim test. If the essay assignment is insufficient, a re-do is possible, but then only a maximum grade of 6 can be obtained. For the Final Exam there is a re-take.

  • The lectures form an integral part of the course, which means that exam questions will be based on both the assigned literature and the lectures.

Only the final mark is registered in uSis. A final pass mark is 6,0 and higher; 5,0 or lower is deemed inadequate. Final marks between 5,0 and 6,0 are never awarded. Only if the final mark is inadequate may the final exam be re-taken during the re-sit.

Registration in My Studymap

All students will be registered for the lectures and the exam (including re-sits) by the Student Services Centre (SSC). This will be done approximately mid August, after which all components of the courses will automatically appear in your MyTimetable schedule.

Division and enrolment in the mandatory tutorials will also be done by the SSC and announced via uSis in the first week of lectures.


Brightspace is the digital learning environment of Leiden University. Brightspace gives access to course announcements and electronic study material. Assignments will also be submitted in Brightspace. Announcements about and changes to courses are given in Brightspace. Students are advised to check Brightspace daily to remain informed about rooms, schedules, deadlines, and details of assignments. Lecturers assume that all students read information posted on Brightspace.

How to login:

The homepage for Brightspace is: Brightspace

Please log in with your ULCN-account and personal password. On the left you will see an overview of My Courses.

You need to be enrolled for the respective courses to access them on Brightspace.

Course Literature

Hall, S. (2017). Familiar Stranger: A Life Between Two Islands. Durham NC: Duke University Press.

Chapters from: Elliott, A. and C. Lemert (2022). Introduction to contemporary social theory. Routledge. Online access through Leiden University Library.

Articles from electronic journals and encyclopaedias are available through Leiden University’s digital library.


Dr. S.W.J. Luning