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Foundations of Social Theory




Admission Requirements



This course will introduce students to the exercise of theorizing society and the different forms to describe and interpret social change. The purpose of social theory is to understand social relations when examined as underpinnings of the economic, political and cultural spheres of life. By introducing students to the founding fathers of social theory, namely Karl Marx, Max Weber and Emile Durkheim, the course will examine central topics for the understanding of how modern societies developed and the ways in which their development has shaped the nature of social enquiry in social sciences. In particular the course focuses on how increasingly complex societies require(d) (new) ways of theorizing social relations; how concepts such as “solidarity”, “disenchantment” and “alienation” are relevant for describing the transition from traditional to modern societies, and how they are still pertinent to describe our current world; and finally, more on an epistemological account, the course will concentrate on issues concerning whether a science of society is at all possible. The central aim of this course is to acquaint students with classical texts in social theory and to enable them to use these authors original writings to shed light on the features of our contemporary world.

Course Objectives

To acquaint students with the roots of sociological thinking, namely classical theories that aimed to explain the rise of modernity during the eighteen and nineteen century in Europe. Students are expected to understand the value of classical thought and learn to develop relevant and informed ways of using it in their thinking about the social problems contemporary societies.

By the end of the course, students should have attained:

  • A broad understanding of how classical social theories emerged to think and theorize their societies.

  • The capacity to think transversally about our current world in the light of classical questions that have remained problematic for the ways in which we organize and understand social life.

  • The awareness to develop a sociologically informed and critically alert way of thinking.

Mode of Instruction

  • Continuous and active participation is fundamental for this course. It is your course, which means it requires the work of all to produce an exciting and inspiring learning community.

  • Biweekly seminars form the main body of this course. The structure of the seminars is based on mini-lectures (45 minutes), student presentations of the readings and its application to current situations (30 min) and questions and debates (30 minutes). This will guarantee the introduction of knowledge as well as the students ability to apply what they have read, learned and thought to real life situations.

  • Students will prepare for each seminar by completing the assigned readings, which will be available through the Blackboard site. In addition, each student will need to complete one “reading note” per session based on his/her reflections on the readings.


Assessment: In-class participation (rising questions and debating)
Percentage: 15%
Deadline: Ongoing Weeks 1-7

Assessment: Reading notes (350 words)
Percentage: 30% (5% each)
Deadline: Weeks 2-7

Assessment: Group presentations of the readings
Percentage: 15%
Deadline: Weeks 2-7

Assessment: Individual – Final essay
Percentage: 40%
Deadline: Week 8 (Friday 21 December)


A reader for the course will be compiled and will be electronically available in Blackboard site before the beginning of the course. Students are expected to use the readings as tools during their participation in class.

Contact Information

For further information please contact Dr. Daniela Vicherat Mattar at: d.a.vicherat.mattar@luc.leidenuniv.nl

Weekly Overview

WEEK 1: What is Social Theory? Why do we still care about the classics?
WEEK 2: Karl Marx: The question of ideology and the need for historical materialism
WEEK 3: Karl Marx: On capital, alienation and the inevitability of communism
WEEK 4: Max Weber: The emergence of modernity
WEEK 5: Max Weber: Science and politics as vocation
WEEK 6: Emile Durkheim: On the question of solidarity and society
WEEK 7: Emile Durkheim: On sociology and the need for social theory
WEEK 8: Reading Week

Preparation for first session

G. Delanty (2009) “The foundations of social theory” in B. S. Turner The New Blackwell Companion to Social Theory, Wiley-Blackwell: Oxford (pages 19-38).

Students are requested to think about relevant contemporary social problems and how to critically reflect upon them. In the first session those ideas will be discussed and framed in the light of the course objectives.