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Foundations of Social Theory: Everyday Life and Social Theory




Admission Requirements



How can classical social theorist help us to understand the queues of people waiting for the release of IPhone 5 outside the Apple store in New York? In this course students are invited to the exercise of thinking about their everyday life – the ways in which we understand ourselves, others and the nature of our interactions – in theoretical terms. This exercise is possible by learning to use social theory as a tool for thinking about society and social change. The purpose of social theory is to make sense of the myriad type of social relations that underpin the economic, political and cultural spheres of our lives. By introducing some of the founding figures in sociological theory, like Karl Marx, Max Weber, Emile Durkheim and Georg Simmel, the main objective of this course is to raise students awareness that classical social thought is not a museum-like piece, but actually an invaluable resource to understand and face the challenges contemporary societies are experiencing.

Course Objectives

This course objective is to acquaint students with the roots of sociological thinking 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 of today.

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

  • A broad understanding of how and why classical grand social theories emerged

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

  • The ability to develop a sociologically informed and critically alert way of thinking about their daily life.

Mode of Instruction

  • Biweekly seminars form the main body of this course. Roughly, the structure of the seminars is based on mini-lectures that will clarify and address the key concepts of the session (30/45 minutes); student presentations of the readings and their relevance to discuss current issues (30 /45 minutes); and general questions and debates (20/30 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 week based on his/her reflections on the readings and weekly themes.

  • Mutual respect and rapport are fundamental for the development of this course. Your continuous and active participation is crucial: it is with the active and respectful engagement of us all that we can produce an exciting and inspiring learning community.


Assessment: In-class participation (respectful and active engagement in class)
Percentage: 15%
Deadline: Ongoing

Assessment: Weekly reading notes (750 words)
Percentage: 50% (10% each)
Deadline: Weeks 2 to 6 (submitted on Sundays by midnight)

Assessment: Group work and presentations on the weekly theme/readings
Percentage: 15%
Deadline: Weeks 1 to 7

Assessment: Individual – Final essay (3000 words)
Percentage: 20%
Deadline: Week 8 (Friday 18th October)

The course will be assessed in various ways:

  • Each student will be assessed on the basis of his/her active and respectful engagement with the course, in-class participation and involvement in the class discussions (15%). During the seminars you are expected to take active part of the course proceedings, rise questions based on your own experiences, reflections on the readings, give your opinion and react to the opinions of others.

  • Comprehension of the readings and theories under study, as well as your capacity to collaboratively discuss with your peers their applicability for thinking about today’s societies, will be evaluated by group work (15%). This will be structured in one group homework and group presentations. In general terms, in your presentations you are expected to address the main points of the readings and propose debate questions.

  • Your individual understanding of the readings will be assessed by the submission of one weekly “reading note”, between weeks 2 and 6 (50% in total, 10% each). The reading notes are due by midnight of Sunday.

  • An individual final essay will assess how each of you is able to critically identify and relate the key topics and arguments addressed in the course (20%). Deadline for this final essay is on Friday 18th October.

  • All assessments must be handed on time! Late assignments (including reading notes) will not be accepted or graded. Assignments submitted beyond the specified deadlines without prior notice or justification will not be graded and will be marked with a 0.

  • There is an attendance policy.

  • Academic dishonesty, i.e. plagiarism, won’t be accepted.


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 to inform their participation in our classes discussions.

Contact Information

For further information please contact Dr. Daniela Vicherat Mattar at:

Weekly Overview

WEEK 1 – What is Social Theory? Grand theories and theories of everyday life
WEEK 2 – This is a modern world (is it?): mapping social theory developments
WEEK 3 – Karl Marx: Ideology & Alienation – Capitalism & its crisis
WEEK 4 – Max Weber: Types of Social Action, Rationalization & the Disenchantment of the World
WEEK 5 – Emile Durkheim: Division of Labour, Solidarity and the Science of Sociology
WEEK 6 – Fashion: thinking about Marx, Weber and Durkheim by the hand of Georg Simmel
WEEK 7 – The aspiration to change (the world): Making sense of Revolutions, Social Theory and need for conscientious thinking
WEEK 8 – Reading Week

Preparation for first session

Giddens, A. (2009) “What is sociology?” in Sociology. Polity, 6th edition. (pages: 3 – 31)

Students are requested to think about the society their live in, and how they think about it. In our first session those ideas will be discussed and framed in the light of the course objectives.