Classical Sociological Theory – Scott Schaffer
This course is designed to provide you with an in-depth exploration of the core theorists, issues, and ideas that are fundamental to the discipline of sociology. Regardless of the particular field or subfield within the discipline in which you are interested, sociological theory serves as its base, providing insights into social processes and formations, leading scholars to ask particular kinds of questions, and serving to frame the types of data we collect and how we understand it. Leaving aside its existence as an engaging field of study in its own right, sociological theory flows through the entire discipline and all of its endeavours. This course presumes that you have had at least one course in classical sociological theory in your undergraduate or Master’s programs. It will therefore not focus on the same kinds of issues that earlier courses did, such as “what” theorists say or how they “define their terms,” though these are obviously important elements of the course. Rather, this course will delve more deeply into the foundational theoretical works to deal with the most important issues pertaining to these theories’ usefulness as frames for sociological research and analysis and as useful perspectives to bring to bear on our everyday lives. In particular, we will focus on four key issues: epistemology, or our understanding of how it is we know the social world; ontology, or the exploration of the nature of social reality; methodology, or how it is that particular theoretical positions intertwine with the variety of methods we have to study that social world; and responsibility, or questions regarding the purposes to which we put the knowledge and understanding we develop of the social world. Each week’s discussions will revolve around these four core thematics, and I expect that you will come prepared to discuss them fully. Your success in this course will depend entirely on your willingness to do four simple things. First, you need to read the assigned readings in their entirety, read them closely, and, in some cases, read them multiple times. Second, you need to think carefully, deeply, and critically about the readings and the course issues. Third, you need to discuss the readings; your understanding of the material (or even your questions about it) may very well be the key to someone else’s understanding of it. Finally, you need to write about the readings, both in the papers assigned in the course and in the (entirely optional but yours for the using) WebCT discussion forums. If you do these four things and work on improving them over time, you will be just fine here.
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