Sociology 3023
Modern Sociological Theory

This course surveys the writings of some of the major sociological theorists and schools of thought of the twentieth century. It aims to give a sense of the controversies in modern sociology concerning the very nature of sociology, its role in society, its conceptions of the relation between the individual and society, and how it should conduct its investigations of social activities and ‘structures’. You have already observed such differences in the traditions of classical theory — principally, the positivist (as in Durkheim), the interpretive (as in Weber), and the critical (especially in Marx & Engels’ works).

An overall trend, particularly in American social science, has been a move from the dominance of Positivist or ‘natural science’ models to critiques of them from an interpretive perspective (as in Phenomenology & Ethnomethodology), critical theory (derived ultimately from Marxism), and feminist theory. More recently, some of these controversies are manifested in the Macro-Micro debate — in terms of whether it is social structures that determine people’s thoughts and actions (often “behind their backs”) or whether individuals through their decisions and interaction with others in practical situations create and reproduce those ‘structures’. Some, like Anthony Giddens attempt to reconcile these, while yet others claim that the macro vs. micro distinction is a false one in the first place. The influential interdisciplinary writings of Michel Foucault and the postmodernists will also be considered.

This course will attempt to place each of these visions of social life in its socio-political context. You will be encouraged to discuss and challenge these ideas — rather than treating these as products to be consumed. One strategy will be to consider how effectively they might be applied to either everyday experience or major current societal issues such as globalization, poverty, inequality, conflict, information technology, and the environment.

Required Textbook:

The one required textbook is George Ritzer’s Modern Sociological Theory, 6 th. edition available for purchase at the UNB Bookstore. Other materials will be distributed from time to time.

You are welcome to purchase second-hand copies of this text or other texts on modern social theory.

Assignments and Evaluation:

1. Report #1


2. Report #2


3. Midterm


4. Report #3 (larger)


5. Final Examination


List of Topics & Readings:

Text, pp. 91-115.

Neo-Marxism, including Critical Theory:
Text, pp. 131-161.

Symbolic Interactionism (including Goffman)
Text, chapter 6.
Weeks, Peter, “The Microsociology of Everyday Life”, pp. 1-17.

Schutz, Alfred (1963). “Common Sense and Scientific Interpretation of Human Action”.

Text, chapter 11.
Weeks, Peter, “The Microsociology of Everyday Life”, pp. 17-38.

Feminist Theory:
Text, chapter 9.
Supplementary materials.

Macro-Micro Integration:
Text, pp. 351-365.

From Modern to Postmodern Social Theory:
Text, chapter 12.


1006 Introduction to Sociology
2313 Deviance
2513 Sociology of Communication
2613 Sociology of Gender
3013 Classical Sociological Theory
3023 Modern Sociological Theory
3513 Sociology of Education
3523 Sociology of Knowledge
3563 Sociology of Music
3573 Sociology of Art & Culture
4013 Senior Seminar
4033 Advanced Sociological Theory

Dr. Peter Weeks / Sociology / Faculty / STU Homepage