SOC201 Classical Theory I Syllabus

University of Toronto, Fall 2016


About This Course

Having taken a first-year course in Sociology, you know it is a divided discipline. Sociology contains diverse sub-areas (such as inequality, family, gender, immigration and formal organizations). The contrast between quantitative and qualitative methods only begins to capture the range of approaches used. There is no consensus over the appropriate role of the sociologist: detached analyst or committed advocate? Sociologists disagree on which questions are important as well as the kinds of evidence needed to address them properly. Other academic disciplines also display fragmentation and tension, however, and sociology itself is not totally chaotic (because clusters of sociologists tend to work along similar lines). Further, classical theory provides a tool kit from which all draw for inspiration. In this course we examine a set of thinkers -- Alexis de Tocqueville, Karl Marx, Max Weber, Emile Durkheim, Georg Simmel – who responded to two great crises of modernity, the Industrial Revolution and the Democratic Revolution. Along with careful reading of primary texts and analysis of assumptions, concepts and arguments, the historical context in which these thinkers lived and worked will be considered. Although there can be no substitute for empirical evidence, our assumption is that without theory the nature and purpose of empirical inquiry remain insufficiently scrutinized. We will evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of theories by comparing and contrasting them, thereby paying attention to tensions, inconsistencies and omissions. Challenging ideological bias in sociology’s classical tradition will be an ongoing task. More generally, through a critical reading of theorists’ works we will form judgements about how arguments are made.