Classic Sociological Theory (1848-1950)

Sociology G93.2111

Fall 2003

Craig Calhoun & Robert Max Jackson



    This course introduces some of the “classical” theoretical traditions that have guided sociological work. We will read and discuss selections from theorists whose works have shaped the discipline. Those considered will include De Tocqueville, Marx, Weber, Durkheim, Simmel, Mead, Parsons, and Goffman. To the extent possible, we will place these authors contributions in their historical contexts, although we can only skim the surface of social thought's rich history. We will focus on the analytical assumptions and implications of each theoretical approach.

    Sociological theories try to render the social world understandable. They are logical apparatuses with empirical implications. We will explore both how to grasp the internal logic of a theory and how that theory applies to real social processes and to history. We will also try to improve students' analytical and writing skills.


    All class meetings will run as discussions (some classes will begin with an orienting lecture). In these discussions, the students will try to resolve issues raised by the professors.  Every student must come prepared to every class and participate.  Written assignments will include short papers examining class readings throughout the semester and a take-home exam requiring essays similar to the short papers' format.  These short papers will be written as group projects.  Students must submit all assignments on time. Incompletes will not be given.


Readings (Dates will be revised as needed.)

    General Background (Optional):  Giddens and Turner Social Theory Today

Introduction. 1 week

    Sept. 3:    Enlightenment and Precursors. What is a theory? (Background reading: Craig Calhoun's “Introduction” to the reader Classical Sociological Theory, ed. Calhoun, Gerteis, Moody, Pfaff, Schmidt, and Virk)


I.  Alexis de Tocqueville. 1 week

    Sept. 10:  Democracy in America (Required: Volume 1, Part 1, Chaps. 3, 4; Part 2, Chaps. 3, 4, 6-9; Volume 2, Parts 2 and 4;. Read what you can of the rest.). The causes and consequences of democratic political organization. Writing assignment: Prepare an analysis of the theoretical logic as described separately.


II. Max Weber. 2 weeks

    Sept. 17:  The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. What is the relationship between religious and economic organization?

    Sept. 24:  "Class, Status, & Party" and "Bureaucracy". These may be found in Economy and Society (Roth & Wittich, eds.; Vol. 2, Ch. IX, Sect. 6 & Ch. XI) or From Max Weber (Gerth & Mills, eds.) How does power and authority become organized in modern societies?


III.    Karl Marx. 2 weeks

    Oct. 1:     The Marx-Engels Reader. [read in order] Pp. 3-6, 136-142, 16-125, 143-145, 148-188, 473-483, 594-617, 665-676, 525-541. Marx's broad theoretical agenda and political theory.

    Oct. 8:     Pp. 203-217, 294-465, 683-717. Marx's specific theory of capitalism.


IV.    Retrospective. 1 week
Oct. 15.   Comparative reappraisal of Weber and Marx

V.    Emile Durkheim. 2 weeks

    Oct. 22:   Suicide (focus on "anomic" suicide) & Rules of the Sociological Method (focus on first three chapters). How does social organization systematically influence moral choice and individual actions? How should we apprehend social insights? (How well does the logic of Durkheim's analysis of suicide fit or violate his ideas in the Rules?)

    Oct. 29:   Division of Labor (focus on Chs. 2 & 3 of Book 1, peruse the detailed table of contents, skim rest as appropriate) and Elementary Forms of Religious Life (focus on introduction and conclusion). What cement unifies societies under different evolutionary conditions? How does religious belief reflect social organization? (What are the primary theoretical arguments in these two works? Compare them.)


VI.    Generalizations. 1 week,
Nov. 5.  Generalizations derived from Weber, Durkheim, and Marx.

VII.     Georg Simmel. 1 week

    Nov. 12:   Georg Simmel on Individuality and Social Forms (Levine, ed.) Introduction & Chs. 1-3, 5-6, 18, 20, 22, 24. A neo-Kantian theory stress the form-content distinction and the relationship between individuals and social structure.


VIII.    George Herbert Mead. 1 week

    Nov. 19:    Mind, Self, & Society Chs. 17-42. Symbolic interaction--self and society construct each other.


IX.   Talcott Parsons. 1 week

    Dec. 3:  Toward a General Theory of Action; Neil Smelser, The Theory of Collective Behavior, Introduction. Systematic functionalism.