SOCY 560: Advanced Sociological Theory

A graduate course taught by Dr. Mathieu Deflem at the University of South Carolina.


This course is a graduate-level seminar that introduces students to selected developments in the foundations of sociological theory. This course does not provide a broad survey that would offer a comprehensive overview of all or even many theoretical contributions in the foundational era of sociology, roughly defined as the period that coincided with the rise of classical sociology and the institutionalization of sociology as a social science. The focus of this course, however, is not on sociology as an organized institution but, instead, will focus on the foundational theories of sociology as an academic discipline. We will attempt to discuss more than the usual overview of the theories of the so-called sociological ‘trinity’ and also include some relatively neglected classics and modern scholars that have made significant theoretical contributions. The introduced variety should also enable students to explore additional theoretical developments independently.

The lectures serve two functions. First, they are geared towards an adequate explanation of theory and its role for the analysis of society and social phenomena of various kinds (the systematics of theory). Second, the seminar is also sociological in explaining the socio-historical context of the discussed theories and their representatives (the history of theory). Emphasis is placed on an adequate understanding of the conceptual tools and analytically relevant propositions that are advanced in the discussed perspectives, but because this is a sociological theory course for sociologists, not (only) for theorists, we will always also devote time to examine the fruitfulness of the introduced theoretical ideas for the analysis of substantive matters.

In sum, for the purposes of this course, at least three issues are important for a useful understanding of sociological theory: 1) an accurate comprehension of a given theory within the terms of the theory itself and its socio-historical context; 2) an ability to compare different theories and their contexts with one another; and 3) a serious attempt to apply and/or test theoretical insights to empirical issues of society. Therefore, the readings in the course mostly include a useful selection of central primary writings.

Upon successful completion of this course, students should be able to acknowledge and practice the variable relevance of foundational sociological thought in their research areas and, moreover, advance their theoretical interests into the contemporary era.

Consult the academic calendar for important dates. Useful information is also provided by the Office of Student Conduct and Academic Integrity (such as the Honor Code and the Student Code of Conduct). Information is also available online about academic regulations and the Student Success Center.

The syllabus will be made available to all registered students via Blackboard.

This course used to be taught as SOCY 710 Foundations of Sociological Theory/Classical Scholars.


Introduction: Theory and the Value of the (Modern) Classics

Part 1. The Rise of the Social Sciences
     a) Social Philosophy Since the Enlightenment
     b) Historical Materialism: Karl Marx

Part 2. The French Tradition
     a) Sociology in France Since Auguste Comte
     b) The Sociology of Emile Durkheim

Part 3. The German Tradition
     a) Sociology in Germany Since Ferdinand Tönnies
     b) The Sociology of Max Weber

Part 4. The Modern Tradition
     a) Structural Functionalism
     b) Conflict Sociology
     c) Interactionism
     d) Behaviorism


The readings for this course consist of several books and articles, most all of which are primary sources. A few overview books are recommended as well. Most all required readings are available online.

General Sources

Deflem, Mathieu. Lecture Notes: Advanced Sociological Theory. Available to registered students via Blackboard.

Deflem, Mathieu. 1999. Classical Sociological Theory: A Summary. Unpublished notes, available online.

Coser, Lewis A. 1971. Masters of Sociological Thought: Ideas in Historical and Social Context. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. [online summaries]

Pampel, Fred C. 2007. Sociological Lives and Ideas. Second Edition. New York: Macmillan.

Collins, Randall. 1994. Four Sociological Traditions. New York: Oxford University Press.

Ritzer, George. 2008. Sociological Theory. Eight edition. New York: McGraw Hill. [online] [pdf]

Szelenyi, Ivan. 2009. SOCY151: Foundations of Modern Social Theory. Yale Open Course.

Introduction: On the Value of the Classics

Merton, Robert K. 1967. “On the History and Systematics of Sociological Theory.” Pp. 1-38 in his Social Theory and Social Structure. New York: The Free Press. [online]

Alexander, Jeffrey C. 1987. “The Centrality of the Classics.” Pp. 11-57 in Sociological Theory Today, edited by A. Giddens and J. Turner. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press. [Google Books]

Part 1. The Rise of the Social Sciences 

Kant, Immanuel. 1784. English translation of “Beantwortung der Frage: Was ist Aufklärung? (Answer to the Question: What Is Enlightenment?)” Berlinische Monatsschrift 4: 481-494. [online]

Turner, Jonathan, Beeghley, Leonard, and Charles H. Powers. 2012. “The Rise of Theoretical Sociology.” In The Emergence of Sociological Theory. Seventh Edition. Sage Publications. [online]

Marx, Karl. 1846. The German Ideology. [online]

Marx, Karl. 1844. Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844. [online]

Marx, Karl. 1848. Manifesto of the Communist Party. [online]

Marx, Karl. 1867. Capital, Volume One. [online]

Part 2. The French Tradition

Turner, Jonathan, Beeghley, Leonard, and Charles H. Powers. 2012. “The Sociology of Auguste Comte.” In The Emergence of Sociological Theory. Seventh Edition. Sage Publications. [online]

Comte, Auguste. 1988. Introduction to Positive Philosophy. Indianapolis: Hackett. The 1896 condensed version by Harriet Martineau is online: Part I; Part II (incl. social physics); Part III.

Durkheim, Emile. (1893) 1984. The Division of Labor in Society. New York: The Free Press. [online] [See also Durkheim's works online in French and the Durkheim Pages for critical summaries in English.]

Durkheim, Emile. (1895) 1982. The Rules of Sociological Method. New York: The Free Press. [online] or [online]

Durkheim, Emile. (1897) 1951. Suicide: A Study in Sociology. New York: The Free Press. [online]

Durkheim, Emile. (1900) 1992. Professional Ethics and Civic Morals. London: Routledge. [online]

Durkheim, Emile. (1912) 1965. The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. New York: The Free Press. [online]

Part 3. The German Tradition

Deflem, Mathieu. 1999. “Ferdinand Tönnies on Crime and Society: An Unexplored Contribution to Criminological Sociology.” History of the Human Sciences 12(3): 87-116. [online]

Deflem, Mathieu. 2003. “The Sociology of the Sociology of Money: Simmel and the Contemporary Battle of the Classics.” Journal of Classical Sociology 3(1):67-96. [online]

Weber, Max. (1920) 1976. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. [online]

Weber, Max. 1946. From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, edited by H.H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills. New York: Oxford University Press. [online]

Weber, Max. (1922) 1978. Economy and Society: An Outline of Interpretive Sociology, edited by G. Roth and C. Wittich. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. [online]

Part 4. Modern Theory 

a) Structural Functionalism

Parsons, Talcott. The Social System. [online]

Merton, Robert K. Social Theory and Social Structure. [online] 

b) Conflict Sociology

Coser, Lewis. 1964. The Functions of Social Conflict. New York: The Free Press. [online]

Mills, C. Wright. 1959. The Sociological Imagination. New York: Oxford University Press. [online] 

c) Interactionism vs. Behaviorism

Goffman, Erving. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. [online]

Homans, George C. 1951. The Human Group. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.[online]

See the Lecture Notes and Readings from SOCY 393 Sociological Theory.

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