Mid-20th Century Social Theory Syllabus Advice

Recently, socblogger celebrities Andrew Perrin and Kieran Healy posted their graduate social theory syllabi on their respective blogs. Like most grad social theory classes, these two focused on the classics – Marx, Weber, Durkheim – with a smattering of interesting contemporaries (e.g. Bourdieu) and antecedents to contemporary work. The two theory sequences I’ve taken (at UCSD and Michigan) had much the same structure.

A cohortmate of mine and I decided this summer that we wanted to focus on the part in between – the folks from the 1930s (or so) to the 1970s (or so) that set the stage for contemporary debates, but are now little read (in required courses anyway). We learn to criticize some of this work but don’t really know what it was or why it was influential (Parsons being the exemplar). So, the two of us decided to run an independent study we are affectionately calling “Theory 3”, with a focus on mid-20th century American and European social theories we’ve heard of but not read much of. Unfortunately, this left us in the awkward position of constructing a syllabus about authors we knew little about! We scraped things together, Googling syllabi and asking around, and we’re fairly happy with what we’ve come up, but we’d love to have your input. Here’s the syllabus. What do you think?



  1. Accessing the syllabus appears to require a Michigan ID.

  2. Oops, posted the wrong link. Fixed now.

  3. That is a great course, thanks for sharing it! I always thought it would be a good idea to have one course for the classics, one for modern theory and one for contemporary debates. That would make your “Theory 3” a “Theory 2” course…

  4. Speaking as someone old enough to have a (British) Sociology first degree from the 1970s, I’d have thought you’d have to find space for people who don’t call themselves sociologists, most especially EP Thompson – not just the MOEWC but perhaps more importantly Poverty of Theory – in your Marxist section. & surely Perry Anderson should also get a look in?

  5. It looks like a terrific syllabus, and one I’d like to take! Of course you buttered me up nice by calling me a celebrity :).

    I’d suggest adding some Lewis Coser — _Functions of Social Conflict_ and potentially Rose Coser’s _In Defense of Modernity_. And it’s kind of funny that the predominant figure in your Chicago School week is Merton, who was most definitively *not* Chicago School! Finally, what about Lazarsfeld and that whole tradition?

    • Russ Funk

       /  September 2, 2009

      The “Chicago School and Other Important Early Figures” section should probably be renamed “Other Important Early Figures and the Chicago School.” We had more Chicago School stuff initially (e.g. Thomas, Zorbaugh), but I removed some of it because the reading for that week was getting too long. I also had trouble finding two or three “must read” pieces from the CS. I’m still not sure if the three we have (Park and Burgess, Hughes, and Wirth) are the ideal works. Park and Burgess (“1st CS”) and Hughes (“2nd CS”) seem key; not so sure about Wirth. Any thoughts?

  6. jerrydavisumich

     /  September 3, 2009

    Don’t let Mark M. know I suggested this, but under posties, I would add Fredric Jameson’s “Postmodernism, or the cultural logic of late capitalism” (either the original New Left Review article or its reprint as the first chapter of the eponymous book) and David Harvey’s book “The condition of postmodernity” (which is one of my all-time favorites). Unlike Baudrillard (whom Chuck Tilly compared to cotton candy), Jameson and Harvey are unsentimental Marxist types who go in skeptical and come out informative.

  7. I swear upon a bowl of chickpeas that Mark will *never* know that you recommended the condition of post-modernity. Your secret is safe with me, and the other 500 people a day who read this blog.

  8. bpitt

     /  September 6, 2009

    Hey Dan,

    I would love to take this class. I too would like to see some Lazarfield.

  9. I’m not a sociologist, hence I guess am trespassing here, but I recently happened to run across S.M. Lipset’s ‘Political Man’ (published circa 1960; reissued 1980 in a new ed.). A piece or two from that book might fit nicely in your last week. Just a thought; I hold no particular brief for him and haven’t read it.

    Glad to see C. Wright Mills on the list. I’ve always liked ‘The Sociological Imagination’. I’ve read some of Harvey’s ‘The Condition of Post-modernity’ — second that motion.

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