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Social Theory: Understanding Everyday Life

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Course DatesWeeksMeeting TimesStatusInstructor(s)CRN
June 16, 2014 - June 27, 20142M-F 9A-11:50AOpenRicarda Hammer10649

Course Description

Why is the world the way it is? What compels us to act in line with social expectations? How can we achieve social change?

Many social thinkers have pondered over these questions and have given us tools that can help us understand the society we live in. This course offers an introduction to different traditions of sociological thought and will discuss how foundational texts of sociology can help us understand some of the most pressing social issues today. Why are societies unequal and why do these inequalities persist? Why are some groups more powerful than others? How are individual identities formed? To tackle these questions, we will read classical thinkers in Sociology (such as Marx and Weber) as well as more contemporary social thinkers (such as Bourdieu and Goffman). We will get to know theorists who considered society holistically and viewed it from a macro-perspective and those who wrote about the micro-foundations of social life. Through lectures, in-class discussion and short film clips, we will learn about these thinker's lives, understand their personal and intellectual context and elaborate their key arguments.

In addition to understanding core theoretical concepts, we then seek to employ these concepts as tools to analyze our everyday life. What can we understand about the world if we see it through the eyes of a particular thinker? In mini-research projects, students will be asked to use a theoretical concept as a tool to unpack a situation we could encounter in everyday life. For example, what would Marx say about our relationship to material goods? What would Goffman say about the way we want others to think about us? What would Bourdieu tell us about the life stories of Brown students? Drawing on these everyday experiences, we can begin to understand how social theory helps us question even the most "basic" interactions in social life. These insights will introduce students to the method of sociology and help them understand and employ foundational social theories.

This course is designed to challenge our assumptions about the world and lead students to question what we usually take for granted. The aim is two-fold: Firstly, students will gain a solid introduction to social theory and the foundational texts of sociology. Secondly, students will learn to employ theory as a tool in order to help us think critically about the way our society is organized. As such, this course allows students to identify how seemingly "trivial" actions sustain and reproduce the society we live in.

The course has no pre-requisites and is particularly well suited for students who aim to pursue a degree in the social sciences or humanities.