Advanced Social Theory

Module Leader:
Gábor Győri
Year/Term:
2014-2015 Autumn
Level:
Focus
Division:
Social Sciences

This course is meant to give you an abridged overview of some of the most relevant social theories on how modern society and politics are constituted and interpreted. We will discuss some key concepts that are essential to our understanding of the modern condition, such as the emergence of states, nations, modern capitalism and political regimes. Since we will only have four sessions together, our review will by necessity be cursory and focus only on certain designated aspects of the topic at hand, that is mankind's social evolution under modernity, and humanity & #39;s adaptation thereto. We will also have to strike a balance between the ambitions of providing you with both breadth and depth. The variety of approaches introduced will illustrate how one can look at the same social phenomena in different ways. Importantly, we will also see how completely different, sometimes even opposing, methodologies and schools of thought can provide compelling explanations for a given phenomenon. Though it is difficult to classify some of them, the readings touch upon problems from economics, political science, sociology and philosophy. In the first week we will look at the origins of the state, relying especially on a methodological school called rational choice, and its perception that the state has emerged a specific response to the problem of organising violence, or a way of ensuring that rulers get to extract more resources from their subjects. Week 2 will take us in a whole different direction: we will look at the role of social construction, how ideas transform the organisation of society and how institutions and ideas mutually interact to create the modern state. The third week will examine the situation of the individual under the particular economic circumstances of modern capitalism. We will discuss theories of how capitalism emerged in the first place, and what capitalism implies for individuals, how it shapes their mental condition. In the last session we will look at the political regime types that have determined the last century, democracy, authoritarianism and totalitarianism, and discuss how their particular forms have been shaped by and have in turn shaped modernity.