Soci 3013

Classical Sociological Theory


This course introduces you to the classical sociology of the mid-nineteenth to early twentieth century, represented in the works of Marx, Durkheim and Weber, and more briefly, to the thought of Freud, Nietzsche and Simmel. While there was a proliferation of social theory during this period, Marx, Weber and Durkheim addressed the problems of analyzing and understanding modern industrial society in such distinctive and insightful ways that they have set the terms for later developments in sociology, while Nietzsche, Freud and Simmel in different ways questioned the rationalist assumptions characteristic of classical sociology, thus anticipating what came later to be misnamed postmodernism.

Course Structure

This is a combined lecture and seminar course. Two classes each week will be lectures. The third will be a discussion of an assigned reading, on which a written 'countable' assignment will be completed each week. I will provide a list of essay questions for the major paper, but you can also propose in writing a topic to me.

An innovation in the course is that you, the students, will provide the curriculum for two entire weeks of the course, and an additional three classes spread across three other weeks. See the end of the course outline for details. [No, it's not because I haven't prepared material! It's because I want you to get involved in the course more fully.]

Changes in the course outline and reading assigments may be made from time to time as necessary. These changes will be announced in class, and you are responsible for any information you miss as a result of not attending class.

Exams and Assignments

Exams and tests consist of essay style questions. The grading scheme is as follows:

1 mini-essay 10%
2 tests 2 by 10%
One take-home exam 10%
Countables 20%
Major paper 20%
2 group curriculum assignments: 2 by 7.5%
1 individual curriculum assignment: 5%


Required readings for the course are:

Kelly, Colm J., ed., 2000 Classical Sociological Theory Toronto: Canadian Scholars Press. [Hereafter, all readings not from the text referred to below are understood to be from Kelly, 2000, unless otherwise stated.] This is a reader of photocopied pieces, edited by myself.

Richard W. Hadden 1997 Sociological Theory: An introduction to the classical tradition. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press [Hereafter referred to as H]. This is a short explication of our three main writers, and so it complements the reader.

Required readings are listed immediately after the topic summary for each topic, followed by background readings.

A number of additional readings will be on reserve at the Harriet Irving Library. Particularly recommended is Raymond Aron, Main Currents in Sociological Thought Vols. I and II. Translated by Richard Howard and Helen Weaver. New York: Basic Books, 1965. This is an excellent and accessible -- it was orginally a lecture course --commentary on the works of Marx, Durkheim and Weber. Many background readings will be taken from this book. In the course outline it will be referred to as R. Aron, Main Currents, V.I or V. II, followed by the recommended chapter. Also well recommended are John Hughes, Peter Martin and W.W. Sharrock, Understanding Classical Sociology: Marx, Weber, Durkheim, London: Sage, 1995, and Morrisson, Kenneth 1995 Marx, Durkheim, Weber: Formations of Modern Social Thought London: Sage. Background readings from these will be referred to as H,M,S and M, respectively, followed by the page numbers.

Also recommended is Anthony Giddens, Capitalism and Modern Social Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971. This also covers Marx, Durkheim and Weber. It is comprehensive and thorough, although more difficult than Aron.

In addition there are several other works on Marx, Durkheim and Weber which you will also find on reserve at the library. Finally, readings will occasionally be distributed in class.

Course Outline

Please note that on average we will spend one week on each topic.

(Please note that all required readings other than H are in the course reader, Kelly, 2000, or will be distributed by me in class.)

A. Karl Marx

1. Historical Materialism and the Mode of Production

Marx conceived of humans as practical actors and producers whose thoughts and ideas are co-extensive with their material activities, and these activities are in turn the material 'base' of any society. Every society is thus determined by the way in which it produces the economic necessities of life and an economic surplus.

Required readings:

H: 44-52.

K. Marx 1975 "Preface to 'A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy.'" Pp. 424-428 in Early Writings Introduced by L. Colleti. Harmondsworth, Eng.: Penguin.

Karl Marx 1970 "Theses on Feuerbach." pp. 121-123 in K. Marx and F. Engels, The German Ideology. New York: International Publishers.

Karl Marx & Frederick Engels, "Preface" "Feuerbach. Opposition of the Materialist and Idealist Outlook. Pp. 37-60, Contradictions of Big Industry: Revolution." Pp. 91-95 in Karl Marx & Frederick Engels: The German Ideology, C. J. Arthur, ed. International Publishers, 1978

Background reading:

R. Aron, Main Currents, V. 1, Ch. 1 and beginning of chapter 2.

H,M,S 42-52.

M: 32-43.

2. The capitalist mode of production

Capitalism is a mode of production in which one class has a monopoly of the means of production, and which thereby exploits the other class, which must sell its 'labour-power' to survive.

Required reading:

H: 53-84.

Background reading:

R. Aron Main Currents, V. I, chs. 2 and 3.

H,M,S: 61-70.

M: 54-68 and 77-88.

K. Marx 1977 "The Secret of Primitive Accumulation." Pp. 873-876 in Capital, V. One Introduced by Ernest Mandel. New York: Vintage Books

K. Marx 1977 "The Modern Theory of Colonization." Pp. 931-942 in Capital, V. One Introduced by Ernest Mandel. New York: Vintage Books

3. Contemporary issues in marxism and neo-marxism.

This week's material will be chosen by students in the class. Details provided separately at the end of the outline.

B. Emile Durkheim

4. Durkheim's Methodology

For Durkheim sociology is a science which goes beneath the often individualistic appearance of social relations to get at the underlying social facts, which are always collective in nature.

Required reading:

H: 85-92; 104-109.

Emile Durkheim, "Author's Preface to the Second Edition" Pp. xli-lviii in Emile Durkheim: The Rules of Sociological Method George E. G. Catlin, ed. The Free Press, 1964

E. Durkheim 1938 "What is a Social Fact." Pp. 1-13 in The Rules of Sociological Method, 2nd ed. Edited by George Catlin. New York: The Free Press, 1938.

Background reading:

R, Aron Main Currents, V.2, ch. 5

H, M, S: 158-167.

M: 151-163.

5. Religion and the Sociology of Knowledge

Durkheim argued that religion is eminently social, since it is a set of beliefs and practices shared by the group and defining their common existence. Even more controversially, Durkheim argued that the categories which we use to think about the world are derived from society.

Required reading:

H: 113-124.

Emile Durkheim 1995 "Origins of These Beliefs [Conclusion]." pp. 207-225 in his The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. New York: Free Press.

Emile Durkheim 1995 Excerpt, pp. 321-329 in his The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. New York: Free Press.

Emile Durkheim, "Sociology of Knowledge". Pp. 250-268 in Emile Durkheim: Selected Writings. Anthony Giddens, ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972.

Background reading:

R. Aron Main Currents, V. 2, chs. 3 and 4.

H, M, S: 188-199

M: 188-211.

6. Contemporary studies inspired by Durkheim.

This week's material will be chosen by students in the class. Details provided separately at the end of the outline.

C. Nietzsche/Freud/Simmel

In this three week section we introduce the thought of three thinkers who have less faith in reason and less optimism than either Marx or Durkheim. Their thought contains elements of what later came to be misnamed "postmodernism." Friday readings for each week will be provided by students. See end of outline.

7. Freud and the unconscious.

Freud, in contrast to Marx and Durkheim, and in common with Nietzsche, emphasized, the dark, less rational side of human life.

Randall Collins and Michael Makowsky 1998 "Sigmund Freud: Conquistador of the Irrational." Pp. 140-159 in their The Discovery of Society. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

Sigmund Freud 1961 (1930) from Civilization and its Discontents. New York: W.W. Norton, pp. 55-80.

8. Nietzsche and the Will to Power.

Nietzsche also challenges the rationalistic, enlightenment assumptions of classical sociology, arguing instead that life is about power and strength.

Randall Collins and Michael Makowsky 1998 Nietzsche's Madness. Pp. 66-80 in their The Discovery of Society. Boston: McGraw-Hill.

Friedrich Nietzsche 1997 from Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to a Philosophy of the Future. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications.

Friedrich Nietzsche 1956 from The Genealogy of Morals. New York: Doubleday.

9. Simmel and the tragedy of Culture.

Simmel believed that society was more about social forms and processes than about particular substantive contents. He also argued that the proliferation of social forms in modernity tends to overwhelm the individual - hence the tragedy of culture. Simmel's impressionistic writing style makes his work uniquely accessible - he is an essayist.

Readings to be announced.

D. Max Weber

10. Methodology, Science and Values

Weber, in contrast to both Durkheim and Marx, believed that reality was too complex to be entirely known or understood. The social scientist thus produces partial explanations informed by [but not biased by] his concerns or his values. Meanwhile, the actor must impose meaning on an inherently meaningless and conflict-ridden world.

Required reading:

H: 125-136.

Max Weber, "Nature of Social Action." Pp. Weber: Selections in Translation. W. G. Runciman, ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978

Max Weber, "Value-judgements in Social Science". Pp. 69-99 in Weber: Selections in Translation. W. G. Runciman, ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978

Background reading:

M: 255-282 and 215-223.

H, M, S: 122-141.

R. Aron, Main Currents, V. 2, chs. 1, 2 and 3.

Max Weber 1946 "Science as a Vocation." pp. 129-156 in H. Gerth and C. W. Mills, eds., From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology. New York: Oxford University Press.

11. Religion and Rationalization

Weber analyzed the way in which different world-religions provided different value-systems which geared their believers into (or away from) the world in distinctive ways which were decisive for the development of the great world civilizations, including western capitalism.

Required readings:

H: 149-158

Randall Collins, "The Comparative Studies of the World Religions." Pp. 105-124 in Randall Collins: Max Weber "A Skeleton Key." Sage Publication, 1986

Max Weber "The Religions of Asia." Pp. 192-208 in Weber: Selections in Translation W.G. Runciman, ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978.

Background readings:

R. Aron, Main Currents, V. 2, ch. 5.

H,M, S: 116-118.

Max Weber from The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Pp. 238-249 in Gordon Bailey and Noga Gayle, eds., Sociology: An Introduction: From the classics to contemporary feminists Toronto: Oxford University Press.

12. Contemporary 'Weberian' research.

This week's material will be chosen by students in the class. Details provided separately below.

Course Material Provided by Students

For weeks 3, 6 and 12 and for the Friday class in weeks 7, 8 and 9.

No, I am not doing this to avoid work! I have material for lectures for these weeks. This is an innovation to encourage you to get involved in finding contemporary research inspired by Marx, Durkheim, Weber, Nietzsche, Freud and Simmel.

Weeks 3, 6 and 12:

Weeks 7, 8 and 9:

Dr. Colm Kelly
Sociology 1006 - Introduction to Sociology
Sociology 3013 - Classical Sociological Theory
Sociology 3023 - Modern Sociological Theory
Sociology 3533 - Special topics "Derrida and the Future of the Social."
Sociology 4013 - Senior Seminar: The Modern University
Sociology 4033 - Advanced Sociological Theory

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