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Prof. Jackie Orr Office hours:

Maxwell 310C Wed., 2-4 pm 443-5758 (o)

Sociological Theory

Soc 611

Fall 2015

The Sandman: Overture #2 (Gaiman/Williams, 2014)
This course is both an advanced introduction to animating concepts and questions in sociological theory, and a selective intellectual history that situates theories of society within specific cultural, political, and economic contexts. Both these aims constitute impossible tasks for a single semester’s syllabus. So this course is a necessarily limited and incomplete attempt to be broad-ranging and comprehensive. Our primary focus is limited to the works of European and North American authors over the last 150 years.
Questions we will bring to the readings include: What role do ‘science’ and ‘objectivity’ play in the theoretical imagination of sociologists? What theoretical stories are told about the relations between individual experience/agency, and broader social structures or collective forces? How is

power theorized? How does the theory address (or ignore) structured differences re: gender, race, ethnicity, class, sexuality, or nationality? How are such differences theorized in relation to structures of power or the production of knowledges? What are the epistemological assumptions of the theory: what gets to count as 'real,' 'true' or 'valuable' knowledge, and why? What aspects of the social world does the theory make central and visible, and what aspects does it exclude, erase or render invisible?

Finally, how can intimate contact with this intellectual history and these theoretical concerns influence our own practices of research and sociological storytelling? How do we begin to name the political and economic, cultural and historical, biographical and embodied contexts shaping our own theoretical desires and practices?

Course requirements:

This is a graduate-level seminar, and each student is expected to engage in a sustained, serious way with all assigned readings, and to actively prepare for and participate in seminar discussions each week.

Students will write five 5-page analytic reaction papers during the semester, and one 10-12 page essay at semester’s end. Each of the five short papers will focus on one week’s readings, and is due at the beginning of class on the day we will discuss those readings. No late papers will be accepted. For sociology Ph.D. students, at least two of the five essays must be written on the early “classical” theorists (Marx, Weber, Durkheim, Freud, and Gilman/DuBois). All students must turn in their first essay no later than October 6. Specific essay guidelines will be provided.
The final 10-12 page essay will be an expansion of one of the earlier five essays. A more complete set of guidelines for the final essay will be handed out in class.

The following required texts are available at the Student Bookstore, Schine Student Center:

  • W.E.B. DuBois. The Souls of Black Folk. New York: Bantam Books, 1989.

  • Emile Durkheim. The Elementary Forms of Religious Life. Trans. by Karen E. Fields. New York, The Free Press, 1995.

  • Michel Foucault. Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Vintage Books, 1979 [2nd ed. 1995].

  • Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The Yellow Wallpaper. New York: The Feminist Press, 1973.

  • Michael Omi and Howard Winant. Racial Formation in the United States: From the 1960s to the 1980s. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 1994.

  • Steven Seidman. Contested Knowledge: Social Theory Today. 5th ed. Cambridge, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2013.

  • Robert C. Tucker., ed. The Marx-Engels Reader. 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1978.

  • Max Weber. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism. Trans. by Talcott Parsons. New York: Routledge, 2002.

Course Reader: A required course reader is available for purchase at Copy Center in Marshall Square Mall (Phone: 472-0546). Please ask for reader #1008. All articles in the course reader are marked in the syllabus with an [R]. A small number of articles in the first weeks of the course will be available only on Blackboard; they are marked in the syllabus with a [BB]. Please print out all Blackboard articles and bring with you to class.
Blackboard: Starting with the week of October 27, all course articles (not including reading assignments in the required books) will be available on Blackboard. These readings are marked in the syllabus with [BB].
Plagiarism & Academic Integrity

Plagiarism in this course will be treated as a severe trespass of the honesty, labor, and commitment required of graduate students in their academic work. It is a basic expectation that all the written work you hand in for this class is written by you, and that all sources and supporting materials are clearly and accurately cited. Plagiarized work will receive a failing grade, and anyone who plagiarizes risks failing the course, with a final grade that identifies the failure as due to plagiarism. You are responsible for knowing SU’s Academic Integrity Policy and Procedures, see:

September 1 Openings

September 8 Why Theory?

I want to propose low theory, or theoretical knowledge that works at many levels at once, as precisely one of these modes of transmission that revels in the detours, twists, and turns through knowing and confusion, and that seeks not to explain but to involve. (Halberstam, 15)

C. Wright Mills. “The Promise” in The Sociological Imagination. London: Oxford University Press, 1959, pp. 1-24 [R].

Barbara Christian. “The Race for Theory,” Cultural Critique, no. 6 (Spring 1987), pp. 51-63 [R].

Charles Lemert. “Social Theory: Its Uses and Pleasures” in Lemert, ed., Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings. 4th ed. Westview Press, 2010, pp. 1-20 [R].

Raewyn Connell. “Empire and the Creation of a Social Science,” and “The Silence of the Land,” Chs. 1 & 9 in Southern Theory: The Global Dynamics of Knowledge in Social Science. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2007, pp. 3-25, 195-209 [R].

Judith Halberstam, “Low Theory,” Ch. 1 in The Queer Art of Failure, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011, pp. 6-25. [R]

Steven Seidman, “Afterword” in Contested Knowledge: Social Theory Today, 5th ed., pp. 342-344.

  1. Disciplinary Fathers and Modern Foundations

September 15 Reading Marx

The crucial point is not to reach agreement on what Marx wrote, but to prolong the question that he created, that of this capitalism whose hold it is a matter of combating. (Pignarre & Stengers, 12)
Steven Seidman. Contested Knowledge, 5th ed., pp. 22-35.
Karl Marx. “Theses on Feuerbach” in Marx-Engels Reader, pp. 143-145.
Karl Marx. “Manifesto of the Communist Party” in Marx-Engels Reader, pp. 473-491.
Louis Althusser. “Preface to Capital Volume One” in Lenin and Philosophy. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1971, pp. 71-81 [R].
Karl Marx. Capital, Volume One in The Marx-Engels Reader, pp. 294-343, 351-361, 431-438.
contemporary use:

Philippe Pignarre & Isabelle Stengers, Capitalist Sorcery: Breaking the Spell. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011, pp. 16-35 [BB].

Robin D. G. Kelly. “A New Look at the Communist Manifesto.” Race Traitor nos. 13-14 (Summer 2001). Special issue on Surrealism in the USA [R].

September 22 Reading Weber

As Weber attests, the rational subject is daring, calculating, temperate, shrewd, and devoted….Those subjects whose social differences mark them as outside the rational and place them within the margins of political and economic spheres represent the underside of rationalization, that location left untheorized by Weber… (Ferguson, 100)
Steven Seidman. Contested Knowledge, 5th ed., pp. 48-60.
Max Weber. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, pp. xxviii-xlii (Author’s Intro), pp. 13-80, 102-125. [Note: Pp. #s are for the 2001 Routledge edition. If you have a different edition of the book, page numbers will be different]
Max Weber. “The Bureaucratic Machine,” “What Is Politics?,” and “The Types of Legitimate Domination” in Charles Lemert, ed., Social Theory: The Multicultural & Classic Readings, 2nd ed. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1999, pp. 104-115 [R].
contemporary use:

Roderick A. Ferguson, “Nightmares of the Heteronormative: Go Tell It On the Mountain versus An American Dilemma,” Ch. 3 in Aberrations in Black: Toward a Queer of Color Critique. Minneapolis, MN: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 2004, pp. 82-109 [R].

September 29 Reading Durkheim

We hear the heartbeat of [Elementary] Formes in Durkheim’s stunning theme throughout: that religious life (la vie religieuse) both expresses and constructs the logical life (la vie logique) of humankind. We hear it in the audacious claim…that the elemental categories in which we think—time, space, number, cause, class, person, totality—have their origins in religious life. (Fields, xxv)

Steven Seidman. Contested Knowledge, 5th ed., pp. 36-47.

Karen E. Fields. Introduction to The Elementary Forms of Religious Life by Emile Durkheim. New York: The Free Press, 1995, pp. xvii-li.
Emile Durkheim. The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, pp. 1-18, 84-95, 141-157, 190-241, 418-448.
contemporary use:

Sasha Roseneil, “A Moment of Moral Remaking: The Death of Diana, Princess of Wales,” in Frank Webster, ed., Culture and Politics in the Information Age: A New Politics? London: Routledge, 2001, pp. 96-112 [BB].

October 6 Reading Freud

The uncanny is the return, in psychoanalytic terms, of what the concept of the unconscious represses: the reality of being haunted by worldly contacts. (Gordon, 55)
Stephen Frosh. “Social Repression" in The Politics of Psychoanalysis: An Introduction to Freudian and Post-Freudian Theory. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987, pp. 38-60 [R].
Sigmund Freud. “The Return of the Repressed in Social Life” in Lemert, ed., Social Theory, pp. 142-145 [R].
Sigmund Freud. “On Dreams” and “Observations on Transference-Love” in Peter Gay, ed., The Freud Reader, NY: W.W. Norton & Co., 1989, pp. 142-151, 165-172, 378-387 [BB].
contemporary use:

Avery Gordon. Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997, pp. 31-60 [R].

II. Early U.S. Con/Texts: The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Sociology

October 13 Establishing U.S. Sociology

So woefully unorganized is sociological knowledge that the meaning of progress, the meaning of ‘swift’ and ‘slow’ in human doing, and the limits of human perfectability, are veiled, unanswered sphinxes on the shores of science….So long as the world stands meekly dumb before such questions, shall this nation proclaim its ignorance and unhallowed prejudices by denying freedom of opportunity to those who brought the Sorrow Songs to the Seats of the Mighty? (Du Bois, Souls of Black Folks, 186)
Steven Seidman. Contested Knowledge, 2nd ed., pp. 93-100 [BB].
W.E.B. DuBois. The Souls of Black Folk. New York: Bantam Books, 1989, pp. vii-xxv (“Introduction” by Henry Louis Gates), pp. xxxi-xxxii, 1-29, 43-52, 62-76, 114-145, 177-187.
W.E.B. DuBois. “The Souls of White Folk.” Reprinted in Monthly Review 55, no. 6 (November 2003): 44-58 [BB].
W.E.B. DuBois. The Philadelphia Negro. Millwood, NY: Kraus-Thomson, 1973, pp. 1-9, 58-65, 385-397 [R].
Earl Wright II and Thomas C. Calhoun, “Jim Crow Sociology: Toward an Understanding of the Origin and Principles of Black Sociology via the Atlanta Sociological Laboratory.” Sociological Focus Vol. 39, no. 1 (2006): 1-18. [BB] and available at this link:

Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The Yellow Wallpaper.
Charlotte Perkins Gilman. “A Suggestion on the Negro Problem,” American Journal of Sociology, vol. 14 (1908-9), pp. 78-85 [R].

October 20 Functionalist Feedback: The Cybernetics of Social Systems

I want to begin to explore…Parsons’ metaphysics from a curious standpoint…its literary style….All social theory thus far has had some literary form, which is to say, it is written in some style. Since form and content are fused, it may be possible to discern part of what a theory means by examining not only what it says but also how it says this. (Gouldner, 199)
Steven Seidman. Contested Knowledge, 5th ed., pp. 67- 79.
Talcott Parsons. “The Superego and the Theory of Social Systems” (1952) in Social Structure and Personality. New York: The Free Press, 1970, pp. 17-33 [R].
Alvin Gouldner. "Making the World Whole: Parsons as a Systems Analyst" in The Coming Crisis of Western Sociology. New York: Avon Books, 1970, pp 199-209 [R].
Stephen Pfohl. Images of Deviance and Social Control: A Sociological History. 2nd edition. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1994, pp. 236-240 [R].
Jackie Orr, “’Keep Calm!’ for the Cold War…” ch. 3 in Panic Diaries: A Genealogy of Panic Disorder, Durham: Duke University Press, 2006, pp. 81-164 [BB].
III. Contesting Authorities, Theorizing Crisis

October 27 Power-Reflexive Sociology
Any style of empiricism involves a metaphysical choice—a choice as to what is most real… (Mills, 67)
Steven Seidman. Contested Knowledge, 5th ed., pp. 97-104.
C. Wright Mills. The Sociological Imagination. London: Oxford University Press, 1959, pp. 50-75, 165-194 [BB].
Alvin Gouldner. The Coming Crisis of Western Sociology, “Preface,” pp. 3-35, 481-512 [BB].
Randy Martin, Under New Management: Universities, Administrative Labor and the Professional Turn. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press, 2011 [BB].
Students for a Democratic Society. “Participatory Democracy” in Lemert, ed., Social Theory, pp. 352-356 [BB].
Betty Friedan. “The Problem That Has No Name” in Lemert, ed., Social Theory, pp. 356-359 [BB].
Frantz Fanon. Excerpts from The Wretched of the Earth. NY: Grove/Atlantic, 1968 [1961]. [BB].

November 3 Feminist Interruptions
[F]eminist theory has changed the way sociology thinks about the operation of power in society…Yet, as this very moment, questions that push us beyond the boundaries of what we comfortably accept as legitimate forms of theory, epistemology, and methodology that were once so effectively raised by feminist theory are being raised again. They are being raised, however, largely outside the parameters of U.S. sociology, in poststructuralist, postcolonial and transnational analysis and by sociologists elsewhere. (Ray, 463)


Steven Seidman. Contested Knowledge, 5th ed., pp. 205-225.

The Combahee River Collective. The Combahee River Collective Statement: Black Feminist Organizing In the Seventies and Eighties. New York: Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, 1986, pp. 3-18 [BB].
Dorothy Smith. The Everyday World as Problematic: A Feminist Sociology. Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1987, pp. 1-36, 45-100 [BB].
Patricia Hill Collins. Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment. Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1990, pp. 3-39, 201-237 [BB].
Patricia Clough. “Affect and Control: Rethinking the Body ‘Beyond Sex and Gender.’” Feminist Theory vol. 4, no. 3 (2003): 359-364 [BB].
Raka Ray. “Is the Revolution Missing or Are We Looking in the Wrong Place?” Social Problems vol. 53, no. 4 (November 2006): 459-465 [BB].

November 10 Rethinking Racial Formations

[D]espite its uncertainties and contradictions, the concept of race continues to play a fundamental role in structuring and representing the social world. The task for theory is to explain this situation. (Omi & Winant, 55)
Steven Seidman. Contested Knowledge, 5th ed., 226-238.
Michael Omi and Howard Winant. Racial Formations in the United States 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 1994, pp. vii-xii, 1-13, 48-159.
Tomas Almaguer. Racial Fault Lines: The Historical Origins of White Supremacy in California. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994, pp. 1-16, 205-213 [BB].
Gloria Anzaldua. Borlderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza, 3rd ed. San Francisco, CA: Aunt Lute Books, 2007 [1987], excerpts [BB].
Roderick A. Ferguson. “Immigration and the Drama of Affirmation,” Ch. 5 in The Reorder of Things: The University and its Pedagogies of Minority Difference. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 2012, 147-179 [BB].

November 17 Collective discussion of student essays

November 24 Thanksgiving break – no class

IV. Post-Structuralism? Post-Modernism? Post-Sociology?
December 1 Power/Knowledge/Bodies: Michel Foucault
We must cease once and for all to describe the effects of power in negative terms: it ‘excludes,’ it ‘represses,’ it ‘censors’…. In fact, power produces: it produces reality; it produces domains of objects and rituals of truth. The individual and the knowledge that may be gained of him belong to this production. (Foucault, 194)
Steve Seidman. Contested Knowledge, 5th ed., 175-187.
Michel Foucault. “Preface to Anti-Oedipus” in Michel Foucault: Power, ed. by James Faubion. New York: The Free Press, 1994, pp. 106-110 [BB].
_______. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. New York: Vintage Books, 1979, pp. 135-228.
_______. “Right of Death and Power over Life” [from The History of Sexuality, vol. 1] in The Foucault Reader, ed. by Paul Rabinow. New York: Pantheon Books, 1984, pp. 258-272 [BB].
Monica J. Casper and Lisa Jean Moore. “Introduction: The Bodies We See, and Some That Are Not Here,” Ch. 1 in Missing Bodies: The Politics of Visibility. New York: New York University Press, 2009, pp. 1-20 [BB].
December 8 Post-disciplinary Interventions@21st Century
The hyperspace of multinational postmodernism expands through the physiologies of all first world subjects….All citizen-subjects are becoming strangely permeated, transformed—and marginalized…. As previously legitimated centers unravel from within, cityscapes degenerate, consciousness and identity splinter, the revolutionary subject who rises from the rubble is mutant: citizen-subject of a new, postmodern colonialism—and de-colonialism—active all at once. (Sandoval, 36)
Steven Seidman. Contested Knowledge, 5th ed., pp. 159-174.
Donna Haraway. “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century” in Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge, 1991, pp. 149-181 [BB].

Michael Hardt & Antonio Negri. Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire. New York: Penguin Books, 2004, pp. 18-32, 189-227. [BB]

Chela Sandoval, “Fredric Jameson: Postmodernism is a Neocolonizing Global Force,” Ch. 1 in Methodology of the Oppressed. Minneapolis, MN: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 2000, pp. 15-36, [BB].
December 14 Final essays due by 4 pm

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