SOAS University of London

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Social Theory

Module Code:
Year of study:
Year 1
Taught in:
Full Year

This course offers an introduction to the body of Western social theory, which anthropology developed as part of, from the mid-Eighteenth to the mid-Twentieth Century. Adopting a historical mode of presentation, it aims both to situate social theory in its changing contexts and to explore its enduring analytical concerns. What is society, and how does the individual relate to it? What are the main forms of society, and how does social change occur? Can there be a 'science of society' when its subject-matter is simply the phenomena of history?

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

By the end of the course students will have acquired the knowledge, to contextualize contemporary social theory in the broad sweep European social theory since the Enlightenment. Reading two extensive course packs of original source materials will equip them with the skills to interpret texts from the eighteenth century to the present.

Scope and syllabus

Term 1: 
  • The social thought of the French and British Enlightenments: Rousseau, Adam
    Smith, Ferguson. 
  • The impact of the Industrial and French Revolutions. 
  • Social evolution and historical materialism: Darwin, Spencer and Marx. 
  • The non-European world and the emergence of anthropology: Morgan, Tylor, Maine, Robertson Smith, Frazer, Freud and psychoanalysis. 
  • Two German approaches: Weberís comparative sociology and Simmelís formal sociology.
Term 2: 
  • The French School of Durkheim and Annee Sociologique (Mauss and Halbwachs). 
  • Colonial empire and British social anthropology: Malinowski, Radcliffe-Brown and structural-functionalism. 
  • Impact of the Russian Revolution and the rise of the USA to a world power. 
  • Western Marxism: Gramsci, Frankfurt School. 
  • The state of play by the 1960s, anti-colonial critiques.
  • American cultural anthropology: Boas, Benedict, Kroeber. 
  • The state of social theory in the 1950s, and its perennial concerns.

Method of assessment

The written exam will count for 60%. 2 pieces of coursework will count for 40% (20% each) towards the final mark.

Suggested reading

  • Thomas Hylland Eriksen and Finn Sivert Nielsen 2001 A History of Anthropology, Pluto. (Should you want something brief and basic


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules