201 World Social Theory: Imagining Society from 500BCE to 1900

Key information

Start date
End date
Term 1
Module code
FHEQ Level

Module overview

This module provides an insight into how society has been conceived of in different places and times. We will read a broad range of classic texts of social theory from ancient China and classical Greece to eighteen century Enlightenment and onwards to the birth of anthropology and sociology as academic disciplines. The module has two aims, one in terms of content and the other in terms of method: It is designed to give BA students a sense of the long conversation of social thought that preceded and produced the discipline of social anthropology. This background is essential both for understanding theoretical developments during the second half of the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, and for evaluating the claims to originality they make. In terms of method, it is meant to introduce students to the art and skill of interpretation. The further a text is removed from our own sensibilities and concerns geographically and historically, the more work is required to make it intelligible. Reading a 2500-year old text, even in translation, is an encounter with a different way of thinking, writing and feeling. Learning to interpret and translate such a document and to put it in its historical and local context is the key skill that anthropology requires.


Compulsory for all Year 1 students on:

  • BA Social Anthropology

Guided option for Year 2 students on:

  • BA Social Anthropology and…
  • BA Economics
  • BSc Economics
  • BSc Development Economics

This module is also available as a School-wide Open Option.

Suggested reading

Representative readings:

  • Mencius. Translated by D. C. Lau. London: Penguin Classics 2003.
  • Plato (380BC) The Republic. Translated by Desmond Lee. London: Penguin Classics.
  • Mary Wollstonecraft (1792) ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects.’ Boston: Peter Edes.
  • Bartolomé de Las Casas (1542) A Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies. London: Penguin.
  • Zora Neale Hurston (2018) Barracoon: The Story of the Last Slave. London: Harper and Collins.
  • Anténor Firmin (2002[1885]) The Equality of the Human Races. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules