202 Social Theory, Reform and Revolution in an Age of Extremes

Key information

Start date
End date
Year of study
Term 2
Module code
FHEQ Level

Module overview

In this module we explore social thought between, roughly, 1900 and 1960. We do so by studying a sample of the writings of influential social thinkers hailing from Europe, the Caribbean and China, and by situating these in their social, intellectual, and wider historical contexts. The age we look at was one of extremes - of imperialist domination and struggles for national liberation, of free-market capitalism, the Great Depression and protectionism, of communist revolutions, world wars, fascism and genocides, and of women’s suffrage, workers’ rights and the rise of the welfare state. The thinkers we learn about in the course did not simply witness these events and processes – they were part of them. They differed, sometimes profoundly, in their analyses and identification of the issues of the day. Yet all of them, at least implicitly, embraced Marx’s maxim that philosophers should seek not simply to interpret the world, but to change it. The conceit of this course is that by reading these thinkers in their own words and situating them in historical contexts we will come to better understand how they helped to change the world in which we live and better appreciate the relevance and limitations of their approaches to our contemporary concerns.


Compulsory for all Year 1 students on:

  • BA Social Anthropology

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

Suggested reading

Representative readings:

  • Fei Xiaotong (1992 [1947]) From the Soil: The Foundations of Chinese Society. Berkeley: U.C. Press.
  • Durkheim, E. (1965) Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. London: Free Press.
  • James, CLR. (2001) The Black Jacobins. London: Penguin
  • Gramsci, Antonio (1971) Selections from the Prison Notebooks. London.
  • Polanyi, Karl (2001[1944]) The Great Transformation. Boston: Beacon Press.
  • Arendt, Hannah (1977 [1964]) Eichmann in Jerusalem. New York: Penguin Books.
  • Fanon, Frantz (1986 [1952]) Black Skin, White Masks. London: Pluto Press.
  • Fanon, Frantz (2004 [1961]) The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Press.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules