Social Theory

Key information

Start date
End date
Year of study
Year 1
Module code
FHEQ Level

Module overview

This module offers an introduction to social theory before and as anthropology comes into being as an academic discipline. Covering a broad range of classic texts from ancient China and classical Greece to eighteenth century Enlightenment and onwards to the mid-twentieth century, it aims 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’ or are social phenomena historically contingent?

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

By the end of the module, students will have acquired the interpretative skills to contextualize contemporary social theory in the broad sweep of global history and a good grasp on the core concepts of anthropology and sociology.

Scope and syllabus

Term 1:
  • Social theory and philosophy in ancient China, Greece and the Islamic World
  • French and British Enlightenments: Rousseau, Hobbes and the State of Nature
  • Marx and Engels and the Birth of Communism
  • Victorian Anthropology and the Colonial Project: Evolution, Darwinism, Race
  • The Birth of German Sociology: Weber and Simmel
Term 2:
  • Ideas of the whole: Durkheimian sociology, British Social Anthropology, and American Cultural Anthropology
  • Strangers to ourselves: the force of the unconscious from Freud to Western Marxism
  • Impact of the Russian Revolution and the rise of the USA to a world power
  • Anti-colonial critiques and violence and non-violence in social change
  • The reactionary mind - struggle and the political in 20th century conservatism

Suggested reading

  • Thomas Hylland Eriksen and Finn Sivert Nielsen 2001 A History of Anthropology, Pluto.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules