Modern Social Theory

Module code: SY3079

Module co-ordinator: Professor Barbara A Misztal

In this module we consider the ways that contemporary social theory can be used to analyse particular aspects of today’s society.

We will examine a number of key works that address major social phenomena, including interpersonal relations, power, the process of communication, the formal structure of networks, climate change, and the expansion of the human rights regime. Each of these works will be considered in both an intellectual and a sociopolitical context, paying special attention to the ways in which authors construct the relationship between theory and research.

As well as being introduced to central concepts and debates, you will gain an overview of the major issues of contemporary social theory, from the rational choice theory through Bauman's liquid modernity theory and Castells's idea of 'netwars' and digital activism to theories concerning human rights and climate change.

Together we will use social theory -- based on a close reading of original texts and a study of subsequent debates -- to think critically about the ways in which the social world is changing.

Topics covered

  • World risk society: Ulrich Beck
  • Cosmopolitanism and human rights
  • The reflexive modernisation: Anthony Giddens
  • World problem: climate change
  • Liquid modernity: Zygmunt Bauman
  • New capitalism: Richard Sennett
  • Network society: Manuel Castells
  • Towards a reflexive sociology: Pierre Bourdieu
  • Towards a theory of discursive practice: Michel Foucault
  • The radical democratisation: Jürgen Habermas
  • Social exchange theory
  • Rational choice theory
  • Public sociology: Michael Burawoy


  • Eighteen one-hour lectures
  • Eight one-hour seminars


  • Essay (70%)
  • Portfolio (30%)