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Contemporary Social Theory and its Diversity: Key Debates, Continuities, and Discontinuities

Learning Outcomes

This module aims to:

• Introduce and explore the diversity of contemporary social theory and some of the key debates that take place within it.

• Consider continuities and discontinuities between modern and contemporary social theory.

• Consider the links between different strands of contemporary social theory.

• Engage with the wider social, cultural and political contexts within which contemporary social theories are developed.

• Provide students with the opportunity to develop a range of skills in writing, independent study, time planning and management, and the appropriate use of sociological resources.

• Give students a range of perspectives in contemporary social theory to inform their preparation for the level 6 dissertation.

Learning Outcomes:

By the end of the module, the successful student is expected to be able to:

1. Demonstrate a critical appreciation of the range and diversity of contemporary social theory, and the key debates that take place within it.

2. Evaluate points of contrast and continuity between contemporary and modern social theory.

3. Competently apply detailed knowledge of theoretical perspectives to the analysis of the contemporary world.

4. Describe what contemporary social theory can bring to the analysis of a particular social issue, problem, or concern.

5. Demonstrate evidence of skills in writing, independent study, time planning and management, and the appropriate use of sociological resources.

There is a podcast on Blackboard which can be streamed or downloaded. Please listen to it in advance of this week's class. It is designed to help you understand a poststructuralist theory of discourse. At the end of the podcast there is a short exercise for you to do.

Here is a written version of that exercise:

1. Think of your own example of a discourse, ‘a group of statements which provide a language for talking about – i.e., a way of representing – a particular kind of knowledge about a topic’.

2. Write down three statements that have a connection to one another.

3. Try to characterize what those statements have in common: what it is, in other words, that makes them a discourse.

4. Try to think of an example of a competing or counter-discourse

Reading questions

You should concentrate your efforts on the first half of the article, up until the section  on Teresa de Lauretis on page 422. Pay particular attention to the introduction and the section on poststructuralism.

1. Why is the concept of woman so problematic for feminism?

2. How has cultural feminism sought to counter misogynistic definitions of 'woman'? Why is this strategy problematic?

3. How have feminists used poststructuralist theories of subjectivity? Why is poststructuralism problematic for feminism, according to Alcoff?

Reading questions

1. What has been the collective aim of movements to ‘decolonise’ universities (p1)?

2. What are the ‘two key referents’ of ‘decolonising’ (p2)?

3. In what ways do decolonising approaches challenge Eurocentric forms of knowledge (p2)?

4. Why do Tuck and Yang insist that ‘decolonization is not a metaphor’? How do Bhambra et al. complicate this claim (p.4-5)?

Lecture topics

This week’s lecture will focus on how postcolonial and de-colonial theory has fundamentally challenged both modern and postmodern social thought and exposed it as Eurocentric. We will explore various efforts to develop theory ‘from the South’.

Reading questions

1. How does mediatization theory differ from both the ‘media effects’ paradigm and the tradition of audience research?

2. How, according to mediatization theory, do the media ‘influence’ society and culture?

3. Why has the study of the media until recently been marginal within sociology?

4. What does Hjarvard mean when he says mediatization should be viewed as a modernization process?

Lecture topics

This week, we will explore the difference that media and technology make to social life. We start by introducing key debates around ‘media effects’ and audience reception, before moving on to explore how theories of mediatization can help us understand the complex relationship between media, culture and society.

Reading Questions

1. How can theories of practice (as expressed by Giddens’ structuration theory) overcome the dualisms between structure and agency, determination and voluntarism in social theory? (pp2-4)

2. What is a practice, according to Reckwitz? (pp6-7)

3. What do Shove et al mean when they distinguish between practice-as-entity and practice-as-performance? (pp7-8)

4. What, according to Shove et al, are the elements that make up practices? How do these elements figure in their theory of how practices emerge, persist, change or disappear? (pp14-16)

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