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Politics and Social Theory (SO945)

Can politics and social theory be extricated from one another? How have social thinkers theorised politics and the effect of politics in day-to-day life?

If sociology began as applied political philosophy, social theory took on a life of its own in the 20th century. However, the thread that connected it with politics was never entirely severed, and so in this module we will look at the efforts of a number of social thinkers to theorise politics and the place of politics in a human life.

A guiding thread in this module will be the way these thinkers have thought about one basic relationship; that between political associations, civil associations and the individual. We will look at Hegel on the idea of right and its institutional articulation in family, civil society and the state; de Tocqueville on American democracy and the role of voluntary associations in combatting its dangers; Durkheim’s claims about the primacy of the professional group as a source of social integration; Marx on the limitations of political freedom and the need for ‘true human emancipation’; Weber on politics, morality and bureaucracy and the professional politician as a distinct ‘social type’; Schmitt’s theory of ‘the political’, his distinction between friend and enemy, and hostility towards the role of ‘intermediate bodies’ and modern parliaments; and Habermas and Rorty on the public sphere and what it means to participate in it.

The emphasis will be on close reading, but we will also try to balance two ways of approaching these thinkers; being sensitive towards the context in which these ideas were produced, and being prepared to use them as a resource for thinking about politics and society today.

Politics and Social Theory

Module Director

Charles Turner


This module is worth 20 CATS.