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theory for the working sociologist: graduate course edition

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Last week, I wrote about how to use Theory for the Working Sociologist in an undergraduate course. How does one do it for a graduate course? As usual, just abandon the pretense that you’re teaching great books, history of sociology, or philosophy of science. And just remind yourself that you are here to teach the core ideas of social theory in ways that a normal sociologist – like a demographer or a sociologist of education – would use.

I’ll focus on the graduate theory course. As with the undergraduate class, you should probably decide what the major approaches to social theory are. In my grad class, I stuck with inequality/power, culture/structure/values, rational choice and social construction. You can come up with your own labels.

The big difference with the undergrad class is that I usually start with selections from the Theory book and then add a healthy mix of classic and super-modern readings. You can also easily weave in cutting edge work from today, as long as you can identify the theoretical assumptions.

Here’s a cool example. In my recent graduate social theory course, I wanted to spend a week on “dual process models,” which folks like Vaisey and Lizardo have imported from psychology into sociology. Normally, doing contemporary social psychology in a theory course would be pushing it. But not if you assign the book.

How does it work? Simple. We had a section on “values and structures.” That is chapter 4 in Theory for the Working Sociologist. That chapter provides an overview. Then, I supplemented the textbook with an intuitive sequence of readings:

  1. Durkheim, selections from Elementary Forms
  2. Weber, selections from Protestant Ethic
  3. Parsons, selections from The Social System or one of the early books on social action
  4. Swidler, DiMaggio and Powell and Meyer and Rowan (toolkit theory and institutionalism)
  5. Then: Vaisey & co. on dual process models, and Lizardo on declarative/non-declarative models of culture

Thus, by focusing the logical development of the theory of culture from Durkheim to the present, it becomes very easy to understand the motivation behind the argument for dual process models. The text book offers a nice road map and it’s easy to add or subtract items (like dual process models) as needed. Once they are done with social theory, they will understand how a lot of social psychology is logically integrated with the intellectual architecture of the discipline.

Finally, you can also easily assign sections of Theory for the Working Sociologist as a supplement to other courses. For example, you might be teaching political sociology and run into arguments about the rational voter model. You could then assign a few pages from the book about rational choice theory to help students see why the argument happened in the first place.

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Written by fabiorojas

January 4, 2019 at 8:01 am

Posted in uncategorized

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