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A Preliminary Profile of the Course for Spring 1998

» Livingstone College   /   Salisbury, NC «

Dr. Robert Williams,
Division of Social Sciences
Livingstone College
701 West Monroe Street
Salisbury, NC   28144     U.S.A.
4netscape 4netscape 4netscape Office: Tubman Bldg., Rm. 202

Telephone (O): (704) 638-5614

SOC 362 (Sociological Theory)

Course Description
The social sciences--like psychology, political science, sociology, and economics--seek to explain the nature of society and the interactions of its myriad components (whether individuals, groups, or classes). In this course, however, we will examine the social sciences themselves: they will become the objects of our study. We will advance our understanding of the various philosophies that underpin the social sciences by studying how they characterize the nature of social reality and the ways by which one knows what one knows. Such provocative issues tend to challenge any taken-for-granted notions about society and science.

Course Objectives
Several objectives inspire this class, including the following goals:
  1. to understand how social scientists "work," especially in terms of their underlying philosophies (e.g., ontology, or what is real, as well as epistemology, or how we come to know what is real);
  2. to examine the interrelationships between the knower and the known, subject and object, and social scientist and society;
  3. to explore the alternative approaches and methods that can be used to interpret the social world; and
  4. to achieve the previous objectives in a non-competitive atmosphere of seminar-style class discussions.

Scope of the Course
The readings will be both thorough and intense, covering many primary and secondary sources. The following list provides some idea of the range of topics and authors to be addressed in this seminar.
  1. A framework for a philosophical inquiry into the social sciences: ontology, epistemology, methodology;
  2. The early Rationalists: that metaphysician Plato and the doubting Descartes;
  3. The traditional Empiricists: the inductivist Bacon and the skeptical Hume;
  4. Kant's reconciliation of rationalism and empiricism;
  5. Hegel's system: the juggernaut of the World Spirit marching through history;
  6. Marx's concept of praxis stands Hegel on his head;
  7. The interpretive approaches of Dilthey, Windelband, and Weber;
  8. The Logical Positivists of the Vienna Circle: the quest(ion) for a unified science of nature AND society;
  9. The scientific community responds: the falsifiability of Popper and the paradigm shifts of Kuhn;
  10. How is "meaningfulness" possible in an Age of Science? The phenomenology of Husserl and Schutz;
  11. The Frankfurt School(s): Horkheimer's research program and Habermas's (re-)Enlightenment project;
  12. Language as an ingress into meaning: Wittgenstein, Quine, Winch;
  13. The pragmatists and their anti-foundationalism: Pierce, James, Dewey, Rorty
  14. Postmodernists besiege Grand Theory and ethnocentrism: E. Said, Foucault, Lyotard, feminist theories; and
  15. Conclusions--a summing up and an invitation: (how) is social science still possible?

Graded Assignments
Tentatively, the students will be evaluated as follows:
  1. for each set of readings (but not necessarily for each class session), the student will write a short review (2 pages), and submit a typed/printed copy at the session when those readings will first be discussed;
  2. one 10-page term paper, focusing on some theme of the course, is required; and
  3. participation in the seminar-style class discussions will be factored into the student's final grade.

What Is Expected of the Professor and Students?
Because the texts and topics are as fascinating as they are rigorous, the professor anticipates devoting much of his time to reading, pondering, rereading, and speculating. The students likewise will be expected to delve deeply into the assignments and to participate meaningfully in class discussions. Such intellectual exertions will benefit those students planning to attend graduate school or law school after Livingstone College.

This course profile is not a syllabus; in no way does it commit the instructor to follow any or all of what is stated herein. Readings and assignments will be specified in the actual syllabus. However, the instructor does not envision making any major changes to the basic content or to the graded assignments listed above.

Last updated: June 21,.1998

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