Sociology (SOCI) 537

Deciphering Our Social Worlds (Revision 4)

SOCI 537 Course Cover

Delivery Mode: Individualized study online (with eTextbook)

Credits: 3

Precluded Course: SOCI 537 cannot be taken for credit if credit has already been obtained for Athabasca University's SOCI 437.

Faculty: Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

Program: Master of Arts Interdisciplinary Studies

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SOCI 537 is a course on advanced sociological theory. Many students taking this course will have had previous exposure to classical and contemporary sociological theory, either through Athabasca University’s Sociology 335: Classical Sociological Theory and Sociology 337: Contemporary Sociological Theory, or equivalent junior theory courses from other universities.

The main objective of this course is to show students how social theory may be relevant to their own lives. Social theory can often help us clarify and sharpen our understanding of the social world in which we live. This is because social theory can help us place personal situations and private experiences into a much broader social picture.

SOCI 537 will be of particular interest to students wishing to explore a sociological perspective in any of the MAIS areas of inquiry.

Course Overview

The main themes and key issues of the course are:

  • the different ways in which social theories may be conceptualized
  • some of the problems to look for when examining social theories
  • how social theories may differ in terms of their epistemological, ontological, and ideological assumptions
  • the differences between neo-functionalism and more traditional theories of structural functionalism
  • the differences between new conflict theory and earlier traditions of conflict theory
  • how contemporary schools of Marxism differ from the earlier tradition of historical materialism
  • some of the main ideas advanced by contemporary representatives of the tradition of critical theory
  • the concept of "system crisis" advanced in the theory of society associated with Jürgen Habermas
  • the differences between symbolic interactionism and other microsociological traditions, such as exchange theory and ethnomethodology
  • the differences between Erving Goffman's dramaturgical analysis and more established traditions of symbolic interactionism
  • how symbolic interactionists differ among themselves over the relative significance of "self" versus "structure"
  • the differences between ethnomethodology and other traditions of social theory
  • some of the methods of practical reasoning used in everyday life
  • how sociobiologists justify their theoretical and empirical contributions to the study of human society
  • how feminist theory departs from more traditional theories of society
  • how feminist theorists have critiqued and re-evaluated some of the sociological classics
  • the generational and ideological differences which distinguish different traditions of feminist theory
  • the differences between postmodernism and other traditions of social theory
  • the differences between strategic and radical postmodernism
  • the difference between social and sociological theory
  • the challenge of postmodernism for other traditions of social theory.

Course Objectives

When you have completed this course, you should be able to achieve all of the following learning objectives:

  1. demonstrate familiarity with some of the major traditions of contemporary social theory
  2. analyze each of the major theoretical traditions in terms of its basic assumptions, key concepts, main arguments and major representatives
  3. analyze each of the major theoretical traditions as discourses, polemics, and as guides to action
  4. critically evaluate each of the major theoretical traditions in terms of their interpretive and explanatory strengths and weaknesses
  5. apply some of the key concepts and main arguments of each theoretical tradition to your social worlds and personal life experiences
  6. analyze any social theory in terms of its domain assumptions
  7. take into account the socio-historical background associated with the growth of any particular social theory
  8. trace the intellectual genealogy of the ideas associated with any particular social theory
  9. distinguish some of the openly espoused theories publicly used in our society from the more taken-for-granted theories used in our private lives
  10. show the relevance of social theory to your own life experiences

Student Evaluation

To receive credit for this course, students must participate in the online activities, successfully complete the assignments, and achieve a final mark of at least 60 per cent. Students should be familiar with the Master of Arts—Interdisciplinary Studies grading system. Please note that it is students' responsibility to maintain their program status. Any student who receives a grade of "F" in one course, or a grade of "C" in more than one course, may be required to withdraw from the program.

The following table summarizes the evaluation activities and the credit weights associated with them.

Course Activity Weighting
Assignment 1 15%
Assignment 2 25%
Assignment 3 30%
Final Exam 30%
Total 100%

The final examination for this course must be taken online with an AU-approved exam invigilator at an approved invigilation centre. It is your responsibility to ensure your chosen invigilation centre can accommodate online exams. For a list of invigilators who can accommodate online exams, visit the Exam Invigilation Network.

Course Materials


Registration in this course includes an electronic textbook. For more information on electronic textbooks, please refer to our eText Initiative site.

Allan, K. (2013). Contemporary social and sociological theory: Visualizing social worlds. (3rd edition) London & New Delhi: SAGE Publications, Inc.

A print version of the eText may be available for purchase from the publisher through a direct-to-student link provided on the course website; you can also acquire the textbook on your own if you wish.


Lemert, C. (2005) Postmodernism is not what you think. Malden, MA and Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers.

Power, N. (2009). One dimensional woman. Hants, UK: Zero Books.

Other Materials

There is a Study Guide consisting of twelve units. Each unit covers a specific topic in the course, identifies learning objectives to be achieved, lists reading assignments, and provides study questions to help students to assess their understanding of the material. Commentary is provided to explain and clarify issues brought forward from the assigned readings.

There are twelve online video lectures—one lecture for each unit.

All assigned readings, other than those from the textbooks, are available online.

Athabasca University reserves the right to amend course outlines occasionally and without notice. Courses offered by other delivery methods may vary from their individualized-study counterparts.

Opened in Revision 4, July 23, 2019.