The rules of sociological theory

by Carl Dyke

I’ve been teaching sociological theory for twenty-five years now, long enough that what used to be contemporary theory is sliding into the classical theory / silly old obsolete theory grey area. Enrollment permitting I’ll be teaching it again in the Spring. I’ve taught it a bunch of different ways. Here’s my rough draft of the guts of the syllabus, after all these years:

This is a class for investigating and discovering how societies work. We’ll look at some examples of how that’s done. You can decide what society you want to investigate and what about it you’d like to discover. There are only two firm rules for the class:

1. You may not assume or assert that all societies work the same. The data set of that claim is every society everywhere in all of history in every dimension, plus every possible future society in all of the universe forever. None of us has access to that data set.

2. You may begin and end with methodological individualism (the principle that individual motivation explains social phenomena). But you may not just camp out there. That is, you must at some point honestly and robustly consider and explore the possibility that individual motivations do not explain social phenomena.

We will spend the first week of the class discussing what these rules mean, why these are the rules, and what is accomplished by them. They are subject to change if our little society legitimately reaches that consensus.

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