Modern Social Thought

This second-year course builds upon the understanding acquired during the first year in Comparative Social Inquiry, Quantitative Reasoning, and Philosophy and Political Thought. Students are introduced to the foundational figures of modern social theory, including familiar names such as Marx, Weber and Durkheim. Contemporary social issues including the feminist revolution and postcolonialism are also encountered in the course to assist students in acquiring a sense of the ethical implications of different theoretical approaches.

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Modern Social Thought engages foundational figures of modern social thought, exploring how their writings have been taken up in political practice in different parts of the world. Starting with Ibn Khaldun’s pre-modern analysis of society we proceed to the ideas of major thinkers such as Alexis de Tocqueville, Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, and Michel Foucault, all of whom acknowledged the explanatory power of modern social theory. The course will also grapple with several other characteristically modern developments including feminism and postcolonial thought in Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex and Michel Foucault’s History of Sexuality, and other works.


Student Voices

I became aware of the benefits [of the Common Curriculum] in my third year, when the foundational concepts I had learnt helped illuminate the readings I was encountering. I found myself wanting to return to key texts we had examined in Modern Social Thought...because so many of these kept popping up in secondary readings I was doing for my other classes. It was lovely to be able to understand what the authors were referring to, and be thinking about their applications of the theories I had read made sense.

Student from the Class of 2017

Modern Social Thought provided an excellent intellectual base for my further academic pursuit. The fact that I repeatedly encounter the things I have learned in this course in later semesters, is a testament to its relevance and success.

Derek Hum, Class of 2018

Teaching Faculty