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.

See other details


This course will introduce students to foundational figures of modern social thought and explore the ways in which their writings have been taken up in contemporary social analysis and political practice in different parts of the world. Students will be introduced to one of the first works of social theory by Ibn Khaldun. Students will then immerse themselves in the complex ideas and systematic visions of major social thinkers such as Alexis de Tocqueville, Karl Marx, Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, and Michel Foucault, theorists often acknowledged as exemplary of the explanatory power of modern social theory. However, this course is not about lionising these figures. We critique these theories just as much as we learn from them. Thus, the course will also grapple with several other characteristically modern developments including (a) the revolution in thought and practice ushered in by feminist activists and thinkers such as Mary Wollstonecraft, Simone de Beauvoir, and Saba Mahmood; (b) the critiques of the racism inherent in modernity by activists and thinkers such as Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, and W.E.B. Du Bois; and (c) the provincialising of European understandings of society and the articulation of very different modes of modern social theory put forth by activists and thinkers such as Dadabhai Naoroji, Syed Hussein Alatas, Frantz Fanon, Fei Xiaotong, Edward Said, Ashis Nandy, and Donna Haraway among others.


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