Introduction I: The Problem of Social Order

What is social/sociological theory about? In this part of the course we will attempt to specify an object for social theory : what is it that we observe in the world and want to explain. The phrase we will offer as an answer is "social order" which, of course, raises the question "what do we mean by social order?" That's what we'll spend the first section of the course answering.

Our initial attempt at an answer goes like this: Social order is the achievement by organisms of systems of ongoing coordinated and cooperative behavior that allows them to accomplish collectively what they could not accomplish independently.


Ants? Collins? Evolution? Free-rider? Wrong?

Introduction II: What Is Theory?

Most courses in social or sociological theory are structured as intellectual history. The focus is on individual thinkers and schools of thought and the goal is to understand the internal logic, the historical antecedents and situatedness, and the reactions to the "theories" which have become canonical in the social sciences. "Theory," in this approach, takes on a very broad meaning, from definitions to claims about the causes of historical events.

In this course we want to work with a slightly more constrained definition of "theory." We will, in general, be thinking in terms of explanation.

We start by observing something. In general, for us to even call something an observation, it has to involve some sense of "here we see X, over there we do not" or "then there was no X, now there is" — in other words, things stand out as observable because of contrast.

Then, having observed X, we ask "what else do we observe when X is present that we do not see when X is absent?"

And then we ask, "what process could have given rise to X to X?

Finally, we ask, "if that process took place, what else would be expect to be able to find?"

A good theory allows us to predict what will happen in a given situation and allows us to manipulate conditions to produce outcomes we want to see.


Ants? Collins? Evolution? Free-rider? Wrong?

  1. Hedstrom, Peter. 2005. "Dissecting the Social"
  2. Weber, Max. 1921. "Types of Social Action," from Economy and Society.
  3. Fehr, Ernst and Herbert Gintis. 2007. "Human Motivation and Social Cooperation"
  4. Kanazawa, Satoshi. 2001. "De Gustibus Est Disputandum"

Theoretical Solutions to the Problem of Social Order

So, what explains social order? In other words, given that there is (at least some) social order in the world, how should we understand how it happens or is achieved? Is there just one mechanism? Are different mechanisms effective in different contexts? Under what conditions will social order emerge and be sustained spontaneously simply because of the nature of human beings? What sorts of "things" do humans create in order to amplify any tendency toward order and attenuate any tendency toward disorder?

Individuals: the self and its world; in what sense is the individual social?

Erving Goffman once wrote that the task of the social theorist is to come up with a minimal model of human beings such that you could wind it up, set it down among a group of them, and watch something like what we know as social life unfold. So it goes with theories of the human individual as theories of social order: we try to answer the question "what kind of a thing are humans?" with an aim to showing how interacting sets of such entities will produce social life as we know it.

  1. Marx, Karl. 1845-6. "The Production of Consciousness,” from The German Ideology.
  2. Emile Durkhelm. 1912. "The Origin of Beliefs," from The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life
  3. Fleck, Ludwick. 1935. "Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact," from Genesis and Development of a Scientific Fact.
  4. Mead, George Herber. 1934. "Play, the Game, and the Generalized Other," from Mind, Self, and Society.
  5. Cohen, Dov and Joe Vandello. 19989. "Meanings of Violence."


  1. Hobbes, Thomas. 1651. "Leviathan."
  2. Engels, Friedrich. 1884. "The Origin of the State."
  3. Weber, Max. 1921-2. "The Types of Legitimate Domination."
  4. Willis, Paul. 1981. "Learning to Labor."


  1. Hayek, Friedrich A. 1976. "Cosmos and Taxis."
  2. Schelling, Thomas C. 1978. "Micromotives and Macrobehavior."
  3. Smith, Adam . 1776. "The Division of Labor."
  4. Axelrod, Robert. 1984. "The Evolution of Cooperation."
  5. Axelrod, Robert. 1984. "The Live-and-Let-Live System in Trench Warfare in World War I."
  6. Zimmer, Carl. 2007. "From Ants to People, and Instinct to Swarm."

Groups and Norms

  1. Goffman, Erving. 1977. "The Arrangement between the Sexes."
  2. Freud, Sigmund. 1930. "Civilization and Its Discontents."
  3. Durkheim, Emile. 1897. "Egoistic Suicide."
  4. Durkheim, Emile. 1897. "Anomic Suicide."
  5. De Tocqueville, Alexis. 1848. "Individualism and Free Institutions."
  6. Hechter, Michael H. 1987. "Principles Of Group Solidarity."
  7. Coleman, James S. 1990. "The Emergence of Norms."
  8. Horne, Christine. 2001,4. "Group Cohesion and Metanorms."
  9. Centola, Damon, Robb Willer, and Michael Macy. 2005. "The Emperor's Dilemma."
  10. Hechter, Michael, Debra Friedman, and Satoshi Kanazawa. 1992. "The Attainment of Social Order in Heterogeneous Societies."



Annual Review piece on networks?

  1. Gellner, Ernest. 1987. "Trust, Cohesion, and the Social Order."
  2. Gluckman, Max. 1955. "The Peace in the Feud."
  3. Simmel, Georg. 1922. "The Web of Group-Affiliations."
  4. Granovetter, Mark S. 1973. "The Strength of Weak Ties."
  5. Varshney, Ashutosh. 2001. "Ethnic Conflict and Civil Society: India and Beyond."
  1. Social Network in Wikipedia

The “New” Science of Networks
Annual Review of Sociology
Vol. 30: 243-270 (Volume publication date August 2004)
First published online as a Review in Advance on March 9, 2004
DOI: 10.1146/annurev.soc.30.020404.104342

Birds of a Feather: Homophily in Social Networks
Annual Review of Sociology
Vol. 27: 415-444 (Volume publication date August 2001)
DOI: 10.1146/annurev.soc.27.1.415
Miller McPherson1, Lynn Smith-Lovin1, and James M Cook2

Cultural Holes: Beyond Relationality in Social Networks and Culture
Annual Review of Sociology
Vol. 36: 205-224 (Volume publication date August 2010)
First published online as a Review in Advance on April 20, 2010
DOI: 10.1146/annurev.soc.012809.102615

Krebs, Valdis (2006) "Social Network Analysis, A Brief Introduction."



Goffman, Erving. 1983. "Felicity's Condition," American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 89, No. 1 (Jul., 1983), pp. 1-53.