CLASSICAL SOCIAL THEORISTS


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These lectures were given in November 2001 in the Department of Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge. They were part of a course on theory and methods in anthropology designed for second year social anthropology undergraduates. They were filmed by Xiaoxiao Yan.

The purpose of this course is to look at the foundations of modern social theory through an examination of social thought in its political, economic and ideological context since about 1700 A.D. Each lecture deals with a major theoretical paradigm and is illustrated by a case study of the life, methods and conclusions of one major thinker.

There are the eight lectures of the course and an extra lecture on F.W.Maitland from a parallel course on property and corporations.

A few relevant texts can be read as e-books courtesy of University of Virginia Library, Electronic Text Center

Another selection of e-books can be found at:

Go To Project Gutenberg

Lecture 1. A rough map of social theory: 1000-2000 A.D. [Select online works of some social theorists]

Lecture 2. Baron de Montesquieu (1689-1755) [Read online 'The Spirit of the Laws']

Lecture 3. Adam Smith (1723-1790) [Read online 'An Inquiry into the Wealth of Nations']

Lecture 4. Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859) [Read online 'Democracy in America' volumes 1 and 2]

Lecture 5. Karl Marx (1818-1883) [Read online 'Capital']

Lecture 6. Emile Durkheim (1858-1917)

Lecture 7. Max Weber (1864-1920)

Lecture 8. Ernest Gellner (1925-1995)

Extra Lecture. F.W.Maitland (1850-1906)

Overviews and general reading

Raymond Aron, Main Currents in Sociological Thought (2 vols: 1965).
E.E. Evans-Pritchard, A History of Anthropological Theory (1981)
Anthony Giddens, Capitalism and modern social theory (1971)
Clifford Geertz, Works and Lives (1988)
Jack Goody, The Expansive Moment, (1995), appendix 2.
Geoffrey Hawthorn, Enlightenment and Despair: A history of Sociology (1976)
Robert Lowie, History of Ethnological Theory (1937)
Alan Macfarlane, The Riddle of the Modern World: Of Liberty, Wealth and Equality (2000)
R.A.Nisbet, The Sociological Tradition (1967)
G.Stocking, Victorian Anthropology (1987)
Fred Voget, A History of Ethnology (1975)

[These books will be referred to below in detailed reading lists by short titles, eg. Aron, Currents or Hawthorn, Enlightenment]

There are useful articles on numerous theoretical topics (e.g. social structure) and individual thinkers (e.g. Montesquieu) in both the first and second edition of Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, a multi-volume work. It is often worth starting with an overview from an article in this source. There are also helpful overview articles in The Macmillan Student's Guide to Sociology, ed. Michael Mann (1983).

Also see my own writing on Encounters with Social Theorists