Princeton University: Department of Sociology

Sociology 502: Contemporary Sociological Theory

Alejandro Portes

The purpose of this course is to expose students to social theories of the post-World War II period that have proven influential in stimulating sociological research or hold the potential for doing so in the future. The readings are not exhaustive of this terrain nor is this a review course that aims at covering all perspectives. Instead, it seeks to familiarize students with the forms of theorizing, levels of abstraction, and logical errors in theory construction necessary to evaluate such efforts and translate them into researchable hypotheses. The substantive ideas advanced by the different authors will be approached with these criteria in mind.

Students will be asked to summarize and evaluate assigned readings in class as well as to provide analyses of their significance and interrelationships in written examinations.

Office Hours: Wednesday, 2:00 - 4:00 p.m./Thursday, 5:30 - 6:30 p.m.


Agger, Ben. 1991. "Critical Theory, Poststructuralism, Postmodernism: Their Sociological Relevance," Annual Review of Sociology 17:105-131.

Anheier, Helmut, J. Gerhards, and Frank P. Romo. 1995. "Forms of Social Capital and Social Structure in Cultural Fields: Examining Bourdieu's Social Topography." American Journal of Sociology 100:859-903.

Arrighi, Giovanni. 1994. The Long Twentieth Century, London: Verso.

Blau, Peter M. 1964. Exchange and Power in Social Life, New York: Wiley.

Coleman, James S. 1990. Foundations of Social Theory, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Harvey, David. 1989. The Condition of Post-Modernity, Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Merton, Robert K. 1968. Social Theory and Social Structure, New York: The Free Press.

Meyer, John W., John Boli, George M. Thomas, and Francisco O. Ramirez. 1997. "World Society and the Nation State." American Journal of Sociology 103:144-181.

Mills, C. Wright. 1956. The Power Elite, New York: Oxford University Press.

Swedberg, Richard. 1993. Explorations in Economic Sociology, New York: Russell Sage.


*Required for class presenters; recommend to others.




1st. February 2 - 8

An Introduction to Social Theory

Merton, Ch. 1;Coleman, Ch. 1

2nd. February 9 - 15

Social Theory Construction - I

Merton, Ch. 5. 4,; Coleman, Ch. 2

3rd. February 16 - 22

Social Theory Construction - II

Merton, Chs. 2 & 3;Coleman, Chs. 3 & 4.

4th. February 23 - March 1

The Micro-Macro Problem in Sociology - Individualist and Structuralist Traditions.


Merton, Chs. 6 & 7; Blau, Chs. 1 & 2.

5th. March 2 - 8

Mid-range Functionalism

Merton, Chs. 8, 11, 13, & 20;*Granovetter in Swedberg.

6th. March 9 - 15



March 15 - 22



7th. March 23 - 29

The Modern Relational Perspective

Blau, Chs. 4 - 8, 11, & 12 *White, Perrow in Swedberg.

8th. March 30 - April 5

The Individualistic/Rational Tradition

Coleman, Chs. 5, 6 - 12, & 24; *Burt in Swedberg.

9th. April 6 - 12.

Sociology as the Study of Capitalism (SSC-I): Class, Power, and Inequality

Mills, Chs. 1 - 10, 15 *Sabel, Hirsch in Swedberg.

10th. April 13 - 19.

SSC-II: The Origins and Historical Dynamics of Capitalism.

Arrighi, book; *Mayer et. al.

11th. April 20 - 26.

SSC-III: The Cultural Superstructure in the Post-Industrial Period.

Harvey, parts I, II, & IV; *Agger.

12th. April 27 - May 3.

Post-Marxist Structuralism.

Bourdieu, Book I; Book II, Ch. 3; Appendix.

*Anheier et. al., Zelizer in Swedberg.