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DRPS : Course Catalogue : School of Social and Political Science : Sociology

Postgraduate Course: Key Concepts in Global Social Change (SCIL11030)

Course Outline
SchoolSchool of Social and Political Science CollegeCollege of Humanities and Social Science
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 11 (Postgraduate) AvailabilityAvailable to all students
SCQF Credits20 ECTS Credits10
SummaryThis course introduces students to key sociological concepts, their analytic utility, and their relevance for understanding and explaining major issues in global social change. It aims to define and interrogate fundamental concepts in sociology, while also illustrating these through timely and topical social issues of global scope in the news. While it addresses globalization, it puts this in historical perspective, and relates it to enduring ideas in sociological analysis.

The course will consist of a weekly series of lectures and discussions on key topics, complimented by student presentations on contemporary global issues.
Course description This core course provides an introduction to the conceptual and empirical stakes involved in exploring key processes, dimensions, and mechanisms in understanding global social change. It is analytically organized, but empirically grounded, as we consider some of the most pressing social issues of our time in their historical and theoretical contexts, and as we assess their policy implications.

Outline Content

1. Conceptual departures

This introductory session maps the two-semester course sequence, Key Concepts in Global Social Change and Researching Global Social Change. We outline the core concepts, binaries, and relationships that help to anchor the substantive topics covered throughout both semesters. Choose two or three readings, both as general reading for the course and to explore an issue of interest to you.

2. Classical theories of capitalism and social change: Smith, Marx and Weber

We explore ways to sociologically moor key concepts in social change by relating them to some enduring core narratives that have defined scholarship and continue to echo today. This week we look at the social thought of Adam Smith, Karl Marx and Max Weber on capitalism and the social mechanisms underpinning their theorisations of patterns of history and understandings of social change.

3. World society?

John Meyer's 'world society' thesis is an influential version of the idea of globalisation. In this session we will discuss the roots of this thesis in Meyer's earlier work in organisational sociology, then outline what is meant by the idea of 'world society'. Some of the evidence that supports the idea will then be touched on, as will two reasons to be critical of it:
1. that there are other ways of explaining why there is a degree of similarity worldwide in many matters of public policy;
2. that while Meyer posits that international collective action is plentiful, that seems a dubious assertion (while discussing this, we will define 'collective action', one of the deepest ideas in the social sciences).

4. Transnationalism and relationships

What is transnationalism? We explore this key concept with reference to examples including transnational relationships between couples and families, transnational caring and transnational emotions. What does it mean to be transnational and how does it impact on people's intimate relationships, their practices, their understanding of the world and their sense of home? This concept and these examples can open up debates about the relationship between structure and agency in a globalized world.

5. Social movements go global: analysing transnational activism

One of the manifestations of globalization is a rise in activism that crosses national borders, linking activists in different countries and engaging with international organizations and norms. What characterizes such activism, and what can it tell us about how the world is changing? Transnational activism is often presented as a means of redressing global inequalities and injustices, but to what extent can it really do this? What can the study of transnational activism tell us about relations between global, national and local processes? This class will examine transnational activism with a focus on the relationship between women's rights and human rights. Human rights have become a hegemonic language for the expression of grievances in our world today, but to what extent have feminist movements in countries such as China also adopted this frame for their concerns? What effects has this had?
As well as the required readings, students should look at a particular instance of transnational activism (with a focus on an organization, or a theme) that relates to the topic of their own research interest (this need not be related to human rights) and come prepared to discuss it in class. As well as looking at how this organization/theme is presented by the activist group(s), see if you can find any academic literature on the subject. See how the perspectives you have already encountered (such as world polity theory and social networks), as well as the readings below, can help analyse what you found.

6. The universal language? Music, cosmopolitanism, and global citizenship

In this session we explore the cultural dimension of globalization. While we will consider the debate concerning diversity in the current global context (i.e., imperialism vs. hybridization), our main interest is in the concept of the "global cultural public sphere" and the role of the arts - especially music - in fostering cosmopolitanism. How do events such as music festivals and international competitions display a cosmopolitan logic? What organizational arrangements under-gird these musical encounters with difference?

7. Social Network Analysis: exploring social relationships in contemporary societies

In these two lectures we will discuss social network analysis (SNA) as a powerful technique to explore the complexity of the social world in today's information technology and globalisation age. Three main questions will be addressed: (1) to what extent social life is more networked and more individualised in contemporary societies; (2) how physical and digital mobility play an increasing role in social inclusion; (3) what are the consequences for social inequality. Key notions will be addressed and illustrated through the discussions of both major thinkers and empirical evidence.
A powerful way of understanding the globalised world is to analyse connections between people, companies, cities or countries as social networks. Friendship, love, ideas, money, power or even disease pass through and are shaped by networks. In this first lecture, we will examine contemporary changes in the ways people relate to each other. Based on Wellman's concept of networked individualism, we will discuss to what extent people operate more as connected individuals embedded in a set of interdependencies and less as group or institution members. The key notions of the network approach will be presented, in particular the specificity of SNA to analyse 'actual' social relationships, rather than pre-defined, institution-based relationships. The network approach will be related to the more general debates on mobile society, individualisation and globalisation. Some founding theories of the network approach will be briefly presented. In particular, Simmel's theory of social circles and Elias' configurational approach will be briefly discussed. Finally, the limitations and pitfalls of the network approach will be discussed.

8. Small world, social capital and social inequality

How many and what people do we know? How many intermediaries, on average, do we need to reach anyone on this planet? What is social capital, how is it measured and distributed among social groups? In this second lecture, we will provide some answers to these fundamental questions about social life in globalised societies. We will start by discussing the small world problem, often referred to as six degrees of separation. We will then examine some recent methods to estimate the size and composition of personal networks. This will bring us to the concepts of social capital and homophily. The two forms of social capital: bonding and bridging social capital will be discussed and illustrated through empirical research. Finally, the issue of social life in the context of increasing spatial mobility requirements will be examined. We will show how social ties in present-day societies are built and maintained based not only on proximity, but also distance and information technologies, with facilitated access to transportation and communication systems. We will pay particular attention to the issue of social inequality. We will show that the processes of individualisation and globalisation carry the risk of social exclusion, particularly for disadvantaged and vulnerable people, who are less mobile and less systematically embedded in local, clearly identified social groups.

9. Whiteness' and 'blackness' in global and theoretical contexts

We explore 'whiteness' and 'blackness' against critical race theories, and situate them within global 'structures of power' and global 'structures of meaning'. Visibility and invisibility paradigms allow us to critically reflect on the social reproduction, sociological usefulness and empirical embeddedness of 'race', especially in an age of post-slavery, post-colonialism, and so-called post-blackness.

10. Racial orders and their consequences: South Africa, the US and Brazil

'The problem of the 20th century', W .E.B. DuBois wrote in 1903, 'is the problem of the color line'. This week we look at the formation of racial boundaries and 'colour lines' - and their social consequences - by concretizing some of the ideas from the last lecture and comparatively exploring the establishment of three states and their founding racial orders. This allows us to see how racial and ethnic categories, hierarchies and colour lines are drawn, articulated, and reproduced in comparative contexts.

11. 'Race' in America in the age of Obama

With the election of the first black leader of any Western country, many thought that a corner in race relations had been turned. We explore the implications of this assessment along two dimensions. We first sketch the historic realities of racial inequalities in the US, and what these have meant and continue to mean for black Americans today. And second, we think more about what it means to be black in a sociologically embodied and inhabited sense. In doing this we complete the arc and return to themes of essentialism, culture and power from the first of these three lectures.

The course involves one two-hour session every week for the whole class. The first hour may be a lecture, whereas the second hour may be discussion or presentations and group work, or there may be two hours of lecture/discussion format. Students are expected to do the assigned readings in advance and arrive fully prepared to participate. You are required to do key readings, and you are strongly encouraged to read beyond these.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Information for Visiting Students
High Demand Course? Yes
Course Delivery Information
Academic year 2018/19, Available to all students (SV1) Quota:  45
Course Start Semester 1
Timetable Timetable
Learning and Teaching activities (Further Info) Total Hours: 200 ( Programme Level Learning and Teaching Hours 4, Directed Learning and Independent Learning Hours 196 )
Assessment (Further Info) Written Exam 0 %, Coursework 100 %, Practical Exam 0 %
Additional Information (Assessment) All students will be assessed through the writing of an essay (word-limit 4000 words), to be agreed with the course organiser.
Feedback All essays are electronically marked and moderated, and given extensive feedback comments. Students are invited to submit an essay abstract and outline to receive feedback in advance of submitting their essay, that they can feed into the final essay.
No Exam Information
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Students will be able to construct a sociologically informed argument, using appropriate evidence, about contemporary global complexities.
  2. Students should be able to demonstrate sociological understanding of the relationship between individuals, groups and social institutions cross culturally and the importance of cultural and social context, social processes, social diversity and inequality around the globe.
  3. Students will have the ability to analyze and discuss key social processes underpinning global social change and social stability.
  4. Students will be able to critically use an appropriate a range of research strategies and methods in gaining sociological knowledge of global social change.
  5. Students should competently set their own sociological research agenda in relation to global and international issues.
Reading List
Chase-Dunn, C. and Grimes, P. (1995) "World-Systems Analysis", Annual Review of Sociology 21: 187-417

Collins, R. (1994) Four Sociological Traditions, Oxford: OUP.

Harvey, D. (1989) The Condition of Postmodernity. Oxford: Blackwell.

Held, D. and McGrew, A. (2003) The Global Transformations Reader, 2nd edn, Polity. Jenkins, R. (2002) Foundations of Sociology, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan

Mann, M. (2011) Power in the 21st Century: Conversations with John A. Hall, Cambridge: Polity.

O'Byrne, D. J. and Hensby, A. (2011) Theorizing Global Studies. Basingstoke: Palgrave Nolan, P. and Lenski, G. (2004) Human Societies: An Introduction to Macrosociology, London: Paradigm Publishers.

Osterhammel, J. and N. P. Petersson (2003) Globalization: A Short History, Princeton University Press.

Sassen, S. (2007) A Sociology of Globalization, W. W. Norton

Scholte, Jan Aart (2008) "Defining Globalization", The World Economy 31(11): 1471-1502

Therborn, Göran (2000) "Globalizations: Dimensions, Historical Waves, Regional Effects, Normative Governance", International Sociology 15(2): 151-179

Thorn, H. (2007). "Social Movements, the Media and the Emergence of a Global Public Sphere", Current Sociology 55(6): 896-918

Turner, B.S. (2006) "Classical sociology and cosmopolitanism: a critical defence of the social", British Journal of Sociology 57(1) 133-151.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Not entered
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserDr Gil Viry
Tel: (0131 6)51 5768
Course secretaryMr Joe Burrell
Tel: (0131 6) 51 3892
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