Winter Module Course: Unravelling Sociological Theory

Course Program


After undergoing manifold theoretical and methodological turns towards new or hitherto neglected object-domains – e.g. language, culture, vision, reflection, cognition, body, neuro, practice, materiality –, the concomitant readjustment of its conceptual demarcations vis-à-vis traditional and new leading intellectual disciplines from the area of human as well as “hard” sciences, and, finally, the effects of ever increasing dynamics of internal specialization, it has become a great challenge for the student, but also teacher, of contemporary sociology to find orientation in the current state of the art.

Formerly, the field of sociological theory was bestowed with the task to unify, synthesize and mediate between the many strands of theoretical orientations and paradigms. Yet, in the light of the aforementioned pressures, it has become widely perceived and commented over the recent years that the status of sociological theory dwindled with its growing incapacity to reintegrate the manifold sociological endeavors within a single discursive framework.

You can find the Schedule for all 5 days here

Main Topics

The advent of modern sociology occurred in tandem with the promulgation of the notion of modernity or rather the features of modern as against traditional societies in the 19th century. Since its inception in the classical works of Durkheim, Simmel, and Weber, modernity thus probably became the single most successful conceptual invention of modern social science. However, in the wake of the postmodern turn in the 1970s, the category became subject of severe criticism and widely discarded for its political and ideological implications. In retrospect, it seems fair to conclude that the anti-foundationalist zeal of the postmodernist movement was effective in partitioning the field into two opposing strands, i.e. those who actively engage in the theoretical search for alternative, non-modern explanatory categories on the one hand, and those who, untroubled, continue to work with conventional theoretical models on the other. Currently we can observe radical positions brought forward by proponents of Postcolonial Studies or a ›cosmopolitan sociology‹ (Beck) that opt for a comprehensive dispensation of modern categories as well as very elaborate attempts at historicization of the modernization paradigm brought forward by American social scientists. The debates can be centered around the question whether contemporary sociology can allow to rid itself of its conceptual heritage such as those put forward by the modernization complex without surrendering its disciplinary identity entirely.

Presenter: Prof. Dr. Andreas Göbel

External expert: N.N.

It can be stated without much exaggeration that Michel Foucault must be depicted as the most influential intellectual figure in the realm of social theory over the past half of a century. After an initial period of hesitant reception, his ideas were picked up in varied domains of sociological research. Also, on the plain of sociological theory and methodology Foucault’s revisions of key categories such as subject, body, knowledge, discourse, and power have paved the way for a profound engagement with poststructuralist ideas and inspired alternative routes to bridge the agency/structure dichotomy which remained a dominant issue within sociology. From Foucaults point of view, ›society‹ and ›the social‹ can neither be derived from any material qualities of reality nor from properties of individual subjects. Rather, such entities emerge as ›truth effects‹ of concrete discursive practices and constellations. Especially to the science of society such a claim must pose a certain conceptual threat. Therefore, attempts to formulate or engage in a ›postructuralist sociology‹ are still very rare and preliminary.

Presenter: Jeffrey Spiegler, M.A.

External Expert: N.N.

Since the 1920s, ›critique of ideology‹ was the predominant practice of a Marxist sociology in contradistinction to what was then dubbed bourgeois social science. In the realm of sociological theory, the idea to disclose »false consciousness« became central to such varied theoretical endeavors as Critical Theory (of the Frankfurt School type), Mannheim’s sociology of knowledge, and British Cultural Studies. The project of ›critique of ideology‹ was buried together with its naïve premise to expose a concrete hidden structure behind distorted cognition when the first waves of the postmodern storm hit the landscape of sociological theory in the 1970s. Despite this trend, a revamped version of ›critique of ideology‹ was designed from very different intellectual sources. The blending of Lacanian psychoanalysis, Hegelian-Marxist ideas, and poststructuralist thinking in the work of Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek has most recently been adapted towards the analysis of racism, media consumption, and virtual reality. As can be argued, a theory of media and ideology based on Lacan’s triadic theory of structure offers unique insights into contemporary mechanisms of self-deception which prevail in our current environment of »generalized mediatisation« (Lash).

Presenter: Dr. Daniel Suber

External expert: N.N.

The unexpected reappearance of ›critique of capitalism‹ over the past two decades in the wake of several global economic crises also stimulated attempts to refurbish the theoretical project traditionally referred to as Critical Theory. Initially founded in the 1920s, the paradigm was steadily adapted to changing socio-cultural constellations by its proponents, among which we find major intellectual figures such as Th. W. Adorno, M. Horkheimer, H. Marcuse, J. Habermas, and A. Honneth. Against the mainstream of scientific labor, these authors argued for a self-reflective and normatively oriented ›critical‹ sociology that seeks to preserve the values of humanism and enlightenment. Given the current state of the global world, younger authors turn to this group of authors in order to make sense of the structural, self-endangering tendencies of Late-Stage Capitalism. Adorno and Horkheimer’s paradigmatic critique of modern instrumental reason provides a genuine perspective on the destructive forces of capitalism as a particular system of social reproduction. With the help of Wallerstein’s macrohistorical analysis of the history of the modern capitalist world-system and Boltanski/Chiapello’s influential elucidation of its adaptive capacities over the last fifty years, in particular, the latter topic has been doggedly pushing its way onto the center stage of current debates in the social sciences.

Presenter: Sebastian Suttner, M.A.

External expert: N.N.


Presenter: Prof. Dr. Andreas Göbel

External expert: N.N.

The ascendancy of the metaphor of network and the new theoretical paradigm of ›methodological relationism‹ in the works of such acclaimed figures as M. Castells, B. Latour, and H. White must be ranged among the most radical and consequential theoretical innovations of the last 25 years. The idea of network introduces as an analytical heuristic that is held suitable to finally overcome the »schismatic« character of the sociological discourse, which was organized around dualistic divisions – theory/practice, agency/structure, individual/society, micro/macro, conflict/consensus, functionalism/interpretivism – since its inception. Latour’s actor network theory as well as White’s version of network theory provide new vocabularies for the analysis of social processes and structures, both of which are notoriously cumbrous and formulated with very little reference to established sociological nomenclature. They converge, however, in their goal to »rebuild social theory out of networks« (Latour) and to look with a fresh eye at the concrete mechanisms and dynamics that bring about social organization.

Presenter: Dr. Daniel Suber

External expert: N.N.

Over the past few years, the most innovative and inspiring developments in the study of human behaviour and social structures by way of microanalysis have been in the fields of anthropology, communication research and conversation analysis.
In this context, one of the most prominent approaches has been the theory of co-operative action as devised by Charles and Marjorie Harness Goodwin, which has been met with enthusiasm from a multitude of disciplines within the US.
However, the approach has gained little recognition in Germany, as well as in wider sections of sociology, despite the openings generated by the Goodwins' theory in regards to the sociological analysis of face to face interactions.
Their approach does not only provide a methodology to the study of social constellations, but can be viewed as a heuristic to build a comprehensive social- and societal theory that lifts off at the level of microanalysis, allowing to identify and understand the multimodality of the co-operative structure of interactions with regard to temporal, material and spatial dimensions.

Presenter: René Salomon, M.A.

External expert: N.N.

Aims and Objectives

The winter module course of 2022 aims to introduce interested students of the social sciences into the recent theoretical developments and trends in the field of sociological theory and to deliver an overview of its main challenges. In a supportive and stimulating environment for intellectual exchange, we will situate the recent theoretical developments in relation to different traditions and debates. This will strengthen the participants' ability to relate the current tendencies to relevant historical and philosophical contexts.


The Module Course focuses on several emanating topics that will each be presented and assessed in individual sessions. Each session comprises keynote lectures followed by joint discussions that will allow all participants to engage further. Keynote lectures will be presented by specialists within the respective field of theory. Designated sessions will also include panel discussions with leading external experts.

In addition to the formal sessions participants will be given the opportunity to get together in semi-official meetings throughout an extended lunch break and following the afternoon sessions for further reflection.

Digital Classroom

With your admission to the winter module course, you will be granted access to a digital classroom where you will find texts for preparation, additional readings and further instructions.


The summer module course will take place from 10 AM (UTC+1) to 4 PM (UTC+1). Please inform yourself in advance about the time difference to your home country: https://www.timeanddate.com/time/map/