SOC 350
Max Weber & Critical Theory or Rationalization & Its Discontents Spring 2017
Division II
Cross-listed COMP 349 / SOC 350 / REL 350
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We live in an age characterized by unprecedented technological and scientific progress–we have unraveled the building blocks of life, witnessed the birth of stars at the edge of the galaxy, and harnessed the power of the atom–and yet modern life often appears fundamentally meaningless and lacking in ultimate value–we work, we eat, we excrete, we die, perhaps in the interim shuffling paperwork, sucking up to our boss, and asking ourselves, “What kind of dining set defines me as a person?” Few thinkers have explored the roots of this modern ennui as thoroughly as Max Weber, a German sociologist often regarded as the single most important social theorist of the twentieth century. Weber wanted to know why it was European civilization in particular that gave birth to the grand trifecta of rationality, science, and capitalism and how we have become enslaved by the very things that were supposed to have set us free. Weber’s key innovation was to trace the grand trajectory of Western “rationalization”–the historical attempt to produce a world in which “one can, in principle, master all things by calculation.” Further, he demonstrated how this rationalization produced not just mastery over nature, but also “the disenchantment of the world” – value fragmentation, hyper-specialization, bureaucracy, and ultimately the “iron cage” of modernity. The first part of this course will follow in Weber’s footsteps by studying his theory of rationalization and by exploring it in different social spheres, such as the economy, the law, the professions, and the secularization of religion. The second half of the course will look at Weber’s legacy in Critical Theory. It will show how thinkers such as Theodor Adorno, Georges Bataille, Jürgen Habermas, Max Horkheimer, Michael Löwy, and Alasdair MacIntyre suggested various lines of flight from the iron cage of modernity.
The Class: Format: seminar
Limit: 15
Expected: 15
Class#: 3844
Grading: yes pass/fail option, yes fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: attendance and participation, weekly critical reflections, 5- to 6-page midterm paper, 10- to 15-page final essay
Prerequisites: none
Enrollment Preferences: preference will be given to REL, ANSO and COMP majors
Distributions: Division II
Notes: meets Division 2 requirement if registration is under REL or SOC; meets Division 1 requirement if registration is under COMP
This course is cross-listed and the prefixes carry the following divisional credit:
COMP 349 Division II SOC 350 Division II REL 350 Division II
Attributes: AMST Critical and Cultural Theory Electives
REL Body of Theory Courses

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