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FU-BEST 21: European Sociology and Contemporary Societies

InstructorDr. Klaus Müller
Credit Points6 ECTS


Sociology as new science, concerned with the impact of the industrial revolution on traditional forms of communal life, beliefs, and authorities, emerged in late nineteenth-century Europe. The pioneers of sociology like Emile Durkheim, Max Weber, Georg Simmel, and Leonard Hobhouse, today regarded as classics, managed to establish the young discipline at the universities in France, Germany and Great Britain. The transatlantic exchange of sociological ideas intensified during the 1920s with American scholars (like Talcott Parsons) visiting Europe and especially with the large wave of emigrants (Paul Lazarsfeld, Reinhard Bendix, members of the Frankfurt School, and many others) to the United States. Modern Analytical Sociology was created in the United States in cooperation between European immigrants and Americans and (re-)exported to Europe during the 1950s and 1960s.

Today sociology is offered at universities all over the world – with some significant regional specializations. While American sociology is best known for its strong empirical orientation (‘social research’), sociology in Europe has developed further the theoretical traditions of the classics (‘social theory’). Some paradigmatic questions from Weber to Simmel seem still relevant: Why have essential elements of modern societies – from the rise of modern capitalism, to individualism, urban culture, and democracy – occurred first in the West? Alienation from society has been a big theme from Marx to Durkheim and Bourdieu. New topics emerged in the face of new challenges: European Integration, the end of the ‘Iron Curtain’ between Western and Eastern Europe, and the pressures of globalization on the European ‘social model’. And, of course, since Tocqueville’s Democracy in America (1835-1840), sociologists on both sides of the Atlantic have been fascinated to compare Europe and the American Experience.

The aim of the course will be to portray prominent European sociologists and apply their ideas to the challenges of our time.