Reading social science SC1185

Students are expected to undertake a great deal of independent reading during their studies and this course prepares them for this work.


This course may not be taken with SC1158 Reading social science (half course).

Topics covered

Social order, cohesion and power: 

These themes are concentrated in the political writings of Hobbes and Rousseau. These two texts pose specific and opposed arguments about human nature and the nature of society. The two counter-posed views that group life is, or is not, dependent on a sovereign are a significant basis for further debates about the role of power in social life.

Economic organization and social life: 

The theme of how capitalist society is socially organized is particularly important in two texts: Smith and Marx & Engels. Students will learn to trace how Smith looks at the structure of social relations as a logical outcome of individual actions. In contrast, they will work through how Marx and Engels see the same force of economic competition as resulting in opposed classes, and not in an organized market. The theme of an unequal and divided nature of society has strong reverberations in the texts by Adorno & Horkheimer, Fanon and Agamben.

Subjectivity and institutional life: 

This theme is about how individuals’ experiences and senses of identity are constituted by the broader forms of institutional life. The text that tackles this most richly is the extract by Foucault, but it plays a significant role in Adorno & Horkheimer, Fanon and Agamben. Students will need to understand the meaning of individual subjectivity which is distinctively interpreted by the texts just listed. Similarly they will learn to separate different understandings of institutional life.

Urban life and late capitalism: 

These topics involve two significant elements in contemporary life across the globe, most notably through the writings of Simmel and Adorno & Horkheimer. Urbanization is a feature of life that has steadily increased and arguably intensified since the industrial revolution. Simmel’s writings explore the new forms of social life that come about with the rise of ‘the metropolis’. Freud and Adorno & Horkheimer examine the disunities that arise with the emergence of capitalism in its consumer form.

Sovereignty and social inequality: 

These two themes are extensions of the earlier themes. For students to make sense of the later texts, such as Agamben, it will be important that they have analyzed the earlier writings on power and capitalism. The themes are comparative. Agamben’s understanding of sovereignty can be fruitfully contrasted with Hobbes’ and Rousseau’s. In terms of social inequality, Fanon’s writings offer a rich comparison to Marx & Engels, and to Adorno & Horkheimers’.

Learning outcomes

If you complete the course successfully, you should be able to:

  • Use investigative skills to engage with the substance of hugely significant and challenging texts from across social and political thought
  • Read the selected texts critically and select key steps in the arguments for closer evaluation
  • Describe several major positions on the relationship between individual and society
  • Critically present several key positions on how modern social relations are distinct from pre-modern relations
  • Present in clear terms several explanations of the form that social power takes.


Unseen written examination (3 hr).

Essential reading

  • Thomas Hobbes. Leviathan.
  • Jean-Jacques Rousseau. The Social Contract.
  • Adam Smith. The Wealth of Nations.
  • Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. The Communist Manifesto.
  • Georg Simmel. The Metropolis and Mental Life.
  • Freud. Civilisation and Its Discontents.
  • Theodor Adorno & Max Horkheimer. The Dialectic of Enlightenment.
  • Frantz Fanon. 1957. Black Skins, White Masks
  • Foucault. Discipline and Punish.
  • Giorgio Agamben. 1998. Homo Sacer: Sovereign power and bare life.

Course information sheets

Download the course information sheets from the LSE website.