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Classical Sociological Theory

University of Amsterdam via Coursera


This Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) will offer the participants an introduction into the most important classical sociological readings between the 18th and 20th century. Highly influential social science scholars, such as Karl Marx, Max Weber and Emile Durkheim, will be discussed during 8 sessions. Combined with small tests, based on the video’s and recommended readings, the participants will be encouraged to dive deeply into the complex texts and get familiar with classical sociological concepts that are still very relevant today.


  • Session 1: Classical Sociological Theory - An Introduction
    • In this session the field of classical sociological theory will be introduced. It explains the historical roots of sociology. It shows you why classical sociological theories are still important in modern societies and it explains the Aims and Claims of this Course.
  • Session 2: Bernard Mandeville (1670-1733) and Adam Smith (1723-1790)
    • This session explains the work of Adam Smith. It shows you how a poem written by Bernard Mandeville inspired Adam Smith. Adam Smith's theory shines light on the consequences of industrialization. You will learn what the consequences are of the Division of Labour.
  • Session 3: Auguste Comte (1798-1857)
    • This session will cover the author of the word “sociology”, August Comte. He often engaged in theorizing the social world in order to attempt to discover invariant laws. Terms like “positivism”, “the law of the three stages” and “Functionalism” are prominent topics in this session. Comte believed that positivism could both advance science (theory) and change the ways people live their lives (practice).
  • Session 4: Alexis de Tocqueville (1805-1859)
    • Tocqueville’s works shaped 19th-century discussions of liberalism and equality, and were rediscovered in the 20th century as sociologists debated the causes and cures of tyranny and revolutions. His famous work “Democracy in America” remains widely read and even more widely quoted. This session will cover Tocqueville’s most important ideas.
  • Session 5: Karl Marx (1818-1883)
    • The German philosopher, radical economist, and revolutionary leader Karl Marx founded modern "scientific" socialism. His basic ideas, known as Marxism, form the foundation of socialist and communist movements throughout the world. Several topics like alienation, class struggle, and capitalism will be covered in this week's session.
  • Session 6: Émile Durkheim (1858-1917)
    • When thinking of Durkheim, one thinks of social facts. According to Durkheim these social facts are the social structures and cultural norms and values that are external to, and coercive over, individuals. Durkheim argues that two social facts, in particular, influence suicide rates: integration, and regulation. This session will cover the views of Durkheim on topics like solidarity, suicide, and religion.
  • Session 7: Max Weber (1864-1920)
    • This week shines a light on the work of Max Weber. From social action, verstehen, and ideal types to rationalisation and his famous work on the Protestant Ethic. Weber's theory of society tried to account for the manner in which various symbolic factors take part in establishing social status, stratification and inequality. His influence still runs throughout the realms of politics, religion and economics.
  • Session 8: Norbert Elias (1897-1990)
    • Elias is the last of the Classical Sociologists. Elias' theory focusses on long term trends, with his so called process or figurational sociology. He shows us how the civilisation proces can be explained in terms like Self-Constraint and Figurations.
  • Classical Sociological Theory Final Test
    • This is the final test. This test contains 87 question. To pass this test you need to answer at least 57 questions correct.

Taught by

Don Weenink and Bart van Heerikhuizen


4.8 rating, based on 13 Class Central reviews

4.8 rating at Coursera based on 2617 ratings

Start your review of Classical Sociological Theory

  • Kamil Trzebiatowski

    Kamil Trzebiatowski completed this course, spending 2 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be easy.

    Great course and the gentleman Professor from the University of Amsterdam made it very accessible. Love that the course has made the entire transcript of the lectures available as a single PDF book! Comte, Marx, Durkheim, Mills... great stuff and delivered in high quality!
    The final exam I found the most difficult as it contains over 80 questions, but overall not that difficult, though you do need a quiet space (so no babies around!) to understand the difficult sociological concepts!
  • Dorothy

    Dorothy completed this course, spending 2 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be medium.

    This course is presented by one of those rare professors who are enthusiastic about their material. He gives an excellent introduction to several classical and contemporary sociologists. I love his style of showing the larger (global) picture, rather than focusing on only a segment of time/geography.
    Highly recommend this course!
  • Enkhnaran

    Enkhnaran completed this course, spending 2 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be medium.

    Dear Dr. Bart van Heerikhuizen,

    Thank you very much for easy speaking of classical sociology. What are useful and understandable speech for such like me non-native English, poor student in Mongolia. Very interesting lectures about sociologists, excellent reviews about them. Thank you, Let me know next MOOC entitled MODERN SOCIOLOGY . Really really waiting it.
  • Matthew Philip

    Matthew Philip completed this course, spending 7 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be medium.

    I enjoyed learning about the early development of Sociological Theory. The Prof is a very knowledgeable and enthusiastic instructor. He describes the work of the various people who contributed to the field very carefully and skillfully. The assignments were sometimes a little difficult but manageable.
  • Dave Rawlings completed this course, spending 6 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be easy.

    Overall a good introduction to the earlier sociological thinkers. Clearly presented through videos. There are also readings with the course, and some of them are relatively lengthy - I would guess they took at least half the time I spent on the course. Assessment is through multiple choice quizzes - one each week with about 12 questions, then a final one with 87 questions - more than I've come across before. It is a good course for someone interested in sociology who hasn't studied the subject before.
  • Adam Quek

    Adam Quek completed this course, spending 2 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be medium.

    This short course provided a good introduction to the important classical sociological thinkers. The lecturer is really inspiring, keeping me motivated to complete the readings after each lecture.
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    Raul Souza

    Raul Souza is taking this course right now, spending 2 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be easy.

    I'm really enjoying this course.
    I believe it is a great opportunity for anyone who wants to begin to understand the foundations of sociological thinking
  • Yechen Huang

    Yechen Huang completed this course, spending 3 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be medium.

    Great Course to learn Classical Sociological Theory, I took this course as an 'Introduction to Sociology'. The professor did a great job explain classical thinkers' thoughts and ideas. The readings are somewhat a little bit intense. But I feel I have learned a lot of new ideas that reflect on modern Chinese society. Thank you Professor Bart van Heerikhuizen!
  • Kamil Trzebiatowski completed this course.

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  • Jason Galloway

    Jason Galloway completed this course.

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