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    Using material from New Zealand and worldwide, key ideas in sociology are explored and applied to everyday life. These include theoretical approaches to modernity, social power, inequality, capitalism and social control.

    The idea of modernity is one of the core concepts in a sociological view of the world. Alongside its companion ‘big idea’ - capitalism - theories about modernity and the rationalisation of the world since the late-1700s have been central to sociological accounts of how contemporary society took shape, has a particular character, and generates particular kinds of problems for its citizens.

    This course introduces students to the sociology of modernity and will focus on five key dynamics that are central to the operation of power in modernist societies:

    • Rationalisation of society, knowledge and economy during modernity
    • Bureaucratisation of government and the use of bureaucratic systems to control citizens
    • Increased individualisation along with a loss of traditional community life
    • Increased levels and new forms of social and political control in society
    • Emerging new ways of resisting modernity

    The course will examine the emergence of these dynamics as they have taken shape in the formation of: new ways of thinking, new social/political institutions and new economic worlds in ‘modern’ societies. The course will then examine the way in which each of these dynamics has resulted in a particular kind of lived experience of modernity, as well as how these dynamics have increasingly been contested and disrupted to enable the emergence of ‘post-modern’ social worlds.

    Case studies elaborating these dynamics of modernity will examine topics like:

    1. The emergence of the modern state and bureaucratic modes of governing modern citizens
    2. Pathologies of the state and the rise of authoritarianism
    3. Contemporary economic dynamics of ‘McDonaldisation’
    4. The designing of the modern city - and its collapse
    5. The collapse of community and rise of individualism
    6. The role of science in the modernist world
    7. The clash between modernity and ecology

    About this paper

    Paper title Big Ideas in Sociology
    Subject Sociology
    EFTS 0.15
    Points 18 points
    Teaching period Semester 1 (On campus)
    Domestic Tuition Fees ( NZD ) $981.75
    International Tuition Fees Tuition Fees for international students are elsewhere on this website.
    (SOCI 101 or SOCI 102 or SOCI 103) or 54 points
    Schedule C
    Arts and Music

    Suitable for all students; strongly recommended for Sociology majors.


    Teaching staff

    Co-ordinator: Professor Hugh Campbell

    Paper Structure

    The paper is organised around the theoretical ideas of Max Weber and his successors. There are seven sections to the course:

    • Introducing the idea of modernity and its various crises
    • Bureaucratisation and McDonaldisation of society
    • Individualisation and disenchantment
    • The crisis of scientific authority
    • The modern city
    • The politics of modernity, the state and the modern citizen
    • Resisting modernity
    Teaching Arrangements

    This paper is taught through lectures and tutorials.


    George Ritzer, The McDonaldization of Society (on reserve in the Central Library).

    Graduate Attributes Emphasised
    Lifelong learning, Critical thinking, Self-motivation.
    View more information about Otago's graduate attributes.
    Learning Outcomes

    Students who successfully complete the paper will engage in an open-minded yet critical manner with the work of Max Weber and his successors. Students will be able to identify some of the key characteristics of modernity and critically engage with some of the ways in which modernity is enforced, as well as how it is increasingly being resisted and undermined.


    Semester 1

    Teaching method
    This paper is taught On Campus
    Learning management system


    Stream Days Times Weeks
    A1 Wednesday 16:00-16:50 9-13, 15-22
    Thursday 16:00-16:50 9-13, 15-16, 18-22


    Stream Days Times Weeks
    Attend one stream from
    A1 Wednesday 12:00-12:50 10-13, 15-22
    A2 Wednesday 13:00-13:50 10-13, 15-22
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