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Robert G. Moser, Chair BAT 2.116, Mailcode A1800, Austin, TX 78712 • 512-471-5121

Fall 2003

GOV 335M • 9 - Contemporary American Social Theory - W

Unique Days Time Location Instructor
35740 TH
7:00 PM-10:00 PM
NOA 1.102

Course Description

Course number may be repeated for credit when topics vary. Writing component with heavy reading load. Close analysis of three major American theories of complex modern societies, guided by one central question: how is the individual -- in his or her behavior and given his or her particular values, beliefs, and concerns -- integrated into a cosmopolitan society? We explore possible answers in theories situated between the extremes of portraying the individual as either a puppet or Promethean. Parsons (in a theory of "structural functionalism") contends that individuals are importantly bound by the structures that surround them, whereas Mead (in an approach known as "symbolic interactionism") understands the generation of structures to occur through a fairly transparent interaction of individuals, while Goffman (by means of "strategic interactionism") argues that structures are generated through interaction even as individuals conceal important aspects of that interaction. Beyond developing these kinds of distinctions, we will seek commonalities among our authors toward identifying a distinctly American understanding of any modern society -- of its politics, culture, morality, and legality. Weekly Blackboard Assignments: once a week at a prearranged time, each student is required to submit a list of points of discussion, as well as questions, concerning each week's readings to our seminar's Blackboard site (at Every week, one or two students on a rotating basis will prepare the weekly agendas by selecting and editing, from these submissions, a list of points and questions to direct our discussion that week. The agendamaker(s) will post the agenda to Blackboard by 6pm the day of class, where each student shoupd print out a copy and bring it to class for reference in our discussions, debates, and deliberations. Each failure to submit a list will lower a student's final grade by one letter. No late submissions accepted except in cases of documented medical or other emergency. Attendance: A student with more than the three unexcused absences from class automatically fails the course. Excuses for late essays, as for absences, must be written explanations form a physician or other relevant person.

Grading Policy

Written Assignments: Four essays, each 6-8 pages. Unexcused late essays will be penalized: for every 24 hours, or portion thereof, after the due date and hour, the earned grade for the essay will drop by one grade. Evaluation: The average of the grades for the four essays, to be raised or lowered significantly according to the quality of the student's weekly in-class participation and weekly submissions to the Blackboard forum. A student cannot pass this course without submitting all essays, all on time.


Erving Goffman, Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959) G. H. Mead, Mind, Self, and Society (1934) Talcott Parsons, The Social System (1964) Benjamin Gregg, Coping in Politics with Indeterminate Norms (2003)


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