How to theorize?: On the art and role of theorizing in the social sciences

Course content

Education in the social sciences is often divided into courses in theory, on the one hand, and courses in methods (quantitative and qualitative), on the other. This distinction is usually treated as self-evident. We see it in every aspect of social science, e.g. conferences, networks, text books and journals. If we take a closer look at this business as usual, a rather surprising fact comes to the surface. Method in this distinction explicates how to conduct empirical research in the right way. Theory, on the other hand, presents and discusses the results of theorizing. There are of course also more specific courses about results in different subfields of empirical research, but there are seldom courses about how to theorize. Theorizing is a practice, i.e. a “know-how” rather than a “know-that”. Theorizing is learnt by doing and by being more or less unconsciously influenced by “the intellectual styles” of role models (“the master thinkers”) and their paradigmatic works, rather than by following some explicit methods of procedure. This seems to be a significant lack in view of the general recognition of the “theory-ladenness” of facts and of the significance of being reflective in every part of the research process. This course aims to counteract this lack. We will try to come to grips with what a “method”, “craft” or “art” of theorizing might be. The course will be divided in the following subtopics:


  • Different conceptions of theory in the social sciences
  • Competing conceptions of theory in the history of sociology
  • The role of epistemology, ontology and normativity in theorizing and their relation
  • Methods of theorizing
  • Autonomous theorizing (Theory as a specific subfield of sociology)

Theorizing in empirical research


All teaching will be ONLINE from Monday December 7th 2020, and until February 1st 2021.


Elective Course

Course package (MSc 2015):

Welfare, inequality and mobility
Knowledge, organisation and politics
Culture, lifestyle and everyday life

Learning outcome

The student must in a first step be able to understand what distinguishes different conceptions of theory and the role theory plays in different significant conceptions of social science. In the next step the student should be able to relate these conceptions to different ways of theorizing and compare and critically discuss these ways.

The course provides students with practical skills of how to theorize an to use this skill in research and in different kinds of investigations of society.



Plan and perform research and investigations of society with focus on the role of theorizing. The student will be able to choose and apply the right way of theorizing in different kinds of research.


The teaching is on campus during autumn semester 2020.
However, due to the covid19 situation all classes are available online too for students who are not able to attend classes on campus because of their covid-19 risk.

Always remember to check Absalon for the latest updates.


Lectures, discussions, seminars with practical tasks

The main book and point of departure will be Richard Swedberg’s: The art of social theory. It will be supplemented by articles and chapters by a variety of authors, which help us to get an overview and to dive into more detailed topics

Continuous feedback during the course of the semester

Discussions and seminars. Time set off for questions

7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment, Find more information on your study page at KUnet.
Free written take-home essays are assignments for which students define and formulate a problem within the parameters of the course and based on an individual exam syllabus. The free written take-home essay must be no longer than 10 pages. For group assignments, an extra 5 pages is added per additional student. Further details for this exam form can be found in the Curriculum and in the General Guide to Examinations at KUnet.
All aids allowed
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Criteria for exam assessment

See learning outcome

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 28
  • Preparation
  • 140
  • Exam
  • 38
  • English
  • 206