How to theorize ? : on the art and role of theorizing in the social science

Course content

Education in the social science is most 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 the social science, e.g. conferences, networks, working groups, textbooks and journals. If we take a closer look at this business as usual a 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 discuss the results of theorizing. There are of course also more specific courses (conferences, journals, textbooks) about results in different subfields of research, but there are almost no courses (etc.) about how to theorize. Theorizing in social science is a practice, i.e. a “know-how” rather than a “know-that”. Theorizing is learnt by doing and by being more or less intuitively influenced by “the intellectual styles” of role models (“the master thinkers”) and their paradigmatic works, rather than by following some explicit rules of procedure. In this course we will fil out this lack. We will investigate the “method”, “craft” or “art” of theorizing. An important part of that task will be to investigate the meaning and role of theory in social science. Few social scientists deny the significance of theorizing, but how do we do it?


Elective course (MSc Curriculum 2015)

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 (with a focus on sociology). In the next step the student must be able to relate these conceptions to different ways of theorizing and compare and critically discuss these ways.

The course provides students with the practical skill of theorizing and to use this skill in research and in investigations of the social world.



To plan and perform research and investigations of the social world in which theorizing plays a crucial role. The student will be able to choose and apply the right way of theorizing in different kinds of research.

Lectures and discussions in class

There is no main book. Instead chapters and articles will be uploaded on Absalon

Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment, -
Individual/group (max 4 students).
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

Please see the learning outcome.

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 28
  • Preparation
  • 118
  • Exam
  • 60
  • English
  • 206