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Course Description

What is society, and what makes it modern? This course will explore how French and German theorists over the past 150 years grappled with this question. In contrast to earlier theorists of modern society, such as Adam Smith and Karl Marx, who saw the rise of the economic sphere as crucial to the development of modernity, later theorists emphasized non-economic factors. Émile Durkheim emphasized the sociological aspects of large, complex societies, as implicated in such phenomena as suicide and anomie. Sigmund Freud explored the psychological burdens placed on us by the need to repress our instincts in order for civilization to arise and persist. Michel Foucault pointed to the ways in which power infuses our social relations, becoming less visible and more insidious. And other thinkers such as Max Weber, Walter Benjamin, Martin Heidegger, Max Horkheimer, and Theodore Adorno depicted seemingly liberating practices and norms as oppressing us instead. In examining these thinkers, we will ask how, if at all, the social and personal connect to the political or economic aspects of modernity; how we can truly understand the nature of society; and what it means to treat society as a cause of human behavior and/or as a consequence of it.

This is an in-person course that follows the published schedule of course meetings and requires attendance at all sessions. Tufts courses are designed to provide high-quality and interactive courses to Tufts and visiting students. For more information about course policies and expectations, please visit

Basic Enrollment Requirements: Unofficial Transcript - Bachelor's or progress towards a Bachelor’s Degree + 3.0 GPA.

Refund Policy: The refund policy for Courses at Tufts offerings is dependent on the offering type: whether the offering is a course, workshop or short course, or in-demand offering. Please refer to the section details to confirm the type of offering as well as any exceptions to the standard refund policy. The refund policies for each offering type are viewable here:

Remission Eligible: Yes; first day of term; all university policies apply.

Affiliated With:

School of Arts & Sciences