This course is organized as an invitation to the study of the social condition. We will first work to answer the most basic questions. What is meant by the term the social condition? (for summary statement, see here) How does the recognition of the social condition inform a distinctive approach for sociological inquiry? (for an outline, see here) How does this present itself as a matter of individual and political concern? How is the social condition embedded in social forms and social interactions?

After addressing these questions, we will turn to classic responses to the social condition: cynicism, tragedy and humor, and then examine a series of pressing issues informed by an appreciation of the social condition as a matter of both academic and public concern: democracy, capitalism, socialism, gender and racial justice, “the left,” religion and politics are planned, other topics coming out of the seminar deliberations will also be examined.

Class Schedule and Readings

Approaching the Problem:

1. The Problem:

2. The Intellectual Project:

  • Durkheim, Division of Labor
  • Weber, Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism
  • Berger and Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality
  • Garfinkel, “EthnomethodologyProgram”
  • Skocpol, States and Social Revolution
  • Wilson, “Declining Significance of Race: Reconsidered and Revised”
  • Robert Merton, Sociological Ambivalence and Other Essays
  • Donald Levine, The Flight from Ambiguity

3. The Individual Problematic:

  • Tavory, “The Question of Moral Action”
  • Tavory and Eliasoph, “Coordinating Futures”
  • Sartre, “Existentialism is a Humanism”

4. The Political Problematic:

  • Arendt, The Human Condition

5. Social Forms and the Social Condition:

  • Levine ed. Georg Simmel on Individuality and Social Forms

6. Social Interaction and the Social Condition:

  • Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life

Responding to the Problem:

7. Cynicism:

  • Goldfarb, The Cynical Society,
  • Goffman, Interaction Rituals

8. Humor:

  • Crtichley, On Humor

9. Tragedy:

  • Michnik, “Gray is Beautiful”
  • Simmel, “The Concept and Tragedy of Culture,” and “The Conflict of Modern Culture”
  • Williams, Modern Tragedy

The Social Condition and Action:

10. Democracy:

  • Weber, “Politics as a Vocation”
  • Goldfarb, Civility and Subversion and Reinventing Political Culture

11. Capitalism/Socialism and Their Alternatives:

  • Michnik, “The New Evolutionism”
  • Havel, “The Power of the Powerless”
  • Matynia, An Uncanny Era
  • Goldfarb, Beyond Glasnost
  • Michnik, The Trouble with History
  • Eli Zaretsky, Why America Needs a Left

12. Feminism/Race and Racism:

  • Fraser, Fortunes of Feminism
  • Goldfarb, “Why is there no Feminism after Communism?”
  • Wilson, “The Declining Significance of Race: Revisited and Revised”

13. Religion and Politics:

  • Asad, Brown, Butler and Mahmood, Is Critique Secular?
  • Arendt, “Truth and Politics”

14. Media and the Social Condition:

  • Goldfarb, The Politics of Small Things
  • Dayan, selected essays

Course Requirements

Active participation in the seminar, including a reflective short essay responding to a class assignment and seminar session, prepared for possible publication on

Final paper: This can take one of three forms:

1. A critical response to the assigned and related readings.

2. A research paper on a topic informed by the readings and discussions in the seminar.

3. A critical review of sociological research and theory that illuminates the study of the social condition or that is wanting because the social condition is not sufficiently recognized.

The papers should be between 10 and 35 pages.