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The University of Southampton

SOCI6035 Understanding Modernity

Module Overview

This module will explore the concepts of Modern Society and the Welfare State, based on key theories. We will engage with how modernity has been framed by classical and contemporary sociological writings and in that context analyse how individuals, collectives, markets, and interests and have been conceptualised. The welfare state is an integral part of modern society and this module will investigate why modernisation and welfare state development went hand in hand, by studying the evolution of collective insurance against risks of poverty or ill health. On this basis we will turn our attention to contemporary dynamics of modern societies, giving particular consideration to non-OECD countries, which “modernised” from the second half of the 20th century, such as China and Korea. Throughout the module students will be encouraged to critically engage with these sociological debates, assess the relative strengths and weaknesses of the different approaches and evaluate attempts to operationalise them in comparative research.

Aims and Objectives

Learning Outcomes

Learning Outcomes

Having successfully completed this module you will be able to:

  • Understand how sociologists have gone about studying and conceptualising modern societies, and the significance of modernity for the emergence of sociology as a discipline.
  • Understand key theories explaining the emergence and evolution of social policies and welfare states in modern societies.
  • Know how the different perspectives on modernity and the welfare state complement or conflict with one another and of the ways in which more recent approaches have built on, rejected or attempted to tread a line between, previous approaches.
  • Be able to evaluate the strengths, weaknesses and limitations of the approaches considered, and their implications for the ways in which we go about studying the social world, especially when taking a global perspective.


1. Background - the emergence of Modern Societies and the aims of Sociology 2. Making sense of Modernity (1): Marx, Durkheim and the Modern World 3. Making sense of Modernity (2): Weber, Simmel on the Modern World 4. Classical legacies (1): consensus vs conflict 5. Classical legacies (2): micro and macro sociologies 6. The Modern World and the Welfare State: Industrialism 7. Political power and the welfare state 8. The concept of welfare state types 9. Welfare state regimes in the industrialised world 10. The developmental welfare state in the industrialising world

Learning and Teaching

Teaching and learning methods

Teaching will take place in one two-hour session per week. The format will be seminar-based, students are provided with guided readings in advance of the session, and the seminar tutor will encourage them to engage in seminar discussions. On some occasions student might be asked to present material at the start of sessions. There will be a total of 20 seminar-based contact hours and up to 20 contact hours of tutorial support.

Independent Study180
Total study time200

Resources & Reading list

Journal of Social Policy. 

Esping-Andersen, Gosta (1990). The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism. 

Journal of European Social Policy. 

Castles, F.; Leibfried, S.; Lewis, J., Obinger, H. and Pierson, C. (eds.) (2010). The Oxford Handbook of the Welfare State. 

British Journal of Sociology. 

Crow, G.. The Art of Sociological Argument.. 

Journal of Human Development and Capabilities. 

Comparative Political Studies. 

Shilling, C. & Mellor, P (2001). The Sociological Ambition. 

International Political Sociology. 

Ritzer, G. (2003). Sociological Theory. 


Development and Change. 

World Development. 

Haggard, S, Kaufman, R. (2008). Development, Democracy, and Welfare States.. 

International Journal of Social Welfare. 

Asian Studies Review. 


Assessment Strategy

• One essay of 2500 words worth 50% of the total mark • One essay of 2500 words worth 50% of the total mark


MethodPercentage contribution
Essay  (2500 words) 50%
Essay  (2500 words) 50%


MethodPercentage contribution
Analytical essay  (5000 words) 100%

Repeat Information

Repeat type: Internal & External


Costs associated with this module

Students are responsible for meeting the cost of essential textbooks, and of producing such essays, assignments, laboratory reports and dissertations as are required to fulfil the academic requirements for each programme of study.

In addition to this, students registered for this module typically also have to pay for:

Books and Stationery equipment

Recommended texts for this module may be available in limited supply in the University Library and students may wish to purchase reading texts as appropriate.

Please also ensure you read the section on additional costs in the University’s Fees, Charges and Expenses Regulations in the University Calendar available at

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