2023-2024 / SOCI9007-2

Evolution of sociological thought, Classical sociology


30h Th

Number of credits

 Bachelor in human and social sciences3 crédits 
 Bachelor in human and social sciences (New programme)5 crédits 
 Extra courses intended for exchange students (Erasmus, ...) (Faculty of social sciences)5 crédits 
 Bachelor in information and communication5 crédits 


Bruno Frère

Language(s) of instruction

French language

Organisation and examination

Teaching in the first semester, review in January


Schedule online

Units courses prerequisite and corequisite

Prerequisite or corequisite units are presented within each program

Learning unit contents

This course on the evolution of sociological thinking questions the notion of social norm. While reflecting on the cultural, political, legal or economic standards which we abide by in our daily life, it traces the history of sociological thinking as far back as the Antiquity. So doing it aims to define how some key authors represented the social world and its possible influence on individual conscience.
After evoking Plato's social idealism, Aristotle's radical empirism and their heritage in medieval social thinking, we try and understand the relevance of some post-renaissance authors to sociology: Machiavelli, Hobbes, Rousseau etc.
 We examine the latter's opinion on a major sociological question: what in human behaviour is "human nature" and what is "inherited" from society? The development of democracy as of the French Revolution, along with that of the humanities, could let us think that, by promulgating human rights a.o., people have broken free from the social - and often authoritarian - traditions to which the Old Regime kept them bound.
Citizens freely make up and promulgate their own rights and the norms guiding their actions, Tocqueville thought while engaging the first sociological enquiries in the nascent American democracy. But does this mean that the culture and society these people were born in no longer generate laws likely to "constrain" their thoughts and actions?
No doubt, Comte and Marx wondered about this as the one like the other claimed to think sociologically when studying the extent to which we could respect a set of values, namely economic ones, without even realizing it and with the certainty to be free.   Durkheim as well wondered about this when observing the ways various habits (religious, traditional, etc.) keep influencing our behaviours or worldview when only our "reason" should be used.
Weber indeed questioned this "rational" reason supposedly characterizing human behaviour since the modern era: "what motivates human behaviour and why can a good deal of apparently irrational actions (such as those inspired by religious faith) be explained rationally if only one cares to examine them?  
Following in his steps, American interactionists and functionalists have pursued this questioning and rather than explain the influence of the social world on individuals, explain how the same together construct the social world from their own views about it. Finally, after overviewing the major schools of thought at the root of soclology, a set of contemporary "paradigms" is considered.  
In between the attraction of individual freedom and sound understanding of how social norms may have weighed on individual lives at all times, the major authors evoked here have always developed complex thoughts about our societies. Contemporary sociologists (Bourdieu, Boudon, Boltanski, Latour etc.) are only too aware of it and nowadays suggest complex sociological approaches allowing for individual reflection without underrating socio-cultural contexts.  

Learning outcomes of the learning unit

Prerequisite knowledge and skills

Planned learning activities and teaching methods


Mode of delivery (face to face, distance learning, hybrid learning)

Face-to-face course

Additional information:

to come

Recommended or required readings

 The syllabus suggested at the beginning of the year will know some deep evolutions. The examination will cover the final version of this syllabus (that will be available after the last lecture).    


Work placement(s)

Organisational remarks and main changes to the course



Association of one or more MOOCs

Items online

eps lectures 2020-2021

You will find enclosed the updated  EPS' notes. They are still the same than the ones which were already downloaded within myuliege. The only change concerns the last few elements which have been deleted, the programm being stopped after Weber (included).

All the best

Bruno Frère 

EPS (partim 1)
You will find enclosed the EPS's notes (partim 1). Please, note that the .ppt and the pdf documents will probably slightly change on the end of the year (new versions will then be downloaded). Mdifications will be minor and the actual notes will remain valid for the examination. 

ppt EPS


You will find enclosed the updated  EPS' ppt. It is still the same than the one which was already downloaded within myuliege. The only change concerns the last few elements which have been deleted, the programm being stopped after Weber (included).

All the best

Bruno Frère

notes EPS I

You will find enclosed my notes for the EPS lectures. Be careful, these notes may change slightly by the end of the lectures. In this case you will be warned.

Good work

Bruno Frère