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Social theory: changing social worlds

In this module you'll explore the most influential and innovative sociological theories and the ever-changing social worlds that they respond to.  It examines how transformations across four key areas of concern – work, culture, life, and control – have been accompanied by both significant social struggles and associated innovations in social theory and analysis. The range of topics covered includes racial capitalism, social reproduction, precarious work, new nationalisms, class and taste, urban cultures, body projects, everyday life, intersectionality, mediated lives, prisons and policing, biopolitics and health, digital surveillance, and the climate crisis.

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Module code




  • Credits measure the student workload required for the successful completion of a module or qualification.
  • One credit represents about 10 hours of study over the duration of the course.
  • You are awarded credits after you have successfully completed a module.
  • For example, if you study a 60-credit module and successfully pass it, you will be awarded 60 credits.

Study level

Across the UK, there are two parallel frameworks for higher education qualifications, the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications in England, Northern Ireland and Wales (FHEQ) and the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF). These define a hierarchy of levels and describe the achievement expected at each level. The information provided shows how OU module levels correspond to these frameworks.
Level of Study
3 10 6

Study method

Module cost

Entry requirements

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What you will study

This module examines transformations across four key areas of concern – work, culture, life, and control. It explores a diverse range of sociological theories that have engaged with these themes. These include classical social theory, symbolic interactionism, post-structuralist theory, cultural theory, feminist theories, postcolonial theory, science and technology studies, ecological thought, and global social theory.

Block 1: Work
The organisation of work is one of the central structuring principles of society. This first block explores social theories that have emerged from struggles over the organisation, experience and meaning of work. What forms of work exist, and what counts as work? How does the organisation of work intersect with wider issues of power and inequality?  What transformations are happening in contemporary work? The topics you'll cover includes work and capitalism, feminist theories of work and social reproduction, racial capitalism, precarious work and digital platforms.

Block 2: Culture
The analysis of culture, in all its many forms, has long occupied a distinctive place in social theory. Why and how does culture matter? This block will explore culture as a fluid site for meaning making, identity formation, and the reproduction of power and inequalities. You'll explore how ideas of nation, class, race and gender get remade and resisted through ever-changing cultural practices and spaces. The topics you'll cover includes culture and nation, class and distinction, city cultures and body cultures.

Block 3: Life
In this block, you'll explore a range of social theories that focus upon our everyday and intimate lives. You'll explore how the experience of the everyday is always shaped by wider social structures and power relations. The topics you'll cover includes practices of everyday life; intersectionality; biopolitics, health and illness; and digitally-mediated lives.

Block 4: Control
This block explores theories of social control and social order. You’ll move from examining repressive social control, that involves force and constraint, through to forms of permissive social control, that work through freedom and circulation. You’ll explore how social control has continuously been contested by resistance, radical thought, and social movements. The topics you'll cover will include prisons and policing, abolitionist thought, digital surveillance and soft control, modernity and the climate emergency.

All of the topics in this module will be illustrated using a range of audio, video, textbook and interactive materials.

The module gives you the opportunity to discuss its ideas and arguments in a range of online activities, workshops and assessment tasks. You'll also be given skills and training to help you communicate your ideas in both academic and professional settings.

Vocational relevance

This module will equip you with a range of transferable skills, such as theoretical comprehension, communication skills for different audiences, critical analysis, working with others, presentation and blog writing, planning, researching and writing an extended essay.

Teaching and assessment

Support from your tutor

You'll be assigned a dedicated tutor who will help and support you as you work through the different kinds of learning materials on the module.

Your tutor will:

  • provide individual guidance, whether that's for general study skills or specific module content
  • mark, comment and offer detailed feedback on your written assignments (TMAs) which will help you to improve, and to prepare for the next assignment on the module
  • support any collaborative work and facilitate online discussions between your fellow students in the dedicated module forums.

Tutors also run online learning events throughout the module. Although these events are not compulsory, you are strongly encouraged to take part. They are a great way to meet other students and will enhance your understanding of the module content. Where possible, recordings of online tutorials will be made available to students.


The assessment details for this module can be found in the facts box.

Future availability

Social theory: changing social worlds starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2024. We expect it to start for the last time in October 2034.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the academic regulations which are available on our Student Policies and Regulations website.

Course work includes:

4 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment

Entry requirements

This is an OU level 3 module. The module will specifically enable you to develop an understanding of changing social worlds using a range of sociological theories and conceptual vocabularies. OU level 3 modules build on study skills and subject knowledge acquired from previous studies at OU levels 1 and 2.  This module is intended for students who have some experience of undertaking OU levels 1 and 2 modules in related social science subjects.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the module, please speak to an adviser.


Start End England fee Register
05 Oct 2024 Jun 2025 £3636.00

Registration closes 05/09/24 (places subject to availability)

This module is expected to start for the last time in October 2034.

Additional Costs

Study costs

There may be extra costs on top of the tuition fee, such as set books, a computer and internet access.

If your income is not more than £25,000 or you receive a qualifying benefit, you might be eligible for help with some of these costs after your module has started.

Ways to pay for this module

Open University Student Budget Account

The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

  • Register now, pay later – OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
  • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your monthly fee and number of instalments based on the cost of the module you are studying. APR 5.1% representative.

Joint loan applications

If you feel you would be unable to obtain an OUSBA loan on your own due to credit history or affordability issues, OUSBA offers the option to apply for a joint loan application with a third party. For example, your husband, wife, partner, parent, sibling or friend. In such cases, OUSBA will be required to carry out additional affordability checks separately and/or collectively for both joint applicants who will be jointly and severally liable for loan repayments.

As additional affordability checks are required when processing joint loan applications, unfortunately, an instant decision cannot be given. On average the processing time for a joint loan application is five working days from receipt of the required documentation.

Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).

Employer sponsorship

Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU courses are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to complete. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

More than one in ten OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the module you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

  • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
  • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your module.  

Credit/debit card

You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

We accept American Express, Mastercard, Visa and Visa Electron. 

Mixed payments

We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. For example, you may wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Account (OUSBA).

Please note: your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and, therefore, the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fee information provided here is valid for modules starting before 31 July 2025. Fees typically increase annually. For further information about the University's fee policy, visit our Fee Rules

This information was provided on 20/07/2024.

Can you study an Access module for free?

Depending on eligibility and availability of places, you could apply to study your Access module for free.

To qualify, you must:

  1. be resident in England
  2. have a household income of not more than £25,000 (or be in receipt of a qualifying benefit)
  3. have not completed one year or more on any full-time undergraduate programme at FHEQ level 4 or above or successfully completed 30 credits or more of OU study within the last 10 years

How to apply to study an Access module for free

Once you've started the registration process, either online or over the phone, we'll contact you about your payment options. This will include instructions on how you can apply to study for free if you are eligible and funded places are still available.

If you're unsure if you meet the criteria to study for free, you can check with one of our friendly advisers on +44 (0)300 303 0069, or you can request a call back.

Not eligible to study for free?

Don't worry! We offer a choice of flexible ways to help spread the cost of your Access module. The most popular options include:

  • monthly payments through OUSBA
  • part-time tuition fee loan (you'll need to be registered on a qualification for this option)

To explore all the options available to you, visit Fees and Funding.

What's included

You'll be provided with a textbook and have access to a module website, which includes:

  • a week-by-week study planner
  • module materials
  • audio and video recordings
  • interactive activities
  • an assessment guide
  • access to online tutorials and forums.

Computing requirements

You’ll need broadband internet access and a desktop or laptop computer with an up-to-date version of Windows (10 or 11) or macOS Ventura or higher.

Any additional software will be provided or is generally freely available.

To join in spoken conversations in tutorials, we recommend a wired headset (headphones/earphones with a built-in microphone).

Our module websites comply with web standards, and any modern browser is suitable for most activities.

Our OU Study mobile app will operate on all current, supported versions of Android and iOS. It’s not available on Kindle.

It’s also possible to access some module materials on a mobile phone, tablet device or Chromebook. However, as you may be asked to install additional software or use certain applications, you’ll also require a desktop or laptop, as described above.

If you have a disability

The OU strives to make all aspects of study accessible to everyone and this Accessibility Statement outlines what studying DD318 involves. You should use this information to inform your study preparations and any discussions with us about how we can meet your needs.

To find out more about what kind of support and adjustments might be available, contact us or visit our disability support pages.