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Social theory: changing social worlds

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In this module you'll explore some of the most important and influential traditions of sociological thought and the ever-changing social worlds that they emerge in response 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 specific topics and case studies explored moves from racial capitalism to precarious work, new forms of nationalism to biopolitics, algorithmic power to climate change.

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. The range of specific topics and case studies explored moves from racial capitalism to precarious work, new forms of nationalism to biopolitics, algorithmic power to climate change.

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 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.

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 theorise 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 numerous 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 everyday and intimate lives. You'll also explore how the experience of the everyday is always mediated by wider social structures and power relations. The topics you'll cover includes everyday life; gender, sexuality and intimacy; intersectionality; biopolitics, health and illness; mediated life.

Block 4: Control
The question of social control has long been one of the defining concerns of social theory. This block will examine various institutions, forms and experiences of social control, including theories of governing through constraint, freedom and data. It will also foreground how social control has continuously been contested by immanent forms of resistance, radical thought, and associated movements for change and rights. The topics you'll cover will include discipline and carcerality, surveillance and algorithmic control, crises of control and climate change.

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.

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.

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 (11 'Big Sur' 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.

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 and face-to-face 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.

You must use the online eTMA system to submit your tutor-marked assignments (TMAs).

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.

Future availability

Social theory: changing social worlds starts once a year – in October. This page describes the module that will start in October 2023. We expect it to start for the last time in October 2032.

Course work includes:

4 Tutor-marked assignments (TMAs)
End-of-module assessment
No residential school