Rethinking Classical and Modern Theory and Methodology: theorizing and method sensitivity in Social Science (Beijing, China)

Lars Bo Kaspersen, CBS + 2-3 others professors

Lars Bo Kaspersen, (b. 1961), BA (Copenhagen), MA (Copenhagen), MA (Sussex), PhD (Aarhus), Professor, Formerly Head of the Department of Political Science, University of Copenhagen and Head of the Department of Business and Politics, Copenhagen Business School. Has published widely on social theory and political sociology. Author of among other publications ‘Denmark in the world’. Kaspersen’s research areas are state formation processes in Europe, the transformation of the welfare state, sociology of war, civil society (including the idea of associative democracy), social theory, in particular relational theory. Together with Norman Essex, he is working on a book about Norbert Elias’s political sociology. He recently received a grant from the Carlsberg Foundation to study ‘the civil society in the shadow of the state'. His publications have appeared in journals such as Sociology, Sociological Review, European Journal of Sociology and Socio-Economic Review. Kaspersen teaches history, politics, and sociology.

Course coordinator
Professor Lars Bo Kaspersen, Copenhagen Business School


The participants must hold a degree in social science. They must be familiar with theories and methods within social sciences.

It is expected that the participants have read the pre-scribed reading and take part in class discussions. They need to attend the whole course in order to receive the diploma. In particular this course targets doctoral students who work within organizational studies, economic sociology, political economy, international political economy, business history, business studies, and innovation studies. However, everybody who fulfills the requirements is welcome!

The paper: each of the participants must produce a paper about their PhD projects.
It must be no longer than three pages (first page: your topic, your research question/problem, your structure; second page: choice of theory, try to describe what kind of theory? Does it explain or understand? How do you theorize? Third page: methodological considerations, relationship between theory and methods).

The paper is due 20 November 2019. Please, send it to Lars Bo Kaspersen lbk.mpp@cbs.dk

Travel stipends
The course is open to all PhD students on the terms listed above. The Principal Coordinator of the SDC Social Sciences offers 6 travel stipends of 6,000 DDK each. The stipends can be applied by non-SDC financed PhD students enrolled at the course. SDC financed PhD students must cover their cost of travel and accommodation within their overall budgets.

Application must contain:
- Why is this Phd-course important to me?
- My phd-project – short description
- My back ground – what did I do for my Bachelor degree and master degree
- Other relevant information

Application must be short and not exceed one page.

Applications for travel stipends should be sent to Lars Bo Kaspersen - lbk.mpp@cbs.dk - no later than October 1 2019. The Principal Coordinator Stine Haakonsson will shortly after decide on the distribution of the stipends.

This PhD course aims at providing the PhD students with appropriate skills, knowledge, and capacity to choose and develop the best possible theoretical and methodological framework for their projects. Furthermore, the course will teach the students how to theorize. Very few students know the art of theorizing. The course will stress the importance of the classical tradition within social science theory and methods, but the project is to rethink and modernize the classical legacy in order to conceptualize problems and challenges in the 21st century. We need a new mode of theorizing combined with more coherent methodologies. Finally, the course will present some fairly new middle-range theories, and some methods. Throughout the whole course the PhD-students will work on their projects in relation to the theories and methods discussed in class.

Course content
The course is structured around five issues:

- What is theory, what is theorizing and how do we increase the ability to theorizing?

- We read and discuss some classical texts within organization studies, public administration, comparative political economy, and innovation studies – how is theorizing understood here?

- We discuss problems and challenges when we want to do comparative studies
(unit of analysis, comparing what?, diachronic comparison, synchronic comparison)

- We read and discuss two types of more recent theory development: 1) substantialist theories (institutional theory and rational choice) 2) relational theory (Bourdieu, Elias, Abbott). How do they theorize? What is theory? Are they all empirical sensitive?

Teaching style
The teaching style of the course is a mixture of lectures and student presentations. A large part of the course consists of dialogues in which students are expected to be active.

Lecture plan
Monday, December 2 Theme Faculty
9.00 - 12.00 Introduction to the course

- Welcome

- Presentation

- The PhD-projects - a short presentation

- Theory/theorizing: What is it?
Lars Bo Kaspersen + NN
13.00 - 15.00 Theorizing with the Classics

- Marx and The Marxist theory tradition

- Durkheim and functionalism

- Weber: Hermeneutics, and causality

- Polanyi and the Great Transformation
Lars Bo Kaspersen + NN
15.00 - 17.00 Current issues in Political Economy: The Developmental State Lars Bo Kaspersen + NN
Tuesday, December 3 Theme Faculty
9.00 -10.00 The Classics – continued Lars Bo Kaspersen + NN
10.00 - 12.00 Current issues in Political Economy: How do we theorize about innovation? tba
13.00 - 16.00

Methods to study comparative political economies (firms, groups, governmental institutions, states)  – derived from the classical tradition.

- Synchronic comparisons

- Diachronic comparisons

- Retrospective analysis

- Prospective analysis
Lars Bo Kaspersen
16.00 - 17.00

PhD projects

Wednesday, December 4


9.00 - 11.00

Institutional theory

Lars Bo Kaspersen
11.00 - 12.00

PhD projects

13.00 - 15.00

Structuration theory

Lars Bo Kaspersen
15.00 - 17.00

PhD projects

Thursday, December 5


9.00 - 12.00

Relational theory:

- Introduction to relational theory

- Mapping relational theory

- Pierre Bourdieu

13.00 - 16.00

Relational theory - continued:

- Norbert Elias

- Andrew Abbott

- Methodological relationalism

- process sociology

- How do we move from studying static entities to processes and practices?

Lars Bo Kaspersen
16.00 - 17.00

PhD projects

Friday, December 6


9.00 - 12.00

Institutional Theory Revisited

Lars Bo Kaspersen
13.00 - 16.00

Where does this course take us?

- Summing up

- Final discussions

Lars Bo Kaspersen

Learning objectives
The course will introduce a number of different perspectives on the art of theorizing.

By confronting different (classical and modern) theories students will achieve knowledge and experience which will help them in their future academic careers in terms of theorizing and developing more coherent theoretical frameworks.

Following from this the students will learn that any theoretical framework facilitates and constrains the character of methods. They will learn when a theory is empirical sensitive and how theory and method is tied together.

The students will learn about the 'new paradigm' – relational social theory and methodological relationalism.



Start date

End date




Course Literature
Readings marked with * must be read

*Abbott, A. 2016. Processual Sociology. University of Chicago Press.

L. Althusser/E. Balibar. 1970 .Reading Capital. Verso

Arrighi, G. 2004. The Long Twentieth Century. Verso.

Bourdieu, P. 1977. Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

*Bourdieu, Pierre. 1992. The Logic of Practice. Polity.

Pierre Bourdieu Loïc J. D. Wacquant. 1992. An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology. Polity

Cassirer, E. 1953 Substance and Function, New York: Dover.

Coleman, J. 1992. The Foundation of Social Theory. Harvard University Press.

Dewey, J. and Bentley, A. F. 1949 Knowing and the Known, Boston: Beacon Press.

*Durkheim, E. 1992. The Division of Labour.

D. Easley & J. Kleinberg. 2010. Networks, Crowds, and Markets.

*Elias, N. 1974 ‘Towards a Theory of Communities’ in Colin Bell and Howard Newby (eds.), The Sociology of Community. A Selection of Readings, London: Frank Cass & Co.

*Elias, N. 1978 What is sociology? New York: Columbia University Press.

Robert van krieken, norbert elias

Elias, N. 1987a Involvement and Detachment, Oxford: Blackwell.

Elias, N. 1987b ‘The Retreat of Sociologists into the Present’, Theory, Culture & Society 4(2-3): 223-248.

Elias, N. 2000 The Civilization Process. Oxford: Blackwell.

Elias, N. 2001 The Society of Individuals. London: Continuum.

*Emirbayer, M. 1997 ‘Manifesto for a Relational Sociology’, The American Journal of Sociology 103 (2):281-317.

*Giddens, A. 1984. The Constitution of Society. Polity Press. (introduction + chapter one)

Hall, P. & Soskice, D. 2001. Varieties of Capitalism.(introduction)

Jessop, B. 1990. State Theory: Putting States in Their Place. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Marx, K. & Engels, F. 1848. The Communist Manifesto. Penguin.

*Marx, K. 1852. The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. In K. Marx, Early Writings. London: Penguin.

*Marx, K. 1865. Capital (vol. 1). Penguin

Miliband, R. 1969. The State in the Capitalist Society.

*Polany, K. 1944. The Great Transformation.

*Schumpeter, J. 1942. Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy.

*Richard Swedberg. 2016. Before theory comes theorizing or how to make social science more interesting (plus response to commentators), The British Journal of Sociology 2016 Volume 67 Issue 1, pp. 5–22, 57–70.

Richard Swedberg. 2015. The Art of Social Theory. Cornell University Press.

Richard Swedberg. 2014. Theorizing in Social Science: The Context of Discovery.

*Richard Swedberg. 2011. Theorizing in Sociology and Social Science: Turning to the Context of Discovery. Theory and Society, 41(2012):1–40.

Richard Swedberg. 2010. Thinking and Sociology. Journal of Classical Sociology 11,1:1–19.

Wallerstein, I. 1974. The Modern World-System I. New York: Academic Press, Inc.

*Weber, M. 1968. Economy and Society. University of California Press.

Suggested readings:
Skocpol, Theda, ed. 1984. Vision and Method in Historical Sociology. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Abrams, Philip. 1983. Historical Sociology. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

*Initial Conditions, General Laws, Path Dependence, and Explanation in Historical Sociology, by Jack A. Goldstone. American Journal of Sociology Vol. 104, No. 3 (1998), pp. 829-845.

*Revisiting General Theory in Historical Sociology, by James Mahoney. Social Forces 83(2):459-489, 2004.

*The Role of General Theory in Comparative-Historical Sociology, by Edgar Kiser; Michael Hechter. American Journal of Sociology Vol. 97, No. 1 (1991), pp. 1-30.

Odious Comparisons: Incommensurability, the Case Study, and "Small N's" in Sociology, by George Steinmetz. Sociological Theory Vol. 22, No. 3 (2004), pp. 371-400.

The Uses of Theory, Concepts and Comparison in Historical Sociology, by Victoria E. Bonnell. Comparative Studies in Society and History Vol. 22, No. 2 (1980), pp. 156-173.

Path Dependence in Historical Sociology, by James Mahoney. Theory and Society Vol. 29, No. 4 (2000), pp. 507-548.

Richard Swedberg. 2016. Can You Visualize Theory? On the Use of Visual Thinking in Theory Pictures, Theorizing Diagrams, and Visual Sketches, Sociological Theory. 2016, Vol. 34,3:250–275.

Bhaskar, R. 1989 [1979]. The Possibility of Naturalism. London: Harvester Wheatsheaf.

Burger, T. 1987. Max Weber’s Theory of Concept Formation. Durham: Duke University Press.

Hindess, B. 1977. Philosophy and Methodology in the Social Sciences. Hassocks: Harvester Press.

Hindess, B. 1986. “Actors and Social Relations.” In M.L. Wardell & S.P. Turner (eds.), Sociological Theory in Transition. London: Allen & Unwin

Richard Swedberg. 2015. "Orientation to Others": A Central but Forgotten Concept in Max Weber's Sociology, from: Gianluca Manzo (ed.) Theories and Social Mechanisms. Oxford: Bardwell Press, 2015.

Compendium – literature: you can access the literature by activating this link:


No tuition fee.

Minimum number of participants

Maximum number of participants

All lectures and classes will be given in China at Sino-Danish Center for Education and Research, Eastern Yanqihu campus, University of Chinese Academy of Sciences
380 Huaibeizhuang, Huairou district, Beijing.

Contact information
For course and SDC related enquiries, please contact Course Coordinator Lars Bo Kaspersen lbk.mpp@cbs.dk

Registration deadline

Register here