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Issues in Contemporary Society


Here is a brief overview of the MA module 'Issues in Contemporary Society'. A detailed handbook will be distributed at the first seminar.

MA in Contemporary Sociology
Session  2011 – 2012


Semester One



SY7018  Issues in Contemporary Society



Lecturer:    Professor Carlo Ruzza

Room:       502 Attenborough Building

Tel:              (0116) 252 5359

E-mail:         cr145@le.ac.uk

Module lecturer:        Professor Carlo Ruzza



Class times:                Tuesday 10.00am-11.00am – Room 205, Attenborough Bldg

                                    Wednesday 11.00am-12.00pm – Room 205, Attenborough Bldg




Module Objectives:


On completion of this module students are expected to be


·     Familiar with contemporary debates in sociology.

·     Be able to demonstrate an ability to think, discuss and write about these debates critically and sociologically



Skills Development:


The intellectual and transferable skills students should have acquired on completion of the module are:


  • Develop research finding skills, IT research and study skills
  • Develop clear writing and communication skills, including oral and debating skills through participation in debates and seminars
  • Experience of working with, evaluating and analysing different sources of information (such as media reports, research and reports from Non-Government Organizations, academic research)
  • Develop a good level of independent critical thinking of debates and sources
  • Develop an ability to think arguments through clearly and logically and express them to others
  • Develop a level of self awareness and social understanding
  • Work independently and use their initiative and intellectual curiosity to develop an argument on a selected topic



Module Outline


This module will provide a basic background on contemporary debates in current sociology. With reference to current sociological debates, it will focus on acquiring the necessary factual background, describing the main societal actors engaged in these debates and identifying their typical positions.  It is aimed at laying the foundations for a theoretically informed consideration of these debates, which will take place in the following semester.


The module will consist of a set of short sections within which related debates will be examined and connections between them will be drawn.  A first area will examine the determinants and consequences of ethnic pluralisation of modern societies. There will be an initial seminar on (1) migration which will frame the phenomenon in recent historical and quantitative terms and in a comparative perspective. We will examine debates on push and pull factors, migratory chains and the changing impact of transport and communication technologies. A second related seminar will examine (2) ethnicity with particular reference to contemporary Europe. We will discuss issues of assimilation and integration and related issues such as human rights and the status of refugees. The following seminar will examine reactions to ethnic pluralisation and in this context we will focus on (3) populism, particularly in relation to the extreme right.  We will examine the reasons for the recent success of populist leaders in several European countries. In all these three seminars we will consider the interaction between micro and macro factors – determinants of social identities, modal emotions in contemporary societies and structural change.


The second section will focus on the impact of recent structural changes and its socio-political implications. The section will focus on changing patterns of work and related forms of social mobilisation, the recent financial crisis and changes in the role of the state vis-à-vis the economy.  There will be a seminar on (4) globalisation which will consider its multifarious aspects, the changing role of the state where key functions are being redefined, such as an increased in economic steering and a decrease in social redistribution and we will consider what this entails in the life of citizens, and particularly for vulnerable groups. The recent renewed emphasis on (5) civil society will be the subject of the following seminar. We will discuss both the enhanced economic role of civil society as envisaged by several thinkers and its other functions of social integration and political representation. The following seminar will articulate debates on social and political participation with particular attention to (6) social movements. With references to key movements we will consider their economic grievances but also more broadly their identity formation and representation aspects. We will examine how the social movement world has changed in recent decades in terms of key issues, fora and repertoires of action. This section will be concluded with a seminar which will connect it to the previous section by focussing attention on debates on issues of race and racism and specifically the role of (7) anti-racist movements.


The third section will focus on environmental issues. Several authors have identified an environmental crisis, which spurs other dynamics such as processes of desertification due to climate change and their impact on migratory flows. We will then examine the major debates on (8) environmental  issues and the related recent history of environmental policies in Europe in areas such as agriculture, tourism, energy and more broadly in areas such as food safety. In this context we will discuss successes and failures and their reasons, and we will review the role of (9) environmental mobilisation, particularly with reference to environmental coalitions at transnational level.  The final (10) concluding seminar will review some of the key sociological debates tackled in previous seminars.

Learning and Teaching Methods


10 Seminars


The module is taught by discussion seminars introduced by a presentation by the lecturer.

The module is taught as a seminar discussion class. The discussion is organized around set questions and prescribed readings. It is expected that students will be familiar not only with the set readings but will have read supplementary texts. It is required that students will have studied the weekly set texts sufficiently to be able to summarize them, elaborate the issues they deal with and have formed views regarding the meaning, significance and implications of the texts for the topics under consideration.  The prescribed reading will be supplemented by independent reading, drawing upon library and electronic sources.


Reading. You will only derive the full benefit from seminars if, week by week, you read the Key Reading listed in the schedule of topics. The Supplementary Reading is intended to assist with essays and with examination revision.


Blackboard. Module material will include the Module Handbook and Seminar slides. 




Attendance at seminars is an essential requirement. 


Methods of Assessment


Students are required to submit a 3,000-4,000 word essay on a topic to be agreed with the module tutor.  Suggested titles will be provided in due course.




Plagiarism is using the work of others as if it were your own. All written work must be your own work. You must not copy from other students, or from the published (or unpublished) work of others.  Whenever you make use of books, articles, internet or other source material, you must make this clear by the appropriate use of references and, where a passage is cited word for word, by the use of quotation marks. Plagiarism is a serious offence and is regarded in the same light as cheating in examinations.  It is likely to result in failure and a mark of 0 for the whole module, and can lead to disciplinary action. See the section on plagiarism in the Undergraduate Student Handbook. If you are, in any doubt you are advised to talk to your personal tutor or module teachers. Useful advice on how to avoid it is available at



Your summative assignment , which must be submitted to Blackboard, will be checked using the JISC Plagiarism detection software (this compares your work to that of other students past and present, at Leicester and other Universities, as well as websites, journals and other materials).


Feed-back Arrangements


Students are encouraged to meet with the module leaders in his Drop in Office hours.



Contacting Staff


You are encouraged to use the Seminars and seminar tutor’s Drop-in Office hours.  However, if you are unable to attend and wish to make an appointment or get advice on an urgent matter, you are welcome to email them.  Staff will answer emails as soon as possible.  However, please note that they have other responsibilities alongside their teaching such as research and administrative meetings which mean they are sometimes away from their email.




Seminar programme:  Outline at a glance




Main topics

Seminar Readings





-           Contemporary migration: general trends

-           The legacy of colonialism

-           The migratory process, migratory chains, push-pull factors


Castle, S., and M. Miller. 2009. The age of migration: international population movements in the modern world. Guildford: Guildford Press. (325 CAS) Chapter 1-4





-          The formation of ethnic minorities

-          Ethnic Identities

-          Ethnic conflict

-          First and second generation migrants


Sanders, J. M. (2002). "Ethnic Boundaries and Identity in Plural Societies." Annu. Rev. Sociol. 28: 327-57.






-          ‘Hard’ and ‘soft’ populism and the role of the popular press

-          The personalisation of politics

-          Populism, nationalism and right-wing extremism

-          Uncivil society


Ruzza, C. 2009. "Populism and euroscepticism: Towards uncivil society?" Policy and Society 28:87-98.





-          Cultural globalisation

-          Globalisation and the changing role of the state

-          Globalisation and the global city

Le Galès ‘A new phase of the state story in Europe’, in Nash and Scott, p. 396


McMichael, Globalisation in JANOSKI, T. (2005) The handbook of political sociology: states, civil societies, and globalization, Cambridge, Cambridge, (Leicester Library: DWL 1-ORANGE 306.2),

p. 587




Civil society


-          Approaches to civil society

-          Active citizenship

-          Third sector and non-profit activities in the UK



Fung, Archon. 2003. "Associations and Democracy: Between Theories, Hopes, and Realities." Annual Review of Sociology 29:515-539.


Kendall, Jeremy. 2009. "The UK: Ingredients in a hyperactive horizontal policy environment." in Handbook on Third Sector Policy in Europe: multilevel processes and organized civil society, edited by Jeremy Kendall. Cheltenham: Edward Elgar.




Social movements


-        Contemporary social movements

-        Recent approaches to social movements

-        Emotions and social movements



Mayer, ‘protest and political processes’, p. 164, in NASH, K. & SCOTT, A. (2004)  The Blackwell companion to political sociology, Oxford, Blackwell, (Leicester Library: DWL 1-ORANGE 306.2)


Della Porta, Donatella 2009. "Social Movements and Civil Society: how emerging social conflicts challenge social science approaches." Pp. 51-68 in Conflict, Citizenship and Civil Society, edited by Patrick Baert, Sokratis Koniordos, Giovanna Procacci, and Carlo Ruzza. London: Routledge.




Antiracist movement


-        Recent anti-racist mobilisations in Europe

-        The anti-racist movements in institutional settings;

-        Human rights


Lloyd, C., Anti racist responses to European Integration in Koopmans, Ruud, and P. J. Statham. 2000. Challenging immigration and ethnic relations politics : comparative European perspectives. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Glazer, Nathan. 1995. "Individual Rights against Group Rights." Pp. 123-138 in The Rights of Minority Cultures, edited by Will Kymlicka. Oxford: Oxford UP.



Environmental Issues


-        Interaction between the physical and social environment

-        Key environmental issues in energy, agriculture, tourism, waste

-        The environmental consequences of the consumer society

Buckingham, Susan. 2008. "Approaching Environmental Issues." in Understanding Environmental Issues, edited by Susan Buckingham and Mike Turner. London: Sage. (Chapter 2)

Smart, Barry. 2010. Consumer Society: critical issues and environmental consequences. London: Sage (306.3 SMA). (Chapter 8: An unsustainable all-consuming world)



Environmental mobilisation


-        Features and grievances of recent environmental movements

-        Environmental movements and transnational mobilisation



Rootes, Chris. 2002. "Global Visions: Global Civil Society and the Lessons of European Environmentalism." Voluntas: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations 13:411-29.

Rootes, Chris. 2007. Environmental Protest in Western Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (Chapter on the UK)






-        A brief review of all the  sociological debates examined in the module