PhD Seminar Series in Sociological Theorizing

Sociological theory is an essential part of doctoral dissertation thesis. But while empirical research often has a clear set of methodological rules of how to be conducted, building a theoretical basis for doctoral thesis can be tricky, opaque or even confusing to many students.


We therefore invite PhD students within and outside the 4EU+ network to participate in a series of online seminars on theorizing in sociology. Students can take part in all three seminars or only in one or two of them of their choosing. Each seminar is 3 hours long and the participants are invited to prepare by reading the recommended literature. Instructions for preparation will be send some time before each seminar.

Please, register bellow.

Contact person: Eva Richter (

How to theorize in sociology?

Prof. Kathia Serrano-Velarde, Dr. Lukas Sebastian Pfäffle

Max-Weber-Institut für Soziologie, Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg

18/10/2023 10:00 – 13:00 CET

The goal of this workshop is to enhance the PhD student’s ability to develop a theoretical grasp of a social phenomenon. There will be two pivotal readings for the participant. Firstly, Richard Swedberg’s “Before Theory comes Theorizing” (2016) will provide an introduction on how a social phenomenon can be theorized. Secondly, a section of Alice Goffman’s “On the run” (2014) serves as an empirical reference point for the theoretical analysis/interpretation.

The workshop starts with a discussion of Swedberg arguments and methods on how to theorize. The discussion will be supplemented by a talk/presentation from the instructors, who also will summarize the results and put them on record for later use.

In the second part, students will break up into small groups and apply Swedberg’s “recipes” to the phenomenon described by Goffman. Students will formulate a short text regarding analytical avenues or strategies of concept-building. Those texts are exchanged and discussed between different groups before we come together in a final group discussion.


Goffman, A. (2014). On the run. In On the Run. University of Chicago Press.

Swedberg, R. (2016). Before theory comes theorizing or how to make social science more interesting. The British journal of sociology, 67(1), 5-22.

Reflexivity in sociological research: What is it and how much of it is needed?  

Doc. Marek Skovajsa

Department of Sociology, Faculty of Arts, Charles University

15/11/2023 10:00 – 13:00 CET

Reflexivity is sociology’s response to the fact that the researcher is part of the social reality that is studied. Reflexive knowledge includes an analysis of the knowing subject as well as of the social, cultural and political context in which researchers and theorists operate. Knowledge is also imprinted by the structures and pressures of the knowledge field itself. Reflexivity seems to be an essential component of any sociological research project, but is that really the case? Can a reflexive practice of sociology redeem the objectivity of sociological knowledge? How much reflexivity is needed and when? This workshop will discuss some influential conceptions of reflexivity in sociology and the criticisms raised against them.


Bourdieu, Pierre. 2000. “The Three Forms of Scholastic Fallacy.” In Pascalian Meditations. Stanford: Stanford University Press, pp. 49-84.

Bourdieu, Pierre. 2003. “Participant objectivation.” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 9 (2): 281-294.

Lynch, Michael. 2000. “Against reflexivity as an academic virtue and source of privileged knowledge.” Theory, Culture & Society 17 (3): 26-54.

Social Theory and posthuman perspectives: epistemological considerations  

Prof. Paola Rebughini, Dr. Massimo Airoldi

Department of Social and Political Sciences, University of Milan

29/11/2023 10:00 – 13:00 CET

For a while, posthuman perspectives have been at the forefront of the debate in social theory stimulating a new gaze on classical theoretical issues. Indeed, “posthuman” refers to different epistemological and theoretical stances and this notion involves different empirical objects, from viruses to algorithms. While a part of this theorization concerns mainly the deconstruction of the modern notion of subject, another is more focused on technology and its consequences. The aim of this seminar is twofold: a first part will highlight in which way, to what extent and with what issues posthuman approaches are challenging the classical items of Sociological theory and its way of theorizing; a second part will introduce a more specific focus on machine learning systems, that is, a type of AI technologies commonly employed in a number of fields, from online content recommendation to financial trading. Since machine learning systems recursively update their computational models and adapt their behaviour based on patterns in human-generated data, new sociological theorizations regarding AI agency and its consequences on social structure have recently emerged, opening novel directions for a posthuman sociological theory.


Braidotti: A theoretical framework for the critical posthumanities –

Borch: Machine learning and social theory: collective machine behaviour in algorithmic trading –

Critical social theory and normative approach: friends or foes?

Matteo Gianni

University of Geneva

12/1/2024 10:00 – 13:00 CET

Generally defined, social theory refers to ideas, concepts, frameworks, and models that aim to understand and explain various aspects of society and human behavior. In such a framework, during the last decades, post-structuralist critical social theory has gained much relevance. Among its focuses, one is to identify and critically analyze the underlying power structures that perpetuate social inequalities and injustices. In this light, it aims to bring about social transformations through critical reflection and action. In a sense, critical theory is deeply based on values (as emancipation, agency, justice, etc.) that are considered as having a strong moral worth. However, some strands of critical theory (as for instance postcolonial approaches driven by discourse theory) are often skeptical about the possibility to formulate a sound moral judgement about social dilemmas or controversies. Therefore, social critical theory research is often marked by an epistemological tension: on the one hand, it ambitions at unveiling inequalities and injustices; on the other, it does not fully recognize the existence of the foundational grounds that allow justifying the moral assessment of cases. This tension entails relevant implication, especially when the objective is to transform society towards more just or legitimate social relations.

This workshop aims at addressing this general issue in focusing on three sub-questions: which is the role (if any) of normative thinking in critical social theory? Which are the epistemological tensions between critical theory and normative thinking, and why to reflect on them is relevant? Are there epistemological and methodological ways out from such a tension?

Tasks for participants: readings (a couple of articles) and discussions in the classroom, in particular in order to invite the students to reflexively address the moral / value-driven assumption that orientate their research in social sciences, and how they manage to methodologically address such assumption in their thinking.


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