SOC4063: Sociocultural Systems

Unit 1: Introduction

Unit 2: Principles of Macrosociology

Unit 3: Materialism

Unit 4: Evolutionism in the Work of the Founders

Unit 5: Contemporary Social Evolution

Unit 6: Bureaucratization

Unit 7: Capital

Unit 8: The State

Unit 9: Rationalization

Unit 10: The System


This is a ten week MOOC beginning September 2, 2013. You may sign up at

Thank you for your interest in the open course, "Sociocultural Systems: Principles of Structure and Change" offered by Dr. Frank Elwell, Professor of Sociology and Dean of Liberal Arts at Rogers State University. The course uses a single textbook that I authored of the same name which can be purchased at most online bookstore in an inexpensive paperback or electronic version or, if you are really tight, a free PDF version can be obtained from Athabasca University Press

Macrosociology—the study of large-scale social structures and the fundamental principles of social organization—was the style of sociology practiced by the founders of the discipline. Today, the social theories of Karl Marx, Max Weber, Émile Durkheim, and Herbert Spencer (among others) are commonly studied as part of the history of the field, but, although the macrosociological approach that these thinkers advocated is still employed, it no longer dominates the discipline. Instead, sociologists typically adopt a narrower focus, specializing in areas such as social psychology, medicine, religion, or the study of social stratification. Examining the bigger picture is a task often left to public intellectuals.

Sociocultural Systems aims to reinstate macrosciology as the heart of the discipline by demonstrating that both classical and contemporary macrosociologists stand upon common ground. Focusing on the broad issues that concerned the founders, we will address such questions as: Historically, what factors accounted for the origin, survival, and evolution of sociocultural systems? Why were some societies more technologically advanced than others? What is the origin of capitalism? What factors determine the allocation of goods and services within and among societies? What effects do changes in government and economic institutions have on communities?

We will argue that, as evolution does for biology, the macrosociological paradigm offers an analytical strategy that can be used both to guide and prioritize research in all of the myriad specialties within sociology and to lay forth an orderly body of knowledge for students. Clearly articulating important sociological principles, Sociocultural Systems provides a critical understanding of social institutions and issues, while also furnishing a framework for possible solutions to the perennial social crises that are part and parcel of the development of human societies.

The course begins September 2, 2013 and lasts for 10 weeks. Additional updates will be posted on this site and emailed to participants as I prepare for the grand opening...

Contact Information:
Dr. Frank Elwell 
Office Hours: Daily 8:00 to 11:00 
Office: 202-B Prep Hall 
Phone: 918.343.7851


Elwell, Frank W. 2013. Sociocultural Systems: Principles of Structure and Change. Alberta: Athabasca University Press.

Assorted articles to be distributed through the Internet.

Course Description:

Articulating important sociological principles, this course provides a critical understanding of social institutions and issues, while furnishing a framework for possible solutions to the crises that plague human societies.

Course Goals:

  • Master the vocabulary of macro-sociological theory.

  • Familiarity with a systemic social theory relating the various parts of the sociocultural system to one another and to the whole.

  • The ability to apply sociocultural theory in understanding and explaining sociocultural system stability and change, in both historical and contemporary society.

  • An understanding of the historical/comparative method as the basis of sociological and anthropological practice.

Work Required & Grading

Completion of each unit means that you will do all of the reading, full participation in the discussion forum, as well as completing assignments in your blog.

This course is quite demanding and requires higher order skills of synthesis, critical thinking, and integration. The vocabulary words are measuring the far more basic skill of memorization. While most undergraduates are good at it (and thus it boosts many grades), there are a few in every class who struggle with it (I was never very good at it either). For students like us it takes discipline, repetition, and actual use to finally sink in. I suggest handwritten flash cards to people who are in our predicament. I should add that in addition to boosting grades mastering the vocabulary is really the first step in mastering a subject area—it can only help you in the rest of the course (and in life itself).

Grading: All written assignments are graded in accordance with the standards explained on the attached Grading Rubric.

Student Memorandum of Understanding (MOU): I know that this seems like a significant amount of work. This is not an easy class. But if you are of average intelligence, have some interest in sociology and in the workings of capitalism, and have a good work ethic ("Life is easier when you work hard") you will do fine. So that this is clearly understood I ask each of your to print, sign, and turn in the Student MOU.

Other Useful Information

Attendance: Mental attendance should be regular. Traditional lecture material is presented off of this web site. You should plan on spending time attending online lectures, forum discussion, blogging, and perhaps viewing of films.

Academic Integrity: By signing your name to a test or paper you are indicating that the work is yours and yours alone. Any academic cheating will result in failure of the course. "Plagiarism is the representation of the words or ideas of another as one’s own, including: direct quotation without both attribution and indication that the material is being directly quoted, e.g. quotation marks; paraphrase without attribution; paraphrase with or without attribution where the wording of the original remains substantially intact and is represented as the author’s own; expression in one’s own words, but without attribution, of ideas, arguments, lines of reasoning, facts, processes, or other products of the intellect where such material is learned from the work of another and is not part of the general fund of common knowledge.” One of the social problems that appears to be on the rise in American society is academic dishonesty. Don't do it!

Much of the class will be given over to informed discussion. You should begin your reading immediately by going through the "Introduction" class presentations. I will keep you informed through e-mail of the specific due dates of your reading assignments. While the occasional articles I will send through e-mail are usually optional, reading them will help you master class material. Class discussion will often center on the required readings and the instructor presentations. It is therefore imperative that all assigned reading be done in a timely fashion.

A Final Point: You are encouraged to ask questions on the readings through e-mail or in instructor forums. It is not expected that you will always agree with the perspectives of the instructor, the authors of various texts, or with your classmates. As have all human beings we have been influenced by the values of our society as well as our roles in various social structures. However, it is the duty of the social scientist to acknowledge these influences and attempt to minimize their effects upon social analysis. Should the resulting analyses be counter to your perceptions, challenge them on the basis of empirical fact, logic, and reason--not ideology, prejudice, wishful thinking, or "politically correct" assertions. The goal of this course is for you to develop your own critical thought processes and world view, not for you to blindly accept any one perspective.

Updated Continuously 
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