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Social and Political Theory

Projects of ‘theory’ seek (a) to understand enduring, general features and issues in social life, (b) to grasp specific historical transformations and comparative differences in relation to that general background, and (c) to relate normative arguments to empirical knowledge. Tasks include clarifying concepts, background understandings, and claims to generality in empirical knowledge. It is important to explore implicit understandings on which explicit formulations depend – from civilizational contexts to positions in power relations to limits of available empirical knowledge. Both in different disciplines and across them, theory has also sought to integrate new insights with perennially revised understanding of basic questions, both new and old.”


In addition to dr. Calhoun's various thematic projects, he curates, interpret, and critically examine the history of social thought, engage in contemporary explorations and debates, and work to develop stronger general and ‘middle-range’ theories across specific empirical domains. He seeks to make theory more accessible, more understandable, and more usable.

Craig Calhoun is particularly interested in social, cultural, institutional, and historical conditions for developments in social theory and social science, in the extent to which social and political theory can inform public knowledge and action, and in possibilities for collective choice among possible futures. His theoretical work has included teaching, scholarship on the work of others, and contributions of his own. This overlaps with studies in the history of social science. 

Works in Progress

Dr. Calhoun co-chairs (with Hartmut Rosa) the working group on the social theory of the Center for Transcultural Studies. Rethinking the teaching of social theory: an exploration of the limits of common frames like ‘classical; and ‘contemporary’ theory for both grasping the history of theory in sociology and helping students see how theory can inform their own work and that of others today.

The critical sociology of Pierre Bourdieu: an exploration of unifying themes, key concepts, and relations to other perspectives in the work of the great late 20th-century French sociologist and anthropologist. 

Previous Publications (selected)

1995 - Critical Social Theory: Culture, History and the Challenge of Difference

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