PhD course: Sociological analysis; How to use theory in the analysis of empirical data (SOS9004)

PhD course: Sociological analysis; How to use theory in the analysis of empirical data (SOS9004)
February 13th - February 15th 2024.

Course code: SOS9004
Number of points: 2,5 ECTs including essay 
Campus: Bodø​​, room 2055
Course date: February 13th - February 15th 2024
Course language: English
Prerequisites: Applicants who are admitted to a PhD-program will be prioritized for admission


  • ​Professor Isaac Reed, University of Virginia​
  • Professor Johans Sandvin, Faculty of Social Sciences, Nord University
  • Associate Professor Berit Irene Vannebo, Faculty of Social Sciences, Nord University


>> Application form Sociological analysis; How to use theory in the analysis of empirical data - SOS9004

Application deadline: January 2nd, 2024


How do we generate knowledge about the human world? How can we make valid claims about social phenomena? The simple answer is by conducting good analyses, based on relevant data. But what does it mean to conduct (good) analyses in social sciences? Analysis in social science always involves the use of theory in some way or another. But how do theory and evidence interact? How should we perceive theory in relation to empirical data? And, how do we go about to utilize theory productively in our analyses?

These are questions we aim to answer in this course, which uses as its main source the book of Isaac Ariail Reed (2011): Interpretation and Social Knowledge: On the Use of Theory in the Social Sciences. While Reed is a sociologist, and the course has a particular focus on sociological analyses, the book is aimed at social science in general. Professor John R. Hall at University of California, Davies, says about the book:

“This pithy, deeply intellectual account — strongly based in classic sources and contemporary debates — demands the attention of the widest range of scholars in the social and historical disciplines because it offers all of us an understanding of how diverse practices contribute to our larger enterprise”.

The course offers a theoretical and practical approach to the use of theory in social analysis. The course aims to give the participants both a deeper understanding of how valid knowledge about the human world can be created, and practical knowledge about how to proceed in order to develop such knowledge.

The course is organized as a three-day workshop with lectures and practical assignments. Active participation in discussions and practical assignments is compulsory. Awarding of credits require a short paper to be submitted and approved after the course.

Learning outcomes:

These are the following learning outcomes expected upon completion of the course.


After completing the course, students should have gained advanced knowledge about:

​What constitutes social knowledge
Different modes of knowing
How theory and evidence interact
The relation between interpretation, understanding and explanation


After completing the course, students should have advanced their ability:

​To choose theory applicable to a given set of evidence
To actively use theory in analyzing data
To make theoretical claims about the human world
To validate and justify theoretical claims

General competence:

After completing the course, students should have advanced their ability:

  • ​To analyze empirical data
  • To develop social theory
  • To generate knowledge


Tuesday February 13

09:00-10:30 Introduction

10:30-10:45 Coffee, tea and refreshments        

10:45-12:00 From minimal to maximal interpretation in the human sciences (Reed)

12:00-13:15 Lunch

13:15-14:30 Theory, theory, every where, nor any drop to drink (Reed)

14:30-14:45 Break

14:45-16:30 Do you believe in reality? (Reed)

Wednesday, February 14:

09:00-10:30 The great ought in the sky (Reed)

10:30-10:45 Coffee, tea and refreshments

10:45-12:00 The glorious and terrible possibility of overinterpretation (Reed)

12:00-13:15 Lunch

13:15-14:30 Formation stories and the very possibility of doing sociology (Reed)

14:30-14:45 Break

14:45-16:30 Q & A Reed, Vannebo and Sandvin

Thursday, February 15:

09:00: Student presentations of research


[after lunch lecture: Isaac Ariail Reed, “Power and Agency Relations: Towards a new theory of modernity”]

​Required reading:

  • Isaac Ariail Reed. 2011. Interpretation and Social Knowledge: On the use of theory in the human sciences. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Daniel Hirschman and Isaac Ariail Reed. 2014. “Formation Stories and Causality in Sociology.” Sociological Theory, 32(4): 259-282.
  • Isaac Ariail Reed. 2023. “Social Theory and Overinterpretation.” Distinktion: Journal of Social Theory DOI: 10.1080/1600910X.2023.2258289
  • Monika Krause. 2023. “Theorizing from neglected cases.” Distinktion: Journal of Social Theory, DOI: 10.1080/1600910X.2023.2260568
  • Eeva Luhtakallio and Taina Meriluoto. 2023. “Fame democracy? Social media and visuality-based transformation of the public sphere.” Distinktion: Journal of Social Theory DOI: 10.1080/1600910X.2023.2263818

About Isaac Reed

Isaac Reed is a historical and cultural sociologist with particular interests in the philosophy of social science, the historical origins of American modernity and the development of the American state, and the social theory of power. His work began with studies of the Salem Witch Trials and hermeneutic sociology, and expanded into a study of interpretation and explanation in the human sciences, and then to the sociology of power and transitions to modernity.

His book "Interpretation and Social Knowledge: On the use of theory in the human sciences" (University of Chicago Press) received an honorable mention from two American Sociological Association sections (Theory and Culture). Other publications include “Power: relational, discursive, and performative dimensions” (Sociological Theory) which received the Junior Theorist Award from the ASA section on Theory, “Theory and Contrastive Explanation in Ethnography” (Sociological Methods and Research, co-authored with Paul Lichterman), and “Culture in the Transitions to Modernity: Seven pillars of a new research agenda” (Theory and Society, co-authored with Julia Adams).

He is the co-editor of "Social Theory Now" (University of Chicago Press). In 2015 he received the Lewis Coser Award for Theoretical Agenda Setting in Sociology. Isaac received his B.A. in Mathematics and Sociology & Anthropology from Swarthmore College and his Ph.D. in Sociology from Yale University.

Contact information:
Isaac Ariail Reed, University of Virginia


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