• Class Number 4186
  • Term Code 3130
  • Class Info
  • Unit Value 6 units
  • Mode of Delivery In Person
    • Dr Maria Hynes
    • Dr Maria Hynes
  • Class Dates
  • Class Start Date 22/02/2021
  • Class End Date 28/05/2021
  • Census Date 31/03/2021
  • Last Date to Enrol 01/03/2021
    • Dr Maria Hynes
SELT Survey Results

How can thinking help us to approach empirical problems in new ways? In asking this question Contemporary Social Theory puts forward a case for the practical value of theory. It is not simply that empirical problems exist ‘out there’ in the world awaiting analysis, but the way that we figure and think through a problem is a good part of its solution. Most importantly, then, the course aims to develop skills and give you confidence in your capacity to think, so that you can engage with issues and empirical problems in an original way. 

While Contemporary Social Theory covers some of the important thinkers of the post- war period, its aim is not to provide a comprehensive survey of the vast array of social theorists that you might find in a text on social or sociological theory. The idea is to expose you to some of the key problems that have animated sociology and cognate disciplines in recent years, with the hope that you might have a window into these and similar theoretical and practical problems. On the way through the course, we will pay attention to the question of what it means for thinking to be ‘contemporary’. The issue of how we grasp what ‘our present’ is raises important questions about who the ‘we’ is here, as well as the relationship between thinking and time. In exploring these and other theoretical questions, the course will relate key theoretical problems to diverse empirical examples - from consumerism and globalisation to terrorism, the information and genetic revolutions and the role of science - with the hope that it will bring the theories alive for you.

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion, students will have the knowledge and skills to:

Upon successful completion of this course, students will have the knowledge and skills to:
1. Interpret original texts and discuss their implications
2. Evaluate the theories encountered and assess their relevance to contemporary problems
3. Reflect on the kinds of claims that a theory makes for itself (for example: does the theory claim to diagnose the ills of our contemporary social reality or to criticise the claims of modern knowledge?)
4. Produce an argument and marshal evidence for it
5. Discuss key themes, concepts and theories with your peers

Research-Led Teaching

I have an ongoing interest in the ways that social theory broadly, and sociological theory more specifically, can help us think through contemporary problems. I am especially interested in the ways in which, in a late-capitalist, media and information driven society, we can think about the entanglement of life with power, changing conceptions of the human and new modes and practices of resistance.

Field Trips

We may make a trip to the NGA in one of the lecture times if students are interested and COVID restrictions allow. There will be no cost associated with the visit.

Required Resources

All essential resources available online via wattle

Staff Feedback

Students will be given feedback in the following forms in this course:

  • written comments
  • verbal comments
  • feedback to whole class, groups, individuals, focus group etc

Student Feedback

ANU is committed to the demonstration of educational excellence and regularly seeks feedback from students. Students are encouraged to offer feedback directly to their Course Convener or through their College and Course representatives (if applicable). The feedback given in these surveys is anonymous and provides the Colleges, University Education Committee and Academic Board with opportunities to recognise excellent teaching, and opportunities for improvement. The Surveys and Evaluation website provides more information on student surveys at ANU and reports on the feedback provided on ANU courses.

Other Information

The information provided is a preliminary Class Outline. A finalised version will be available on Wattle and will be accessible after enrolling in this course. All updates, changes and further information will be uploaded on the course Wattle site and will not be updated on Programs and Courses throughout the semester. Any questions or concerns should be directed to the Course Convenor.

Class Schedule

Week/Session Summary of Activities Assessment
1 Introduction
2 Time: What is 'Contemporary'? Tutorial Preparation required
3 'Social Theory': What is 'Today'? Tutorial Preparation required
4 Debt: (De)colonisation Tutorial Preparation required/ Assessment Task 1 Due
5 Genealogy: The Limits of the Necessary Tutorial Preparation required
6 Speculation: Diagnosing the Times Tutorial Preparation required
7 Excess: Loss and Waste Tutorial Preparation required
8 Experiment: Art and Science Tutorial Preparation required/ Assessment Task 2 Due
9 Ecosophy: Mental Ecologies Tutorial Preparation required
10 Reproblematising I: Putting Theory to Work Tutorial Preparation required
11 Reproblematising II: Putting Theory to Work Tutorial Preparation required
12 Conclusion Synoptic Essay Question released for Assessment Task 3

Tutorial Registration

Via Wattle

Assessment Summary

Assessment task Value Due Date Return of assessment Learning Outcomes
Collective Data Base 20 % 22/03/2019 05/04/2021 5
Research Essay 50 % 17/05/2019 17/05/2021 1,2,4
Synoptic Essay 20 % 07/06/2019 25/06/2021 2,3
Participation 10 % * * 1,2,5

* If the Due Date and Return of Assessment date are blank, see the Assessment Tab for specific Assessment Task details


ANU has educational policies, procedures and guidelines, which are designed to ensure that staff and students are aware of the University’s academic standards, and implement them. Students are expected to have read the Academic Misconduct Rule before the commencement of their course. Other key policies and guidelines include:

Assessment Requirements

The ANU is using Turnitin to enhance student citation and referencing techniques, and to assess assignment submissions as a component of the University's approach to managing Academic Integrity. For additional information regarding Turnitin please visit the ANU Online website. In rare cases where online submission using Turnitin software is not technically possible; or where not using Turnitin software has been justified by the Course Convener and approved by the Associate Dean (Education) on the basis of the teaching model being employed; students shall submit assessment online via ‘Wattle’ outside of Turnitin, or failing that in hard copy, or through a combination of submission methods as approved by the Associate Dean (Education). The submission method is detailed below.

Moderation of Assessment

Marks that are allocated during Semester are to be considered provisional until formalised by the College examiners meeting at the end of each Semester. If appropriate, some moderation of marks might be applied prior to final results being released.


Participation is worth 10% of your final grade as above. The participation grade assesses Learning Outcomes 1, 2 & 5. You will clearly need to attend tutorials (a minimum of 80% attendance is required) but this grade is an evaluation of your participation: your efforts in reading the material, your preparation and preparedness to contribute to discussion.


No examination

Assessment Task 1

Value: 20 %
Due Date: 22/03/2019
Return of Assessment: 05/04/2021
Learning Outcomes: 5

Collective Data Base

In line with the idea that Contemporary Social Theory can be understood as 'theory for today', the class as a whole will construct a collective data base of resources on issues of relevance today, with the idea of generating some discussion about ways of theorising such issues. The database, which will be accessible through Wattle, will provide you as a group with a way of identifying things that you consider relevant and needing to be thought through, with the help of theoretical tools - these may be problems (social, political etc.), issues, questions or simply interesting phenomena that open up questions about what it means to be a social being in contemporary society. I have put aside two lectures at the end of the course (called 'Reproblematising: Putting Theory to Work') in which we will discuss some of the theoretical tools that might help us think productively about some of these issues/phenomena, problems. Once the database is put together we will make a random selection of some of the things you have identified as a group to work with them in these last lectures.

The assessment task that you will complete as an individual has two parts, which you will submit as a post on our Discussion Forum:

  1. You will be asked to identify 5 electronic resources that you think raise interesting and relevant questions for today - these may be URLs for webpages, YouTube, Tiktok, or anything that all students will be able to access at a later point via Wattle

  1. You need to write a short justification for each of your choices. You should write approximately 150 words to justify each of the five resources, with a total of 750 wordsall up. Your task is to show that the issue you are highlighting is an interesting and important one for us today, bearing in mind the ideas raised in the start of the courseabout the diverse ways that we might characterise 'today'

This is an opportunity for you to be imaginative. I am not asking you to identify what you see as the top five issues or problems for contemporary society, nor am I asking you to identify problems that we as a class can 'solve'. The course itself will offer some theoretical tools for thinking through the things that would be readily agreed upon as 'big issues' (eg. climate change, contemporary capitalism, the pandemic, etc.). I am more interested in the variety of things that we as a class can come up with and your explanations as to what you find provocative about them. It is possible that an issue or phenomena you choose is a sensitive one - perhaps raising questions about race or racism, violence and so on. If so, please be sure that you can (sensitively) indicate in your explanation why you think that we need to be thinking and talking about this particular issue. Remember that other students will be able to read your posts.

You will be assessed on the basis of your reflections - your ability to think creatively about the issues or phenomena you have chosen and to demonstrate that they are not simply things that you find personally interesting, but that raise questions that are of contemporary relevance more widely. For example, here is a link to a page on the provision of 'innovative' mental health care via apps and, specifically, how you the quality of these apps can be regulated (https://www.apa.org/monitor/2020/01/cover-trends-innovative-ways), which for me raises interesting questions about the production of contemporary subjectivity, the forms of normalisation involved in that production, the non-human (eg. technological) elements of subjective production, the distribution of expertise between experts and the wider public, the increasing 'psychologisation' subjectivity, the evolving meaning of 'mental health', the demand for innovation in contemporary capitalist societies and, associated with that, the regulation of immaterial things like knowledge and experience via copyright, patents, and so on. If I were to select this item to include in the database, I would have 150 words in which to give some indication of the themes, questions etc. raised by this website. If you have any ideas about the kinds of theoretical tools we might draw on in thinking this through, please feel free to indicate this as well. We will discuss this assessment task at length in the first tutorial and closer to the due date.

Assessment Task 2

Value: 50 %
Due Date: 17/05/2019
Return of Assessment: 17/05/2021
Learning Outcomes: 1,2,4

Research Essay

This is a 2000 word research essay, which relates to learning outcomes 1,2 and 4 and contributes to 50% of your overall grade. Essay questions will be made available by Week 4. You may prefer to devise your own question – if so, you should discuss your chosen topic with me some time in advance of the due date.

The Research Essay is one of the basics of an education in the social sciences! It is an opportunity to pursue an area of interest related to the course and to develop your skills as a researcher. It is also an opportunity to show how your thinking on your chosen topic has been informed by the materials, themes and discussions in Contemporary Social Theory. While you do not have to draw on resources provided in the course, the essay should clearly be one that shows that you have done this course! While you may draw on journalistic sources, this is an exercise in scholarly research and will involve you reading and incorporating insights from scholarly books and article.


Research Strategies:

In your search for relevant references for your paper, the following are some useful places to try:

- The references provided in the course schedule posted on wattle (listed as ‘suggested readings’ under lecture summaries)

- Databases, which can be accessed via the ANU library homepage – click on ‘E-Resources and Databases’ to access a range of useful databases. In particular, the ‘Arts and Humanities Citation Index’ (web science) and the ‘International Bibliography of the Social Sciences’ should provide relevant material, which you can then seek to access through our library

- Google Scholar

- Journal browsing – you can often find specific articles and get a sense of relevant debates by simply browsing the tables of contents of journals and following up anything that looks interesting. The following journals would be especially relevant: Theory, Culture and Society; Body and Society; Theory and Event; Sociological Review; Thesis Eleven; Sociological Theory; Theory and Society; Social Analysis.

- Browsing the bibliographies of any especially relevant articles that you find – who has the author read to inform their argument?


Assessment Rubrics

You will be assessed on your ability to research a chosen topic, to synthesize your research materials and to present a sustained argument. You will also be assessed on your capacity to express and organise your ideas, to enable them to come across as clearly as possible. Apart from presenting an informed and polished paper, you should think about extending the skills of critically engagement that were applied in the first exercise. So you are encouraged to do some hard thinking! I am always pleased to see that students have worked hard with the ideas and have extended themselves. You are not expected to sort all the issues out – as you will hopefully gather from the course, the issues we discuss are complex ones that have been the subject of years of debate. But you can raise provocative or original questions and can offer new ways of thinking about the problems through your efforts at working them through.

Assessment Task 3

Value: 20 %
Due Date: 07/06/2019
Return of Assessment: 25/06/2021
Learning Outcomes: 2,3

Synoptic Essay

This is a 1500 word piece, which relates to learning outcomes 2 and 3 and contributes to 20% of your overall grade. The purpose of this exercise is to get you to reflect on some of the ways that theory can function, as discussed in the course. From the point of view of assessment, it also gives me a way of assessing your participation throughout the semester in lectures and tutorials. There will be one question that you need to respond to for this exercise, which will be given out in the second last lecture of the course. I will also use the last pair of lectures to refresh your memory about some of the different types of theories we have covered. I’d encourage you to contribute to this discussion as much as possible and to raise any questions you may have. You will then have two weeks to complete the paper. The paper should be presented as a polished paper, with a necessarily brief introduction, body and conclusion.


In your response to the set question, you should draw on the material from the course (rather than conducting your own research) to demonstrate that you have participated in the course throughout the semester. Where possible, site lecture material as well as readings – in both cases you must provide references (lectures should be referenced by lecturer and date).


Assessment Task 4

Value: 10 %
Learning Outcomes: 1,2,5


Tutorials are a crucial part of this course and you will be expected to come to a minimum of 80% of the tutorials. This mark assesses your participation in the course (as opposed to mere attendance). Participation means that you can demonstrate that you have read the prescribed reading, that you can critically engage with it on your own terms, and in light of class discussion, and that you can evaluate how the material relates to the course as a whole, including tutorials and lectures. This part of the assessment relates to Learning Outcomes 1, 2 & 5 and contributes to 10% of your overall grade.

Academic Integrity

Academic integrity is a core part of our culture as a community of scholars. At its heart, academic integrity is about behaving ethically. This means that all members of the community commit to honest and responsible scholarly practice and to upholding these values with respect and fairness. The Australian National University commits to embedding the values of academic integrity in our teaching and learning. We ensure that all members of our community understand how to engage in academic work in ways that are consistent with, and actively support academic integrity. The ANU expects staff and students to uphold high standards of academic integrity and act ethically and honestly, to ensure the quality and value of the qualification that you will graduate with. The University has policies and procedures in place to promote academic integrity and manage academic misconduct. Visit the following Academic honesty & plagiarism website for more information about academic integrity and what the ANU considers academic misconduct. The ANU offers a number of services to assist students with their assignments, examinations, and other learning activities. The Academic Skills and Learning Centre offers a number of workshops and seminars that you may find useful for your studies.

Online Submission

You will be required to electronically sign a declaration as part of the submission of your assignment. Please keep a copy of the assignment for your records. Unless an exemption has been approved by the Associate Dean (Education) submission must be through Turnitin.

Hardcopy Submission

No hardcopy submission

Late Submission

Individual assessment tasks may or may not allow for late submission. Policy regarding late submission is detailed below:

  • Late submission not permitted. If submission of assessment tasks without an extension after the due date is not permitted, a mark of 0 will be awarded.
  • Late submission permitted. Late submission of assessment tasks without an extension are penalised at the rate of 5% of the possible marks available per working day or part thereof. Late submission of assessment tasks is not accepted after 10 working days after the due date, or on or after the date specified in the course outline for the return of the assessment item. Late submission is not accepted for take-home examinations.

Referencing Requirements

Accepted academic practice for referencing sources that you use in presentations can be found via the links on the Wattle site, under the file named “ANU and College Policies, Program Information, Student Support Services and Assessment”. Alternatively, you can seek help through the Students Learning Development website.

Extensions and Penalties

Extensions and late submission of assessment pieces are covered by the Student Assessment (Coursework) Policy and Procedure. The Course Convener may grant extensions for assessment pieces that are not examinations or take-home examinations. If you need an extension, you must request an extension in writing on or before the due date. If you have documented and appropriate medical evidence that demonstrates you were not able to request an extension on or before the due date, you may be able to request it after the due date.

Privacy Notice

The ANU has made a number of third party, online, databases available for students to use. Use of each online database is conditional on student end users first agreeing to the database licensor’s terms of service and/or privacy policy. Students should read these carefully. In some cases student end users will be required to register an account with the database licensor and submit personal information, including their: first name; last name; ANU email address; and other information.
In cases where student end users are asked to submit ‘content’ to a database, such as an assignment or short answers, the database licensor may only use the student’s ‘content’ in accordance with the terms of service – including any (copyright) licence the student grants to the database licensor. Any personal information or content a student submits may be stored by the licensor, potentially offshore, and will be used to process the database service in accordance with the licensors terms of service and/or privacy policy.
If any student chooses not to agree to the database licensor’s terms of service or privacy policy, the student will not be able to access and use the database. In these circumstances students should contact their lecturer to enquire about alternative arrangements that are available.

Distribution of grades policy

Academic Quality Assurance Committee monitors the performance of students, including attrition, further study and employment rates and grade distribution, and College reports on quality assurance processes for assessment activities, including alignment with national and international disciplinary and interdisciplinary standards, as well as qualification type learning outcomes.

Since first semester 1994, ANU uses a grading scale for all courses. This grading scale is used by all academic areas of the University.

Support for students

The University offers students support through several different services. You may contact the services listed below directly or seek advice from your Course Convener, Student Administrators, or your College and Course representatives (if applicable).

Dr Maria Hynes
02 61258127

Research Interests

Social theory; Affect, Biopower and Resistance; Art and the Social Sciences; Racism and Anti-Racism; (Post)human Creativity; Humour; Art-Science in the Innovation age

Dr Maria Hynes

Wednesday 10:00 12:00
Wednesday 10:00 12:00
Thursday 15:00 16:00
Dr Maria Hynes

Research Interests

Dr Maria Hynes

Wednesday 10:00 12:00
Wednesday 10:00 12:00
Thursday 15:00 16:00
Dr Maria Hynes

Research Interests

Dr Maria Hynes

Wednesday 10:00 12:00
Wednesday 10:00 12:00
Thursday 15:00 16:00

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