Skip to main content

Unit information: Understanding Culture in 2021/22

Unit name Understanding Culture
Unit code SOCIM0014
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Morgan
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law

Description including Unit Aims

This unit aims to introduce students to the various historical and contemporary ways in which ‘culture’ has been defined, and in which sociologists have gone about analysing it. As well as reviewing some of the most influential social theories of culture, we will question whether, in attempting to ‘understand culture’, we are trying to comprehend a discrete sphere of society or something which, to a greater or lesser extent, underlies and penetrates all aspects of social life. We will explore both elitist and democratised understandings, examine it both from the side of production as well as from the side of consumption, and demonstrate the ways in which it might be thought of as both expressing and reproducing symbolic and material structures. We will ask how autonomous culture is from other social spheres and forces, whether it is a hierarchical or horizontal system, and whether it is best conceived as a context within which actors act, or a resource that agents actively produce and deploy. On completion of this unit, students should have a good understanding of some of the main debates over how culture ought to be understood, and be well-equipped to critique and selectively synthesise the various approaches covered in order to perform their own cultural analyses.

Intended Learning Outcomes

By the end of the unit, students should be able to:

  • Critically engage with key historical and conceptual approaches in the sociology of culture
  • Demonstrate understanding of the changing nature and social position of culture in contemporary societies
  • Critically evaluate the relationship between culture as an internal and as an external force
  • Understand cultural transformations, and the relationship between culture and the social.

Teaching Information

The unit will be taught through blended learning methods, including a mix of synchronous and asynchronous teaching activities

Assessment Information

There will be a) an optional 1500 formative assessment in the form of an essay or equivalent assignment, plus b) summative assessment in the form of a 4000 word essay. These assess all learning outcomes.


If this unit has a Resource List, you will normally find a link to it in the Blackboard area for the unit. Sometimes there will be a separate link for each weekly topic.

If you are unable to access a list through Blackboard, you can also find it via the Resource Lists homepage. Search for the list by the unit name or code (e.g. SOCIM0014).

How much time the unit requires
Each credit equates to 10 hours of total student input. For example a 20 credit unit will take you 200 hours of study to complete. Your total learning time is made up of contact time, directed learning tasks, independent learning and assessment activity.

See the Faculty workload statement relating to this unit for more information.

The Board of Examiners will consider all cases where students have failed or not completed the assessments required for credit. The Board considers each student's outcomes across all the units which contribute to each year's programme of study. If you have self-certificated your absence from an assessment, you will normally be required to complete it the next time it runs (this is usually in the next assessment period).
The Board of Examiners will take into account any extenuating circumstances and operates within the Regulations and Code of Practice for Taught Programmes.