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Unit information: Rationality and Absurdity in 2021/22

Please note: you are viewing unit and programme information for a past academic year. Please see the current academic year for up to date information.

Unit name Rationality and Absurdity
Unit code SOCIM0033
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Downer
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

The notion of rationality is often viewed as the defining characteristic of modernity: implicated in everything from advances in science, technology and medicine, to the rise of bureaucratic accountability and neoliberal economics. For all its triumphs, however, the notion of rationality is less straightforward than we sometimes imagine, and the world we are creating in its image is not without its doubters and discontents. It is increasingly evident that ‘rational’ can mean different things to different people, for instance, and insofar as vaccines and the internet were born of rationality, then so too were atomic weapons and global warming. The goal of this unit is to explore the ‘dark side’ of rationality: its limitations, costs and perverse consequences. Drawing on a range of critical literatures and an eclectic set of case studies, the unit will illustrate how rational means can sometimes have irrational ends, and how well-meaning goals can have hidden social costs.


  • To outline key theoretical and methodological debates around rationality, objectivity, agency, and alienation.
  • To facilitate a critical engagement with the range of contemporary scientific, economic and political developments.
  • To enable an analytical approach to various aspects of scientific, economic, and political life and, through it, stimulate a critical awareness of their social repercussions.

Intended Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of the unit, students will be able to:

1. Think critically about of the role of rationality and objectivity, and how they shape modernity;

2. Identify key analytic concerns pertaining to the role of rationality in the contemporary society

3. Critically engage with contemporary debates and issues related to scientific, economic and political rationality.

4. Take theoretical ideas outlined in the unit and apply them in student-led explorations, especially empirical explorations of various scientific, economic and political issues.

Teaching Information

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

Assessment Information

Formative assessment (0%) - 1500 word essay.

Summative assessment (100%) - 3,500 word essay.

All assessments cover all ILOs


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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.