Social Theory in Practice

Cairns Institute Graduate Masterclass

Topic: Social Theory in Practice

Coordinator: Distinguished Professor Stewart Lockie, Director, The Cairns Institute -

Dates: 6 May – 24 June 2020

Time: Wednesday 1:00 – 3:00 pm

Venue: Online only. Zoom meeting details will be circulated prior to Week 1.

To register send an email to the coordinator:

Distinguished Professor Stewart Lockie
Director, The Cairns Institute


Cairns Institute Graduate Masterclasses are designed to build participants’ capacity for innovative and transformational research in the humanities and social sciences. They support the Institute’s mission to work with and for people of the tropics to understand and inform critical processes of social, economic and environmental change.

Participants will:

  • Explore ideas at the cutting edge of theory and methodology in the humanities and social sciences.
  • Evaluate the relevance and implications of these ideas both to their own research and to that of other participants.
  • Build peer-to-peer networks with HDR candidates across college and discipline boundaries.
  • Document their learning in a format relevant to development of their research and thesis.

Subject to successful completion, eligible participants will receive credit towards the Elective Component requirements of RD7003 Professional Development.

Course description

Making a significant and original contribution to knowledge requires HDR candidates in the social sciences demonstrate sophisticated understanding and use of social theory. But what does this actually mean? And with so much theory out there, where and how do you start?

Through this masterclass we will try to remove some of the mystique around social theory, come to terms with what it means to conduct theoretically informed research, and let our reading of various writers and perspectives stretch our disciplinary imaginations.

The masterclass is highly interactive and requires all participants to co-lead at least one weekly session. Early sessions will explore a variety of approaches to ‘doing’ social theory and establish, in the process, a framework for interrogating specific concepts and debates relevant to participants’ own research.

Social Theory in Practice is designed with commencing HDR candidates in the social sciences in mind. That said, all HDR candidates in humanities and social sciences with a desire to expand their theoretical horizons and a willingness to reflect on how they might best use theory in their research are welcome to participate.

Learning outcomes

  • Familiarity with major ideas and debates in contemporary social theory.
  • Ability to apply social theory to research design and data analysis.
  • Understanding of how research practice and outcomes inform social theory.


Completion of the masterclass will require approximately 40 hours total commitment that may be credited towards RD7003 Professional Development. Participation will involve:

  • Eight weekly two hour sessions of facilitated discussion via Zoom.
  • Pre-reading prior to each session.
  • Identification of readings for and facilitation of one weekly session.
  • Submission of a reflective work.


Social Theory in Practice is open to all JCU Higher Degree by Research candidates in humanities and social sciences regardless of their stage of candidature or organisational unit of enrolment. Candidates wishing to use the masterclass for credit toward RD7003 will need to comply with assessment requirements detailed below.


Credit towards RD7003 Professional Development is dependent on compliance with requirements set out in the relevant subject outline. All questions regarding RD7003 requirements should be directed to the Graduate Research School (

Completion of the course will require: (1) regular attendance and participation in the masterclass; (2) contribution to the delivery of one weekly session; and (3) submission of a reflective work. Each assessment item will be graded either satisfactory or unsatisfactory.

  1. Participation. Those participants seeking credit toward RD7003 are expected to undertake weekly pre-reading and to participate in at least six of the eight masterclass sessions. In the event of circumstances beyond their control participants should contact the subject coordinator as soon as possible to explain their absence.
  2. Session facilitation. All participants in this subject, including participants who do not intend applying for credit toward RD7003, are expected to contribute to the organisation and facilitation of one weekly session. This will require: (a) identification of readings for distribution to all participants; and (b) preparation of a brief verbal introduction and discussion questions. Topics for Weeks 4-8 will be discussed in Weeks 1 and 2 with a view to developing a program that both reflects participants’ thesis topics and provides an overview of major ideas and debates in contemporary social theory.
  3. Reflective work (3000 words or equivalent). All participants seeking credit toward RD7003 should submit a reflective work applying relevant social theory to their own thesis. The reflective work will explore how specific social theories might inform research practice by, for example, guiding methodological choices, suggesting research questions and/or provoking reinterpretation of existing evidence. Options for this assessment item include:
  4. An essay applying one branch of social theory to the candidate’s thesis topic.
  5. A journal reflecting on questions raised by several weekly topics to the candidate’s thesis.
  6. A video or audio essay or journal using alternative media to fulfil the same requirements.

Other formats for the reflective work will be considered on request. All participants are encouraged to discuss the format and content of their reflective work, in advance, with the subject coordinator and their thesis supervisor(s).







6 May




13 May

Doing theory



20 May

Topic 1



27 May

Topic 2



3 June

Topic 3



10 June

Topic 4



17 June

Topic 5



24 June

Topic 6