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School of Social Sciences

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BAEcon Economics
Learn how the social sciences can help you to understand today's world.

BAEcon Economics / Course details

Year of entry: 2018

Course unit details:
Secrets, Lies & Mass Deception

Unit code SOCY30151
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Offered by Sociology
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


This course is roughly divided into four sections that consider: 1) secrecy; 2) lying; 3) lie detection; and 4) mass deception. Each topic will be covered from one or two different disciplinary perspectives, enabling students, over the course of the module, to compare and contrast approaches to social phenomena both within the social sciences and when compared to the natural sciences. In doing so, students will be encouraged to explore the power of the sociological perspective for understanding human life.

The course will consider such questions as:

·         What are family secrets and how do people understand them?

·         How are secrets used in social organisations?

·         What is a lie?

·         How do we use lies, fabrications and deception in everyday life?

·         How is deception and propaganda used in social order? 

How was lie detection developed and how is it used in Western society?


This unit introduces students to the study of secrecy, lying and deception, exploring how such phenomena form a part of everyday life and the organisation of society. It is an interdisciplinary course, drawing on sociology, philosophy, anthropology and politics. The primary focus of the course, however, will be on understanding secrets, lies and deception as fundamentally social phenomena. It will also engage critically with the development and use of lie detection technologies. 

Learning outcomes

Student should be able to:


  • Compare and contrast different disciplinary perspectives on secrets, lies and mass deception.
  • Describe moral arguments for and against the use of lies and deception in social relationships.
  • Identify the assumptions concerning selfhood that are embedded in different definitions of secrecy, lying and deception.
  • Critically evaluate the role of mass deception in social order. 

Teaching and learning methods

Weekly 1 x 3 hour workshop. The course will utilise Blackboard 9 in delivering the module’s course content, core readings, lecture slides, supplementary material including films, and course communications. 

Assessment methods

Method Weight
Written exam 50%
Written assignment (inc essay) 50%

Feedback methods

Informal feedback will be given on the non-assessed essay plan due before the essay, and formal feedback will be given on the essay itself.

Recommended reading

Barnes, J.A. (1994) A Pack of Lies: Towards a Sociology of Lying, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Bok, S. (1999) Lying: Moral Choice in Public and Private Life, New York: Vintage Books.


Goffman, E. (1956) Presentation of Self in Everyday Life, Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Press.


Simmel, G. (1906) ‘The Sociology of Secrecy and of Secret Societies’, The American Journal of Sociology 11(4): 441-498.


Smart, C. (2007) Personal Life: New Directions in Sociological Thinking, Cambridge: Polity Press. [In particular see Chapter 5 ‘Secrets and Lies’] 

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 30
Independent study hours
Independent study 170

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Andrew Balmer Unit coordinator

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