BASS Politics and Sociology

Year of entry: 2023

Course unit details:
Secrets, Lies & Mass Deception

Course unit fact file
Unit code SOCY30152
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 2
Offered by School of Social Sciences
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. The course uses Georg Simmel’s sociological approach as a foundation for the module, but draws on other sociological analyses, as  well as from other disciplines, including social history, philosophy and politics. 

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

  How is propaganda used in the media?


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 arguments for and against the use of lies and deception in social relationships.

Identify the assumptions concerning social life 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

Lecture-style material will be delivered weekly through a mix of up to one hour pre-recorded (i.e. asynchronous) content and one hour live (i.e. synchronous) lecturer-led classes. Additionally, weekly one hour small-group tutorials will be delivered on-campus as long as government guidelines allow, otherwise they will be delivered online.

Weekly 1 x 2 hour lecture and a weekly 1 hour workshop (rolled into one 3 hour slot). 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

Multiple Choice Exam (50%)

Assessed 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

Additional notes

Coursework essay: 3000 words

Multiple choice exam: traditional exam conditions or online equivalent  

One formative assignment designed to offer formative feedback (5 point penalty for non-submission)


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