Essay Assignment

By the end of the quarter, we will have considered a number of perspectives on social problems. This assignment asks you to extend one or more of these perspectives to analyze a social problem of your choice. It can be any social problem that you find interesting: for example, global warming, discrimination against a particular group, fake news, liberal media bias, economic inequality, crime, campus sexual assault, the response to campus sexual assault, or anything else—any condition or behavior that, in your view, is harmful to society or is seen as (or has in the past been seen as) harmful to society. It should not be a social problem that we will have discussed at length in class (ie. the opioid crisis, suicide, child sexual abuse, the disenfranchisement of black Americans, the movement of undocumented students, unsafe food, or education reform).

You should write your essay in four stages. First, by reading articles and books outside of class, identify a question about the social problem you are interested in that you want to try to answer. Try to identify a puzzle. For example, if sexual harassment has been illegal for decades, why is there so much attention to it now? Or: Why do people believe fake news? Or: Have college campuses’ response to sexual assault created new problems? Or: Why is the gap between rich and poor in the United States increasing? These are just examples; there are millions more!

Second, after you have identified a social problem and a question about it, draw on at least one perspective that we have or will have discussed in class to try to answer your question. Since none of the articles or book excerpts we will have read are explicitly about your social problem, you will have to extend the argument from one case to another. For example, can you use the political process theory of social movements that both Caren and Nicholls use to account for why the MeToo movement came about when it did? Alternatively, you might compare two perspectives from class. For example, you might ask how an objectivist explanation accounts for public concern about fake news differently than a constructivist explanation does. Or you might compare a functionalist explanation for homelessness with a conflict explanation for it.  It is completely up to you which perspective(s) you draw on to help answer your question, as long as you 1) draw on two readings from the course in order to 2) summarize the perspective(s) you will be using. How does the perspective(s) you have chosen help you to answer your question—help you to see an aspect of the social problem– in a way that you would not have otherwise?

Third, write a 1-2 page outline of your paper (double-spaced with 12 point font) and bibliography and upload to the assignment page on Canvas by 8 am on May 22. The outline should use the headings described below. It should include your question, the perspective or perspectives you will draw on, and your main argument. You may use bullet points. The bibliography should have at least two readings from the course and three readings from outside the course. Readings may be online articles but make sure they have an author. You may submit your outline before the deadline to get feedback earlier. If you do so, alert your TA.

Fourth write a 5-6 page, double-spaced, 12 point font, paper. Make sure to devote at least two pages to summarizing the perspective(s) you have chosen to use and applying it/them to answer your question. Use the following headings to organize your paper:


  1. Introduction: The Puzzle.

Effective papers usually begin by posing a puzzle. Tell readers very briefly about your social problem in the first paragraph, pose your question, and give readers a “teaser”: a sense of what is interesting about the answer you will provide. Try to do that all in two or three paragraphs.

  1. (A) Sociological Perspective(s).

Describe the perspective or perspectives you will use to analyze the social problem you have chosen. Discuss how an author we read uses that perspective to analyze a case that is in some way similar to yours. Or discuss two competing perspectives that one might draw on. Spend at least a page on this discussion.

  1. Applying (a) Sociological Perspective(s) to (your puzzle).

Show the reader how the perspective you have chosen makes sense of the puzzle you have posed. Or show the reader how one perspective makes better sense of the puzzle than another perspective. This is the bulk of the paper: around 3 pages.

  1. Discussion and Implications.

Conclude the paper by talking about the implications of your analysis—the implications either for solving the problem, or for understanding other social problems, or for understanding society more generally.

Make sure to include page numbers in your paper. And consult the following on how to cite the readings you use: (Links to an external site.)Links to an external site.

You can earn a total of 16 points for the paper. A 16-point paper:

–Demonstrates that the author has read more than superficially about a social problem;

–Demonstrates that the author used, understood, and applied a theory or theories from the course, extending the theory or theories where necessary to shed light on some aspect of the social problem;

–Demonstrates that the author understood and used two readings from the course;

–Is coherently organized, formatted, and written; and

–Is submitted on time.




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