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, liberal media bias, campus sexual assault, the response to campus sexual assault, pandemics, racist policing or anything else—any condition or behavior that, in your view, is harmful to society or is seen as harmful to society. It can be a social problem from the past or present and it can be from any country. 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, activism by undocumented students, fake news, unsafe food, or education reform), unless you plan to analyze a new aspect of the problem. In that case, run it by your TA to make sure it’s okay.
You may address any one of three sets of questions about your social problem.
1) Why has the problem become such a problem? Why has it become as serious or widespread as it has? You might compare a functionalist explanation with a conflict explanation. For example, how would a Durkheimian account for homelessness as compared to a Marxist? Based on what you have learned about homelessness, which perspective do you believe is right? Or, can you use Durkheim’s concept of social integration to understand the social consequences of Covid-19?
2) Why have authorities or the media or the public responded to the problem in the way they have? Has the response been appropriate to the scale and seriousness of the social problem? If not, why not? You might compare an objectivist approach with a constructivist approach. For example, why has international attention to sex-trafficking grown so dramatically? An objectivist might say that the social problem has grown more widespread and serious, but is that in fact the case? Alternatively, you might trace the “discovery” of bullying or the widespread concern with the amount of time young people spend on their digital devices. Why were these problems constructed in the ways they were?
3) Why did a movement to combat the social problem emerge when it did? Can the political process theory of social movements described by Caren and Nicholls be used to account for the movement you are interested in? Does the theory need to be expanded? For example, can the theory be used to account for the Defund the Police or MeToo movements? Based on what you have learned about the movement, how should the theory be revised?
Note that you may ask a different set of questions if you can draw on at least two readings from the course to help answer them.
You should write your essay in four stages. First, by reading articles and books outside of class, see if you can identify a question along the lines of one of those above. Second, draw on at least one perspective that we have or will have discussed in class to try to answer your question. Remember that since none of the articles or book excerpts we will have read are explicitly about your social problem, you will have to either extend the argument from one case to another or compare two perspectives from class to decide which one you believe is right. 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?
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 11:59 pm on November 24. The outline should use the headings described below. 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 (it’s okay if your references go over the limit a bit but aim to keep within it). 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.
2. (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. Or identify a concept that is used (or more than one concept) by authors we are reading in the course. Spend at least a page on this discussion.
3. Applying (a) Sociological Perspective(s) to (your puzzle). Show the reader how the perspective or concept or theory you have chosen makes sense of the puzzle you have posed. Or show the reader how one perspective, concept, or theory makes better sense of the puzzle than another perspective, concept, or theory. This is the bulk of the paper: around 3 pages.
4. 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. This can be short: a paragraph or two
Make sure to include page numbers in your paper. And consult this ASA style sheet
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on how to cite the readings you use. Give the paper a title and include your name.
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