Social Problem

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, liberal media bias, campus sexual assault, the response to campus sexual assault, pandemics 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 (but run it by your TA to make sure it’s okay).

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 in 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! I’ll provide more tips below on how to identify a puzzle.

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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. Or you could ask whether Durkheim’s concept of anomie helps to account for an increase in depression among adolescents. 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?

write a 5-6 page, double-spaced, 12 point font, paper. 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 (Links to an external site.) on how to cite the readings you use.

Submit the paper below. The paper deadline is June 5 at noon. You will receive a 2 point deduction if the paper is time-stamped after noon but before noon the following day. After that, you will receive a 2 point deduction for each 24 hour period that the paper is late.

Please ask your TA or me if you have any questions!

(Links to an external site.)


You can earn a total of 24 points for the paper (and an additional 6 points for the outline). A 24-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;

–Takes account of the feedback the student received on his/her outline and makes the recommended changes;

–Is coherently organized, formatted, and written; and

–Is submitted on time.

Tips on choosing a paper topic and approach

Keep in mind that the point of this paper is not to recommend solutions to a social problem but to analyze a social problem. You can analyze a social problem in a number of ways. You can try explain why the social problem exists or why it has become more widespread or serious in its consequences over time, or why it is more widespread and/or serious in one country than another. You can decide to analyze not the social problem itself but responses to the social problem. So you might try to explain why policymakers have struggled to find a solution to the problem, or why the solution they came up ended up failing, or why a social movement tackling the social problem emerged when it did, or why the news media has covered the social problem the way it has–or has not covered it all. In all of these, you are trying to explain something. To do that, to explain your puzzle, think about how you might draw on concepts or theories we have talked about in class. Don’t try to cover every theory and concept we have discussed. It’s better to focus on one concept or theory; or to compare two approaches. For example, can you use Durkheim’s concept of social integration to understand the social consequences of Covid-19? Can you compare functionalist and conflict approaches to understand why the manufacturers of e-cigarettes might produce a product whose health effects remain unknown?

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