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Introductory Sociology

Introductory Sociology


Choose any particular sociological theory that you have encountered on the course (examples might be ?functionalism?, conflict theory?, ?interactionism?, or ?feminism?) and
a) identify its main features
b) associate it with those sociologists/thinkers whose work has largely represented it
c) identify its strengths and weaknesses as a mode of explanation
d) examine its application in one particular study

(Requirements: no less than 6 and no more than 8 pages [excluding bibliography], double spaced, typed with 10-12 font; numbered pages; full footnoting system linking major ideas and quotations to texts detailed in a bibliography – Submission date: midnight, 18th JUN)

1. Write down what you think the essay requires of you. The question is divided into parts, although it?s probably best to think of the essay as an integrated whole. The following parts may be identified:

(a) the title refers to any particular sociological theory: that means that you will have to choose from functionalism, conflict theory, symbolic interactionism. You could also choose from within these general approaches: examples would include feminist theories, Marxist theories, strain theory, or labeling theory.

(b) you are asked to identify the main features of the theory that you choose: that means identifying the concepts or ideas which you think define its perspective;

(c) you are asked to identify those individual sociologists whose names are associated with the perspective; it would be a good idea to use the sociologist?s name in association with the theoretical perspective, eg. ?Marx thought that conflict was endemic in capitalist society?.?;

(c) the title requires you to ?evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of ?..: that means that you need to consider your chosen perspective in terms of how well (and therefore also how badly) it provides an understanding and explanation of some aspect of social life.

So, (d) you need to choose a particular application of the theory upon which to ?test? its strengths and weaknesses. For example, you could focus upon Durkheim?s study of suicide, or Weber?s study of bureaucracy. Other examples would include: an evaluation of how well the functionalist perspective gives an account of social class, or how well labeling accounts for deviance, or how well the Marxist perspective accounts for ethnic divisions in society.

2. Think about the structure of your essay. Probably the conventional structure of introduction, main text and conclusion would work best. In the introduction you need to clearly identify the perspective that you?ll be dealing with. You need to inform your reader (me!) about how you?re going to tackle the question, so that I am left in no doubt about what you?re trying to achieve.
The main text would probably consist of a number of points ? each with its own fully-developed paragraph ? which directly address the title and the several parts of the question.
The conclusion provides an opportunity to ?draw everything together? by summarizing what you?ve already written and making a final statement about your evaluations (but be careful not to merely repeat yourself here!!). This would be a particularly important function here because you need to finalize your evaluation of strengths and weaknesses.
In total, this sort of structure can be identified in the following way: introduction ? say what you?re going to do; main text ? do it; conclusion ? say what you?ve done, giving an overall ?finding? for your investigations.

3. Begin the process of reading and note-taking. It would be worth your while to make a list of the general strengths/weaknesses of the perspective that you are choosing to focus upon. You can draw upon material from the short essay, but treat this material as you would any other source. Don?t simply ?copy? from it. You will, no doubt, be working mainly on the course text book, but you should be able to find much relevant material online by googling appropriate terms. Whether it?s in hard print or electronic media, take notes on the ideas and information that you think will be of use to you. Take care to note down these sources because they will need to be included in a bibliography. If you are quoting from a hard print source, page numbers will need to be recorded.

4. If your computer software doesn?t have its own footnoting package, you?ll need to decide what referencing system to use. The Modern Languages Association one is popular and is outlined at projects/project_mla_format_examples.shtml . Remember that quotations and major ideas from a printed text need to be page-referenced to their sources.

5. With this preparation behind you, you are now in a position to start the formal writing of the paper, and ? because of the preparation ? the writing should be fairly straight-forward. Remember that the page length for the paper is 6 to 8 pages. Anything less than 6 pages will negatively affect your grade. You may go beyond 8 pages, but not excessively so; certainly anything over 10 pages would negatively affect your grade.

6. Carefully re-read the paper ? perhaps several times ? with a view to correcting any spelling mistakes and re-formulating any expressions for good grammar and construction. Reading the paper aloud to yourself may help you to track down some of the things that need changing. You might ask a trusted friend to read it for feedback. After making any necessary alterations, the essay would now be ready for submission.

Qualities that I?ll be looking for in your paper

a) A title which gives me a good general sense of what the paper is about;

b) an early indication of what to expect from the paper so that I?m not left in the dark;

c) continuous reference to ?authority? in the form of academic sources, rather than statements of your own values and opinions, so that your paper displays how the course has affected your thinking (this can be achieved in part by the careful and selective use of short quotations);

d) your attempt to focus upon strengths and weaknesses rather than only describing the perspective;

e) a well-constructed and logically organized analysis of the material that you include, expressed in good written English with, at most, only a few spelling mistakes;

f) a fully-referenced bibliography produced according to any conventional referencing system.

If you are able to do all of this, and do it well, you will be awarded the very best grade.
Strengths/weaknesses of the perspectives

Macro perspectives
The strength of both macro perspectives is that they give a total, structural view of society as a whole.

This is likely to be a view which only a special ?sociological? reflection on society can disclose ? it would be ?invisible? to those members of society who do not exercise their ?sociological imaginations?. For instance, Durkheim?s macro perspective (functionalism) on suicide has the strength of allowing us to see that suicide statistics of any society are a measure of its level of social integration and stability. Marx?s macro perspective on capitalist society has the strength of allowing us to see that it works by producing class conflict, but we may wish to ask whether this is the only (or even the most important) feature of capitalist society. If we thought that there were other important features, we would probably reach the conclusion that a weakness of the Marxist perspective is that it leaves these other features out.

The strength of the functionalist macro perspective is that, in focusing upon the total structure of society, it emphasizes the continuity and orderliness of society and its institutions and, therefore, of our daily social experience. It is predisposed to look for regularity and routine as the different parts of society fulfill their functions. For this reason, it has difficulty accounting for rapid and transformative change: it can accommodate gradual, adaptive change which evolves over time in terms of the idea of the social system having a dynamic equilibrium, but this accounts only for strain in the system.

The strength of the conflict theory macro perspective is that it accepts that the potential for real change is built into the social system, so that change can erupt at any time. Since it accepts that the (capitalist) system is based upon conflict ? particularly class conflict ? change is endemic within it. All that is required is for subordinated groups to develop a level of consciousness which allows them to discover their self-interest, and then to pursue it. For this reason, it has difficulty in accounting for genuine, widespread consensus and integration. From the conflict perspective, stability may exist at the level of society, but it is temporary and depends upon the use of power ? both material and ideological – by a dominant group. For this reason, it interprets something like patriotism as an ideology fostered by the ruling class to manipulate and exploit subordinated groups, and the society as a whole.

From a micro perspective the central weakness of both macro perspectives is that neither of them are capable of referring to the subjective meanings of ordinary members of society. From this perspective, both of the macro interpretations ignore the meanings that ordinary members of society give to their actions; that is, the macro interpretations are reified accounts of social action. (reification: removing social experience from its ordinary, everyday settings by making it an ?abstraction? and then treating that abstraction as a real thing).

Micro perspective

Consequently, the strength of symbolic interactionism, and related micro perspectives, is that there is a serious attempt to engage with the subjective meanings that social actors give to their actions. By doing this, social actors are seen as active agents in their own lives, rather than simply ?cogs in a machine?. Think of the particular methods (Course text, Ch.2) which are associated with this perspective: participant observation and open-ended interview questions are attempts to reveal these subjective meanings and the nature of human agency.

In turn, this means that the micro researcher can witness the fine-grained detail of social interaction in a way that macro researchers are unable to do. Some forms of the micro perspective (for instance, ethnography) accept that a neutral account of social interaction can be given simply by the ethnographer reproducing a ?record? of what was observed and that the neutrality of the record makes it scientific.

On the other hand, critics of this perspective argue that the researcher?s presence always intervenes in the account and that, therefore, the micro perspective tends to ignore or conceal its own meaning-making strategies. Micro researchers are aware of these criticisms and make efforts to take their own presence into account.

From a macro perspective, the central weakness of the micro approach is that ? in concentrating on subjective meanings and human agency ? the micro perspective ignores social structures and the significance of time. The criticism is that the micro perspective is ahistorical and astructural (ahistorical: without concern for history or historical development; indifferent to tradition; astructural: without concern for structures or structural relationships). Sometimes this criticism takes the form of accusing the micro perspective of simple naivety.




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