Spectatorship vs. Participation

Please write an approx. 4-5 page (not counting title page and bibliography!), typed paper using 12-point font, 1.25” margins, and double-spaced, with bibliography, that analyzes and responds to the sociological problem of Spectatorship versus Participation (Modern Alienation):  what factors have we read and discussed explain the rise of spectatorship (being a spectator/watcher) and the decline of direct participation (being a democratic participant) in modern society? (below). Use what we have covered in our lectures, readings and articles to support the argument that you develop. This is a ‘thought’ paper, so please dive into and explore the ideas we have been discussing. Some of the main goals of this paper is (1) to demonstrate your knowledge and mastery of the articles we have read through your use of quotes/citations and (2) to relate concepts of different thinkers to each other. (3) The overarching goal and your job is to link together different ideas from different writers in a meaningful way such that the whole becomes greater than the parts. You must use at least six quotes/references from at least four different sources we have read (more=better grade!).

Use the following questions/themes to develop your essay.  Use the questions within the theme as inspiration to spark reflection for your essay. It is not necessary answer all the questions, and please do not answer each question ‘short-answer’ style. Rather, read the full theme and questions, then step back, reflect and return to the readings/articles to develop your paper.  What is essential is that you have an overarching argument or point to the essay that is backed up by smaller arguments and evidence.

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“Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.”    (Karl Marx)

Spectatorship versus Participation: the Problem of Modern Alienation: Use your Sociological Imagination to grapple with an increasingly central problem of Modern life. We started the course looking at how different theories (conflict theory/Marxism, functionalism) argue that simpler, traditional (tribal and rural/agricultural) societies provide more opportunities for direct human participation than modern, urban society, where complexity, technology, specialization and centralization of power in the hands of a few result in making most of us passive spectators (watchers) rather than direct, active participants. Marx, for instance, argues that the removal and decline of direct human engagement and participation in production (ie the replacement of the small, direct producer by big corporations/capital/technology, etc), is reflected in various ways in the larger society. How has this removal from the process of direct production reflected in our increased sense of being a spectator rather than a participant in modern society? How does it reflect relations of power in society? For instance, how does the film Food, Inc  (  also available on netflix) show how farmers, workers and consumers are alienated from the process of food production; the knowledge of how our food is produced, and the know-how to do it? What other instances and examples in modern society can you detect widespread alienation in different spheres of modern life (education, politics, sports, community, production/consumption, pop culture/hip hop)? How do Marx’s ideas on alienation/becoming a spectator intersect with other theorists and writers we have encountered? (see list below for ideas). In what ways can you sense a feeling of being alienated – ie of being more a spectator than a participant – in your own personal life? Give examples. What are some ways alienation and spectatorship in modern society might be overcome, and more forms of participation and community increased? Remember – don’t ignore your postings! Return to them for ideas and inspiraton..

Suggested Ideas List

•  Freire’s critique of how passive, rote memorization (the ‘banking method’ of education) serves the interests of those in power; does it create active, educated, critical thinkers or passive consumers of info?

•  Marx’s argument about the struggle between owners and workers; the need for workers to actively unite and organize for their interests; how does the the modern workplace setting (factory, technology, computer) affect worker participation, how does it create alienation?

•  Ritzer’s (McDonaldization of Society) idea of the elevation of efficiency (for the corporation) and being a consumer as a value over the more participation-based one of actual production or making things yourself; or his thoughts on the McDonaldization of food, media and society; or his theme of the paradoxical ‘irrationality of rationality’ – are we losing control over the ‘machines’ we’ve built?

•  Food Inc. : how does modern food production reveal the decline of active participation in food and the rise of passive, alienated spectatorship/consumerism? Who gets hurt along the way?

•  It’s the Inequality, Stupid’s ideas on the gap between the reality, perception of inequality. Are workers who are doing the work really participating in how the profit they’re helping create is distributed?
•  From Aggressive Overtures to Sexual Assault (Harvey Weinsten article) & Miss Representation documentary  How do dominant gender roles in society demonstrate dynamics of spectatorship? What would a more participatory and democratic approach to gender, sex and sexuality in our society look like?

•  Fully Loaded: Inside the Shadowy World of America’s Top Ten Biggest Gun Makers:  Using your sociological imagination, how does the power of the gun industry and the gun lobby to prevent any gun control laws demonstrate spectatorship for most of the rest of us? How might an increase in democratic, citizen-based participation help change this situation?

•    ideas from the textbook: Essentials of Sociology (Giddens, Duneier, Applebaum, Carr)

•Culture chapter:  In what ways does modern culture show alienation, particularly compared to simpler societies?

• Theory chapter: how do various theories interpret alienation/anomie and talk about the challenges that modern society has in terms of encouraged active, democratic participation compared to small-scale premodern societies?

You must use at least six quotes from at least four different readings/authors to help build your argument (more well-chosen quotes from well-chosen sources= better grade!). Please cite the page number for each quote (Ex: Mills, p. 3). The quotes should be thoughtful and well chosen to support your overall argument (not randomly selected; randomly selected quotes don’t build anything, and stick out as disorganized and useless). Please keep quotes and information from the internet to a minimum; if you do use something from there, you must cite your sources – website/author/article.  You must have at least four quotes/citations from class material (articles, film, class discussion, textbook) to fulfill the requirements of the paper (online sources do not count).

Audience: your fellow students, citizens and workers

Main point and purpose: Examine in-depth one of the main sociological problems of the modern world: Modern Alienation: the decline in direct participation and the rise of spectatorship, combining various author’s ideas in a meaningful and thoughtful way, with a clear overarching point.

Format: Introduction, Thesis, Body (use of quotes/citations/concepts), Conclusion (see explanation below); persuasive essay.

Grading Rubric (Guidelines I will use to grade the paper)

1.  Persuasive, convincing and correct use of at least 6 citations/quotes from the readings to make your argument – the overarching purpose of using the citations/quotes is (1) to demonstrate your mastery of the articles you are read and (2) to help build, ground and develop your argument. Stuff from the Internet does not help do this.

2.  Have a coherent overarching point.

3. Effective summarizing, unpacking and use of concepts to make your argument.

4. Making thoughtful and meaningful connections to your own experience or observations of everyday life.

5. Essay is well organised into a unified whole, with good transitions and paragraphs have topic sentences.

6. Language style is effective, well chosen for intended audience, and tone is appropriate.

7. Sentences well constructed and paper carefully edited.

8. Effective and persuasive relating of different thinkers´ ideas to each other, meaningfully

The following is the format I would like you to use for this paper and for all future papers:

1. Introduction—Write a one-paragraph introduction that summarizes the point of your paper and explains the larger conclusions that you have made about your topic. This paragraph should be between 5 and 8 sentences. It should include a clear statement of your argument and it should introduce the sources that you will use. I suggest that you write (or significantly re-write) your introduction after you have finished your paper. This will help ensure that the introduction reflects the ideas that you have developed as you have been writing.

2. Body— These are the middle paragraphs of your paper. Make sure that each body paragraph has a topic sentence. The topic sentence should explain the main argument of the paragraph. Make sure that you explain how your evidence (either quotes from the sources, or summaries of the relevant part of the sources) supports the larger argument that you are making. Each paragraph must refer back to that larger argument and explain how the contents of that paragraph are relevant to your paper.

3. Conclusion—This paragraph sums up the point of your paper, summarizes how you got from the evidence you presented to the conclusions that you drew, and presents an interpretation of the implications of the points you have made.


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