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In this course, the topic of your proposal and final paper should focus on a social movement — big or small — that has sought to address an issue of social inequality. Essays should describe the movement’s concerns, the origins and principles of the social movement, the ways in which certain identities and experiences are at the centre of these issues, as well as strengths and critiques of that movement. Sociological papers are best written with a clear thesis statement and theoretical orientation.
Proposals should be treated as mini versions of your essay, presenting your preliminary argument and showing how you’ll make that argument through connections to theory, literature, and examples. Your proposal should:
- Introduce your topic and preliminary thesis statement
- Illustrate your theoretical perspective
- Discuss the subsections and examples you’ll draw from
- Explain the significance of your topic from a sociological perspective
Proposals should be 600–700 words in length, plus a reference list of the scholarly sources you intend to use. Students are encouraged to use approximately six peer-reviewed academic journal articles or book chapters. Note: it is more important that you write a good paper rather than fixate on the number of sources you do or do not have. In other words, ask yourself: do I have enough sources to back up my claims? Is there more I need to say and associate with sources? Is this a good argument and a good paper?
The document should be saved as a PDF.
Crafting a Strong Sociological Essay:
1. Select a topic that is reasonably specific. “Class inequality in Canada” is too big of a topic. Something more specific might be:
- Addressing class inequality rooted in colonialism through the Land Back social movement
- Occupy Wallstreet in the Canadian context: Torontonians challenge Canadian class inequality
- Can $10aDay Child Care even out class inequality among families in Canada?
*Please do not copy these topics verbatim — part of the work of completing essays is crafting your own topic, question, and argument. You must create your own unique topic.
2. Within your topic, you need to identify an issue, problem, or question that you are going to address in your paper. This is helpful to inform the direction of your paper, and later might be shifted into a thesis statement. For example:
- “What role did Indigenous land dispossession play in the trajectory of class inequalities in Canada between settler and Indigenous communities and what class implications does the Land Back movement have?”
- “How did Occupy protests in major Canadian cities speak specifically to Canadian class issues, and what did this social movement reveal or challenge about inequality in Canada?”
- “If childcare is a major expense for many Canadian families, would a subsidized or socialized form of childcare reduce social inequality among wealthier and less-wealthy families?”
3. You answer that question in your paper. In order to answer the question, you need to develop some kind of argument.
- Note that if your research question can be answered with a “yes” or “no,” then it is not nuanced enough — go back to step 2.
- Answering the question also means applying a sociocultural perspective. In other words, you’ll want to employ theory such as Marxist, Bourdieusian, or critical race orientations to your analysis. Whatever theory you employ, sociological perspectives are usually attentive to diversity and complexity, critical, and often oriented towards justice in terms of thinking about power dynamics.
- Look at a range of sources (i.e., books, articles in scholarly periodicals, popular media, websites). Think critically about your sources. How are they limited? Is there a particular perspective? On what basis do they claim authoritative knowledge? Be cautious of the information you get off the internet; these are usually not scholarly, peer-review sources.
- While a variety of sources might provide interesting information, the core of your argument and library research needs to focus on academic sources. This means academic journal articles and academic books. Look to see if they are from a peer-reviewed journal and/or published from an academic press.
4. Drafting — a final paper in an upper-level university course will require a number of drafts before it is ready for submission. You may, for example, create three or four drafts before you’re confident that your paper is nearing completion. If you haven’t created several drafts, it’s probably not finished yet.
5. Thesis statement — you may not know what you’re arguing until you’re done a first or second draft. This is because we learn and refine through the process of writing. Once you’ve written one or two drafts, see if you have a clearer picture of your thesis statement. Insert that revised thesis into your introduction and let that lead your next round of drafting as you create a more coherent focus and argument throughout your paper.
5. Have a good look at the rubric I will use to mark your essay (available by clicking on the assignment submission link below). If you get bogged down in the writing or organization, then come and see me.
6. When you have a draft of the paper, get someone to read it over and tell you about holes in your argument, ungrammatical sentences, and muddled or awkward aspects of your writing or thinking. Another strategy is to stand up and read it aloud exactly as if you were presenting to the class. This is a very effective way to identify weak spots in a paper – if you don’t know what you are saying, you can be sure that I won’t too.
Check out the excellent writing advice available here: https://advice.writing.utoronto.ca/. The Intros and Conclusions, Paragraphs, Revising and Editing, and Passive Voice sections may be particularly pertinent.
Thinking sociologically means:
- Identifying how ideas and behaviors reflect and reproduce particular interpretations or ways of understanding and naming the world, particularly relations between people and state institutions, arrangements of power, identities, categories, performances, and so on.
- Being attentive to diversity and variation in ideas and practices along lines of ethnicity, race, income/class, education, gender, sexuality, age, location, cultural context, etc.
- Engaging with the sociological imagination – considering how everyday activities, events, or experiences are tied to broad axes of power and structural processes that are often rendered invisible; sociologists illuminate these relationships and dialectics
- Paying attention to the ways in which class, labour, capitalism, racism, family arrangements, etc. are folded into and contested within everyday life, and how these reflect (but also shift) social, political, and economic relations for people in different social positions, categories, or roles.
- An analysis that is detailed and holistic, taking into account a wide range of factors.
- Being comparative without being judgmental and avoiding simplistic, oppressive, unjust, or passé language. The words you choose matter, so be clear about what you mean and thoughtful with your word choice.
- Making empirical rather than normative statements; back up what you are saying with empirical information that is research-based from academic, peer-reviewed, and sociocultural sources.
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