Short essay questions – expanded

Here’s an expanded version of short essay questions that will appear on the final exam. In crafting the questions, I tried to make them expansive and interesting enough to give you the opportunity to focus on the theorists and themes that resonate most.

Answer 2 questions in essays of 3-5 paragraphs (15 pts each, 30 total)

For Qs 1 and 2, select any theorist from the 2nd half of the course.  Use different theorists for Q1 and Q2 and incorporate relevant concepts from their work.

1) Pt. I of the course introduced the concept of ‘alienation’ from a Marxian perspective.  More broadly, alienation refers to estrangement, division or distancing of people from each other or of people from what is important or meaningful to them, or of a person from their own sense of self.  Each of the theorists from Pt. II of the course addressed the theme of alienation in her/his own way.  Select one and describe how s/he approaches the theme of alienation or estrangement in his/her work.

2) Weber conceptualized status as ‘social honor,’ and pointed out that there isn’t necessarily a one-to-one correspondence between one’s ‘class’ and one’s ‘status’ – money can’t always buy status, and wealth, a solid ‘market situation,’ isn’t always necessary for social esteem.   The sorts of qualities that boost – or sink – social status vary over time and from place to place.  Class, gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, education, occupation, etc. historically have had great bearing on social status – but how and how much they influence status keeps changing, e.g.,

  • the women’s and civil rights movements stimulated political and cultural shifts, which transformed the American ‘status hierarchy,’ specifically how gender and race figured in it
  • Studies suggest recent demographic and sociopolitical trends in the US may gradually change whiteness from a preference to a stigma (Marvasti, 2005)
  • In the aftermath of 9/11, people who were or appeared to be ‘Middle Eastern’ suffered a loss of status, or ‘social dishonor’ in the US (Marvasti, 2005)
  • The recent verbal endorsement of same-sex marriage by the President can be seen as another step in a historical process reversing the ‘social dishonor’ of being gay

Each of us in our day-to-day interactions ‘negotiates’ status, interpreting signs and symbols and ‘flashing’ signs, paying respect and demanding respect.  In this way, we maintain and reproduce the ‘status system.’ But on this level – the micro level of face-to-face interactions – other attributes come into play – layered on top of race/ethnicity – things like physical and mental health/illness/disability, physical ‘attractiveness,’ legal status, ‘record,’ speech, etiquette, ‘coercive capacity’ (‘legitimate’ or illegitimate) etc.

Pick a theorist and describe his/her approach to social status.  What does it add to Weber’s account, or what new knowledge does it bring?  To what extent does the theoretical framework shed light on the current American ‘status hierarchy’ (or ‘hierarchies’)?  In other words, is the critique still relevant?

You may answer 3 OR 4, but not both.

3) Around the world, the ‘predicament’ of young people has been getting lots of attention — unemployment, debt, attention deficits, entitlement, ‘delinquency’ of all kinds. Whether it’s taking to the streets in antigovernment demonstrations or breaking windows – to send a message or to get ‘free’ stuff, or both – the youth are restless.  Are they ‘acting up’ or ‘acting out’? Who’s doing what?

Use Merton’s ‘anomie theory’ to assess the situation of today’s ‘youth’ (i.e., Millennials, or however you would like to define it, even in global terms).  Consider the variation in this group, the various ‘subcultures’ within it, class and status differences, etc.  Is there a common set of ‘culturally prescribed goals’? Is there broad access to the means to achieve them? Is ‘anomie’ an issue for today’s youth?  If so, how are they adapting? Present each of ‘mode of adaptation’ and apply it to different categories of young people.

4) What new insights does Merton’s ‘Social Structure and Anomie’ bring to the case of the American Dream?  How does Merton’s theory compare with the arguments advanced in your essays (i.e., critiques from the perspectives of Marx, Durkheim and Weber)?  Do you find Merton’s theory persuasive overall? Why or why not?


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