Analyze the degree to which forms of human differences and stratifications among social
groups shape individual and group experiences of, and perspectives on, contemporary
issues. Such differences and stratifications may include race, language, religion,
ethnicity, country of origin, gender identity, sexual orientation, economic status, abilities,
or other social distinctions and their intersections. I expect you to employ what we
learned in class and to apply it to your own life.
Instructions for Students:
1. Pick a social outcome that is patterned by some social status. Label your
independent and dependent variables. (Ex. College engineering major rates by
gender, home ownership by race, life expectancy by social class, obesity rates by
region, the family wealth by race etc.) PICK YOUR OWN.
2. Locate AT LEAST three characteristics of yourself from the wheel of diversity
that relates to the outcome you chose AND note whether each status makes you
“more likely” or “less likely” to experience an outcome. (Ex. Life expectancy by social
class, education, and race: middle class: more likely to live longer, White nonHispanic: more likely to live longer, higher education: longer life expectancy). In
other words, once you’ve set up the dependent variable you are adding two
3. What are the mechanisms by which your social characteristics interact with the
issue? This is a chance for you to use sociological analysis to understand the
broader effects of social categories. You MUST speak about every characteristic
you have chosen: how are they working independently AND together? (e.g.
What sociological concepts can you employ here to explain why we see disparities
by social groups? Following the example above, what about race and class explain
this disparity in life expectancy between races?)
4. Discuss how your own personal choices, attitudes, behaviors are conditioned by
the broad social effects you brought up in part 3. This is a chance for you to use
sociological analysis to understand how social forces shape your own identity
and behavior. You MUST speak about every characteristic you have chosen:
how are they working independently AND together to shape your identity?
(For example, considering the example above, you might note that being White
Non-Hispanic will raise your chances longer. How does this affect your outlook on
life and the decisions that you make?)
1-2 are bullet points. Then, write one paragraph for part 3 and one paragraph for
part 4 (see short guide below). Remember that individual choices happen within
social contexts that shape the likelihood and meaning of those choices, but are
1. Incarceration rates [dependent variable] by social class, type of community
(e.g. urban, rural, suburban) [independent variable(s)]
2. [Your characteristics here] upper-middle class – less likely, urban – less
3. [Here you could invoke cultural and social capital – to explain how they make
incarceration less likely for members of these social categories, you can put
in more than two concepts, (you need at least one) but remember quality is
more important than quantity.]
4. [Consider how your own personal choices, attitudes, and behaviors (i.e.
agency) is conditioned by social forces (i.e. the cultural and/or structural
forces you discussed in the previous paragraph).]
You should be able to demonstrate a contextualized understanding of the
sociological imagination. In other words, you should be able to use course
material to explain how specific social forces impact a specific social issue.
Rubric: How we will grade these
Poor (68 or below): Student is unable to understand how social differences create
different outcomes because s/he either ascribes to an all or nothing approach (i.e.
treats social groups/conditions as determinative rather than conditional) OR cannot
move beyond an overly individualistic account. Causal mechanisms, therefore, are
individualistic (e.g. “some people just…”) or simplistic and determinative (e.g.
society says that x people are inferior and treats them badly). There is confusion
between independent and dependent variables.
Fair (74, 78): Student points out that social differences create different outcomes,
but often slips into individualistic or determinative accounts. Cliché’s and valueladen judgments often take the place of (or push aside) sociological analysis.
However, student identifies at least one social force, even if a bit simplistically (i.e.
racism in policing makes blacks more likely to encounter police). The overall
account is also correct, but key details are left out. The distinction between
independent and dependent variables is clear.
Good (84, 88): Student generally sticks to identifying and explaining social forces.
While some cliché’s and value-laden judgments may appear they generally appear
alongside rather the substitute for sociological explanations. Sociological
explanations counter both individualistic and determinative explanations. The
overall account is correct, but some minor details/nuance is left out.
Outstanding (95): Student identifies and explains social forces, the overall account is
not only correct, but includes and connects relevant details. Student is able to bring
in nuance without taking away from their key points. The student seems able to
entertain alternative theses and provide an account that would stand up to them.
Additional notes on grading:
Simplistic and deterministic accounts, even if social, are highly problematic. First,
they are often perfunctory and evidence little thought or consideration on the part
of the student. Second, to the extent they are accepted they create two additional
problems: Deterministic accounts make social claims fragile – i.e. unable to
withstand a single non-conforming anecdote. (Ex. I know someone who grew up
poor and graduated college, so therefore social class doesn’t hamper poor people… )
OR people may simply discount, ignore, or refuse to believe (see “fake news”) any
information that doesn’t fit a deterministic account rather than thinking through
social patterns and embracing the nuance and uncertainty that are hallmarks of
Cliché’s and value-laden judgments create their own problems. Such tropes are
easily accessible tools for “understanding” our social world. In other words, cliché’s
allow us to deal with social issues without having to engage in critical thinking. We
just pick the “right” side and take that side.
Lastly, this exercise should reinforce the importance of marking the difference
between independent and dependent variables when making social claims.
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