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Due: June 5 at 5:00 p.m.
Length: 3500 words
Weight: 40%

The assignment

In your final essay for the class, I would like you to analyze the arguments of several academic, peer-reviewed publications on a single topic. You should explain what theoretical perspectives inform the way the authors working in this area analyze and interpret their data and observations.

In your essay, you should identify the terms of a debate among several authors working in the same area, and make an argument about what you think the debate is really about, that is, what is the larger significance for social science in general, and how does it reflect the larger conversation among theorists of society. Your paper should make claims about how the authors see the world, and present evidence for your claims. Most likely, the authors works you read will not say explicitly where they stand in the larger conversations among theorists. You will have to read between the lines and draw a conclusion based on what they about their perspective and theoretical frameworks.

Getting started

To begin, go to the library and find a published academic article in a social science journal which presents empirical data about a social phenomenon and attempts to explain it or interpret it.

The social sciences are very diverse in both subject matter and in methodology. Because quantitative methodology tends to be very specialized, it will be better if you choose a scholarly article which discusses a single empirical example as a case study or uses a qualitative methodology, that is, one where the author reports her first-hand observations and discusses interviews with individuals. This person might be an anthropologist who has studied another culture like Charles Piot or Sherry Ortner, or a sociologist who uses an individual case study rather than a statistical analysis of a large dataset.

You should not choose a theoretical essay like the writing of Emile Durkheim or Marcel Mauss. You should also not choose a review article, which comments on a body of literature published by other people, or an article which discusses the intellectual history of a field. Instead, look for an article in which the author is presenting the results of her own research on a specific situation or community.

What is an appropriate scholarly publication?

Social scientists report the findings of their research in two main forms: books and articles in academic journals. For this essay, all you need is one article from an academic journal. Scholarly journals are peer-reviewed, scientific periodicals that report the latest research to fellow scholars. They are not written for a popular audience.

These are good signs that an article is “academic” or “scholarly”:

  • It is written by someone with an academic position at a university.
  • It is published in a disciplinary journal, something like American Anthropologist or Third World Quarterly, not Discover Magazine or National Geographic.
  • It cites the sources it discusses and lists the sources at the end of the article. (It may even cite some of the people we have read in this class. Hint, hint…)
  • The journal has an editorial policy of “peer review.” It only publishes articles that have been evaluated by other academics, and this policy is usually stated at the beginning of each journal issue (or on the journal’s web site).

You can ask Ryan whether your chosen article is appropriate. For more general information about scholarly publications, see this page:

How do I find a good article for this assignment?

To find a good article to analyze, I would choose something on a topic you care about. Then, go to the library guides for that general area. For instance, if you want to learn more about indigenous activism in Latin America, you could visit the library guide for anthropology, development studies, or any of the social sciences. There is a list here:

Browse through these guides and see what academic journals they recommend. Use the academic search engines (or indexes) listed in the library guides to search for relevant scholarly literature on your topic. For instance, if you were looking for an ethnographic article by an anthropologist, you could go to Anthrosource (http:%%//%%anthrosource.net) and search for “indigenous activism Latin America”.

Once you find an argument that interests you, and you can see what theoretical perspective they have adopted, you can then move to doing a “bibliography crawl” by looking to see who they cite, and especially whose past work on their topic they oppose or challenge. These works are probably informed by a different theoretical perspective, and so can be said to be part of a debate at the conceptual level as well as adding more information and ideas to our knowledge of the topic.

Do you recommend any particular journals for this assignment?

Yes, but you are not limited to this list:

  • Africa
  • American Ethnologist
  • American Sociological Review
  • Contemporary Sociology
  • Development and Change
  • Ethnos
  • Human Organization
  • Journal of Peasant Studies
  • Medical Anthropology
  • The Australian Journal of Anthropology
  • The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
  • Third World Quarterly

Just because an article appears in one of these journals does not automatically mean it is a good choice for this assignment. You will have to skim the article first and decide whether or not you can use it for this assignment. Look for articles that are about specific empirical topics and ask Ryan if you would like more advice.

Grading criteria

A good essay for this assignment will:

  • Have a set of appropriate scholarly publications that report the results of research on a single empirical topic.
  • Make a clear claim that you make about the authors’ theoretical orientations, and the way the authors conceptualize the topic.
  • Provide a logical and thorough discussion and analysis of the academic articles in which you give examples that support your claim, and explain your reasons for why these examples illustrate your conclusions about the authors’ theoretical orientations.
  • Be written clearly, and will explain your ideas fully, so that I know why you have reached your conclusion.


My only expectation is that you submit a well-written and neatly formatted document that cites your sources of information and quotations. Besides this, you should do your own original work. You should not just search on Google for something to write on and copy and paste from a web page. (If you do that, I can tell right away.)

I don’t have specific requirements for a format or style of references, but you can tell if you have done a good job. When you are done with your final version, imagine that you printed it out and accidentally left it somewhere. If someone picked up your paper, would they be able to send it to me, and would I be able to read it and give you a grade for the assignment?

  • Does it have your student ID number on it?
  • Does it say what it is, an essay for our class?
  • Does it tell someone what class it is for, and who teaches it?
  • Does it say when you wrote it, that is, does it have a date on it?

A good guide can be found here: http://anthro.rschram.org/2667/documents_with_style.

Anonymous marking

Beginning last year, the University of Sydney has instituted a policy of anonymous marking in every unit of study (or class). This means that when your papers are read and graded your name will be masked in Canvas from the marker. You should not, then, put your name in the header or in the first line of your essay or any submitted work you upload for grading.

However, just because we will mask your names while grading your papers, it does not mean that we want you to write anonymously. This is your work, and you can and should use any writing assignment to express and argue for your own views. As your teacher, I also want to know what each of you think about what we discuss in class, since each of you will think differently and form your own perspective as students of social theory. You can always ask me for advice on your work in office hours or over email. You should keep a copy of your work in this class with your name on it so you can, if you wish, share it with other people as an example of what you’ve learned. You can also, if you want, put your name to your written work at the very end, like a signature on a letter (so that anyone reading it for a grade will not see your name until they have read the whole paper).

6916/2020/essay.txt · Last modified: 2021/02/09 00:03 by Ryan Schram (admin)