Writing Assignment:

  • You should write two narratives, which explain the same outcome. One narrative will focus on individual factors, while the second on the social forces that condition those individual factors.
  • Narrative that includes individual choices/behaviors/attitudes that led to your attendance to collage
  • Second narrative that describes the social factors which conditioned those individual aspects
  • Must include at least one, likely more than one, sociological concept from class.
  • 3 pages typed double-spaced
  • Writing Tips for Assignment:


    – Clichés

    – Overuse of adjectives

    – The phrase “hard work”, “hard working”, “drive” etc. These are subjective evaluations, which tell the reader your impression of effort but little more. Secondly, such depictions are not sociological since they are not measurable in any sense.

    – Vague statements about “norms” or “values.” Instead, state exactly what the norm is and how you came to understand it. What social sanctions were likely if you violated such a norm?


  • Choices, behaviors, and attitudes of other people (like parents) are individual and not social forces.
  • To critically examine your choices. Ex. How were you aware of different choices? What were the social meanings attached to those choices? If some of those meanings were negative how did you navigate them? Did some of the social meanings conflict with your identity?
  • Overcoming obstacles requires awareness of the obstacle and awareness of a successful path to overcome said obstacle.
  • Individual characteristics and social forces are largely inseparable. Or as Mills put it, you cannot understand the biography of a person without understanding the history of their society.
  • Individual characteristics often predict outcomes but social forces condition how and how much individual characteristics matter.
  • You can also think of the analysis as using your personal story to provide an illustrative example of course concepts.
  • All good writing involves editing and rewriting!
  • Additional Tips:

    The assignment asks for two narratives. There are different ways that someone could explain an individual outcome. We could explain it as the result of individual choices and attitudes. For example, you might note decisions to take AP courses or SAT prep courses. We could also explain it as the result of larger social forces. For example, you might note the changing nature of college from a privilege of the upper classes to a normal and expected event in the lifecourse for most Americans. This structural shift influenced the cultural norms regarding college and likely conditioned your decision to take an AP course. Furthermore, the competitive nature of college education (and the inequality between community colleges and Ivy League schools) may have influenced your decision to take an SAT prep course. I want you to think about how social forces, not just these large scale ones, but local social contexts, influenced and conditioned your choices and attitudes.

    I will grade the quality of your sociological analysis. For example, noting that college is now the norm is rather vague. Instead, noting how local neighborhood norms and providing concrete evidence for those norms constitutes good sociological analysis.

    Finally, always keep in mind that social forces condition (and help predict) but do not determine individual outcomes. So, while our current class structure makes attendance at college less likely for those from poor families, students from poor families certainly do attend college. Good papers will move beyond saying that “poor people don’t go to college and I was poor so it was harder” or conversely, “I was upper class and most upper class people go to college, so I went.” Social forces are neither irrelevant nor determinative. Instead, they change the availability of options, the meaning of choices, the knowledge of choices etc. Good papers will delve into this and use concrete evidence to support the role of social forces.

    Lastly, papers will demonstrate a good understanding of sociological concepts. In other words, you should be able to use the “data” from your first narrative to illustrate sociological concepts from the course.

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