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Topic: Transforming Society: Towards a Public Sociology


A research essay, focus on depth of analysis.
Questions listed in the attachment, required readings are offered for each question, I will upload the relevant required readings as soon as you decide which questions you’re interested to write.
Research Essay – 2000 words (-/+ 10%, this includes in-text citations but not final reference list)

Your final assessment piece for this course will be a standard research essay. Below you will find a wide-ranging selection of essay questions.
These prompts are deliberately quite open-ended, as being overly prescriptive would fail to respect the autonomy you are encouraged to exercise in this exploration of ‘Transforming Society’ (a 3000-level course designed to be the culmination of your Sociology Major/Minor, assisting you in shifting from theory to practice).
Formulating your central research question is often the most important and difficult part of any knowledge-making effort, one you may regularly encounter throughout your future vocations and can require careful negotiation among various stakeholders.
So, due to the expansive possibilities of these essay prompts,you are left with a lot of choice regarding how to craft your own argument. Therefore, your first priority – after some preliminary research – is to circumscribe your focus. What specific matters – as they relate to the given question – do you want to address, and why? Can you present a cohesive argument on this chosen focus within 2000 words?
Given the tight word count,depth of analysis is typically better than breadth of coverage. In other words, if you try to do too much you may simply end up with only a series of superficial statements, which likely won’t cohere into a persuasive argument.If it helps, consider setting up the introductory section/sof your essay with these considerations in mind:
CONTEXT: What will this essay focus on, and why does it matter?
CONCEPTS: What key concepts, theories, empirical support etc. will guide your analysis?
CONTENTION: What, concisely, is your overall argument? What central claim do you wish to convince the reader of?
CONTENT: What will you focus on in each part of the essay in proving this argument?
Even if the introduction is typically one of the final parts of the essay that you compose it is worthwhile keeping these essential components in mind.
Some supporting texts may be found in the relevant set and supplementary readings folders throughout the course website, but given the sheer breadth of topics available – and your capabilities as later-year students –this is necessarily an independent and self-directed research exercise.
Preferably, referencing will use either the Harvard or Chicago style. Please check with me if you wish to adopt another method.

Essay Questions (choose one):

1. ‘We have spent a century building professional knowledge, translating common sense into science, so that now, we are more than ready to embark on a systematic back-translation, taking knowledge back to those from whom it came, making public issues out of private troubles, and thus regenerating sociology’s moral fiber. Herein lies the promise and challenge of public sociology, the complement and not the negation of professional sociology.’
Do you agree with Burawoy’s claims and aspirations for public sociology?

2. Critically explore the history of efforts to establishsociology as a formal discipline in a setting within the ‘Global South’.

3. Burawoy, among others, has suggested that teaching constitutes a form of public sociology, one that can take on various instrumental and/or critically reflexive purposes. Discuss, with reference to existing literature that debates teaching as a form of public sociology.

4. ‘[W.E.B. Du Bois] developed the first school of scientific sociology in the company of many thinkers and researchers. This group […] conceptualized race as socially constructed and employed rigorous empirical methodologies to support their novel ideas […] [They represent a] hidden generation of black sociologists who have been erased from the collective memory of the discipline.’
Consider the contributions of W.E.B. Du Bois to the development of methodological rigour within sociology, and specifically how this also informed his modes of public sociological engagement.

5. Consider a topical issue that is currently subject to a specific policy, policy proposal, and/or discursive representation enacted by actors in relative positions of power (e.g. the current welfare debate in Australia). Analyse this ‘problem representation’ using the ‘What’s the problem represented to be?’ framework developed by Carol Bacchi. How could this problem be ‘produced’ otherwise? What kinds of sociological interventions might be required for this to occur?

6. Critically analyse the contribution to sociological thought of a research endeavour outside the academy. (e.g. Henry Ford’s ‘Sociological Department’ at the Ford Motor Company)

7. How do sociologists advocate for recognition, redistribution, and the ‘grievability’ of precarious subjects? Discuss with reference to at least one case study.

8. As Silicon Valley enterprises and related tech interests exercise increasing influence over our everyday lives, what role have sociologists played within these industries to navigate their employers’ interests against their own obligations to wider publics?

9. In the wake of ‘Big Data’ and related methods in collecting vast troves of social interaction data, some sociologists have pointed to an ‘empirical crisis’ within sociology. One response to this has been greater attention to ‘live methods’ and other forms of participatory-driven research. Critically consider these developments and their contribution to public sociology.

10. What role can public-facing sociologists play in anticipating, witnessing, platforming, representing, advocating, strategizing etc. for social movements? Discuss with reference to the work of sociologists and their influence within historical or contemporary social movements.


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