Writing Sociology Papers
(For more details on arguments and citations, see http://www.unc.edu/depts/wcweb/handouts/).
At its most basic, sociology is an attempt to understand and explain how individuals and groups interact within a society. How exactly does one approach this goal? C. Wright Mills, in his book The Sociological Imagination (1959), writes that "neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without understanding both." Why? Well, as Karl Marx observes at the beginning of The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852), humans "make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past." Thus, a good sociological argument needs to balance both individual agency and structural constraints. That is certainly a tall order, but it is the basis of all effective sociological writing. Keep it in mind as you think about your own writing.
Pay special attention to the following issues:
The first thing to remember in writing a sociological argument is to be as clear as possible in stating your thesis. You should present a clear and concise thesis statement, or argument, in the first paragraph of the paper that 1) makes a claim; and 2) supports it with evidence. Your thesis statement should state a position and use authors/evidence to back it up. In the body of your paper, all your arguments/points should refer back to and support the thesis.
There are a couple of pitfalls common to sociology that you should be aware of and avoid at all costs. As previously defined, sociology is the study of the interaction between individuals and larger social forces. Different traditions within sociology tend to favor one side of the equation over the other, with some focusing on the agency of individual actors and others on structural factors. The danger is that you...