Research Paper #2

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For the second research paper, you will explain, analyze and/or understand some social phenomenon.

In short, you will choose some social structure or phenomenon and assess it according to two of the explanatory or interpretive approaches discussed in the Hollis text.

You might choose to analyze some large-scale social structure or belief system like a religious practice, political or economic movement. You could investigate reasons offered for why people have religious beliefs, what function they serve or what social meanings are carried by them.

You might also go smaller scale: Explain why people shop excessively, why we go camping (when it’s dirty), or why we watch sports, or why Donald Trump was elected president instead of the qualified candidate. In the middle, you could explain the failings of the American education system, why people rushed to buy automatic weapons after the Las Vegas shooting, or you might seek to explain the “Arab Spring.” You might explain why American teens like bad vampire movies.

Once you choose a social phenomenon, you will analyze it in two ways:

First you will attempt to explain it according to a functionalist/structuralist approach. In doing this, you should first explain Durkheim’s approach to social explanation. Explain what that is and how one goes about explaining social phenomenon according to this approach. Then attempt to apply it to your example. There may be some guesswork involved here; that is okay. What I want you to do is try to imagine how a Durkheimian would explain the phenomenon. Apply the relevant concepts; speculate on the social facts that might be appealed to.

Second, you will take a Wittgensteinian/Winchean approach to understandingyour social phenomenon. Here, you will want explain Wittgenstein’s approach (or the hermeneutic approach in general) and then apply it to your example. Analyze the meaning system that people operate according to and how it might inform their behavior.

Lastly, compare and contrast these two approaches. Does one work better than the other? Can they be combined? What do you think is the best explanation of the phenomenon you have analyzed?

While this approach is covered later in the book, you might also seek to explain some practice held by members of another culture. We’ll read the classic example of Evans Pritchard’s analysis of witchcraft among the Azande. People in different cultures have different beliefs. You might try to explain why so many Germans believe that David Hasselhoff is a singer. This might also be extended to attempt to explain any practice or belief that is quite foreign to us (even if in our own culture) like belief in alien abductions or why people go bowling.

Social and environmental problems offer cases: why is there gang violence? Why do people drive SUV’s even if they are destroying the environment? Why is text messaging so popular? Why chase virtual Pokemon? Be creative. Just about any group behavior might offer possibilities for explanation. Why are we obsessed with cell-phones? Why do we read websites telling us about the pathetic lives of celebrities? Why do we shop at Walmart? Why do dance clubs exist? Why do people join fraternities? Why does anyone pay attention to Kim Kardashian? Why are so many people afraid of the apocalypse? Why is Nascar popular? Why do Raiders fans cry upon learning their team is moving to Las Vegas?

Whatever you do, the essay should feature four things prominently: 1) the social phenomenon to be explained or understood, 2) A structural explanation of the social phenomenon based on Durkheim’s approach, 3) A meaning analysis of the phenomenon based on Wittgenstein’s approach, 4) Your assessment of the explanatory strategies and the phenomenon. In covering 2 and 3, refer directly to the Hollis text.

Again, the essay should be 4-5 or so pages, double-spaced, standard fonts and margins.

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