Relax. You’re overthinking it
This essay is written in response to a desperate email asking me for help figuring out how to write an AICE Sociology Essay. I figured that reproducing my response and giving an example would be beneficial to everyone in their quest to pass the AICE Sociology Papers.
My guess is that you are second guessing yourself. I’ll be happy to talk to you after school today, call it 1:35 or so. Look at it as a variation of the many Point of View Assignments you’ve done in history classes. When you read a prompt think about the POV that best explains the solution to the prompt. Then consider a POV that offers an alternative way of looking at the issue.
So if you have a prompt that says, “Social Class is the most important variable affecting human identity.” Explain and assess. Then we have to think ‘hmmm. Which theory (POV) best addresses this prompt?’ In this case, if you are talking social class, I’m immediately thinking Marx or Weber. So then I might ask myself, ‘what are some other variables affecting human identity?’ Well, there’s gender (so feminism, Kate Millet maybe). There’s race and ethnicity (Dubois). There’s sexuality (Judith Butler). If I’m feeling really ambitions there’s Intersectionality. We can go on.
So then you need to figure out if you agree with the prompt. You may say, race and ethnicity is a more important variable, so you want to use Dubois to support you (if you are familiar with other theorists who have worked on race theory, like William Julius Wilson, that’s great. Use them.) So you shape your argument around Dubois theory, which you can look at as a POV. You can then use Marx and Weber as an antithesis.
My Magic Box would look like the one attached.
So there’s my outline for the exam. I start off by defining my terms and introducing the theories that I’m going to use. My thesis is right there in the Introduction paragraph.
I can then do a paragraph on each of the boxes, or combine them in other ways. Regardless, I want to point out the strengths and weaknesses of each theory as they relate to the prompt.
My conclusion wraps up my argument by explaining why my thesis is correct, and/or tying my thesis to a larger idea.
My essay may look something like this:
Social class is an important influence on human identity. One’s class position influences access to life chances such as health care, education, access to the job market, all of which contribute to an individual’s sense of who they are. The very nature of our families and peer structures are influenced by social class. This influence is supported by Marxist and Weberian Theory. As important as social class is, however, there are other influences on identity like race/ethnicity and gender that are arguably of equal importance. Social class is important, but it is only one of other variables that are equally influential.
Marxists see social class as creating a false consciousness among the working class that leads them to believe that their exploitation is the right and natural way of the world. This false consciousness is reinforced by the economic elite through a social and cultural superstructure dedicated to teaching and reproducing this consciousness in the schools, churches, family unions, media, and state structures. Everywhere working people go they learn the same lessons about their identities. They are workers and are expected to have a work ethic. They are where they are in the social strata because of their personal merit. This is a powerful tool to understand human identity. However, defining human identity in terms of a “false consciousness” is problematic as it assumes that someone, the theorist, has the authority to make claims as to what constitutes a “true consciousness.” To what extent is a consciousness, or sense of self “false?” It’s unclear in Marxist Theory.
Max Weber supports the importance of class in shaping identity, though he points out that the influence of social class is multidimensional. For Marx, class equates to access to wealth or capital and who controls the factors of production. Weber points out, however, that social class is also influenced by prestige, or the deference one can expect from others within the social strata, and power, the ability to achieve one’s goals despite opposition. In many ways this fills in some blanks left by Marx as one may have a relatively low paid position, but relative prestige and power in that position relative to others in the strata. Overall, however, Weber does not really address matters of human identity.
Social class, however, isn’t the only variable impacting human identity. As W. E. B. Dubois points out, racial and ethnic inequality can contribute to the development of a Dual Consciousness as a result of cultural oppression. By controlling the representations and the history of the oppressed group, the dominant group can shape the identities of the oppressed, forcing them to see themselves from the perspective of the oppressor. On the other hand, there is a lot of overlap between racial inequality and class inequality. That makes it difficult to disentangle the two variables.
Gender is another variable influencing identity. As Radical Feminist Kate Millet points out, patriarchy, or structural male dominance, influences all of our social structures and consigns women to only three acceptable roles: The Mother, the Wife, and the Decoration. Patriarchy, according to Millet, defines these roles as natural, which influences women into accepting these roles to avoid being labelled in terms of the “witch/bitch role.” Millets theory is a useful way to understanding the influences shaping women’s identity, but does not address the likely influences of social class on a woman’s ability to fulfill the Mother, Wife, or Decorative roles.
Social class is a very important variable in understanding human identity. This is especially true in our postmodern consumerist society in which our ability to purchase products is a necessary corollary to our ability to shape our identities. However, other factors such as gender, race and ethnicity play a role as well. It’s impossible to identify any one such variable as the most influential.
There. Notice that I tie the theories together to address the prompt given. For each theory I offer the point of view of the theorist with regard to the prompt (again, I stick to the prompt…don’t chase the rabbit!). I then make sure that I point out where the theory falls short in addressing the prompt. This is a necessary component of the “Assess” part of the prompt. My theories all line up to prove my thesis. At the same time, I also address the antithesis (in this case that social class is the most important variable and indicate how this falls short). Notice, too, that I threw in a reference to postmodernism and consumerism, linking my thesis to a larger social idea.
I hope this little exercise helps.