Sociology 319 – Contemporary Social Theories

Winter 2006

First Short Paper  (15 points)

Due: February 13, 2006


Select one of the following topics and write a short paper on this topic.  If you wish to select a different topic, check with me first.  The paper is to be approximately five printed double-spaced pages. 


Do not rely on quotes to make the arguments for you, and explain concepts and ideas in your own words.  Where you do use quotes or references, these should be properly cited.  If you use only the text, this may be cited like (Adams and Sydie, 2002, p. 14).   When citing other sources, use one of the standard referencing styles and provide a list of references or bibliography of the sources you have used.  While the notes on the internet are for your use in this class, do not use these notes as specific reference sources for the paper.   


Avoid using "man" and "he" in the generic sense, except where they are part of a direct quote.  Otherwise, if you use "man" or "he" I will assume you are referring to males only.



  1. Select an institution with which you are familiar, other than the family, and analyze it using the action systems of Parsons (unit act, pattern variables, AGIL). 
  2. “Crime is functional for society.”  Critically analyze this statement using the approaches of Merton and Parsons.
  3. Parsons’s analysis of family structure is somewhat outdated, describing a particular  model of a North American family around the middle of the twentieth century.  Could his action systems model be used to describe other family structures as functional?   Analyze by referring to a family structure with which you are familiar.
  4. What do critical theorists mean when they argue that modern, capitalist, democratic societies are repressive and totalitarian?
  5. Write a paper providing examples of how critical theory uses ideas and approaches from earlier social theories but develops them in a different way.
  6. Explain how Habermas considers communicative action to be a means of overcoming distorted communication and creating the possibility of human creativity and progress.
  7. Marcuse titles his analysis “One-Dimensional Man.”  Explain what he means by this and critically analyze.
  8. Analyze how Wright incorporates gender and race, along with new structural developments, to update and extend a Marxian model of class structure.  Evaluate.
  9. Explain how world systems theorists build on a Marxian approach to human history but develop a new approach to historical sociology.
  10. Write an essay analyzing how the forces of globalization have been present in different ways at different stages during modernity.  (Focus on the arguments in Chapters 4 and 6).
  11. Explain how writers in the symbolic interaction tradition use and develop a pragmatic approach.
  12. Select a section of Gender Advertisements by Erving Goffman (HF5827 G57 1979 – two copies are on three day reserve) and explain how he uses a symbolic interactionist approach to analyze the presentation of images of gender.   You could update Goffman’s examples and analysis by selecting some examples of current advertisements. 


Example of how you might cite an internet reference

Parsons, Talcott, “Action Systems and Social Systems.”  1971.  Obtained at, January 16, 2006


Last edited January 18, 2006