Term project

Term project: Choose a theory, explain it, apply it, test it

The best way to show your understanding of social theory is to take a theoretical perspective and apply it to some real-world example. This could be anything—how smart phones are changing interpersonal communication or identity formation; why people often vote against their own self-interests; whether higher education is becoming more McDonaldized; why most US workplaces don’t accommodate obvious gender differences. You can use the global pandemic as a template for exploring theory if you like, the ways in which the pandemic affects our lives, our interactions, the institutions on which we depend, etc. There are many ways you can do that—you could look at how social isolation affects interaction, affects use of phone apps like Face Time, affects employment (including your own work), affects family or household interaction, trips to the grocery store, your own online education. The key is not your subject so much as your ability to demonstrate how a social theory helps shed light and insight on your subject, perhaps even helps predict where things might be headed in the future. We will discuss possible topics in the discussion threads, don’t make this more complicated or exotic than it needs to be. The point is to show that you understand a theory, and how it can be applied to certain settings to understand them better, and how you might test its power to explain or predict.

How you’ll be evaluated on your paper

  • The theory: Describe and explain the theory you’ve chosen to explain/predict some real-world phenomenon. Also discuss the theorist or theorists you’re using in your paper, with some biographical background as well. Provide a justification and a sense of some other possibly competing theoretical perspectives you considered (in other words–you’ll have to do some research). Also keep in mind some of those important concepts that help to define and describe theory. I will be looking to see that you understand how they can be used to demonstrate your knowledge of your chosen theory. 40 pts
  • Application: Demonstrate an ability to apply the theory to the situation or topic you’ve chosen. First you will want to describe the setting or real-world situation you’ve chosen, and then show how the theory you’ve chosen helps understand or explain what is happening. This is how you will show that you understand the theory–by laying out the key variables, how they might even be measured or tested, what kinds of outcomes you would expect to see if the theory made predictions, etc. For instance, if you wanted to study organizations, you might use Weber. If you use Marx, you had better be considering class analysis and conflict. If you choose Mead or Garfinkel or Goffman, everyday social interaction would likely be a big part of your focus (e.g., understanding how mask policies affect interactions between customers and employees in a retail setting). 30 pts
  • Testing the theory. How do we know if a theory holds water? Theorists design tests and put their ideas up against competing ideas and theories. I want to see if you can come up with some research method to test whether the theory you’ve chosen seems to help understand your topic—is it useful for adding to a body of knowledge about your chosen subject? Social scientists use a variety of research methods—surveys, in-depth interviews, participant observation, statistical analysis of existing (secondary) data sources, analysis of content (e.g., texts, imagery). Less points attached to this because yes, it’s hard to do. But show me you made an intellectual effort. You tried. Describe the test you would propose, how you would collect data, and what kinds of measures you would use to represent what the theory suggests are important things to measure or analyze. 10 pts
  • Writing, sources and organization. Your writing should be mercilessly proofread, and your thoughts organized coherently. Use headings—they are useful guides for the reader (me). All sources you’ve used should be of good quality, citations consistent (again, when in doubt, use APA), sources cited in the text of your paper and at the end in your reference list. You should go well beyond readings in the Re-wired text book. At a bare minimum five sources of good quality, and you should use credible sources in your description of the real-world setting also. 20 pts
  • Length. Your final draft should be no less than 8 pages, no more than 15 pages. Don’t feel pressured to reach the upper limit, but do respond to the guidelines above.

Due dates and points (150 total for the rough draft, peer review and final version)

  • 100 points possible for the final draft, due June 6;
  • 30 points possible for a rough draft, due May 31;
  • 20 points possible for a review of a fellow student’s paper (the peer review component), due June 2

How you’ll be evaluated on your peer evaluations

  • Meaningful feedback to your peer that makes sense and shows intellectual effort and that your fellow student can use to improve their paper: 10 pts
  • Demonstration of an understanding of theory and how it is being applied: 10 pts

If you receive a draft that is incomplete, your job becomes providing some guidance or ideas to the author. You’re showing your own knowledge of theory in doing so. Useful feedback, and comments based on whatever the author has provided. This can include questions you might have as well. But don’t think that just because you received a skeletal draft or even an outline, that you have less of a burden to demonstrate your understanding of theory in providing feedback.

You should go through the entire draft–don’t just make comments at the end. If you know how to use the change tracking feature in Word, that works well. Otherwise, specify where in the document your comments apply.

How you’ll be evaluated on your rough draft

  • Completeness–you should have all the basic elements there–description of the theory, its application, a proposal to test your theory, and the citations: 20 pts
  • Intellectual effort: 10 pts

Expected Outcomes for Upper Division Writing Intensive Courses:

To meet and exceed the expectations required to demonstrate proficiency in upper division writing, students must:

  • produce at least 5,000 words (including drafts, in-class writing, informal papers [discussion forums], and polished papers); 2,000 words (a minimum of 8 pages, double-spaced) of this total should be in polished papers which students have revised after receiving feedback and criticism.
  • practice the forms of writing and reflect upon the nature of the writing used by graduates and professionals in the discipline the course represents.
  • write at least one paper integrating information from more than one source, employing the appropriate documentation style for the discipline represented by the course.
  • draft, revise, and edit their formal written work.
  • seek assistance from a Writing Tutor in the Writing Lab when needed and when referred by the instructor.
  • Yes, discussion forums are a part of this course’s fulfilment of UWR requirements.




A note on the coronavirus as the template for the term paper

Just for reference, if you have chosen to go down this route–I won’t require it.

I have, maybe we all might have, mixed feelings about this–about thinking about this drastic change in American society as we are experiencing it. Especially if the effects of this pandemic affect you personally, keep in mind that you don’t need to directly use the virus. You can simply look at how something in your daily life has been altered by these circumstances, whether social distancing, working remotely, interacting over your phone with friends or family, or even how your relationship with your educational institution has changed.

You could look more broadly, though, at how social work might change, how different groups of people may be affected differently by the virus’ spread and how government entities or health care institutions respond. Certain areas of social work will be dramatically impacted (imagine school counselors working from home, or the strain on home health or hospice workers, or how Meals-on-Wheels and other food programs might function). And the idea here is to identify a theory that helps better understand and explain these changes, perhaps even predict events to come (but the theory that does that well with critters as pesky as humans is a rare one indeed). The key will be to choose a topic that benefits from applying a theory to inform its understanding.