Identity and Difference >> Content Detail



This section features instructions for the first, second, and final papers. Sample student papers are also available.

Furthermore, assignments by session appear below. Please refer to the syllabus for a general description of what is expected in each of the Reader Responses. Please also consult readings for all the texts on which the following assignments are based.

First Paper

Write a 6-7 page paper applying the theoretical perspectives developed thus far in this course. Indicate how each theoretical paradigm (strategy of explanation) might describe, interpret and analyze the experience of undergraduate students at MIT. In other words, present how an essentialist, structural, or constructivist theorist would each approach a study of student life as it relates to issues of identity and difference at MIT.

For each theoretical approach, consider what data would be deemed most relevant and/or interesting and how this data would be interpreted and explained or accounted for. What questions would be asked or additional information be sought in order to substantiate (or test) the interpretation? In your paper, please try to demonstrate the variations between these perspectives, as well as any common ground.

You must be concise and zero in on what's most relevant and significant to get across the main points about each theoretical perspective. That is to say, this paper is a theoretical exercise; it's not meant to provide a thorough analysis of MIT students, which would take scores of pages!

Now, we're going to be reading two different 'camps' of constructivism—the social interactionism of Goffman, and the post-modern approach of Hall and Kondo. You should choose to discuss either of these strands, not both.

You may speak generically about 'an essentialist', 'a structuralist', 'a constructivist,' perspective or you may find it easier to write about what you think specific authors or subjects of our reading would do and say: Geddes and Thompson or Lombroso, Durkheim or Merton or Derné or Merry, Goffman or Hall, etc.

Your paper must refer to and incorporate examples, quotations and insights from our readings. You have parallel "texts" for this course: the lectures/discussions and the readings. Both should be considered resources for your papers. Do not forget to provide a bibliography.

You are required to meet with the writing tutor about your paper. It is far preferable to come to this meeting with a draft or at least good start in hand (say, the sections on essentialism and structuralism). The writing tutor, has planned to meet with you next week, although the paper isn't due until noon, two days after Ses #5. This means you'll need to start writing soon. There'll be a sign-up sheet to make appointments with the tutor in class.

Second Paper

Write a 4-page essay concerning race and racial identity, using readings from class (drawing on theoretical insights from previous readings as well as on the weeks devoted to issues of race). The thesis is up to you: explore a set of questions or an argument that you find interesting, compelling, important. Possible topics would include: DNA ancestry tracing, census and education categories of identity, biracial or multiracial families, etc. Be sure to back up your arguments (not mere opinions) with solid reasoning and evidence.

Final Paper

Write a research paper (10+ pages) relevant to course content. You may draw on library as well as ethnographic research—that is, in addition to reading published academic studies related to your topic, you may conduct interviews to gather your own data to analyze. Please see me to talk about interviewing protocols and techniques if you're interested in pursuing this optional strategy.

Sample Student Papers

The following three papers are courtesy of Caroline Rubin and are used here with permission.

First Paper (PDF)

Second Paper (PDF)

Final Paper (PDF)

Assignments by Session

I. Theoretical perspectives
1Introduction(no assignment)
2Essentialist theoriesReader response due.
3Structural theoriesReader response due.
4Constructivist theories: Social interactionBring to class 2 examples of Goffman's notion of stigma and be prepared to discuss your selections in class - what they illustrate, what interesting questions or issues each raises. Bringing in any illustrative materials you might find (newspaper or magazine clipping, video clip, photo, etc.). You will also turn in a paragraph explaining each example.
5Constructivist theories: Discourse, performance, and fractured identities

Reader response due.

First paper due 2 days after Ses #5.

II. Case studies
6Gender: Conformity and/or devianceBe prepared to present in class the central arguments about gender and identity presented in one of the articles (to be divided up in Ses #5), related these arguments to our previous readings, and discuss their usefulness and limitations.
7Race: From biology to culture and back again

Reader response due.

Email the instructor with your topic proposal and initial bibliography for the final paper before Ses #8.

8Race: What we learn from our mothers, and vice versaSecond paper due.
9Psychopathology and incarcerationReader response due.
10ReligionFinal paper draft due.
11FoodKeep a food journal for 3 days, recording everything you eat, including notes on the social context of each eating episode (with friends, alone, in car, at computer, on date, etc.); then, write up a 2-page commentary on your notes, reflecting on how food and eating help to shape, and are shaped by, your sense of identity.
12Student presentations

Oral presentation of your final paper.

Final paper due 2 days after Ses #12.


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