Briefly describe a social issue in America, including contemporary statistics and newsworthy events that demonstrates the social impact of this issue

You’ve probably noticed how each chapter ends with an analysis of the chapter’s topic using each of the three main sociological paradigms, right? Well, now it’s your turn! For this paper, you will need to select a social issue from the list below and analyze it from the perspective of a Structural Functionalist, a Conflict Theorist, and a Symbolic Interactionist. Then you’ll conclude your paper with an evaluation of the relevance / helpfulness of each perspective for understanding your chosen social issue.

Functionalism is a macro-level theory that looks at the different structures of society like organs in the body – a bunch of different parts working together to maintain the equilibrium of the whole. When functionalists look at an enduring aspect of society, they think, “What is its purpose? What function does this serve?” The functionalism paradigm seeks to understand how all aspects of society, even those that may seem negative or harmful, contribute to the continuity of society, so this perspective tends to bring an optimistic point of view of to social issues.

Conflict theory also takes a macro-level view of society, but this perspective tends to bring a more pessimistic point of view to social issues. Conflict theorists see the world as divided into two groups: a dominant group and a subordinate group. These two groups are in constant conflict, competition, or struggle over control of power and resources, but the dominant group puts structures and institutions in place to maintain control of these resources. The father of conflict theory, Karl Marx, defined the dominant and subordinate group by economic conditions, but more contemporary adaptations of conflict theory define the dominant and subordinate groups along other dimensions. For example, feminist theory defines these groups by gender and critical race theory by race and ethnicity. Regardless of the dimension used to define the dominant and subordinate groups, conflict theorists are interested in analyzing the social forces that maintain inequalities (usually with an eye toward dismantling and changing those systems).

Symbolic interactionism is a micro-level theory, so the type of analysis performed using this perspective will look very different from the macro-level theories above. Symbolic interactionists are interested in interactions and communication between individuals and small groups. Communication, in all its various forms (writing, singing, painting), is a series of symbols, and proponents of this perspective are interested in understanding how we make sense of these symbols and the world around us. How do we imbue meaning and value into these symbols? How do these meanings and values shape how we see the world? How are these meanings and values shared through interaction? How are they changed through interactions?

These three paradigms are like different lenses you can put on (and take off) to see the world. Although they may be used to observe the same social issue, each perspective brings different information into focus. Every sociologist must master using these three perspectives, but people do tend to have their “favorite paradigm” that most closely aligns with their personal world views. For this paper, you will need to demonstrate your ability to use all three perspectives to analyze a social issue, and offer an evaluation of how well each paradigm addresses the complexities of your chosen social issue.


Your paper should:

Briefly describe a social issue in America, including contemporary statistics and newsworthy events that demonstrates the social impact of this issue

Analyze the social issue from the perspective of each of the three main sociological paradigms: Structural Functionalism, Conflict Theory, and Symbolic Interactionism

Evaluate which paradigms are the most and least relevant or helpful for understanding the complexities of the social issue


Your paper must:

Be guided by the prompts below; you may incorporate additional, relevant information inspired by the prompts, but you should not ignore or exclude the information from the prompts

Conform to the following formatting standards:

Title of paper should identify the chosen social issue

Be typed, double-spaced, with one-inch margins and 12 point font size

Be at least 3 pages long, but no longer than 8 pages (ideally 4-6 pages)

Be free of spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors

Cite information from at least three (3) assigned chapters of the textbook (i.e., Chapters 1, 3, 4, 5, 9, 11, 12) using in-text citations that specify the chapter and section number where that information can be found. Please do NOT use page numbers as they are not consistent across all formats of the textbook.

For example: There are a number of peer-reviewed studies that point to biological factors as part of the “cultural universals” of beauty, or the traits associated with beauty that appear to be shared by all societies around the world (Chapter 3.1).

If your paper only cites Chapter 3.1, 3.2, and 3.3 (for example), you have NOT fulfilled the requirement to cite information from three chapters; this would be three citations from the same chapter. I encourage you cite multiple sections of the same chapter, but your paper must ultimately include information from at least three distinct chapters of the textbook.

The textbook should be your primary source of information for defining the three paradigms and analyzing your social issue. You should use outside sources in this paper for gathering information about your chosen social issue, but the crux of your analysis should NOT be based on outside sources. Your paper should demonstrate your mastery of the assigned materials.

You may cite information from unassigned chapters of the textbook, but those chapters will NOT count toward your three required course citations.

Include a Works Cited or Bibliography page that gives full reference information for any outside sources cited in the paper or used to develop the paper (even if they are not directly cited in the body of the paper), including any of the helpful links you use below. Your Works Cited / Bibliography information will NOT be counted toward your total page length.

Use direct quotes sparingly!!! Putting information into your own words demonstrates a deeper level of learning than using direct quotes, and it often improves the organization and “flow” of your writing (i.e., direct quotes can sound disjointed and choppy).

AVOID THIS: There are a number of peer-reviewed studies that point to biological factors as part of the “cultural universals” of beauty, or “patterns or traits that are globally common to all societies” (Chapter 3.1).

You should save direct quotes for when the exact wording is crucial to the claim you are making, or if the source is a prominent figure [e.g., According to the executive director of the World Food Programme, David Beasley, “We are looking at widespread famines of biblical proportions” (Harvey 2020 (Links to an external site.)).]

Even when you put information into your own words, you should still cite it. Citations are used to give credit to other people who provided the information or inspiration for you to write something. Ask yourself, “Could I have written that sentence without looking at this source?” – if the answer is NO, then you must include citation information near the text that is the result of others’ information or inspiration.


Your paper should focus on ONE of the following social issues. The links below are intended to give you a general understanding of the social issue, but you should seek out additional outside sources as evidence for your paper.

“Welfare,” or government assistance to the poor

List of welfare programs, descriptions, and other information: (Links to an external site.)

“Jezebel at the Welfare Office: How Racialized Stereotypes of Poor Women’s Reproductive Decisions and Relationships Shape Policy Implementation” (2014): (Links to an external site.)

“College Drop-Outs,” or college undergraduate non-completion

List of 10 highly successful college dropouts: (Links to an external site.)

“The Myth of the College Dropout”: (Links to an external site.)

“Addressing the College Completion Gap Among Low-Income Students”: Addressing the College Completion Gap Among Low-Income Students.pdf

“Age Discrimination in Employment,” or giving preference to younger applicants or employees at work

Helpful info from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM): (Links to an external site.)

“Criminalization of Drugs,” or legal restrictions on the possession and/or consumption of mind-altering substances

Helpful info from Human Rights Watch: (Links to an external site.)

Pro-decriminalization op-ed: (Links to an external site.)

Anti-decriminalization op-ed: (Links to an external site.)

“Neighborhood-based School Funding Models,” or funding K-12 schools based on local property tax revenues

Helpful info from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD): (Links to an external site.)


Describe the social issue you chose from the list above. Explain what the issue is and/or how it works. Who are the major stakeholders involved? Why is this important? Provide information that demonstrates the impact this issue has on the larger society using contemporary statistics and/or newsworthy events.

Describe the Structural Functionalist paradigm in your own words. According to this perspective, what aspects of your chosen social issue would be most relevant or interesting? What purpose or function does this social issue fulfill? How does this social issue contribute to the equilibrium of society?

Describe the Conflict Theory paradigm in your own words. According to this perspective, what aspects of your chosen social issue would be most relevant or interesting? Who is the dominant group and who is the subordinate group? What resources are they in conflict or competition over? How do structures and institutions contribute to the dominant group maintaining power and resources?

Describe the Symbolic Interactionism paradigm in your own words. According to this perspective, what aspects of your chosen social issue would be most relevant or interesting? Who interacts with whom? What effect do these interactions have on people? What symbols or underlying values are being communicated? How do people learn to make sense of the world around them?

How do processes like the social construction of reality and socialization contribute to your chosen social issues? What role do these processes play in this social issue?

Evaluate how well each of the three paradigms addresses the complexities of your chosen social issue. Which paradigm is most / least relevant or helpful for understanding this social issue? Explain your decision




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