Visual Sociology Assignment Topics

by Sarah Macdonald, Sociology

Context
Assignment 1: Paper Proposal
Assignment 2: Literature Review
Assignment 3: Abstract and Outline
Assignment 4: Research Presentation
Assignment 5: Final Paper

Context

Sociology 190 is a senior capstone course in which students engage in small seminar discussions of a particular topic. In my section of Soc 190, Trasnational Adoption from a Sociological Perspective, I paired in-depth discussions on the topic of adoption with a semester-long research project — each student designed a research question, collected data, and wrote up a 15–20-page research paper on a topic of their choice. I knew that because the research paper seemed overwhelming to my students, they would need guidance and feedback throughout the process. In designing my syllabus and assignments I consulted with syllabi from others in my department that had previously taught similar courses. The resulting assignments are included in this section.

In the process of setting the assignments I learned that students needed very explicit instructions on the format of a formal research paper, the opportunity to discuss their progress frequently in class, and structured opportunities to learn about how to do sociological research. Throughout the semester we had discussions, both as a large group and in smaller groups, about the students’ progress on their projects, which allowed students a chance to receive feedback more often than I was able to give in writing. We also had several formal opportunities to learn about research, for example when I gave presentations to the students on research methods, or when we had a guest speaker talk about their research, or when students had a session with a subject-specific librarian to learn about how to locate secondary sources. Each assignment then served as a research milestone where students got formal feedback from me about their progress. Before each assignment we had in-depth discussions of how to formulate the different components of a research paper, so the assignments include detailed lists of the parts we had already discussed in class. We ended the semester with a mini research conference where students presented their arguments to their peers and received feedback. They then used this feedback and my feedback on the smaller assignments to produce their final research papers.

Assignment 1: Paper Proposal

Paper Proposal

In no more than 2 double-spaced pages (Times New Roman, size 12 font, one-inch margins) you will:

  1. Briefly describe and explain your research topic and its importance. You should describe why you think this topic is particularly relevant to our course and why it is an important area of study.
  2. Clearly present and explain your central research question.
  3. Identify your data source and method of analysis. How will you collect data and what will you do with the data?
  4. Explain why these sources of data are appropriate for your research question and how they will help you to answer your question.

Choosing a Research Topic and Question

Your research topic and question must relate to the topic of transnational adoption, but beyond this requirement there are no limitations on the topic that you choose. I recommend that you look through the topics in the syllabus to help you to begin to determine what you are most interested in studying. In addition, the reading entitled “International Adoption: A Sociological Account of the US Experience” (Engel et al: 2007)[1], should help you to understand the various topics related to transnational adoption that are of particular concern to sociologists.

Choosing a Data Source

Once you have identified your research question, you must choose one of the research methods listed below that will be most appropriate for answering your question.

  • In-depth Interviews: You must conduct 3 to 5 in-depth interviews (lasting at least 45 minutes each) with individuals.
  • Textual Analysis: You can choose to analyze a set of written or visual texts (books, newspaper articles, news stories, images, films, court documents, government proceedings, etc.). You must choose at least three texts to analyze and may need to choose several texts depending on the types of texts you are analyzing.
  • Participant Observation: Spend 5 to 10 hours observing social interaction at a relevant research site. If you decide to do this you must get advance permission from the organization and/or individuals before conducting your observation.
  • Quantitative Analysis: You can complete a basic statistical analysis of a data set. You can either use an existing data set or design your own survey and distribute it to at least 30 people to create your own dataset.

[1] Engel, Madeline, Norma K Phillips, and Frances A Dellacava. 2007. “International Adoption: A Sociological Account of the US Experience.” International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy 27: 257–270.

Assignment 2: Literature Review

For this assignment you will submit a review of current literature on your topic that will:

  1. Summarize and synthesize 5 to 10 sources (books or journal articles, not websites or news stories) that are not included in course readings. This means that you should not simply provide summaries of the sources, but should explain how they relate to each other (synthesize how they draw on similar theories, come to similar conclusions, etc.) and/or offer a critique of their content that is relevant to your own research. You may also choose to cite course readings; in fact, I encourage you to do so, but you must cite at least 5 additional sources.
  2. Explain how your research project is likely to challenge, confirm, complicate, or contribute to existing work on your topic. You must make an argument for what your research will add to literature that already exists on the topic.

The literature review should be 4 to 5 double-spaced pages, size 12 Times New Roman font, one-inch margins.

Additional tips for writing your literature review:

  • Do not just choose the first 5 sources that you find; make sure that they are relevant to your research question and topic.
  • Think about the literature review as a window into a conversation between researchers about your topic. You’ll want to explain what they have already found out about the topic and then you’ll want to make a strong case for how your research is adding to the conversation.
  • Keep your summaries of the articles or books concise and relevant. You don’t need to summarize their entire argument, you just need to give us an idea of what parts are particularly pertinent to your own research.
  • The format of your literature review should not just be a list of summaries. Instead you will want to identify some way in which the previous literature has fallen short and has not considered the question that you are interested in studying. This takes quite a bit of work in most cases and will mean that you will have to explain clearly how your research will challenge, confirm, complicate, or contribute to existing work on the topic.
  • Edit, edit, edit. You should spend a fair amount of time putting this together and editing as much as possible. If you do a really good job on this portion, it’s likely you’ll be able to paste it into your final paper with minimal changes! Take it very seriously.
  • You must use the American Sociological Association’s Style Guide to format your citations. If you use Zotero, it will do it for you automatically. Make sure your in-text citations are also properly formatted. The ASA Style Guide is posted on our course site.

Assignment 3: Abstract and Outline

Part One: Abstract

For this assignment you will write an abstract of no more than 500 words that details the argument you will make in your final paper. The abstract should have the following components:

  1. Research Question: 1 or 2 sentences describing your topic or research question; this doesn’t need to be in question form.
  2. Contribution: A statement that explains what empirical or theoretical contribution your research makes to existing literature.
  3. Methods and Data: An explanation of no more than 1 sentence that explains your methods, i.e. how you collected data to answer your research question.
  4. Findings: A few sentences that describe the main argument you will make in your paper and what you found as a result of doing your research. It is okay if you haven’t yet finished your research and these findings are only preliminary.
  5. Concluding Statement/Implications: You will want to include at least 1 sentence that connects back to the problem that you identified at the beginning and that explains any important implications of your research.

Note: The abstract should not include any citations.

Grading: Your grade will be based on the organization and coherence of your writing, the inclusion of all aspects detailed above, and especially on the clarity, feasibility, and appropriateness of the argument that you plan to make in your final paper.

Part Two: Paper Outline

For this assignment you will write an outline of your final paper that details each of the sections of the paper and the overall argument that you will make in each section. The outline can be as long as you would like, but cannot exceed 5 single-spaced pages, size 12 font, 1-inch margins. I recommend that you include as much detail as possible as this will be your last formal opportunity to receive feedback from me.

Please label all sections. For each section you will include a brief paragraph (2–3 sentences) that outlines what you will argue/explain in that section. Then you will outline each paragraph or part of that section (please use the numerical outlining function in Word; you may also use bullet points where necessary). The outline should be as detailed as possible and should include quotations, examples from your research, data that supports your points, etc. You should include the following sections:

  1. Abstract: A revised abstract for the paper that is no longer than 250 words. This means you may have to substantially cut down the abstract that you handed in for the previous assignment.
  2. Introduction: This section should contain the argument you will make in the paper, your specific research question, any background necessary for the reader, and a short introductory explanation of why your topic is sociologically relevant and interesting and how it contributes to existing literature.
  3. Literature Review: This section should contain a summary and synthesis of existing research related to your topic and an explanation of how your topic contributes to existing research, either theoretically or empirically.
  4. Methods: This section will describe the research method(s) you used to answer your question and why the method(s) was (were) appropriate for helping you to answer your research question. You should include the specifics of what exactly you did, for example: How many people did you interview? How many surveys did you post? How many people responded? How did you contact the people that were included in your study? If you did textual analysis, how did you select the texts that you analyzed? Why? How did you go about analyzing them? Include as much detail as possible.
  5. Findings: This is the section where you will make the central argument of your paper. You will explain the answer to your research question. If you are making your argument in several parts or sections, make sure to include those sections in the outline. The outline for the findings section should show me, in a very detailed way, what the argument is that you are making and how you expect to make the argument. It should include support from your research (quotes, percentages, or whatever other type of data you will use to support your argument).
  6. Discussion and Conclusion: In this section you will summarize the argument that you make in the paper and you will reiterate how your findings confirmed or challenged (or both) the findings from the research that you outlined in the literature review. You will explain how your findings contribute to existing literature. You may also suggest questions that still need to be answered and suggestions for further research that should be done on your topic.

Assignment 4: Research Presentation

For this assignment you will prepare a very brief presentation of your research for the class. The purposes of this assignment are: a) to learn about the research that students have done as part of this class, b) to have the opportunity to give feedback and suggestions to other students, c) to discuss several topics related to transnational adoption using the foundational knowledge you have gained this semester.

Guidelines for your presentation:

  1. Your presentation should be about 5 minutes. Please practice ahead of time so that you can make sure that you can fit what you want to say in this time period.
  2. You should briefly explain your research question, your method, and your most interesting finding. In your presentation you should make some connection back to the topics and/or readings that we have discussed in this class — you can either connect your finding to course material or explain how your research contributes to the literature we have read together as part of this course.
  3. After your presentation the class will ask questions of you and your panel. Please come prepared to talk in depth about your research and to answer questions about the research process, your findings, how the findings relate to the course, what contribution you are making to the existing literature on your topic, etc.

Grading:

You will be graded on your ability to clearly and concisely present your research, the connections that you make between your research and course material, and your engagement in a discussion about your topic with other students in the class during the Q&A period.

Assignment 5: Final Paper

For this assignment you will draw on the research proposal, literature review, abstract, paper outline, and the data you have collected through your research to write a polished research paper on your topic. The paper must be 15–20 pages, size 12 font, Times New Roman, margins of no larger than 1”. Please note that your bibliography/works cited and any appendices you choose to include will not be counted in the 15-page minimum.

Required Components for the Final Paper:

Please make sure to label each section with either a section title (e.g., literature review) or a title that communicates the content of the section (e.g., previous research on culture keeping).

  1. Cover Page: The first page of your paper should be a cover sheet that includes a title that communicates the content of your paper, your name, date, title of the class, and any other information you feel is necessary.
  2. Abstract (∼250 words): A revised abstract for the paper that is no longer than 250 words. This means you may have to substantially cut down the abstract that you handed in for the previous assignment. It should be single-spaced and should be placed immediately preceding the introduction.
  3. Introduction (13 pages): This section should contain the argument you will make in the paper, your specific research question, any background necessary for the reader (e.g., historical context), and a short introductory explanation of why your topic is sociologically relevant and interesting, and how it contributes to existing literature.
  4. Literature Review (4–6 pages): This section should contain a summary and synthesis of existing research related to your topic and an explanation of how your topic contributes to existing research, either theoretically or empirically.
  5. Methods (1–2 pages): This section will describe the research method(s) you used to answer your question and why the method(s) was (were) appropriate for helping you to answer your research question. You should include the specifics of what exactly you did, for example: How many people did you interview? How many surveys did you post? How many people responded? How did you contact the people that were included in your study? If you did textual analysis, how did you select the texts that you analyzed? Why? How did you go about analyzing them? Include as much detail as possible. You should also explain why your sample is likely not representative of the general population you are studying and what biases are present as a result of your research design.
  6. Findings (7+ pages): This is the section where you will make the central argument of your paper. You will explain the answer to your research question. It should include support from your research (quotes, percentages, or whatever other type of data you will use to support your argument). You may choose to divide this section into sub-sections, but each sub-section should have a clear title. Make sure that you are making an argument and that each paragraph in this section connects back to your central argument.
  7. Discussion and Conclusion (2+ pages): In this section you will summarize the argument that you have made in the paper and you will reiterate how your findings confirmed or challenged (or both) the findings from the research that you outlined in the literature review. You will explain how your findings contribute to existing literature. You may also suggest questions that still need to be answered and suggestions for further research that should be done on your topic.
  8. Appendices: If you did interviews or a survey you must include an appendix with your questions. You should refer to the appendix in the methods section. You can also include appendices with additional information (e.g., coding, statistics) if you feel that it is necessary. The appendices do not count in the page count.
  9. Bibliography/Citations: Remember that you must cite at least ten sources in your paper. While many of these will likely be in the literature review, you should also cite where necessary in the other sections of the paper. At least 5 sources must come from readings that were not included in the course syllabus. All parenthetical citations and the works cited/bibliography page must be in ASA format. Formatting instructions are posted on our course website.

In writing this paper please make sure to look back over your previous assignments at my comments and to incorporate changes into your final paper. You are welcome to use any part of your previous assignments verbatim, but I urge you to edit carefully. This paper should be a polished, final paper and not a draft. This means that you will need to finish the paper in advance of the deadline to allow ample time for editing.

In the widest sense, visual sociology involves the use of photography and film as tools and/or subject matter for sociology. The metaphoric guideline for social science and philosophy in the latter half of the twentieth century was the so-called linguistic turn. Toward the end of the 1990s, another major shift occurred, known as the iconic turn. The world is no longer text, as implied by the linguistic turn, which suggested that all information and cognition could be rendered and reduced to textual information; rather, it is pictures. Sociology has begun to heed this intellectual shift toward accepting the mutual dynamics of the social construction of pictures and the pictorial construction of the social.

Keywords Body; Doxa; Film; fMRI; Habitus; Iconic Turn; Idolatry; Linguistic Turn; Nature/Culture; Panopticon; Phenomenology; Photography; Semiotics; Tattoo

Sociology

Visual Sociology

Overview

The philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein can be considered the foundation for the focus of the humanities and social sciences on language. Before him, and before British logicians such as Bertrand Russell and American thinkers such as John Dewey, the majority of influential scholars in Europe and the United States received interdisciplinary training that involved studies in philosophy and physiology. Therefore, the focus of this earlier generation of scholars was strongly directed toward the body, its expressions, and its functions, including above all the relationship between vision and cognition.

Whether in the works of Germans such as Hermann Helmholtz and Wilhelm Wundt, American Transcendentalists such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, or early Pragmatists such as William James and Edmund Burke Delabarre, such scholarship and use of metaphors and analogies betrayed a strong debt to visual perception and its study. With Wittgenstein, Russell, et al., the focus shifted. In the mid-1960s, American philosopher Richard Rorty edited a collection of landmark essays that focused on this transition. This collection, The Linguistic Turn (1967), became the guideline for a program that would steer the humanities and social sciences for decades to come. Hermeneutics, originally made fertile for philosophy in a long clerical tradition of exegesis of the Bible by Schleiermacher (1768–1834), became a new leading method for the social sciences and philosophy thanks to Martin Heidegger and his student Hans-Georg Gadamer, whose seminal Truth and Method (1960) became an interdisciplinary bestseller and guide for generations.

Hermeneutics

In France, hermeneutics was discussed and improved intensively by Paul Ricoeur and turned into an ethical movement by Emmanuel Levinas. The method of Deconstruction was then launched by Levinas's disciple Jacques Derrida. Around the same time, the works of historian Michel Foucault and sociologist Pierre Bourdieu relaunched an interest in the body that culminated in the 1990s with the iconic turn, which is still moving ahead today.

Of central interest is the role of the work of the founding father of American Pragmatism, Charles Sanders Peirce (1839–1914). Textual hermeneutics initially claimed Peirce within the linguistic turn, but Peirce's work on semiotics—the study of signs—can also be used to work in favor of the scholarship of the iconic turn. Peirce focused on the sign as a relation between entities:

  • The sign itself always represents. That is its function.
  • The object can be considered to be the entity that is the subject matter represented by the sign and referred to by the interpretant. This is the meaning of the sign; its truth-condition, so to speak.

Peirce also considered different classifications of signs. The most famous distinguished between icon, index, and symbol. An icon is a sign that has a quality of its own, while an index must have some real connection to its object. A symbol designates a rule that lies with the interpretant.

Photography

In the most general of meanings, both photography and film can be understood to be the method or the subject matter of visual sociology. Photography and documentary filmmaking can be instrumentalized for sociological research. The filming or photographing of typical behavior, culture festivities, and rituals has been a method for ethnographic and anthropological research since the technology's inception. With the turn of these disciplines toward studying contemporary Western society and culture itself, even sociology has added these methods to its toolbox. But cultural products such as photography in art and journalism, as well as television and movie productions, have come under scrutiny in recent years by sociologists. Most prominent among these is the International Visual Sociology Association (visualsociology.org), which instigated a variety of visual projects and publications while holding institutionalized conferences and summer-school programs on visual sociology methods.

Further Insights

Science originally applied the use of filmmaking to physiology. Etiènne-Jules Marey (1830–1904), best known for his work in fatigue research, built a "photographic gun" that he used to record the movements of animals in order to study in detail the different phases of motion. He later began to shoot short movies and became one of the founding fathers of modern cinema. Another expert in fatigue research, the German Hugo Muensterberg (1863–1916), wrote one of the first critiques of the art of filmmaking, a book on the psychology of moving pictures called The Photoplay (1916).

Bourdieu

The iconic turn owes a lot to the work of Erwin Panofsky (1892–1968). Panofsky was an art historian whose work became a major influence on French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (1930–2002). Bourdieu's interest in sociology was sparked to some degree by his reading of the work of Max Weber as well as by the time he spent in Algiers, both as a lecturer and as a member of the French occupation under the reign of De Gaulle. His ethnographic research undertaken in Algiers was supported by his use of photography as a sociological tool. Bourdieu managed to show that social facts inscribe themselves into the body and can be identified in posture, movement, and practices that adhere to their own social logic.

Habitus

To describe this level adequately, Bourdieu referred to the concepts of habitus and doxa, thereby clearly involving his education in classic philosophy and classic sociology in the process of theoretical concept formation. The habitus is a concept that describes the set of dispositions an individual incorporates from the responses he or she receives from the surrounding members of society to his or her actions. The habitus represents the "objective social patterns" inscribed into the subjective being and body of the individual. It bridges the gap between objective and subjective reality. Social reality is divided into different fields, such as the field of cultural production or that of economic life. Each field has its doxa — its implicit preference structure as inscribed in the individual. The physical aspect itself, the body inscribed, is thus the object of a sociology that relies on visual perception. Bourdieu thus reintroduced visual analysis into the sociological canon.

Foucault

Michel Foucault (1926–1984) has also emphasized the role of the body in social and historical analysis. In one of his most famous books, Discipline and Punish...

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