Sociology 3251N. Environmental Sociology (updated) Spring 2020 Research paper proposal

New instructions for submitting proposal: Send me the proposal in an email. Do not send an attachment; paste the proposal into the body of the email.

            Topic. In defining your research interest, remember that this is a sociology course, not an environmental science course. It is always possible to describe environmental issues in purely biophysical terms, but that is not what this assignment is about.  In your paper you should examine the relation between human societies and the environment, considering the impact of humans on the environment and/or the effect of the environment on people and their societies.

            One possibility is to write a paper on a topic similar to those proposed for Paper 2 (See handout on Paper 2). However, it may not be the same topic that you wrote about in that paper.  And because this paper will be longer (3000-5000 words), it should cover a longer time span, not just the current issue but the background and previous events related to this issue. In order to make clear the relation between the syllabus and the topic of your paper, you must refer to at least two readings on the syllabus which make the connection.

            As an alternative you may write, not about an environmental problem, but about the successful interaction between human societies and the environment in an ecological balance. The paper must be about a specific case, and not just discuss general principles of ecological balance.

            A final possibility is to write about a big theoretical issue in environmental sociology revealing the controversies over this issue and the evidence for the various positions.

            Be specific in your choice: find something to write about that is not widely known but will make your paper original and informative. Also, remember that this is a sociology course. You should discuss an environmental issue from the standpoint of its implications for both the biophysical environment and human societies.

            The proposal must present a thesis, a statement of what you intend to prove in your paper. A sociology paper (like most papers in the social sciences) usually makes a central assertion and then brings in evidence to prove that it is true.  That central assertion is the paper’s thesis, and the purpose of the paper is to prove it.  In your proposal, state your thesis and indicate briefly how you intend to research it (including a preliminary list of sources).  You do not have to prove it at this point.  You do not even have to be sure that it is correct.

            Remember that a topic is not a thesis.  To understand the difference between a topic and a thesis, think of the difference between a noun phrase and a complete sentence with a verb. “The Trump administration and pipeline construction” is a topic. “The Trump administration’s authorization of pipeline construction previously rejected by the Obama administration will prevent the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions” is a thesis.  You could support (or refute) it by citing evidence about the increase in emissions that will result from the construction of the pipelines and the goals previously adopted for the reduction in emissions. (Incidentally, I do not know whether that thesis is correct.) 

            For further clarification of the nature of a thesis statement, see the course handout on thesis statements, the handout on Common Problems with Research Questions, and the Reading/Writing Center handout on thesis statements (all on Blackboard: Course Information).

            Feel free to consult me on topics or sources.

Proposal April 1. A one-page proposal with your thesis statement is due April 1.

            The style of a proposal can be somewhat informal.  You may mention your personal reasons for getting interested in this topic.  Reflecting on your own interest will help you refine the question you are going to ask and decide how to go about researching it.

            The proposal will be returned with comments.  It will not be graded, but if it is handed in late it will affect the grade on your paper.  It must be returned to me with your paper.  DO NOT LOSE THE PROPOSAL.  When I read your paper, I will want to review the comments I made on the proposal to see if you have taken them into account.  Printing out a new copy is not adequate.

            When writing your proposal, keep in mind that you must use scholarly sources. Scholarly sources are books and journals written by scholars for the academic community. They do not include newspapers and general-circulation magazines. If you are writing about a current environmental issue, you will also use news and advocacy sources. But at least some of your sources should be scholarly, putting the issue in the context of academic discussions about it.

            When you complete the proposal, a further handout will provide information about writing the paper. The final paper will be due May 4.

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