Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Final Essay

For the final paper, you will produce a primer, analysis, interpretive paper, or position paper that provides a clear argument with a precise and refutable thesis on a topic of your choosing. Although many of you, no doubt, will feel most comfortable producing a policy or position paper on a traditionally political or economic topic, feel free to adopt a broad understanding of the range of topics available to you. You don't necessarily need to write about economics, politics, or political philosophy in the narrowest sense. You could investigate some of the moral or cultural issues stemming from a political or economic topic; you could produce a case study (an analysis of a famous musician, company, person, film, etc., of interest to you); you could explore the various interepretations offered of a work of art, literature, fiction, or popular culture; or you could explore the history of a particular concept, notion, cultural trend, etc., that is part of our everyday life. 

In other words, there aren't many constraints for this assigment, as long as you approach your topic in an academic way. All that I ask is that you explore your topic in detail, do meticulous research and, most importantly, present a clear, refutable, significant thesis that clearly distinguishes its position from that of your sources. As long as you can construct a specific, refutable, and significant argument about your topic, whatever you choose should be fine. My only piece of advice is that, as always, it is best to avoid controversial issues, or any topic generally discussed in terms of the narrow "pro/con" framing so common in mass media discussions of policy. Examples of these topics include, but are not limited to, gun control, abortion, gay marriage, The Affordable Care Act (AKA "Obamacare"), affirmative action, drug policy/drug legalization, athletic controversies, and others. While some of you have produced papers on these topics in the past that found interesting and novel approaches to these issues, it will become even more difficult to do this in the final paper, as you must find a great deal of scholarly sources on the topic and develop a more nuanced approach that takes a wide array of academic arguments into account. Many of these hotly contested and politicized issues lack a deep field of academic research, or are difficult to approach in terms of a nuanced argument.  

Rather than trying to find a topic that seems like it would be appropriate for a stereotypical term paper, pursue something of interest to you and find a way to transform the topic into an informative, interesting, and analytically incisive essay. Use both the research skills and the conceptual and theoretical tools we have developed to make your argument more detailed and more analytically rich. Such an approach may require more work upfront, but you will find the paper easier to write as it will reflect one of your passions, and you will have had to think in advance how to approach an academic paper on the topic rather than simply falling back on well-worn and cliched approaches. In a relatively short space, your paper will need to clarify the most important aspects of an issue, consider one or several different ideas/perspectives/theoretical approaches to the topic, reveal the merits and downsides of those policies (or the perspectives you are considering on your topic), and most importantly, convincingly establish why we should lean toward a specific conclusion, interpretation, understanding, analysis, or prescription. It will be easier to do this if you have thought about your topic, why you are interested in it, and what would make for a proper academic approach to it. 

The paper should be 7-10 pages long, double spaced, in 12 point, Times New Roman font, with 1 inch margins, and it should contain 4 or more scholarly sources (journal articles, scholarly books, and other works by active scholars in the field). If you would like a chance to revise the paper, please submit a draft by Monday, April 20th at class time. The final papers are due Thursday, April 30th at 12pm. 

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