Sociology 150: Comparative Paper on Identity

Sociology 150: Comparative Paper on Identity

Sociology 150: Comparative Paper on Identity

Fall 2019

General Outline

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Comparative Paper on Identity

Every writer finds his or her own style and every research project has a logic of its own that can shape the presentation of the work in a paper.

You need not follow this template exactly, but you may find it helpful to organize the presentation of your interview findings on the development or learning of an identity, especially in a way that presents and supports a thesis claim.

THESIS CLAIM AND “ARGUMENT” IN A PAPER.  Remember: a paper should present a claim about its topic that you elaborate and support using evidence from your interviews and perspectives about social processes drawn from course readings.  You thesis should state a claim that refutes, modifies, improves on, or otherwise responds to prevailing beliefs or current theory and scholarship on a given topic!

Example of a thesis claim and argument:  “In this paper I will show that, although the basis for membership in a racial group is generally assumed to stem form physical differences among individuals, racial identities and perspectives on the world that differ between races are learned and are the product of social experience.”

Your paper might develop by presenting an argument to refute or moderate what others or even you have believed about social identities and the ways individuals acquire them or embrace them.  Now that you have gathered interview data on the topic and subjected it to analysis, you consider earlier beliefs limited, wrong, or in need of some correction, based on your research.

You are talking about the ways two individuals acquired an awareness of different forms of identity in the same category of identity (race, gender, occupational group, social class, religion, culture, sexuality, etc.) though their interaction with their social environments.

You could use your interview data to argue that, although identities differ and the circumstances through which individuals develop them also generally differ, certain social psychological “processes” may be quite similar by which individuals learn about, come to awareness of, or learn to inhabit or enact identities rooted in social situations!

Alternative: your paper explores how your two informants made aware of their different social identities in strikingly different ways – through different influences, models, processes, and circumstances.

The path you follow depends on the information you are working with about the experiences and identities of your two informants.  The information you discover about your subjects’ experiences will determine whether your paper focuses more on “contrasting” differences or “comparing” similarities in the paper.  Your paper may well be a mix of comparisons of similarities and constrasts of differences.


YOU ARE SEARCHING FOR REASONS AND EXPLANATIONS FOR IDENTITIES OF YOUR PAPER SUBJECTS.  Your paper should show us HOW and WHY different social situations and experiences contributed to differences in the identity experiences of individuals.   Simply describing identities and what you allege to be influential situations that shape them will not be sufficient in this paper.

Model analysis:  How do social factors (X)  influence (à) features of identity (Y)?

X à Y

Xa à Ya

Xb à Yb


USING COURSE MATERIALS/READINGS IN YOUR PAPER.  The assignment asks you to use course materials to develop your analysis.  You must do more than merely mention works of course authors or drop a reference to a reading into a line of text.

  1. You must make clear what value the ideas in the works you refer to have for affirming or shaping your views of the processes of identity formation you have chosen to compare and contrast.
  2. Which theoretical concept or an example pulled from a course reading help “explain” identity for of your informants?
  3. Do course readings helpfully capture the essence of as you found it happening? Or do your findings in interviews make you question or want to revise course readings so they might be more in sync with real world findings.



  1. Introduction and Thesis statement (1-2 paragraphs)

Present an overview of the paper.  Move from  the general to the specific. Restate the “goal” in looking at identities of two individuals: how and why did they form as you found them?

What is sociologically interesting and consequential about these aspects persons’ identities?

What is the thesis about identity formation you want to make?  What major factors of individuals’ social situations and experiences mattered for the identities you are discussing?  What did your interviews allow you to discover “new”  about these identities and the processes by which they were learned or acquired, in contrast to conventional wisdom, common sense, or dispositional arguments about identity and behavior?

State that you addressed this topic by interviewing two people and identify them retaining necessary anonymity?

It is usually a good idea to write the intro AFTER writing the paper.


  1. I Interview Subjects (2-4 paragraphs)

Develop a 1-2 paragraph narrative sociological profile for each of your subjects so a reader has a sense of who are these people as the focus your writing.

Who are your subjects?  Why did you choose them? What are the identities in the analysis?

Succinctly tell the story of how individuals express and acquired the forms of identity that you are presenting here. Direct our attention to key situations or incidents that were influential in your informants’ acquiring their identities, which you will discuss in more detail below.


III.  Findings: (2-3 pages)

What are the specific characteristics of the sociologically significant identities of each of the two people you are writing about, whose development you are looking at?

What are several significant relationships, features of the social environments or the contexts of experience, through which the two individuals developed the behaviors, outlooks, styles, and thinking associated with the identities you are attributing to them, or which they claim for themselves?

In broad terms, what are the social psychological processes by which your subjects developed their identities in real experience?  Are the processes similar or different for your subjects?

Sociology 150: Comparative Paper on Identity

  1. Discussion (2 pages)

Divide this section into topics.  One topic should be similarities and differences in the social factors – the setting, the rules, the codes, the belief systems, the structures, the practices — that seemed to affect the different forms of identity  that you and your informant acquired through social experience and significant others.

The second topic could be the internal features of the selves – thinking, belief, emotions, self- concept, etc. – that were affected by experience and which are linked with the identities you are examining.  Were similar or different parts of the self affected for each of your subjects?  How and why?

The third topic should be a discussion of similarities and differences in the processes observed in the lives of your interviewees –internalization, modes of self-presentation, development of new communication skills, acquiring or accepting a definition of the situation, thinking within frames of meaning, acquiring knowledge of rules and procedures, operating with reference groups, forming self concepts – that you associate with exposure to significant others, symbolic communication, codes and meaning systems, frames, languages, institutional rules, etc., that mediate (or “channel”) the influence of the external social world to the internal world of the social actor.

This is the best place to bring in ideas of course authors on topics you found helpful like “impression management,” influence of the “definition of the situation,” or “situations,” the looking glass self, reference groups, significant others, deinviduation, depersonalization, internalization, institutionalization, objectivation, changing the meaning frame, etc.

Throughout this section, compare and contrast how social factors have acted in the lives of your informants.

Sociology 150: Comparative Paper on Identity

  1. Conclusion (1-2 paragraphs)

Can you come to a conclusion about how social situations and experiences affect the “outcomes of interest” — forms of identity you observed with your subjects. The conclusion should mirror the introduction.

A conclusion does not have to be strongly stated.  It is fine to use phrases such as some specific social factors “appear to have affected”  “may have led to..” certain forms of behavior or identity.  You also can say “the situations in my research mirrors the observations of author X.”

You may end reflecting on why this is an interesting paper to write, and summarize your personal experiences with this project.  What was difficult?  What surprised you?  What did you learn from the process of conducting an interview?  From thinking sociologically about human psychology?

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