Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Using Game of Thrones to Explain What Makes an Argument Sociological

I am currently TAing for the Sociology of Labor. The students have had to pick a labor campaign from a list pre-approved by the instructor - OUR Walmart, Fast Food Forward, Northwestern University Football Players, AFSCME 3299 contract fight, UAW loss at Chatanooga TN, and the San Jose minimum wage ordinance.

Many of the students in the class haven't taken other sociology courses before, so they are new to "thinking sociologically". To be able to think sociologically they need to first understand what makes an argument a sociological one. Many of their attempts at a thesis have been more like op-eds, in favor or against the campaign they are studying. So I tried to think of another way to explain to them just what we are looking for from them.

This is what I came up with. This is my (full, unedited) email to my students:

So I've been getting lots of questions about the paper and I just had an idea pop into my head that might help some of you.

So some people are writing this paper like an op-ed, taking a pro- or anti- stance in regards to their campaign. However this is NOT what this paper should be. This paper is an analytical sociological piece explaining the movement. I just thought of what I hope is a good analogy to help you understand the difference.

Because I got so many positive comments on my Game of Thrones shirt earlier in the quarter I thought that many of you might get this analogy. 
Imagine a friend who hasn't read the books or seen the HBO show asked you to explain GoT to them. You would explain that there is this struggle between families over who will sit on the Iron Throne and rule the kingdoms of Westeros. You explain that there is always politiking and backstabbing and that no family's claim to the throne is ever totally secure. 
This is where it gets important.
You then wouldn't just explain who the Starks (or whatever family is your favorite) are and why they should rule Westeros. You might have 10 good reasons the Starks should rule, and 10 good reasons that other families shouldn't rule. However that doesn't necessarily explain HOW some families got to rule while others didn't.
Instead you would explain that some families have a legitimate claim (symbolic power) while others have had their legitimacy challenged (also a symbolic struggle) while others have formed alliances (associational power) and some have wealth and political power (structural power). You would explain the particular struggle that each family has engaged in, using these types of power (being concrete and citing examples of course!). By the time you were done your friend would have a good idea as to why a certain family ended up ruling or not, based on your description and analysis of their campaign and the types of power that they weilded.

Furthermore, you could even go so far as to "play monday morning quarterback" 
You could talk about what a certain family did wrong to lose their chance at the throne (The Tully's just didn't build enough associational power!) or you could make claims about futile struggles (the Bolton's never had a chance! They don't have any structural or symbolic power and I would argue that those are the most important!) or you could make generalizations such as "while legitimacy (symbolic power) is important for a king to have, and structural power (such as political power and money) helps, ultimately through my analysis I will prove that associational power is the most important power in Westeros after analyzing the attempts (both successful and not) of a sample of 12 families over time who have tried to take the throne.

Well I hope that helps some of you, or at the very least you got a chuckle and called me a nerd for writing this...