First Paper

Paper length: 5-7 pages.

In this essay, choose two out of the three major theorists that we have read in class (i.e. Marx, Weber or Bourdieu). Explore the ideas of social class offered by each of the two scholars and consider how and why their viewpoints differ. In your view, how are the ideas of these authors either relevant or not relevant to thinking about issues of social class in the United States today? Which do you find more useful? Explain why.

In answering the question, you can site other readings or materials from the class including the films. Make sure you have an argument for your paper as a whole.

Final Paper

Write a 7-8 page essay about one of the following questions:

  1. When the issue of social class does arise in the United States, it is often used to refer to those of poor or working class backgrounds. Yet, class dynamics are just as central to the lives of the middle class and wealthy. In your essay, compare and contrast the lifestyle and values of the middle class and "old money" as explored in the works of C. Wright Mills, John Cheever and Nelson Aldrich (If you wish you may also consider the films The Graduate and Born Rich). How and why do the lifestyles and values of the middle class and old money differ? What kinds of taste distinguish their life styles and what is the social meaning of such taste? How do their attitudes differ in terms of work, family life, money, consumption and living a "good life"? How does each group feel about the other? In broader terms, what can these accounts tell us about the nature of class dynamics in the United States?

    (Please note: These authors are speaking of different time periods: Mills focuses on the 40s, Cheever on the 50s and 60s and Aldrich on the 80s. Make sure you acknowledge that these kinds of class dynamics are also changeable over time).

  2. Ben Hamper and Richard Rodriquez are both children of working class backgrounds who attended Catholic school. Both are extremely intelligent men with a gift for writing and both use personal narratives to discuss issues of interest to them. Yet, the two have had extremely different life trajectories and have written very different kinds of books. In your essay, compare and contrast the writings and ideas of these two authors. What are the kinds of class issues with which each is concerned? How and why did they end up becoming concerned with these issues? (In answering this, you will want to consider their home life as children, their relationship to schooling, their feelings about their work life). How, why and for whom do they write about their personal experiences? More broadly, what can we learn about issues of social class in the United States from these accounts as well as the tensions between them?