Practicing your sociological imagination:  Sociological Autobiography Assignment - Essay Prowess

Practicing your sociological imagination:  Sociological Autobiography Assignment

Practicing your sociological imagination:  Sociological Autobiography Assignment

Introduction to Sociology

Fall 2021

Sociological Autobiography (29%)

Practicing your sociological imagination:  Sociological Autobiography Assignment

Due November 12th  23:59

Typically, we think of memoir as a literary genre, one that seeks to make meaning out of lived experience. But a memoir can also be viewed as a sociological text: a data set gathered and interpreted by a social actor….Memoir can help us [understand] the subtle social processes that govern everyday life. [Gaines 2003: 36]

Your task in this first essay is to use your sociological imagination to write a 5-6 page “sociological memoir.”  The topic of your memoir is…yourself:  your autobiography, your story, and your experiences in the world.  You might want to focus on a particular moment in your life, a specific experience, a struggle, an event that changed you, a “private trouble.”  Or you may want to write a memoir that is more broadly focused on your life experiences and social locations.  The audience for this paper is me, a sociology professor who is curious about how well her students understand and can apply sociological concepts. 

You are required in the essay to use analyses, concepts, and concrete examples from at least four articles/chapters/lectures that we have covered so far. You may use optional readings as well. While writing, please seek to answer these types of questions:  What do these authors teach you about the practice of a sociological imagination?  The power of social structures?  How do these authors challenge “individualistic,” “Meritocratic”-type explanations of ourselves, our backgrounds/families, and our biographies? 

The questions below can be helpful in thinking sociologically about your own story.  You don’t need to directly address all of them in your essay, but they should generate some concrete sparks in your sociological imagination:

  • How are your own experiences, ambitions, anxieties, desires, struggles, or accomplishments connected to your participation in social systems?  And shaped by broader social structures?
  • What have been the “paths of least resistance” in your life?  How have you followed them, or refused them?
  • How might a “private” or “personal” trouble you have experienced be connected to broader social problems or what C. Wright Mills calls “public issues”?
  • What kinds of effects does your own social location (in social structures of gender, class, sexuality, race, ability) have on your everyday life, your experience of your own body or the bodies of others?
  • If power is the “social energy” that flows through social structures, then how has “power” been a force in your own biography?
  • How can you think sociologically about the problem of “privilege” or oppression and disempowerment in your own biography?

Your goal is to craft your own sociological imagination as you analyze your (social!) self.  This is not always an easy task, but it should be an intense, interesting, and rewarding one!

Writing the Essay

It is a central requirement of this assignment to grapple carefully and complexly with course readings and authors.  Your thoughtful engagement with sociological concepts and assigned readings, and how you apply them to understand your own experiences, is the key task of this essay.  It is always useful to develop an outline of what you want to discuss in the paper before you start to write. 

Please share only what you feel comfortable with sharing in your essay. Your work will be read by the instructors and the teaching assistants in this course and will not be distributed outside of the course without your permission.


Papers should be double-spaced, with 1-inch margins and 12-point font size.  This is a 5-6 page paper, which means that the maximum length is 6 pages.  This does not include the bibliography. I want to stress that the ability to communicate your ideas concisely is a very important skill to learn.   All pages must be numbered! 

All essays should be accompanied by a cover page with your essay title (be creative!), your name, my name, and the name of the course.

Citations for quotes and concepts taken from written materials should be included in the body of the paper.  Citations should appear in parentheses at the end of the quote and give the last name of the author, date of publication, and page number.  Example:  (Gaines 1990:  14).  You do not need to cite materials covered in lectures—those are concepts and ideas that are now part of your own sociological toolkit.

You are responsible for knowing turning in only work that is your own.  I have access to various databases that can run plagiarism tests on documents in seconds.  I will be using them as I grade.   

Proofread your essay (perhaps more than once)!  Grammar, punctuation, and general readability of the essay require careful proofreading by you.  Carve out time for this.

Grading Criteria

  1. Overall clarity, thoughtfulness, and analytic complexity of your essay.  Do you respond directly and carefully to the assigned topic?  How well do you understand and incorporate concepts from the readings and lectures?  How well can you apply those concepts to the topic you’re asked to discuss?  Do you construct a sociologically insightful essay?
  2. Organization, readability, and neatness of the essay.  Does the essay have a beginning, a middle, and an end?  Is your writing style clear?  Is the essay well-organized, with transitions between your ideas and paragraphs? Do you use four sets of concepts? Have you carefully followed the instructions under Specifics re: formatting and writing the essay?  Do you use proper spelling, punctuation, and grammar?

Grade breakdown (max 100)

Completion (20%): Are all requirements met? Did the author use at least four concepts?

Accuracy (20%): Are all four concepts used correctly?

Application (40%): Is the application of all concepts explained fully? I.e. how exactly are they present in the narrative? Are examples of the concepts given?

Organization (10%): Is there an introduction with a thesis statement? Flow between ideas; smooth transitions; easy to read

Style (10%): Formatting, punctuation, spellcheck, grammar (deduction if it’s hard to understand because of the grammar or misspelling)

If you need help with writing, you can make an appointment with the NU Writing Center.  Here is the website:   

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