Structure and Agency Essay

Purpose: To apply the core assumptions of sociology, including your sociological imagination, to the issues of bullying and school shootings to show the ways in which the structure of society shapes our lives.
What is NOT your purpose: your purpose is NOT to summarize the book, Rampage, or the film, Bully.  Rather, you are going to use the book and the film to demonstrate our course’s larger point about the societal/structural forces that shape our choices, our lives. If we are using our sociological imagination, we can see 1) how society and its institutions (like small towns and schools) are structured and are, perhaps, flawed, and 2) how this structure influences us. Rampage and Bully will help us to see, in particular, how that is the case with school shootings and bullying.

Structure of the essay:
Paragraph 1 – Brief introduction.
Here lay out the paper’s assertion, your big idea. This is important: what is your assertion? You need to think about what you’re asserting about school shootings and bullying and how they are shaped by both the structure of society and by our own agency. Then make and support that assertion in your paper. Your assertion could be something as simple as, “the structure of society shapes the options available to the people living in the society. School shootings and bullying are made possible because of how society’s institutions, including small town schools, are structured. Our agency to act is shaped and limited by this structure.”
This part of your paper should be 150-185 words.

Paragraph 2-3 – Introduction to “seeing” sociologically, to using the ideas of sociology to analyze the social world.
In the first of these 2 paragraphs, you will lay out what sociologists hold to be true about the world, about what shapes or influences our lives. Make an assertion about what one sees or tries to understand when looking at the world sociologically, when using a sociological imagination. Here you don’t necessarily want to summarize every part of the “core assumptions of sociology” (from the first set of lecture notes) but you do want to set up the idea that, to understand the social world and what shapes the people in it, sociologists look at how society is “structured,” recognizing that that structure shapes the options available to each of us.
In the second paragraph, you will set up the idea that looking at the world sociologically (that is, seeing something through the core ideas of sociology and sociological imagination) helps us to understand even specific phenomena or issues, including school shootings and bullying. Here you want to set up the idea that trying to understand or explain school shootings and bullying by just looking at the flaws of individuals is inadequate; it can only take us so far. Instead, we need to think about school shootings and bullying sociologically – meaning, to see how they are made possible by the way that society is structured or organized, a product of society’s institutions. We need to ground our thinking in the core ideas of sociology and use our sociological imagination because these are more than just the “private troubles” of individuals, these are “public issues” that involve many and are caused (or magnified) by “institutional arrangements,” as C. Wright Mills said. To understand these problems and why they happen when and where they do, an analysis of the social structure must be undertaken, specifically, the social structure of 1) small towns, 2) their schools, and 3) teen culture. [Rampage explores all three of these, and Bully provides supporting evidence, but you will not need to explore all three – instead, you should narrow your focus to one or two of these parts of the social structure. More on this below.]
It is in one of these paragraphs that you should pull in another course reading (beyond Rampage) for support. Perhaps the Mills chapter or another chapter/reading that helps the reader to see what we mean when we talk about “seeing sociologically” and “using our sociological imagination.” Remember to refer to this reading by name (you can quote if you want to, or just paraphrase), but do so following the required citation format (see the yellow page of your syllabus for “in-text citation format.”).
This part of your paper should be approximately 400-500 words.

Paragraphs 4-8 or so (the “body” paragraphs) – Discussion of the “institutional arrangements” that contribute to school shootings and bullying, to show the ways that the structure of society shapes individuals’ lives.
According to Rampage, certain institutional arrangements contribute to school shootings and bullying. Specifically, the book looks at how small towns are structured or organized, how small town schools are organized (their practices and procedures), and the organization of teen culture (especially in small towns where school shootings are more common). The authors (Newman et al. 2005) suggest there are flaws in these structures, in these institutions, that allow school shootings and bullying to happen and may even give rise to them. To write this, the body of your paper, consider the structure of these institutions, how they are arranged (how they are organized, the policies that are in place, the procedures that are followed or not), and the norms that extend from these structures/institutions and become the rules for people’s behavior.
Your focus, then, will be on the structures within which people live, including kids, and how this structure shapes them, contributing to school shootings and bullying. So you will need to be sure to do two things: 1) describe the structure and problems or flaws in it, and 2) demonstrate / provide evidence of how the structure and/or these flaws affect people (leading to shootings and bullying, leading kids to not “tell,” leading teachers to not connect the dots, etc.).
You will need to incorporate details from Rampage and Bully about these structures within which people live and the effects of these structures on individuals’ lives.
I like to see quotes – one or two per paragraph in this part of the paper – because they lend disciplinary authority to your paper.
And you will need to draw from both Rampage and Bully. The best papers use BOTH the book and the film in the same paragraph in the body of the paper – not every paragraph, but sometimes – to help you to make a point about how the social structure contributes to school shootings and bullying. Rampage will be your principle source, but Bully should provide important supporting details.
This part of your paper should be about 800-1000 words.

Concluding paragraph – Reflection on the relationship between structure and agency.
You’ve already talked about the role of structure in understanding school shootings and bullying, but now come back to agency and its place in this analysis. How does agency come into play here? In other words, how are school shootings and bullying also about agency, not just structure? You want to demonstrate here why understanding both structure and agency is beneficial if we wish to truly understand school shootings and bullying (and life in society in general).

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