Paper Topics #1


Select ONE of the following paper topics.  Papers are to be 5-7 pages long, double-spaced, with 1 inch margins, and in 12 point, Times New Roman or Garamond font.  Papers are due THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 25, at the beginning of class.  Whenever appropriate, make sure you support your arguments and claims with textual evidence. Don’t over-quote, however; it is often enough to refer to the relevant passage with a parenthetical reference (Weber, p. 10) or a footnote. If you have an edition of any book different from the ones listed on the syllabus, make sure you indicate this in a bibliography or a footnote.  Please cite the specific Marx essay you are referring to, and cite Marx as the author.  Note that, for the purposes of this assignment, the professor’s lectures are considered to be in public domain: you don’t need to cite them. However, when the professor says, “Weber thinks blah blah blah,” then you need to cite the appropriate places in Weber.

 1.  Chapter 5 of John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath describes a process in which farming family is evicted from their land.  In your essay, analyze this story from the perspective of two of the theorists we have discussed so far (Hobbes, the writers of the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen,” Marx, and Weber).  That is, pick two theorists and discuss how they might interpret the chapter.  Consider the following questions in developing your analysis: how would the theorist in question account for the events of this chapter?  What are the strengths and weaknesses of this interpretation?  Or another variation on this idea:  What part of the story does each theorist help us understand?  What does each theorist’s approach ignore?  And which theorist gives us greater insight into the events Steinbeck describes?

 2.  You are currently being asked to write an essay for the class, “The Concept of Power.”  Does writing this essay simply contribute to the alienation, meaninglessness, and domination we find in modern forms of life, or can it contribute to some sort of liberation?  Explain your answer, and draw upon the work of Marx and Weber to help you.

 3.  Consider the following statement: Marx’s “On the Jewish Question” presents a devastating critique of the liberal conception of government as expounded in “The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen.”  In this essay, defend, challenge, or qualify this statement.  In other words, does Marx offer an important or devastating critique of the claims made in this document?  Why or why not?

 4.  It has often been suggested that Marx and Weber present rather different explanations for the origins of capitalism.  Marx is usually said to focus only on a materialist analysis, such that capitalism arises largely due to anonymous forces generated in the mode of production.  Weber is usually said to focus primarily on ideas and their role in shaping social institutions and people’s behaviors.  But how different are Marx and Weber’s explanations of the origins of capitalism?  Does Weber offer a different explanation, or is he merely supplementing Marx’s analysis?

 5.  Both Marx and Weber seem to have rather gloomy attitudes toward modern capitalism, with Marx focusing on the ways in which modern industrial society is alienating, exploitative, and dominating, and Weber focusing on the meaninglessness of the “iron cage.”  In this essay, explain and evaluate these two theorists’ diagnosis of the problems with contemporary capitalism, along with their competing prognoses about what, if anything, might happen to the capitalist form of economic organization.  How do Marx and Weber differ in their diagnosis about what is potentially wrong about capitalism?  And how do they differ in their analysis of whether capitalism might end, or what might replace it?


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