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understanding social theory.

These questions are all based on materials in this essay.  Don’t give routine or perfunctory answers.  Search you own experience, and make sure you base your answers on that.  Even when I ask you to explain something in the text, use your own words and thoughts.

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These questions are meant to exercise your skill and imagination in reading social science theory, and analyzing social processes.  Real reading of real writing is not easy; it takes practice. Social analysis, likewise, is not in your genetic code, and certainly not available from mainstream journalists or politicians: that’ll be the day.  No, it has to be learned, and learned from sources outside of what passes for “the mainstream.”

Just answer the each question in two or more paragraphs, but each time you make a new point, make a new paragraph, as many as ittakes.

Short paragraphs are good.  Punchy.


            Due Tuesday, October 14, both night and day classes.


1.  Is “theory” a difficult term for you?  In what contexts (where and from whom) have you heard the term before now?  How about outside of class?  What was it used to mean there?  How is/was it often misused?  What’s wrong with saying, “Oh, that’s just a theory”?  What does Strange say it means?  What does he say is important about theory in the first two paragraphs?


2.  Have you heard of ADHD (or ADD) before now?  Where and in what context?  How were its causes explained to you, or how did you imagine it could be explained? (If you have never heard of it before, say so, and move on to the next Q.)


3.  Answer the question at the end of section I about your first critical reaction to the chemical- genetic explanation of ADHD given so far.  How does it (the theory/explanation) of ADHD sound to you at this point?  Be frank.  What other human actions (complex behaviors or traits) have you heard described as having genetic, or hormonal, or biological causes (make a list)?


(The remaining questions, but especially 4, 5, 7, 8, and 10, demand a little more detail, as well as more soul-searching.)


4. a) What are the possible shortcomings stated here (but translate into you own words) with the chemical-genetic explanation of Isabelle’s ADHD?  b)  What can be said to be missing from the chemical-genetic explanation/theory?  c) What is meant by “blaming the victim”?  Do you feel the chemical/genetic theory does this to Isabelle?  How so, or how not? What is your reaction to the other examples mentioned here of blaming the victim?  Do they?


5.  a) What is Gabor Mate’s alternative explanation for the problems of children like Isabelle?

b) Show how Mate’s theory/explanation can be applied to Isabelle’s specific case (in other words, translate his general theory into what we know about Isabelle’s social context (meaning her relation to other people and groups, and the history of those relations.)  c)  Give some features, or processes at work in the social world (social context) in which Isabelle’s parents and relatives operate which might create pressures and stresses on them, pressures that are easily communicated to children.  So should we put all blame on the parents?


6. What is your own list of the most pressing problems of our time (my list is on page 18)?

Why do these (sometimes ponderous sounding) issues matter?


7.  Throughout this essay (especially section V and VI), a number of other issues or problems are referred to (like the housing bubble, schizophrenia, etc. etc.) which could be explained either reductionistically, or more holistically (by social context.)  a) Pick  any one of these issues, or one of your own. Explain what the issue or problem is.  Show what an explanation that reduces the answer to a biological factor, or to some form of biological determinism, would look like.

b) Where would you look for a more holistic explanation?


8. a) Pick one other issue or problem that is often explained not by something biological this time, but by putting all the weight of explanation on the individual, or to individual or group mental characteristics (or to some other part of a larger social whole, like those shown in the circles just before page 9.  What issue have you chosen?  b) What would, or does, a more reductionistic explanation look like?  What part of what whole is being used to explain something?  What is missing from such an explanation?  What would a more holistic explanation look like and include?  c) What is wrong with explaining our huge wealth gaps in the US by “greed,” or with explaining Iran’s governmental actions by religion (see especially pages 12, 13, and 14)?


9.  a) How would you explain to someone else, another college student say, what reductionism means? b) What makes some forms of reductionist explanation more extreme (more heavily reductionistic) than others? c) Looking at the two-sided, one page handout by Neville, “Neuroscience exposes..” and “Race Gap..”, how would you argue that “genes are not destiny.”  Why aren’t they?  e) What accounts for gaps in test scores between blacks and whites?  What would have to happen in order to erase (or reverse) these gaps?


10. a) What makes reductionist (and “human nature”) theories/explanations so hard to resist?  How does our cultural/historical emphasis on machines play into this fatal attraction? b) What does this essay suggest is wrong with (or suspect about) “expertise,” and with reliance on our beloved technical (or technological) solutions to current pressing human problems?


11. a) How might the recent dramatic rise in the incidence of ADHD, as well as other childhood personality or developmental disorders be explained?  (Remember, slow to change factors like DNA or psychological properties can’t explain more rapid changes in behavior or diagnoses.)  Would your explanation be in some degree holistic?  How so?  What contexts, or social units would you include to explain the rise?


12. In the Neville “Neuroscience exposes..” article, it is theorized that poverty affects things like memory, language skills, and I.Q. scores.  a) By what processes do you think this might happen?  Be specific.  b) Can cognitive (or brain) function be improved after birth, and after environmental damage has been done?  How?

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