Paper/Project: SOCY 101 Ecological Systems Theory Paper

In this course, specifically chapter 3 on socialization, we have been introduced to several important figures, including Cooley, Mead, Goffman, and Piaget, who have studied the development of how we come to understand our sense of “self.” For our end of course paper, we will look at the work of Urie Bronfenbrenner and his theory of multiple influences on human development (ecological systems theory).

In a medical show on TV, when the patient arrives with an unknown issue, the medical professionals run a series of tests to help them come up with a diagnosis. That’s because the body has many different systems that could be causing the issue (respiratory system, nervous system, etc.). When it comes to our cars, there are many different systems that make up “car culture.” While a car is made of mechanical and safety systems (you may have heard of the term: car diagnostics), there are a great number of other systems at play that exert an influence on our experiences of car culture, even if we are unaware of them. Finally, in your own life there are countless ways we are all influenced and, at the same time, influencing the world around us.
Your assignment is to describe and document your current (Fall 2020) ecological system in both words and images in a 5 page paper. Direct your intellectual efforts to demonstrating that you understand how systems can impact individuals and how individuals can impact systems. Take a look at the interconnected systems (recapped below) and consider which aspects of your current life are connected to material in the textbook. Your task is to complete a paper which describes the relationship between self and society using both the Bronfenbrenner model and information from your textbook. Be very selective and intentional. The examples you use must come from your life and tie directly to our text and classroom discussions.

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Here is a brief recap of Urie Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory (and brief video here):

Microsystem – The relationships with people immediately around you. These are students and teachers in your classes, the people you live with, the people you work with, the people you socialize with, and so forth. Remember that these relationships are bi-directional. Take two photos representing influences in your microsystem and discuss the photos using material from the textbook.

Mesosystem – The connections between environments and the ways environments influence us. So, think of settings and how we are influenced in them. Are you the same at work, in a college course, in a school course, at home, or on a team? Of course not. Identify influences shaping your behavior in different settings. If you compare and contrast your “performance” in different settings, you’ll have insight. Take two photos representing influences in your mesosystem and discuss the photos using material from the textbook.

Exosystem – Here we are thinking about external setting that we are not in, but someone in our microsystem is impacted in that setting. This in turns impacts us. So, if your little brother is adored at his school, you may be positively impacted at home because he’s a kinder person. Take two photos representing influences in your exosystem and discuss the photos using material from the textbook.

Macrosystem – This is the larger cultural context in which we experience our lives. Nearly every chapter in the textbook explores aspects of the macro (means big or large) system. Some of these social forces are abstract and can only be understood by looking for evidence of their impact. For example, race and gender are very powerful ideas which shape our lives and those ideas can be seen in daily life (from what’s in our clothes closet, to what we say to infants, to who gets to feel safer in the public sphere). Take two photos representing influences in your microsystem and discuss the photos using material from the textbook.

Chronosystem – This system accounts for change and the impact of time. We are living in 2020 and to “see” the influences we navigate today, imagine life 100 years ago or 100 years in the future. We would most certainly face very different experiences. This is a way of saying that there is no “natural” way of living, only arrangements that influence our experiences. Take two photos representing influences in your chronosystem and discuss the photos using material from the textbook.

Writing Your Paper
Create a cover page and write an original title.
First Two Paragraphs: Start by introducing the sociological imagination and explain in at least two paragraphs how it relates to and connects to systems thinking. As you know, the “sociological imagination” is a discipline specific way of talking about the relationship between self and society. Do not give me a dictionary definition, although you are encouraged to consult the textbook and on-line resources. Be original. Write in your own words. The sociological imagination is at the core of sociology, so nail it.
Next, move into a discussion of the five systems. Use the names of the systems as subheads and then describe the significance of that system. In your own descriptive and well-edited words, discuss the two examples/photos from your life that you have chosen. Remember that influences are both powerful and bi-directional, that sometimes cultural forces are experienced through our family (microsystem), and that what we think of as a family is shaped by the legal system (macrosystem). Take time to make logical and defendable choices for where you discuss an influence. As you may realize, it takes time to match up three components you must incorporate into the paper: the textbook, systems theory, and photographic examples from your life. Remember, too, that influences can be helpful or harmful, promote growth or constrain it, allow for freedom and opportunities or constrain or block potential.
A word about the two examples/photos required in every system. Spend most of your time analyzing your examples/photos, rather than using valuable space to describe a situation in excessive detail. Make sure you are explaining your examples using sociology. It is a balancing act between giving me enough detail to understand your photos and giving me enough analysis to see that you are understanding basic sociological concepts. Please do not repeat examples or provide only variations on a theme.
This is important: conclude your paper with a thoughtful and self-reflective response of at least two paragraphs to this question: What important ideas and issues does systems thinking raise about the relationship between self and society? How is this perspective different from how we may otherwise think of ourselves and others?
Compile all of your photos into a single document, label them (for example: Microsystem – mom, Microsystem – boss) and attach to the end of your paper. Sorry, the photos do not count toward the page length. Black and white photos are fine. This is not a photography class, just a chance for you to document what is happening in your life in each of the five systems. Do not stray far from the textbook. Much of what is in the chapters is happening around you right now and you can capture it. The grade is not related to your photography skills. Place the photos at the end of your paper.
Your paper is due on the day specified on the syllabus. As always, turn in written work which follows professional writing standards. The Writing Tutors at FCC can help you with brainstorming to get started, organizing material, and the important processes of writing and editing your papers.

A word about the photos (and a revisit to the term “impression management”): The photos you take should represent influences on you and the influences you have on others. You can stage the photos or ask for cooperation from other people you want in your photo. Please be mindful and courteous, some people and settings will not be available. Be sure that your photos are related to material in the textbook and one of the systems. You can be in the pictures, or not, it will depend on what you are trying to document.

And, if possible, have fun.


This assignment will be worth 0-100 points, based on the following two criteria:

Criteria 1: Intellectual Engagement with Key Concepts — student connects ideas from the textbook to their life and identifies the correct sphere. (80 points possible)

80 points: Student demonstrates that the activity was used to make deeper connections with the readings and class discussions. Additionally, the student’s analysis demonstrates insight and deep engagement with ideas from the course.

60-70 points: Student uses the activity to make some connections with the textbook and class discussions.

40-50 points: Student comprehends the surface level meaning of the activity and draws some connections to the readings and class discussions.

20 points: Student demonstrates the activity was attempted but does not make connections with the textbook, class discussions, or the bigger picture.

Zero points: Student does not take the challenge and submits no work. Please don’t take this option.

Criteria 2: Professional Communication
20 points: Student has a very good command of written English, writes with some flair and originality, and the paper can be a model for other students to emulate.

10 points: Student has a good command of English and recognizes that proofreading a paper prior to turning it in is essential for making a positive impact on the reader.

0 points – Student demonstrates some evidence of correct spelling, grammar, punctuation.

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