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Final Paper Proposal
Instructions and guidelines
(due date: 11/10)
For your final paper, you can choose to write on whatever issue you are interested in, as long as you draw from the class material and discussions, and your topic has to do with a contemporary matter. Before you dive in, we need you to prepare a paper proposal of two pages, outlining what you are planning on doing.
This is a mandatory toward your final paper (meaning we will not grade final papers without having first got your proposal in due time) and it will count for part of your final paper’s grade (10%).
It is, more importantly, an occasion for us to get started on discussing your topic, give you advice about where to look for insight, how to proceed in building your reflection and eventually your paper, etc.
The proposal must include:
A 300-words abstract.
This abstract must clarify:
– The problem: in other words, the question you wish to pose. But a philosophical problem is a bit more than a simple question. As I have said a number of times in class, political philosophy (perhaps philosophy at large) excels at transforming what is commonly taken to be self-evident into a problem. This problematization endeavor is in fact the main goal of your paper: you are not going to develop an argument in the sense of most Political Science papers, which often include a prescriptive or programmatic moment. In fact, I would encourage you against making such claims. Or for any such recommendation you may make, pose further problem that may come up with their enforcement. You are not writing a policy memo, or looking for “solutions” to be “applied” in the so-called real world. You are not writing a party program or a pamphlet either.
Of course you are invited to be very critical, but in the sense that you must “stay with the trouble” (as Donna Haraway says), and rather than propose solution, the entire paper is dedicated to posing an initial problem, identifying a tension, a contradiction, a paradox, a puzzle, and going with it to reflect on what other problems this very problem poses, how to best formulate the terms of these problems (what concepts do we need to think with to investigate, reflect upon this problem deeper, etc).
For instance: Illich, in the book you’ve read poses a number of problems. But the first chapter is especially clear about one central problem that then inhabits the whole book: beyond what threshold do we fall into an industrial society’s dangerous, anti-convivial logic? In more simple terms, this problem could be re-formulated as, what are the limits of industrialism?
Bill Connolly poses many problems and advances many concepts in his Christianity and Capitalism. One of his major problem is to explain this paradox, this seemingly unlikely or surprising development, in contemporary America, whereby evangelical Christians have recently coalesced more and more with “cowboy” capitalists. One of the ways in which Connolly is able to think about this apparent paradox, is by offering his concept of “resonance machine.”
– The stakes: Your abstract must, very briefly, very concisely, but as precisely as possible, clarify why this problem you are posing matters. For whom, to whom, is this important? Why is it particularly important to our contemporary context? Why should your reader care to read you, and why should you care enough to write about this? Why is this significant to our contemporary context, today more acutely perhaps than in the past? Will this problem perhaps be seen/remembered, in the future, as a great problem of our current times?
For instance: If Black leadership is in crisis to Cornel West, this is a problem because, it matters because… he understands leadership as crucial for Black America to not succumb into nihilism. To him, Blacks cannot extract themselves from misery without models, leaders among them that would offer what he calls a “prophetic framework of moral reasoning” to replace the current “market-driven framework of racial reasoning” that prevails today. What is at stake, what matters, to West? Black lives, and the livability of these lives.
– The core concepts: of course you will discuss and mobilize more than two concepts and use lots of different terms in your paper, to address, reflect upon, think about your problem and the other problems it poses. But try, in your concise abstract, to advance no more than two concepts that you identify as crucial and in need of work so you can problematize whatever it is you are problematizing: these will provide the thread for your paper. Note that, just like you are not supposed to “solve” your problem, but rather slow down (philosophy is a form of rumination, said Nietzsche) and just pose the problem, you are not expected to define, once and for all, your concepts. Rather, you must try to discuss them, the way these notions are commonly understood and imagined, the new meanings that you may create that would better help you and your readers think through the problem under scrutiny, etc.
For instance: Ivan Illich offered a number of concepts in what we read, but one stands out of course, as it is in the very title of the book. Namely, he advances the concept of conviviality, to which he gives a different and new meaning than the common understanding of the term. At the very start of his book, he explains that what he means by a “convivial society” is a society where humans use tools rather than serving machines. Of course this differs from usual uses of the term “convivial,” which often connotes a happy jovial dinner around a table, with wine and friendship pouring abundantly. But Illich is quite intentional about this: to him, if technological threshold are trespassed, humans lose a certain ability of interaction among themselves, and a certain autonomy as human beings. The whole book is dedicated to clarifying, explaining what he means by “conviviality.” So, note that he does not define the term once and for all: he advances a provisional, synthetic meaning for it at the start, but then keeps enriching the meanings and drawing a complex picture throughout the essay.
A short, annotated bibliography:
Which must include:
– At least three sources (two books minimum, one article). Please include full reference either APA or MLA style (choose either one and stick to it).
– a 100-word paragraph for each text, explaining in as much detail and precision as possible given the concise format, why this particular text will be helpful food for thought to draw from in your paper. Why does this text matter to your problem, how can the author’s own concepts help feed into your conceptual work, how is your reflection situated in relation to this text (are you mostly refuting or disagreeing with the work done by this author, are you building upon it, or both, and why).
– I strongly recommend that you focus on the texts we have covered in class, unless your particular topic justifies that you pursue outside research. If you decide to include other theorists, include at least one text from class. Make sure that the theorist you may add is a contemporary thinker.
– Note that if you decide to add more than three sources, you can write less than 100 words of annotation for the fourth, fifth, etc sources. But make sure to explain, for each source, what is important about the source and why it will help you in your reflection, how it relates to the problem you are posing, etc.
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