Final Writing Assignment

Please write a 10 page (double-spaced) essay on some aspect of the financial crisis of 2008. Some possible topics are listed below, but feel free to choose your own topic/focus. For whichever topic you choose, consider yourself an anthropologist/ethnographer. Although you won't be able to conduct fieldwork on the topic, try to think about the social dimensions of the problem at hand and try to locate information that helps elucidate those questions. If a topic is one that is heavily debated, consider some of the following questions:

  • What is the range of actors involved in this issue?
  • How are they positioned in relation to each other in social, economic, or political terms?
  • Why do they take different positions on this issue? and what is at stake for them?
  • What ideas or moral and ethical arguments do they make/offer on behalf of their position?
  • What economic or policy-oriented arguments?

If the topic is more exploring a particular issue or dimension of an issue rather than competing viewpoints, different questions might be appropriate. Try to go beyond just the "ideas" to consider why such ideas are compelling for particular categories of people. What is going on in social and economic terms that cause such ideas to have wider salience?

In addition to analyzing the viewpoints of various actors in your paper (including an attempt to make sense of the social, economic, and moral logics at work for those actors even if one disagrees with their viewpoints), your thesis should encompass your own perspective on the issue that emerges from what you have learned in writing the paper and which may also link back to some of the broader discussions/debates we have had in class about how to understand the nature of capitalism.

In your paper, you must cite two to three of the class readings from the last section of the class, perhaps in a discussion of the overall dimensions of the financial crisis. (If your topic is such that it doesn't make sense to cite these particular readings and you would like to substitute others, you must confer with the writing tutor or the professor).

In addition to readings cited from class, you will be expected to cite 4–5 other sources offering competing viewpoints on the topic and based on respected sources where you know where the information is coming from. These should include academic works but may also include media pieces, particularly for topics that have happened too recently to be thoroughly explored in the academic literature.

Cite works that offers different perspectives on a topic. (For example, if you cite media articles, perhaps pair the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal; the Economist and the New York Review of Books; or the Weekly Standard and the Nation).

In citing academic work, also include different perspectives or disciplinary orientations. The professor can offer help in suggesting relevant academic work. Although you may reference different disciplines, keep in mind that the orientation of this paper is primarily a social scientific one that focuses on social analysis rather than statistical or policy analysis.

Each student will be required to meet with the course writing tutor for feedback on his/her draft as it is developed. Due dates for the paper topic, draft, and final paper are in the Calendar section.

Possible Topics:

  • The shareholder value revolution on wall street
  • Occupy wall street
  • The tea party
  • Executive pay
  • The mortgage crisis
  • SAC Capital
  • The social implications of growing inequality
  • The impact of the financial crisis on Europe
  • The impact of the crisis on local and state governments
  • The use of new media in activist movements responding to the crisis (whether tea party or occupy wall street)
  • An analysis of 3–4 movies made about the crisis (for example, margin call; inside job; too big to fail; frontline's "the warning"; the queen of Versailles)
  • Debates over regulation of new financial instruments like CDOs and credit default swaps
  • The cultural world of everyday life on Wall St.