The term paper will examine a contentious issue in the CJS, and more importantly, the nature of
the contest or the types of arguments being made on any side of the contest. Ideally, we would
look beyond the “two sides” debates and try to find a broad raft of opinions on some contested
issue, although at a minimum two sides would be sufficient, so long as their statements are
thoroughly analyzed. While I will allow for significant deviation from the proscribed scope, the
idea here is to not write a conventional term paper (i.e. a deep dive into some topic) but rather, I
would suggest you would be well served adopting a social constructionist stance and examine the
claims-making practices in either scholarly or popular discourse on your chosen topic. The paper
affords great latitude for creativity in terms of topic selection, but it must be made clear that
writer’s opinions are not being sought. Present a summary of the contentious issue in question
and where appropriate include reference or commentary from appropriate criminological
theories. Evidence your analysis thoroughly – i.e. find actual statements to analyze and make
clear reference to them through your analysis. Suggesting some author/scholar/group has made
some argument without evidence will result in grade loss. We should bear in mind that many of
these issues predated our inquiries, and will exist long after we have moved on, and as such, the
essay should not read as a policy document, but rather as a thorough synopsis of the issue from
various perspectives. The term paper should not exceed 12 pages, 12pt Times New Roman font,
double spaced, one space between paragraphs, conservative use of headings, one-inch margins
all around, no cover sheet, page limit exclusive of bibliography. At this stage, you are expected
to use no fewer than 12 scholarly sources (scholarly books, journal articles, book reviews, etc.
NOTE: News articles and/or popular media are not scholarly sources and do not count toward
your quota, although you may be expected to reference them for factual materials anyway). You
should incorporate sources from both in-and-outside of course materials.

Term Paper Materials


In this section, you will find some supplementary materials that may be used to help you with your term paper. I want to be very clear, you are not required to follow any of these instructions, and you can succeed in the term paper by charting a novel path (although I would also suggest you want to chart that path quite clearly at the proposal stage). Instead, this section should be treated as (in the words of the great sociologist Harold Garfinkel) aids to a sluggish imagination – that is, if you’re having trouble figuring out what to do, have a look at the materials posted here.

In this course, we’re not so much interested in the topics as we are in the contest, how arguments are made and support one side or another of some issue in the CJS. As such, we should not focus on our subject, per se. Instead, we should likely invest our energies in looking at some of the claims making that takes place around our topic.

Remember, not only are we, at best, aspiring criminologists, but on top of that criminologist will always be limited in discovering “the truth” of some debate topic. We only know what’s occurred in our own personal experience. As such, this term paper is not taken up with “discovering truths” about some topic/issue, but interrogating arguments. While I’m reticent to pen you in on your topic selection and analytic choices, I would suggest a broadly social constructionist perspective on your topic. I would recommend revisiting your notes from the sections on social constructionism in CC390, particularly the matter of claims making, and reviewing some of the literature appended below. I would suggest you want to remain indifferent to the content of the claims being made, and instead focus on their structure. Think about what the authors of your claims would have to believe about things like “human nature”, “justice”, “deterrence”, “causality”, and other concepts relevant to the criminal justice system, and how these are either explicitly or implicitly addressed in their writing. 

If you are so inclined to follow these instructions, your term paper might follow something like the following format:

  • An introductory paragraph where you introduce your topic and (at least) two sources of argument about the topic.
  • A theory section where you discuss social constructionism and claims making
  • Application of theory (social constructionism/claims making) to argument 1
  • Application of theory (social constructionism/claims making) to argument 2
  • Application of theory (social constructionism/claims making) to etc…
  • A conclusion about the nature of the contest in your analysis

This part is vitally important: our papers are not about our opinions, nor are any of us qualified to make policy suggestions. These things should be omitted. Instead, our focus is on the quality of the claims being made (not as in good/bad, but rather the things that are assumed known-in-common between author and reader in order to make the writing function) and how contests portray the issue in contest. 


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