Conformity VS Non-Conformity / Collectivism VS Individualism
Overview: In this formal essay assignment, you are first asked to explore the particular concepts of conformity and non-conformity in the broad sense; however, related concepts of individualism vs collectivism, free thinking vs prescribed thinking, authoritarianism/totalitarianism vs democracy are all under consideration as well. The concepts of self-censorship and peer pressure are even fair game to explore. There are other relatable terms within this large realm of concepts, but exploring these particular terms will provide a good foundation to understanding the larger theme of this assignment.
The interpersonal level is where people are involved in all sorts of personal relationships with others feel compelled/pressured, are directly told/ordered, or are merely expected to conform to others’ desired behaviors, ways of thinking, or practices. Such relationships can be between members of a family, friends, co-workers, or even romantic relationships.
The social level is where people are involved in a variety of societal relationships with mere acquaintances, complete strangers, and/or anyone who only knows a limited amount of information about anyone else. Consider all the different areas of society and the many interactions that occur in all of them daily–from stores to restaurants to bars to entertainment venues to sport/recreational activities to all the modes of public transportation–and this a very incomplete list!
The cultural level is where people are involved in relationships that are either directly/formally or indirectly/informally framed around cultures. Be they formal ethnic cultural groupings and situations (which tie closely to the social and interpersonal levels above) to less formal or traditional sub-cultures within established cultural groups (teenagers or retirees) to even fringe counter-cultural groups that are formed around particular sport or interest (for example, music genres, skateboarders or car enthusiasts).
The institutional level is where people are involved in relationships, both personal and impersonal, that revolve around common enrollment, membership, or participation in such institutions as schools, religious organizations, or the military as examples.
Note: the four areas above are not official sociological categories; they are not intended to serve as any sort of final or definitive analysis of where or how relationships exist. Rather, they are just my own groupings, based upon common sense and observation.
As you consider the areas above, can you see, for example, how this concept of “conformity” to a group of peers is vastly different than “conformity” to the expectations of superiors on a job or in an institution?
So now that you’ve explored the concepts above thoroughly, and you’ve discovered just how vast and complex they are in terms of application to nearly every aspect of life, your job in this assignment will be to devise a focused and defensible position that directly answers the following question in the form of a thesis:
As a governing principle for life, is it better to live life by principles of conformity or non-conformity to others’ expectations? Is it more important to be an individual or to be a member of a group?
Now, regardless of how you answered the question, you should find yourself in somewhat of a dilemma because NO ANSWER to the question accurately covers all of the various scenarios or all of the people or all of relationships or all of the contexts that apply to this large concept of conformity vs non-conformity! You may now be asking why I assigned it in the first place then? I’m glad you asked! A. Because in this Honors English course, in which the skills of critical thinking and analysis are optimized, I wanted to assign a topic that is intentionally complex and/or does not allow for an “easy out” with regard to simple answers.
“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Sure, you will answer the question with a thesis that obviously goes one way or another–as required. You may find yourself sticking to the opinion you express in it for the most part throughout the essay. However, regardless of which way you go, you will inevitably find yourself needing to provide exceptions or adjustments or contingencies in order to provide a thorough, honest, and accurate treatment of the topic if you are thinking critically and analyzing thoroughly.
Your essay, in addition to being highly focused and structured around your reply to the question posed above, needs to demonstrate categorization, organization, thorough development, and cohesion. In short, it needs to be a well-developed and unified essay that thoroughly explores and offers opinions about the concept of conformity versus non-conformity.
While I have been assigning this essay for many years, the whole Covid-19 conundrum of the last two years (and all of the sub-issues stemming from it, such vaxx mandates) are providing better examples than anything I could ever imagine as a hypothetical scenario to illustrate the key concepts of the assignment! Just think about this issue of conforming versus not conforming in the context of Covid! It should be crystal-clear when you do.
(essays that are not formatted according to correct MLA guidelines will NOT be accepted)
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