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GRE Issue Essay: To Understand The Most Important Characteristics Of A Society, One Must Study Its Major Cities. - With A Free Essay Review

Instructions: “Write a response in which you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the statement and explain your reasoning for the position you take. In developing and supporting your position, you should consider ways in which the statement might or might not hold true and explain how these considerations shape your position.”

Society, by definition, is the network of social relationships between its members. To understand the “most important characteristics of a society”, one must identify these characteristics. First of all, there are certain important structural attributes, such as distribution by age, gender, family size, etc. In addition, every society has its own distinctive culture, and cultural peculiarities are better preserved in small towns and villages. Finally, society is a dynamic intangible entity, which is constantly evolving. To understand dynamism one needs to study the forces of change which are better manifested in large cities. Therefore, one must examine society as a whole, including its major cities and rural area, in order to understand its structural patterns, cultural characteristics and dynamism all of which can be referred to as the most important characteristics.

According to the definition of society, it is the network of people; and to understand main characteristics of this aggregation, one must have a notion of the conditions in which these people live. Analyzing some of the key social structures in a society can give us great insight into the structure and function of that society as a whole. Age-sex pyramids can tell us a lot about what that society values and how it approaches certain issues. To take an example, close scrutiny of the age pyramid of Germany clearly shows that the majority of population is over 40 years old, and the number of newborn babies is smaller than the number of 10-year old children. We can conclude that Germany has a low mortality rate in adults and infants which implies a highly-developed healthcare system. We can also assume that the birthrate has been declining for the last 20 years as the pyramid has been persistently tapering downward during this period of time. On the contrary, the age pyramid of Kenya shows that the number of newborn babies is bigger than that of 10-year old children, which implies a high death rate among infants. We can also see a sharp decline in population aged 40 and above; this means that the death rate in older adults is even higher than that among children. In contrast to Germany, Kenya has a poorly-developed healthcare system and the birth rate is much higher.

In addition to the structural patterns, one must study the culture of a society to understand its most important features. Culture refers to the art, knowledge, beliefs, morals, customs, traditions, literature, science, etc.. On the one hand, customs, traditions, and beliefs can be better explored in rural areas, since people there are more inclined to preserve them. On the other hand, to understand the art, knowledge, or scientific advances of a given society, one should focus his/her attention on major cities since art galleries, universities and research institutions are usually found there. Thus, those who want to get a clear picture of the cultural characteristics of a society should study both major cities and non-urban areas.

Finally, one should also understand how a society develops and evolves for a comprehensive analysis to take place. There is no better place to understand this than the major cities where change happens at an accelerated pace. To understand dynamism, for instance, one needs to understand the motivating forces, such as globalization, foreign influences, intermingling of different cultures and so on. For instance, Moscow is cosmopolitan city with many cultures and nations presented. One can find there huge business centers, shopping malls, and even several skyscrapers, features common to any other globalized “melting pot” in the world. So, to understand the characteristics that define society’s capability to adapt to the modern world changes, one should definitely study its major cities.

To sum up, one can obtain a holistic understanding of the most important characteristics of a society, which in my opinion are structural figures, culture and dynamism; by studying its major cities as well as non-urban areas.


Essay Review

This is a well-written essay that might be penalized (perhaps unjustly) for its failure to focus consistently and precisely on the assigned task. The second paragraph, for instance, does nothing to help me decide whether I must study major cities in order to understand major characteristics of a society (although obviously it does help me decide whether I must also study other things, but that is not in question in the prompt). (By the way, I changed the word "bigger" to "smaller," which I assume was what was intended, in the sentence about the number of newborn babies in Germany.)

The next (third) paragraph is more obviously to the point. A slight shift in emphasis in that paragraph's final sentence would make the paragraph yet more to the point: "Thus, those who want to get a complete picture of the cultural characteristics of a society not only should study non-urban areas but also must study the major cities."

Alternatively, one could stress that there are certain important aspects of society that one can understand without studying the major cities. That's a legitimate response to the prompt, and perhaps one way of meeting the demand that you "consider ways in which the statement ... might not hold true." It would also allow you to make the purpose of the second paragraph relevant: it would be proof of the contention that one does not always need to study the major cities, since it depends on what major characteristics one wants to understand. I take it that that was implicitly your point, but I think it would only be a valuable point if made explicitly.

Best, EJ.
Submitted by: elenad3d


Dear EJ,

Thank you very much for the review of my essay. I definitely should have addressed the instances in which the statement might not hold true, I should also have included justification for studying cities' structural characteristics.
You comments make it so much easier to fix the essay!
August,02 2012

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