We need more than individualised solutions to the energy crisis!

Martin Lewis has been arguing since at least March 2022 that energy prices in the UK have increased so rapidly in such a short space of time that millions of people will be unable to manage the increasing costs simply by instigating energy-saving measures at the level of the individual household.

His concern is justified, based on a recent government report on the energy market – which shows that energy prices for the average household doubled between summer 2021 and 2022.

You can read the report here: full report on the energy crises.

Martin Lewis himself has been a long term proponent of helping people to help themselves to save money by shopping around for better energy deals and switching provider, or by doing any or all of the following:

  • Buy a smart thermostat
  • Turn the thermostat down by one or two degrees
  • Insulate the roof
  • Buy more energy efficient appliances
  • Wash clothes on a cooler temperature.

The list above is taken from Money Saving Super Market, and all of these suggestions are sensible and it’s difficult to argue against them, but the point Martin Lewis has been making more and more forcibly for several months now is that low income households (of which there are millions) also need government support to either meet the increasing cost of gas and electricity bills.

The simple fact is that even if you do ALL of the above (some of which have an investment cost) you might reduce your energy consumption by 20-30% but that doesn’t offset price rises which have recently doubled and are set to double again in 2023, so a 200% increase in prices!

In Sociological terms all of the above are what Zygmunt Bauman would call ‘individualised solutions to social problems‘, which is the norm in the age of neoliberalism which believes in less government intervention in the market and leaving individuals to fend for themselves.

In this case we have a socio-economic problem – energy prices doubling in a very short space of time and rather than the government stepping in with a range of measures to tackle this they have, for most of 2022, left individuals to fend for themselves.

The Energy Cap – Something of a social solution but still not enough…?

It is probably testimony to how serious the energy crises is that Liz Truss recently announced an energy cap of £2500 (weighted for the average household) – which is a form of a political (public) solution to this social problem.

However, this is quite a weak response – households are expected to soak up ALL of the increase in prices so far, and then this only protects households from some (not all) of the anticipated price rises to come into 2023.

The government could do far more… for example a massive investment into insulating households and tax breaks or even subsidies for households installing solar panels and energy efficient appliances.

Meanwhile at the public level we could be investing in green-energy and training people to research and install such systems, given that there is likely to be increased demand for this sort of thing going forwards.

However the government has opted for allowing companies the right to frack and drill for gas around the United Kingdom and has chosen nuclear as its investment option – the problem with the later especially being that it will be the future generations that foot the bill for securing the legacy of toxic radioactive waste that goes along with nuclear.

Ironically this seams to be a case of the government investing in energy-tech which will create further public problems in the future, when there will even less capacity for a public solution to even more dramatic social problems, at least if the advance of neoliberalism persists!

Limited Media Reporting of the Labour Conference 2022 – Ideological Agenda setting or just ‘news values’…?

The Metro’s reporting (28/09/2022) of Sir Keir Starmer’s Speech at the 2022 Labour Party Conference was definitely limited, and offers students of media studies an interesting contemporary example of how news values and/ or agenda setting influence the news agenda.

Biased Reporting…

There are some good examples here of what appear to be deliberate bias against labour…

Firstly on the headline page not only is the labour conference given half the space of the royals story the headline ‘don’t forgive’ makes them seem aggressive and harsh, AND there’s a little quip about Keir and his wife being dressed in sync which is maybe an attempt to belittle labour.

And then there’s the order and manner in which the two main items of the day are presented…

Firstly we have the royals, BEFORE the labour conference reporting…

And even Eurovision trumps Labour!

And then on page three AFTER Kate and Will and Eurovision we finally have an item on the labour party conference (well it’s page four, page two was a full page advert)…

Also note how this is all just dull text – there’s no attempt at all to bullet point the key ideas – there could be a nice infographic where the advert is to the left which would make this material more readable, but there isn’t.

Rather the message here seems to be ‘ignore this dull stuff but here’s some pictures of Keir and his wife who have dressed well’.

News Values…?

Of course it could just be plain old News Values influencing why Kate and Wills are appearing before Labour – the royals are more photogenic, and pictures matters in papers, and we have just had the death of the Queen so there is continuity.

HOWEVER, given the national interest surrounding the cost of living crisis and Tory economic policy crashing the economy I think there is more than News Values at work here…

Why I think this reporting might be ideological

There is some extremely significant political context to Starmer’s speech, rooted in some major socio-economic turbulence this Autumn.

The recent Tory budget gave some major tax cuts to the richest in society on top of recent hand-outs to the UK’s two biggest oil companies – BP and Shell, while ordinary people are left to soak up much of the increased cost of living themselves.

In short, the Tories have done more to help the rich than the poor and showed little interest in investing in a green-future to provide long term solutions to increasing energy prices and any potential future price shocks.

And Keir Starmer, the leader of the major opposition party is, in this speech, outlining a viable alternative strategy to what the Tories are offering.

And yet this speech has been relegated to small text on pages 4 and 5, after the pictures of Will and Kate in Wales.

To my mind this seems to be a straight up attempt to offer the masses some royal entertainment fluff rather than reporting on the Labour alternative to the cost of living crisis in an accessible manner.

I mean, think about it – they could have bullet pointed the key facts but all we have is a very unattractive full text version of the speech, it’s very easy to just ignore it, effectively rendering it invisible to many readers.

And given that the Metro is a right wing paper, that is probably the whole idea!

Discussion Questions

What do you think? Is this an example of ideological agenda setting?

Are the owners and editors of the Metro using their position of power to narrow the agenda of news reporting and discredit the views of Keir Starmer and the Labour Party…?

Or is this just plain old news values at work and the paper simply providing what the audience demand…?

Signposting

This material should be of interest to students studying the Media option as part of A-level sociology.

It should also be of interest to students generally – it’s your future the Tories are messing up after all!

You can watch Sir Keir’s full speech here:

The Labour Party Conference 2022

Sir Keir’s Speech Fact Checked

Good Resources for Teaching the Sociology of Sex and Gender

An introduction to sex, gender and gender identity 

The resources below have been selected to help A-level sociology students and teachers studying (and teaching) an introduction to the concepts of sex and gender in the very first weeks of the two year course.

However the material below should also be useful across the entire two year sociology specification, and especially in the Theory and Methods aspect of the second year of study where Feminism and gender equality is one of the main themes.

Blog Posts

How equal are men and women in the UK?

Global Gender Inequalities – A Statistical Overview 

Statistics on gender equality in the UK (historical, kept for posterity!)

Exam Style Questions

These are drawn from modules across the whole A-level course

Analyse two reasons for gender differences in subject choice (10)

Evaluate the view that the media present a stereotypical view of women (30)

Analyse two reasons why women remain economically disadvantaged compared to men (10)

Analyse two reasons why men commit more crime than women (10)

Sex and Gender In the News and social research in 2022

The Conversation (2022) – not everyone is male or female

A Few Lionesses will Get Everything – the Gender Pay Gap in Women’s Football.

Why Football needs a gender revolution – The Conversation 2022

June 2022 – LGBTQ Britons twice as likely to see themselves as portrayed negatively in the media.

Various mainly 2022 analysis and articles about LGBTQ topics based on YouGov surveys

Human Rights Watch has some depressing articles for 2022 and further back, very global focus.

Contemporary Sociology in the news/ research in 2021

Kings College – Developing a Sub-national (regional) index of gender equality in the UK

The Conversation – Why women get paid less than men

Videos and Documentaries

Tom Daley – Illegal to be Me – exploring sexuality laws across Commonwealth countries.

Regularly published Research Studies (UK and Global Focus)

Office for National Statistics – The Gender Pay Gap in the UK.

The European Institute for Gender Equality (2021 report)

EIGE UK 2020 report

World Economic Forum: Global Gender Gap Report

Less than annual or not (/sure if) annual

The Trevor Report on LGBTQ mental health 2021

The LGBTQ Survey (2018)

(lack of) Action plan since the above survey

Stonewall – Lost in Britain (2018) the Trans Report.

YouGov – LGBTQ surveys.

YouGov – How Brits Describe Their Sexuality

YouGov – Do Brits think sexuality is a scale…?

Government Organisations  

UK Gov – The Gender Equality Monitor (up to 2018)

The Gender Equality Roadmap (2019)

Non-Government Organisations

Stonewall – Facts and Figures (links to various research)

LGBT Foundation

Young People think British Society is VERY unfair…

YouGov regularly tracks public opinion on social mobility and according to their last three years of data, young people especially think that equality of opportunity in the UK is on the decline.

The trend is DRAMATIC…

In January 2022 68% of 18-24 year olds thought that their life chances were ‘broadly determined’ by their parents socio-economic background – this is up from 59% when asked the same question in August 2019.

Only 13% of 18-24 year olds said there are equal opportunities in January 2022, down from 23% in August 2019.

In just two and a half years, these are pretty large changes in opinion with lots more young people supporting the view that social class has an impact on life chances.

Interestingly the trend for all age groups is much more stable…

This suggests that young people’s views are shifting away from older people’s – meaning there is an increasingly different perception in life chances.

NB this survey tells us nothing of the actual social reality – it doesn’t tell us which perception is correct – I’m inclined to think this radical change is down to the restrictions placed on society due to the government’s chosen response to Covid-19 (‘Lockdown’ and school closures).

Maybe those 18-24 year olds are more in touch with younger people who were hugely impacted by these restrictions and this is them expressing that difference.

Whether or not there really has been such drastic reduction in equal opportunities for young people we will have to wait many years to find out, unfortunately.

However I am reasonably certain that equal opportunities haven’t improved over the last three years!

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How Has the SmartPhone Impacted Intimate Relationships?

The majority of couples in longer term relationships use their smart phones primarily to ‘keep base’ with the partners during periods when they are not together, and manage to successfully negotiate rules to minimise the use of their phones when they are together.

However, for a minority of couples excessive Smart Phone usage when together can drive the couple apart due to jealously with one partner not knowing what the other person is doing when they are on their phone.

This is according to Mark McCormack, Professor of Sociology at the University of Roehampton, who recently completed some research on this topic based on In-depth interviews with 30 people all of whom had been in heterosexual relationships for at least one year.

The sample included a wide range of ages, social class backgrounds and ethnicities. 

Below I summarise this research which is most relevant to the Families and Households module.

Keeping Couples Together when Apart and Driving them Apart when Together

Smartphones are an integral part of contemporary relationships – especially at the start of relationships. 

Private messaging on apps such as WhatsApp was especially important in the early stages of relationships (the ‘dating phase’) when someone’s chat skills were one of the factors that determined whether or not there would be a second, third, or fourth (and so on) date… 

Later on in relationships smartphones were essential for ’keeping base’ with couples who either weren’t living together or who just had long work days. 

The idea that smart phones prevent intimate couple conversations because both partners are hunched independently over their phones when in at home or in a restaurant (for example) emerged as something of a myth… 

Rather, one participant said that she didn’t know what couples used to talk about before SmartPhones seeing them as essential to keeping conversations going by checking in on what was going on elsewhere (keeping up with the gossip, maybe, for example). 

One third of respondents had done flirtatious texting, fewer had sent over more explicit material such as videos – but a significant minority said their phones helped them keep intimate when apart and helped them view sex in a different (enhancing) way. 

For a minority of participants phones had the potential for undermining trust, especially among younger females. 

Some felt that the  the phone sometimes got in the way of face to face conversations with their partners and there was some feelings of jealousy and worrying about what partners were doing online when they weren’t speaking to them. 

A few of these respondents expressed concern about the fact that the delete button is so easy, easy to hide one’s tracks online, but very few people spoke of their partners actually cheating as a result of being online.  

McCormac developed the concept of ‘Technoference’ to describe one further negative impact of phones on relationships – when phones disrupt face to face intimate conversations. 

One respondent talked of being so into Candy Crush at times that she wasn’t following conversations properly.  Another talked of playing games on hist phone behind his girlfriend’s heads while giving her a hug. 

A further downside was the experience of sitting in bed together but living in different worlds – her on FaceBook and him on a Sports App. 

Over time messages got less exciting in nature, and less frequent, and more about mundane things such as reminders about what to pick up from the supermarket, but ‘checking-in’ quickly remained constant. 

One respondent saw these quick and infrequent check-ins as sad given that in the early days of the relationship her and her partner had been exchanging a lot more texts and images 

Some respondents also talked of sex having been interrupted to answer a phone call – or using their smartphones as a strategy to delay or avoid sex. 

Many respondents had developed strategies to manage their smartphone use when together. A couple of examples of rules included buying alarms for the bedroom so phones couldn’t come up less drastic was the no phones at candle lit dinners rule.

A minority of respondents felt the conversation about management had itself caused tensions – with one partner feeling the other was trying to be more controlling. 

Ultimately, communication was seen as they key for successfully negotiating smartphone usage in intimate relationships.

Find out More:

The full research article is here: Keeping couples together when they’re apart and driving them apart when they’re together, but thanks to the totally unreasonable accessibility limitations you often get with academic articles, you have to request access so this isn’t freely available.

However you can listen to a summary of the research on this excellent Thinking Allowed Podcast, which I listened to and summarised in the form of this blog post.

Relevance to A-level sociology 

This is most relevant to the families and households module, and is a good example of how relationships are changing in a postmodern world due to technology. 

This is also a good example of in-depth micro-level research and the results demonstrate how we can’t understand the impact of technology on couples and relationships without asking people.

It also shows how couples are active agents I their lives – most seem to have been able to use smartphones to positively enhance their relationships, and to have negotiated strategies to avoid the potential negative impacts. 

So this study is a good-fit with perspectives which argue that postmodern family life is complex, diverse, negotiated – such as the late modernist Ulrich Beck and his idea of the negotiated family as the norm, and also the Personal Life Perspective

Image Source.

Liz Truss’ Energy Price Cap Will Benefit the Rich more than the Poor

State hand-outs for TNCs and more support for the rich – this is neoliberalism on steroids!

The New British Prime Minister, Liz Truss, recently announced her plans to help families and households through the current cost of living crisis.

The main policy to be introduced is an energy price cap which limits the average amount each household will pay capped at £2500.

NB this policy doesn’t mean that every household will pay a maximum of £2500 , that figure is the ‘easy to understand’ figure based on what the new price-per-unit of energy that OFGEM has to work with will be, which will mean an average house going forwards will be paying £2500 on energy until October 2023 (those calculations based on how much energy an average household has been using historically).

Of course if one ‘average household’ keeps the heating up at a toasty 25 degrees all winter they will still be paying more for energy than a similar household which keeps its thermostat at a more reasonable 18 degrees.

And so larger houses will be paying more than £2500, smaller houses and flats probably less than £2500.

HOWEVER, the cap on the unit-of-energy price still benefits the rich more than the poor, and. one simple chart from The Guardian shows how…

According to the figures above the following types of household save the following amounts per year with Truss’ new energy policy…

  • Detached houses save £1400
  • Semi-detached save £1150
  • Mid terraced save £950
  • Purpose built flats save £650

And as a general rule it is the wealthier and higher income earners who live in detached houses, while it’s the working and lower classes who live in mid terraced and flats.

So what we see here is that this Tory Policy saves the average wealthy household £750 a year more than the average poorer household.

This becomes clear when we see just HOW MUCH the richest households spend on energy, which was revealed in a recent 2022 report: A ‘Variable Energy Price Cap’ to Help Solve the Cost-of-Living Crisis by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research…

As you can see from the above the richest households spend almost twice as much on energy as the poorest households, which means any uniform energy price cap will benefit them proportionately more.

This is one of the reasons why the above report proposes a more nuanced policy approach of a variable cap and energy prices increasing the more households use, which would help the poor more compared to the rich and make the wealthier households contribute more to dealing with rising energy prices.

According to Bloomberg the current Tory policy could cost tax payers as much as £130 billion over two years, which is a CHOICE by a TORY to make the people pay rather than energy companies who are likely to make sufficient profit to be able to pay for the ENTIRE increase themselves and STILL make a decent profit on top!

The Tories allow the Corporations to Keep their Profits

According to UK Treasury figures Energy firms are expected to make an additional ‘unexpected’ £170 billion in profits over the next two years due to the increase in energy prices.

One policy the government could have pursued to tackle rising energy prices is thus to use a windfall tax on the two major UK energy corporations – Even just a 10% tax on £170 billion would raise £17 billion to help weather the storm.

However Liz Truss is part of the same Transnational Elite as the international energy companies. She used to work for Shell and she accepted a £100 000 donation from BP towards her leadership campaign.

And now she is repaying them by guaranteeing to allow them to keep ALL of their profits from this crisis, be effectively using tax payers money to pay them everything above the price cap for at least another year.

The most likely situation is that MOST of our

New Fracking and Oil Exploration Licenses

A more longer term policy (or lack of it) is to issue several new licences to allow firms to drill and frack for oil and natural gas in the North Sea and (probably) poorer parts of the United Kingdom.

Given Liz Truss’ pro-corporate and light regulation stance it’s unlikely these licenses will come with terms which see the profits from such resources go back to the people – far more likely is light regulation, low tax and profit extraction to distant lands.

Liz Truss’ Energy Policy – Relevance to A-level sociology

Probably the best fit for this material is within the Global Development module or the Theories part of Theory and Methods.

This policy is very much neoliberal – she is not taxing large corporations and giving out new licences for corporations to suck out our natural resources (NB we don’t have details, but I’m anticipating very lax regulation here).

We might even call this hyper neoliberalism – Truss is proposing a straight transfer of tax payer funds to Corporations – naked and visible and no effort to hide it, usually with pro-privatisation policies this is obscured, but not here.

Meanwhile her energy cap does little to help the poorest and more, proportionally to help the richest.

It’s also worth going back and reading Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine – that seems to apply here – we have a crisis and the right wing use it to pass even more wealth to the rich…

So this evidence also suggests support for the Marxist view that the government, ultimately (or at least in its current form) works in the interests of the elites and Transnational Corporations.

Sociological Perspectives and Concepts Applied to the Death of The Queen…

How might Interactionists, Functionalists, Marxists and Postmodernists interpret the death of The Queen..?

The Queen died on Thursday 8th September 2022, ending her reign as the longest serving monarch in British history.

Events like this are rare and the offer sociology students a good opportunity to practice applying perspectives and concepts to the event itself and the societal reaction to the event.

NB to be honest we are probably considering below the societal reaction to the event for the most part – both on the part of the media and the people themselves. This isn’t unusual as the Monarchy is a social construction and kept alive by people recognising its significance.

How would the main sociological perspectives understand the death of The Queen…

Interactionism

A good starting point for thinking about the Monarchy could well be Interactionism – the Queen, after all, is a symbol, rather than an individual that we know, even if millions of people may have convinced themselves they know the ‘person’ rather than the symbol.

In terms of symbolism The Queen, as the media have been very keen to point out, represents a ‘point of stability and continuity’ over the last 70 years, really THE ONLY person in all that time to have always been there in the public eye, an ever ‘reassuring presence’.

And of course she does represent (as a symbol) ‘Britain’ and ‘British Identity’ itself – so many symbols of the nation are linked to the Queen – obviously Buckingham Palace and her other residences, but also the Grenadier Guards specifically and the armed forces more generally, but also pretty much ANYTHNG you can point to as being British – because her role over the last 70 years has been to attend various national events, and to give awards (such as Knighthoods) to those deemed to be worthy, such as Captain Tom Moore.

Not to mention the fact that she’s on our bank notes, coins and stamps as well!

And of course The Queen as (as far as I know) always been police, apolitical (in public engagements) and attended a diverse range of events and met it could well be as many as millions of people over the last 70 years, so it’s very difficult not to ‘like the presentation of herself’ because she has come across as extremely, well ‘nice’

And she has been the most visible outward facing symbol of British National Identity – when people abroad think of Britain they probably think of The Queen as one of the most pre-eminent symbols of the nation.

So I’m not going to criticise anyone for feeling a sense of loss at The Queen’s death, we have lost our most important National Symbol, our longest serving, most continuous symbol of national unity – and even if the idea of national unity is a myth, even if people are mistakenly mourning the person rathe than the symbol (thinking they know here when they don’t) all of that doesn’t really matter – from the Interactionist point of view our society is constructed of symbols, and that’s what matters.

And it is highly unlikely that Charles can replace The Queen – he’s been too political over the years, too ‘odd’ with his views, Dianna is dead, Camilla is somehow a bit fake, and most importantly he hasn’t got youth on his side.

We could well be witnessing, with the death of The Queen, the death of the British Monarchy, effectively, something lost, never to be replaced.

One final word on Interactionism – about Impression Management – it’s worth remembering just how much backstage work has gone into prepping The Queen for her outward facing public visits – dozens of servants, hundreds of millions of pounds – and yes she has worked every day for 70 years more or less but there has been a lot of backstage prepping going on too!

Functionalism

The Mainstream Media seem to be interpreting the death of The Queen in classical Functionalist terms from the 1950s, but personally I think this is inaccurate.

For a start there is a TOTAL lack of criticism of the monarchy as an institution in the mainstream media in general, and especially now, and the ‘discourse’ is very much one of treating the Monarchy as if it has played a vital function in British society over the last 70 years under the reign of Queen Elizabeth.

And the main ‘function’ that The Queen has performed is that of being a symbol of national unity, helping maintain a sense of national identity and a sense of social solidarity, especially during The Pandemic, when in a now famous line she said ‘we will meet again’.

And now that the Queen is Dead it’s as if we are about to plunge into a time of radical uncertainty, of anomie, of rootlessness in a time when all in the world is chaos – political change in the UK, the cost of living crisis, the war in the Ukraine, AND NOW THE QUEEN!

HOWEVER, it might be better to view the monarchy as something of a ‘defunct institution’ – something based on ascribed status which harkers back to pre-modernity, and, in its postmodern incarnation is increasingly dysfunctional with it’s Divorced and Paedophile Princes.

One thing the monarchy isn’t is meritocratic, that’s for sure, and the one recent opinion poll from YouGov reported that only 6/10 Britons want the Monarchy to continue, so the idea that the symbol of the monarchy promotes social solidarity simply doesn’t hold up to scrutiny…

It is more likely that the media reporting on the death of the Queen and what a great loss this is for the nation is ideological – it reflects the views of the conservative and older people who set the media agenda, this doesn’t reflect the views of younger people or Labour supporters.

The Marxist Perspective on the Monarchy

One of the key concepts of Marxism is social class, and one of their key aims is develop a class-based analysis of society.

And the monarchy is just about as elite as you can get. They are among the largest landowners in Britain with a crown estate worth £14 billion and the Queen is (or was) personally one of the wealthiest individuals in the country.

The children always go to Elite schools and the boys become men do a stint as officers in the army, navy or air force, and as the Queen’s 96 years of age are testimony to, the royals are very long lived – and the higher social classes to tend to live longer overall!  

And despite their huge wealth, the monarchy still receives a state subsidy from the British taxpayer, which is, for them, completely unnecessary.

The media, however, NEVER comment on this old-school-elite-class fact of life, but we have got to see this in effect with the old restored images of the Queen’s Jubilee back in the 1950s – with all the gilded pomp and ceremony.

One wonders whether there will be a toning down of this when Charles is coronated, this kind of upper-class parade seems extremely distasteful in our modern/ post-modern meritocratic society.

A final word on Marxism – you might want to think how far the Queen’s death preforms an ideological function – in that it distracts us from other MASSIVE political issues – we have a new even more neoliberal government in power, and there is a cost of living crisis that is now slipped down the agenda for a few days at least.

Post and Late Modernism

I have already considered some of these concepts above – but one additional concept worth considering in relation to The Monarchy is that of hyperreality – the media seem intent on making The Queen’s death into more than it is, ‘milking it for all it is worth’ – this is the best profit-making event newspapers are likely to see this century, for example, and they’ve probably had their ‘memorial supplements’ ready to go for years.

The Newspapers were late being delivered on 9th of September 2022, obviously because of last minute modifications being made, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the reporting is going to be any more accurate, it probably just means adding to the hyperreal construction of the event, making it more than what it is.

That isn’t to say The Queen’s death isn’t real, of course it happened, but think about it – there is a LOT of constructing the narrative around the event, creating its significance, THAT is what is hyperreal.

 Individualisation is another highly relevant concept when it comes to the way the media treat The Queen – focusing on HER as an individual rather than the institution of the monarchy as a whole – thus simplifying the narrative and preventing critical discourse around the wider institution.

Finally, this is certainly a ‘reflexive event’ with the media calling on the nation to reflect on what the passing of The Queen means and where we go from here…

You can read this post on Postmodernism for a more in-depth look!

Signposting and how to use this material…

Teachers of A-level Sociology might like to use this as a refresher with their Second Year students – you could get students working in small groups each focussing on one of the perspectives above and then get them to feed back their findings to the class.

It would probably fit best with the Theory and Methods part of the course, the theory part especially.

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Evaluate the View that Crime and Deviance are Inevitable and Beneficial for Individuals and Society as a Whole

This question was the 30 mark essay question on the June 2022 Crime and Deviance A-Level Sociology exam paper.

I have to say TOP MARKS for a fantastic question, lots in here to unpack.

The question came with an item that candidates had to apply which explicitly referenced Functionalists thinking crime was inevitable because not everyone could fit into the norms and values of society, and also that crime was beneficial.

The item also referenced that Conflict Theorists were critical of this view because crime is ‘constructed’ in such as way that it benefits certain individuals.

Quick Question decode….

The question breaks down into two chunks of two…

  1. Evaluate the view that crime is inevitable (and evaluate the theory behind this)
  2. Evaluate the view that crime is beneficial – i. for society and ii. for individuals.

The easiest way to structure this is probably to start off discussing and evaluating the Functionalist view – on inevitability and then whether it’s beneficial and use mainly conflict (Marxist/ Feminist/ Interactionist) views to evaluate Functionalism.

This question also screams out ‘talk about different types of crime and contrast them’.

And I’d also spend some time talking about PostModernism/ Cultural Theories of Crime – but again using these to critique Functionalism and Conflict Theories too.

I’d recommend NOT just doing a paragraph list answer – DONT’ start with Functionalism then do Marxism then do Feminism – that will probably limit you to a mid mark band, C grade – for Bs and As I’m thinking the examiners are going to want an answer that really focuses on using material to critique Functionalism!

However, having said that – it’s kind of hard to avoid discussing Durkheim’s theory – all of it first – it’s how you critique the different aspects of it that will help you avoid a ‘listing the theories’ answer’.

Below is a rough guide to how I’d answer this question….

Evaluate the view that Crime is Inevitable and beneficial for Society and Individuals…

Here you can outline Durkheim’s theory of the ‘Society of Saints’ – in which he theorised that even in a near perfect society very small acts would become deviant and end up being criminalised because ‘society needs crime’, and in fact that crime is beneficial.

Durkheim in fact argued that crime performed three positive functions – social regulation (people are reminded of the boundaries when criminals are punished), social integration – people bond together more closely against criminals and then it also allows social change to take place (without deviance there can be no change!).

Durkheim’s idea that crime is ‘inevitable’ seems to make sense as it is difficult to conceive of a society in which there is no crime, let alone no deviance. It also allows for the fact that some individuals are always going to break the rules, and so are not entirely controlled by society.

However this is quite a week theory – it doesn’t say very much – Durkheim didn’t really talk about what kind of acts he was talking about – if bad manners are ‘always going to be inevitable’ then Functionalism as a theory kind of holds together, but if more serious crimes are inevitable in ALL societies – such as murders, treason, revolutions, that undermines the whole of Functionalist consensus theory because if all societies eventually end in conflict, then consensus is only ever a temporary state and societies don’t evolve in the way Durkheim thought.

It’s a very difficult theory to assess this – in terms of minor acts of deviance YES they are always going to be around it seems, but in a way who cares because these don’t harm people or upset the balance of society, but in terms of the more serious crimes – mass organised crimes, terrorism aimed at social change – mass shootings in America by lone individuals – are these the inevitable?

It is impossible to measure at a global and 100 year historical level with any degree of accuracy but as a general rule there do seem to be LESS violent, serious and destabilising crimes in wealthier European Countries, suggesting where we have wealth and inclusion and democracy and human rights, more serious crimes that are going to blow society apart are less likely, but in poorer countries, in Africa for example, which has the highest amount of civil wars for the last half a century, violent crime seems more likely.

But then the most violent States on Earth are the very richest – the USA, Russia, China, all commit human rights abuses but generally against people in remote territories and against people deemed to be ‘enemies of the state’ – so maybe crime is inevitable when we have huge power differentials in the world….?

This brings to mind Marxism – this essentially argues that ‘crime’ in the form of revolution is inevitable as oppression causes increasing exploitation which eventually leads to violent revolution (which by definition are criminal against the existing State) – however this doesn’t really seem to fit the historical record any better than Functionalism, real communist revolutions are far and few between, much more war is about desperation or colonial conquest.

Marxists also argue that things like low level street crime are the outcome of poverty and oppression caused by the inequalities and injustices of Capitalism – this seems to make more sense as a theory of the inevitability of crime than Durkheim’s as there is a correlation between these types of crime and poverty.

In contrast Durkhiems’ theory can’t be tested because he was never specific enough, thus it’s probably better to dismiss the idea as it can’t be proven.

There are also problems with Durkheim’s theory of crime being beneficial is that it comes from the logic ‘that if something in society exists then it must have a function’ – Durkheim was kind of tunnel visioned here and he couldn’t accept the view that some things were just plain dysfunctional and had no social benefit at all.

It is difficult to argue, for example, that domestic abuse has a useful social function – as it is hidden and never seen, and obviously one can’t argue it benefits the victims.

In order for a crime to be deemed beneficial – to perform one of Durkheim’s social functions it needs to be visible….. In this case one might be able to argue that domestic abuse does enhance social integration as people may come together to kick out local abusers from their neighbourhoods – HOWEVER – it’s not a very positive basis for ‘unity’ and not that healthy where people are just united against something else – also there’s no real need for this type of integration is there? I mean doesn’t sport and music and many other things do the same without the crime and harm?

Also with social regulation – maybe crimes being punished remind people of the boundaries – but Marxists have pointed out that some crimes are much more likely to get punished than others – such as working class drug dealers bet punished, not the middle class users who take them.

And thus the Marxist take on crime benefiting some individuals more than others maybe fits better with social reality – we have selective law enforcement and punishment – the working classes are kept in their place while elites are more likely to get away with doing corporate and white collar crime without being noticed.

And when we look at some white collar crimes it’s hard to argue they benefit society – such as the fraud that led to the collapse of Enron – which led to massive losses for ordinary investors and job losses for workers – very few people in fact benefitted from that other than a small amount of criminals who skimmed profit before the crash.

The item references crime being constructed in such a way that it benefits certain individuals more than others – this is an interactionist point of view – it means that what is criminal is determined by the law which in turn is determined by people.

We can see this most clearly in the way certain drugs are made criminal – for example with cannabis gradually being decriminalised in some states in America – when it used to be criminal law officers could prosecute people for growing and selling it, now in those states were it is decriminalised people can’t be prosecuted – this shows up the varying nature of how some States deem this act to be harmful, others beneficial.

But what’s maybe more important is how some kind of violent acts are not labelled as criminal – for example state violence in war, presumably because whichever territory is being ‘liberated’ is going to benefit from that particular wave of state violence, while ANY violence by ordinary people on the streets is deemed to be NOT beneficial in any way.

In Conclusion

Personally I’d dismiss the idea that crime is inevitable as it’s too broad a statement to be meaningful.

As to the Functionalist idea that crime is beneficial for society – this is too generalised to be true, but it certainly seems to be the case that crime does indeed benefit some people more than others – maybe for that reason it is inevitable, after all, but it’s impossible to say with any certainty WHAT types of criminal and deviant act are inevitable.

Good question, cheers!

Final Thoughts

This isn’t a definitive answer, I just thought I’d have some fun with it!

Sources

The Functionalist view of Crime

The Marxist View of crime

The Labelling Theory of Crime

Is the Environmental Crisis Built on Systemic Racism..?

You’re more likely to live next to a waste incinerator in the UK if you’re black compared to if you’re white, and thus more likely to be breathing in toxic fumes.

The same trend is also true globally: ‘people of colour’ living in the global south are more likely to suffer environmental harms associated with climate changed compared to the majority white populations of the global north.

This is according to a recent report: Confronting Injustice: Racism and the Environmental Emergency jointly published in 2022 by Greenpeace and The RunnyMede Trust.

This report makes the very dramatic claim the current environmental crisis is based on a history of systemic racism rooted in Colonialism and in this post I summarise this report and suggest some limitations of it.

The Environmental Crisis is Built on Systemic Racism…

(Quite a claim!)

The report notes that it is mainly countries in the global south – mainly Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Africa – which have to bear the costs of global warming. It is these poorer countries which suffer economic setbacks because of increased sea level rises flooding land and destructive ‘extreme weather events’ such as cyclones. The report estimates that Mozambique, in Southern Africa suffered more than $3 Billion of environmental damages in 2019, for example.

Another dimension of ‘environmental racism’ is how the mainstream media under-reports man-made environmental humanitarian disasters in the global south compared to ‘white victories’ such as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos space flight programmes….

And one further example lies in how Indigenous activists lives are put in danger.

Colonialism, Extractivism and Racism

The report also highlights three case studies of how colonial powers set up in developing countries (then simply their colonies) and systematically went about displacing indigenous peoples in order to extract resources for profit.

The three examples provided are Shell extracting Oil in Nigeria, and the displacement of the Ogoni people; the destruction of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil and the establishment of meat and soy production and also the establishment of industrial scale fishing in Western Africa which has ruined local communities which used to rely on small scale fishing.

The report also covers the waste aspect of Environmental Racism – countries such as the UK tend to ship their toxic waste to poorer countries who often have lower pollution standards – so poor people end up recycling metal from plastic by burning the plastic for example….

Find out More…

There is more in the report such as how environmental racism works in the UK and how we can tackle climate change by simultaneously tackling racism in society, and I recommend you give it read: Confronting Injustice: Racism and the Environmental Emergency.

Relevance to A-Level Sociology

This contemporary report is clearly relevant to the Environment topic within the Global Development module, and you will also find lots of supporting case studies which support Dependency Theory.

In terms of social theory, this is a great contemporary example of ‘grand theorising’ – there’s nothing postmodern about this, and in fact reports leading to theorising such as this implicitly criticise the concept of postmodernity.

The working class don’t feel like they fit in middle-class jobs

People from working class backgrounds who are socially mobile and make it into middle class jobs are less likely to feel they fit into those jobs than those from middle class backgrounds.

This is according to some contemporary sociological research which suggests support for the view that lack of cultural capital not only hinders working class children in education, but this carries on into the workplace…

Cultural Capital effectively means that the middle class who get middle class jobs just feel like they fit – the subjective experience for them is more natural, and less stressful because there is more of a fit between their home lives and their working lives.

But for the socially mobile working classes, the differences between their home lives and new middle class working lives means they find work more challenging.

Research Methods

The researchers first sent out a survey to 161 participants in a variety of sectors – both private and public. The survey asked about their subjective perceptions of their class background and their levels of engagement at work. 20 respondents were then interviewed in more depth – 12 of whom were women with an average age of 47.

Findings

Some working class respondents talked of not feeling like they fitted in – and felt under pressure to change their working class mannerisms and habits – such as switching to drinking wine rather than beer at work social events.

One respondent reported that she was actually ridiculed for her accent by colleagues – one had put in a formal complaint about the way she spoke to clients as being ‘unprofessional’ – she just thought it was due to her working class speech codes (effectively).

Some also felt the need to conceal their background from their colleagues, resulting in them having less to say and engaging less.

At home there is also less of an advantage to being socially mobile for the working class – their peers either aren’t interested in or don’t understand (the two are related) their jobs and so there is less to talk about there – essentially the working class are less able to ‘celebrate’ their social mobility because it means less to others in their home lives.

In contrast the middle classes moving into middle class job just felt ‘authentic’

When social mobility can work…

Some who were socially mobile felt they had learned new skills from the challenge and it had broadened them out as people and employees.

Finally, one crucial factor that made mobility work was the support of employers and colleagues, which is hardly surprising!

Find Out More

You can read the full details of this research here: A Bridge over Troubled Borders: Social Class and the Interplay between Work and Life, published in the Journal of Work, Employment and Society in February 2022.

You might also like this excellent summary article in The Conversation: The real life challenges of social mobility.

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