Outline and explain two practical problems which may affect social research (10)

practical problems social research.png

One practical problem may be gaining access

Analysis/ development – Deviant and criminal groups may be unwilling to allow researchers to gain access because they may fear prosecution if the authorities find out about them.

Analysis/ development – some groups may be unwilling to take part in research because of social stigma

Analysis/ development – there may even be language barriers which prevent access, as is often the case with PO conducted by anthropologists.

Evaluation -you can overcome these problems – covert observation may be used to research deviant groups, and selecting researchers with the appropriate stills can overcome the other two limitations.

A second practical problem is that some studies can be very time consuming

Analysis/ development – Some Participant Observation studies have taken so long that the findings may no longer be relevant—e.g. Gang Leader for a Day.

Analysis/ development – Longitudinal studies face problems of continuity—future researchers may do things differently to the person who started them, and dropout rates are high.

Evaluation – However, you can use unstructured interviews as a compromise.

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The Condition of Postmodernity (David Harvey): A Summary of Chapter Five

Condition PostmodernityA summary of David Harvey’s (1989) The Condition of Postmodernity’: An Inquiry Into the Origins of Cultural Change.

This is a summary of chapter five. You like to read my summaries of chapters one and two and three first of all:

The Condition of Postmodernity: A Summary of Chapter 5.

NB this is a very heavy going chapter….

Modernism is an aesthetic response to conditions of modernity produced by modernization. A proper interpretation of the rise of postmodernism, therefore, ought to grapple with the nature of modernization. Only in that way will we be able to judge whether postmodernism is a different reaction to an unchanging modernization process, or whether it reflects  a radical shift in the nature of modernization itself, towards some kind of ‘post-industrial’ or even ‘post capitalist’ society.

Marx provides one of the earliest and most complete accounts of capitalist modernization. His theory of capitalist modernization makes for particularly compelling reading when set against the cultural theses of postmodernity.

In The communist manifesto Marx and Engels argue that the bourgeoisie has created a new internationalism via the world market, together with:

  • ‘subjection of nature’s forces to man,
  • machinery,
  • application of chemistry to agriculture and industry,
  • steam navigation, railways, electric telegraphs,
  • clearing of whole continents for cultivation, canalization of rivers,
  • whole populations conjured out of the ground.’

It has done this at great cost:

  • violence,
  • destruction of traditions,
  • oppression,
  • reduction of the valuation of all activity to the cold calculus of money and profit.

Furthermore:

‘Constant revolutionizing of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social relations, everlasting uncertainty and agitation, distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier times. All fixed, fast-frozen relationships, with their train of venerable ideas and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become obsolete before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and men at last are forced to face with sober sense the real conditions of their lives and their relations with their fellow men’. (Marx and Engels, 1 952, 25) .

Marx here unleashes a rhetoric that defines the underside of al modernist aesthetics.

Marx begins Capital with an analysis of commodities, those everyday things (food, shelter, clothing, etc.) which we daily consume in the course of reproducing ourselves. Yet the commodity IS, he avers, ‘a mysterious thing’ because it simultaneously embodies both a use value (it fulfils a particular want or need) and an exchange value (I can use it as a bargaining chip to procure other commodities). This duality always renders the commodity ambiguous for us; shall we consume it or trade it away?

But as exchange relations proliferate and price-fixing markets form, so one commodity typically crystallizes out as money. With money the mystery of the commodity takes on a new twist, because the use value of money is that it represents the world of social labour and of exchange value. Money becomes the means by which we typically compare and assess the value of all commodities. Plainly, since the way we put value on things is important, an analysis of money is of interest.

The advent of a money economy, Marx argues, dissolves the bonds and relations that make up ‘traditional’ communities so that ‘money becomes the real community.’ We move from a social condition, in which we depend directly on those we know personally, to one in which we depend on impersonal and objective relations with others. As exchange relations proliferate, so money appears more and more as ‘a power external to and independent of the producers,’ so what ‘originally appears as a means to promote production becomes a relation alien’ to them.

Money concerns dominate producers. Money and market exchange draws a veil over, ‘masks’ social relationships between things. This condition Marx calls ‘the fetishism of commodities.’ It is one of Marx’s most compelling insights, for it poses the problem of how to interpret the real but nevertheless superficial relationships that we can readily observe in the market place in appropriate social terms.

The conditions of labour and life, the sense of joy, anger, or frustration that lie behind the production of commodities, the states of mind of the producers, are all hidden to us as we exchange one object (money) for another (the commodity). We can take our daily breakfast without a thought for the myriad people who engaged in its production. All traces of exploitation are obliterated in the object (there are no finger marks of exploitation in the daily bread). We cannot tell from contemplation of any object in the supermarket what conditions of labour lay behind its production.

Marx’s meta-theory seeks to tear away that fetishistic mask, and to understand the social relations that lie behind it. Marx would surely criticise postmodernists for simply focusing on the ‘masking’ without looking deeper at the social relations of production which lie behind the production of commodities.

But we can take the analysis of money deeper still. If money is to perform its functions effectively, Marx argues, it must be replaced by mere symbols of itself (coins, tokens, paper currency, credit), which lead it to be considered as a mere symbol, an ‘arbitrary fiction’ sanctioned by ‘the universal consent of mankind.’ Yet it is through these ‘arbitrary fictions’ that the whole world of social labour, of production and hard daily work, get represented.

In the absence of social labour, all money would be worthless. But it is only through money that social labour can be represented at all. The magical powers of money are compounded by the way owners ‘lend their tongues’ to commodities by hanging a price ticket on them, appealing to ‘cabalistic signs’ with names like pounds, dollars, francs.

So even though money is the signifier of the value of social labour, the perpetual danger looms that the signifier will itself become the object of human greed and of human desire (the hoarder, the avaricious miser, etc.).

Money, on the one hand a ‘radical leveller’ of all other forms of social distinction, but is itself a form of social power that can be appropriated as ‘the social power of private persons.

Postmodernism seems to be a reinforcement rather than a transformation of the role of money as Marx depicts it – after all postmodernism suggests that we should focus on:

  • signifier rather than the signified,
  • the medium (money) rather than the message (social labour),
  • the emphasis on fiction rather than function,
  • on signs rather than things,
  • on aesthetics rather than ethics.

As commodity producers seeking money, however, we are dependent upon the needs and capacity of others to buy. Producers consequently have a permanent interest in cultivating ‘excess and intemperance’ in others….’ Pleasure, leisure, seduction, and erotic life are all brought within the range of money power and commodity production. Capitalism therefore ‘produces sophistication of needs and of their means on the one hand, and a bestial barbarization, a complete, unrefined, and abstract simplicity of need, on the other’ (Marx, 1964, 148). Advertising and commercialization destroy all traces of production in their imagery, reinforcing the fetishism that arises automatically in the course of market exchange.

Furthermore, money, as the supreme representation of social power in capitalist society, itself becomes the object of lust, greed, and desire. Yet here, too, we encounter double meanings. Money confers the privilege to exercise power over others – we can buy their labour time or the services they offer, even build systematic relations of domination over exploited classes simply through control over money power.

Money, in fact, fuses the political and the economic into a genuine political economy of overwhelming power relations (a problem that micro-theorists of power like Foucault systematically avoid and which macro-social theorists like Giddens – with his strict division between allocative and authoritative sources of power – cannot grasp).

The common material languages of money and commodities provide a universal basis within market capitalism for linking everyone into an identical system of market valuation and so procuring the reproduction of social life through an objectively grounded system of social bonding.

Yet within these broad constraints, we are ‘free,’ as it were, to develop our own personalities and relationships in our own way, our own ‘otherness,’ even to forge group language games, provided, of course, that we have enough money to live on satisfactorily.

Money is a ‘great leveller and cynic,’ a powerful underminer of fixed social relations, and a great ‘democratizer’. As a social power that can be held by individual persons it forms the basis for a wide-ranging individual liberty, a liberty that can be deployed to develop ourselves as free-thinking individuals without reference to others. Money unifies precisely through its capacity to accommodate individualism, otherness, and extraordinary social fragmentation.

But by what process is the capacity for fragmentation latent in the money form transformed into a necessary feature of capitalist modernization?

Participation in market exchange presupposes a certain division of labour as well as a capacity to separate (alienate) oneself from one’s own product. The result is an estrangement from the product of one’s own experience, a fragmentation of social tasks and a separation of the subjective meaning of a process of production from the objective market valuation of the product.

A highly organized technical and social division of labour is one of the founding principles of capitalist modernization. This forms a powerful lever to promote economic growth and the accumulation of capital, particularly under conditions of market exchange in which individual commodity producers (protected by private property rights) can explore the possibilities of specialization within an open economic system.

This explains the power of economic (free market) liberalism as a founding doctrine for capitalism. It is precisely in such a context that possessive individualism and creative entrepreneurialism, innovation, and speculation, can flourish, even though this also means a proliferating fragmentation of tasks and responsibilities, and a necessary transformation of social relations to the point where producers are forced to view others in purely instrumental terms.

The existence of wage labour is also required before profit-seeking (launching money into circulation in order to gain more money) can become the basic way for social life to be reproduced.

The conversion of labour into wage labour means ‘the separation of labour from its product, of subjective labour power from the objective conditions of labour’ (Capital, 1: 3). When capitalists purchase labour power they necessarily treat it in instrumental terms: the labourer is viewed as a ‘hand’ rather than as a whole person and the labour contributed is a ‘factor’ (notice the reification) of production.

The purchase of labour power with money gives the capitalist certain rights to dispose of the labour of others without necessary regard for what the others might think, need, or fee and this suggests one of the founding principles upon which the very idea of ‘otherness’ is produced and reproduced on a continuing basis in capitalist society. The world of the working class becomes the domain of that ‘other,’ which is necessarily rendered opaque and potentially unknowable by virtue of the fetishism of market exchange. Where an ‘other’ already existed (along gender or race lines for example) Capitalism also made use of this.

Capitalists strategically impose all kinds of conditions upon the labourer. The latter is typically alienated from the product, from command over the process of producing it, as well as from the capacity to realize the value of the fruit of her efforts – the capitalist appropriates that as profit. The capitalist has the power to mobilize the powers of co-operation, division of labour, and machinery as powers of capital over labour.

The result is an organized detail division of labour within the factory, which reduces the labourer to a fragment of a person. The ‘division of labour within the workshop implies the undisputed authority of the capitalist over men, that are but parts of a mechanism that belongs to him. This is enforced through hierarchies of authority and close supervision of tasks – of the workshop and the factory.

The division of labour in society ‘brings into contact independent commodity producers, who acknowledge no other authority but that of competition, it is anarchic

This enforced fragmentation, which is both social and technical, is further emphasized by the loss of control over the instruments of production. This turns the labourer effectively into an ‘appendage’ of the machine. Intelligence (knowledge, science, technique) is objectified in the machine, thus separating manual from mental labour and diminishing the application of intelligence on the part of the workers.

In all of these respects, the individual labourer is ‘made poor’ in individual productive powers ‘in order to make the collective labourer, and through him capital rich in social productive power’ (Capital, 1: 341). This process does not stop with the direct producers, with the peasants pulled off the land, the women and children forced to give of their labour in the factories and mines. The bourgeoisie ‘has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors,” and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than callous “cash payment.”

[It] ‘has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the man of science, into its paid wage labourers’ (The communist manifesto, 45)

The ‘bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionizing the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production because the ‘coercive laws’ of market competition force all capitalists to seek out technological and organizational changes that will enhance their own profitability vis-a-vis the social average, thus entraining all capitalists in leap-frogging processes of innovation that reach their limit only under conditions of massive labour surpluses.

Capitalism is necessarily technologically dynamic, not because of the mythologized capacities of the innovative entrepreneur but because of the coercive laws of competition and the conditions of class struggle endemic to capitalism.

The effect of continuous innovation, however, is to devalue, if not destroy, past investments and labour skills.

Creative destruction is embedded within the circulation of capital itself. Innovation exacerbates instability, insecurity, and in the end, becomes the prime force pushing capitalism into periodic paroxysms of crisis. Not only does the life of modern industry become a series of periods of moderate activity, prosperity, over-production, crisis, and stagnation, ‘but the uncertainty and instability to which machinery subjects the employment, and consequently the conditions of existence, of the operatives become normal.’

Furthermore:

All means for the development of production transform themselves into means of domination over, and exploitation of, the workers; they mutilate the labourer into a fragment of a man, degrade him to the level of an appendage of a machine, destroy every remnant of charm in his work and turn it into a hated toil; they distort the conditions under which he works, subject him during the labour-process to a despotism the more hateful for its meanness; they transform his life-time into working-time, and drag his wife and child beneath the wheels of the Juggernaut of capital. (Capital, 1: 604)

The struggle to maintain profitability sends capitalists racing off to explore all kinds of other possibilities. New product lines are opened up, and that means the creation of new wants and needs. Capitalists are forced to redouble their efforts to create new needs in others. The result is to exacerbate insecurity and instability, as masses of capital and workers shift from one line of production to another, leaving whole sectors devastated, while the perpetual flux in consumer wants, tastes, and needs becomes a permanent locus of uncertainty and struggle. This is global in scope.

The resultant transformation in the experience of space and place is matched by revolutions in the time dimension, as capitalists strive to reduce the turnover time of their capital to ‘the twinkling of an eye’. Capitalism, in short, is a social system internalizing rules that ensure it will remain a permanently revolutionary and disruptive force in its own world history. If, therefore, ‘the only ‘secure thing about modernity is insecurity,’ then it is not hard to see from where that insecurity derives.

Yet, Marx insists, there is a single unitary principle at work that underpins and frames all of this revolutionary upheaval, fragmentation, and perpetual insecurity. The principle resides in what he calls, most abstractly, ‘value in motion’ or, more simply, the circulation of capital restlessly and perpetually seeking new ways to garner profits.

By the same token, there are higher-order co-ordinating systems that seem to have the power – though in the end Marx will insist that this power is itself transitory and illusory – to bring order to all this chaos and set the path of capitalist modernization on a more stable terrain. The credit system, for example, embodies a certain power to regulate money uses; money flows can be switched so as to stabilize relations between production and consumption, to arbitrate between current expenditures and future needs, and to shift surpluses of capital from one line of production or region to another on a rational basis.

But here, too, we immediately encounter a central contradiction because credit creation and disbursement can never be separated from speculation. Credit is, according to Marx, always to be accounted for as ‘fictitious capital,’ as some kind of money bet on production that does not yet exist. The result is a permanent tension between what Marx calls ‘the financial system’ (credit paper, fictitious capital, financial instruments of all kinds) and its ‘monetary base’ (until recently attached to some tangible commodity such as gold or silver). This contradiction is founded on a particular paradox: money has to take some tangible form (gold, coin, notes, entries in a ledger, etc.) even though it is a general representation of all social labour.

The question of which of the diverse tangible representations is ‘real’ money typically erupts at times of crisis. Is it better to hold stocks and share certificates, notes, gold, or cans of tuna, in the midst of a depression? It also follows that whoever controls the tangible form (the gold producers, the state, the banks who issue credit) that is most ‘real’ at a given time, has enormous social influence, even if, in the last instance, it is the producers and exchangers of commodities in aggregate who effectively define ‘the value of money’ (a paradoxical term which we all understand, but which technically signifies ‘the value of value’).

Control over the rules of money formation is, as a consequence, a strongly contested terrain of struggle which generates considerable insecurity and uncertainty as to the ‘value of value.’ In speculative booms, a financial system which starts out by appearing as a sane device for regulating the incoherent tendencies of capitalist production, ends up becoming ‘the main lever for overproduction and over-speculation.’

The state, constituted as a coercive system of authority that has a monopoly over institutionalized violence, forms a second organizing principle through which a ruling class can seek to impose its will not only upon its opponents but upon the anarchical flux mentioned above.  The tools of ‘control’ include:

  • regulation of money and legal guarantees of fair market contracts
  • fiscal interventions
  • credit creation
  • tax redistributions
  • provision of social and physical infrastructures
  • direct control over capital and labour allocations as well as over wages and prices,
  • the nationalization of key sectors,
  • restrictions on working class power,
  • police surveillance and military repression.

Yet the state is a territorial entity struggling to impose its will upon a fluid and spatially open process of capital circulation. It has to contest within its borders the factional forces and fragmenting effects of widespread individualism and rapid social change. It also depends on taxation and credit markets, so that states can be disciplined by the circulation process at the same time as they can seek to promote particular strategies of capital accumulation.

To do so effectively the state must construct an alternative sense of community to that based on money, as well as a definition of public interests over and above the class and secretarian interests and struggles that are contained within its borders. It must, in short, legitimize itself.

It is, therefore, bound to engage to some degree in the aestheticization of politics.

‘The social revolution of the nineteenth century cannot draw its poetry from the past,’ Marx argues, ‘but only from the future.’ It must strip off  ‘all superstition in regard to the past,’ else ‘the tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living’ and converts the cathartic tragedy of revolution into the ritual of farce. In pitting himself so mercilessly against the power of myth and the aestheticization of politics, Marx in effect affirms their remarkable powers to stifle progressive working-class revolutions.

Marx criticised Bonapartism as doing just this, and we can criticse Facism as doing the same in the 20th century.

The tension between the stability that state regulation imposes, and the fluid motion of capital flow, remains a crucial problem for the social and political organization of capitalism. This difficulty is modified by the way in which the state stands itself to be disciplined by internal forces (upon which it relies for its power) and external conditions – competition in the world economy, exchange rates, and capital movements, migration, or, on occasion, direct political interventions on the part of superior powers.

The relation between capitalist development and the state has to be seen, therefore, as mutually determining rather than unidirectional. State power can, in the end, be neither more nor less stable than the political economy of capitalist modernity will allow.

 There are, however, many positive aspects to capitalist modernity:

  • The potential for reducing the powers of nature-imposed necessities over our lives.
  • The creation of new wants and needs can alert us to new cultural possibilities (of the sort that avant-garde artists were later to explore).
  • Even the ‘variation of labour, fluency of function, universal mobility of the labourer’ holds the potential to replace the fragmented worker ‘by the fully developed individual.
  • The reduction of spatial barriers and the formation of the world market not only allows a generalized access to the diversified products of different regions and climes, but also puts us into direct contact with all the peoples of the earth.
  • Above all, the passage to postmodernity opens up new vistas for human development and self-realization.

Revolutions in technology rendered possible by the division of labour and the rise of the materialist sciences had the effect of demystifying the processes of production (aptly called ‘mysteries’ and ‘arts’ in the pre-modern period) and opening up the capacity to liberate society from scarcity and the more oppressive aspects of nature-imposed necessity. This was the good side of capitalist modernization.

The problem, however, was to liberate us from the fetishisms of market exchange and to demystify (and by extension demythologize) the social and historical world in exactly the same way. This was the scientific task that Marx set himself in Capital.

However, until we reach socialism, there is always the possibility for nature to be re-mythologised.

It is out of the tension between the negative and positive qualities of capitalism that new ways to define our species being can be constructed: Capital may well create Bourgeois society and all of the exploitation and fetishisms that go along with it, but Capital also drives beyond national barriers and prejudices and beyond nature worship…. [beyond] all traditional, confined, complacent, encrusted satisfactions of present needs, and reproduction of old ways of life. (Grundrisse, 410)

Marx gives us plenty of advice on how we might fuse all the sporadic though widespread resistances, discontents, and struggles against the oppressive, destructive, fragmenting, and destabilizing aspects of life under capitalism so as to master the maelstrom and become collective creators of our own history according to conscious plan.

What Marx depicts, therefore, are social processes at work under capitalism conducive to individualism, alienation, fragmentation, ephemerality, innovation, creative destruction, speculative development, unpredictable shifts in methods of production and consumption (wants and needs), a shifting experience of space and time, as well as a crisis-ridden dynamic of social change. If these conditions of capitalist modernization form the material context out of which both modernist and postmodernist thinkers and cultural producers forge their aesthetic sensibilities, principles, and practices, it seems reasonable to conclude that the turn to postmodernism does not reflect any fundamental change of social condition.

The rise of postmodernism either represents a departure (if such there is) in ways of thinking about what could or should be done about that social condition, or else (and this is the proposition we explore in considerable depth in Part II) it reflects a shift in the way in which capitalism is working these days.

In either case, Marx’s account of capitalism, if correct, provides us with a very solid basis for thinking about the general relations between modernization, modernity, and the aesthetic movements that draw their energies from such conditions.

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Outline and Explain Two Reasons Why Interpretivists Prefer to Use Qualitative Research Methods

A model answer to a possible 10 mark question which could appear on the AQA’s A-level papers 1 or 3.

Three possible ‘reasons’…

Interpretivism research methods.png

A developed model answer…

NB Warning – this is total overkill and probably completely unrepresentative of what 95% of actual A-level students are capable of producing.

The first reason is that Interpretivists believe that social realities are complex, and that individual’s identities are the results of 1000s of unique micro-interactions.

For example, labelling theory believes that students fail because of low teacher expectations, and these expectations are communicated to students in subtle ways over many months or years, until a student ends up with a self-concept of themselves as ‘thick’.

There is simply no way that quantitative methods such as structured questionnaires can capture these complex (‘inter-subjective’) micro interactions. In order to assess whether labelling has taken place, and whether it’s had an effect, you would need to go into a school and ideally observe it happening over a long period, and talk to students about how their self-perceptions have changed, which would require qualitative methods such as unstructured interviews. Alternatively you could use diaries in which students document their changing self concept.

A further reason why qualitative methods would be good in the above example is that you could, as a researcher, check whether teachers do actually have negative perceptions of certain students (rather than it being all in the student’s minds) – again qualitative methods are vital here – you would have to probe them, ask them testing questions, and look for body-language clues and observe them interacting to really assess whether labelling is taking place.

It would be all too easy for a teacher to lie about ‘not labelling’ if they were just filling out a self-completion questionnaire.

A second reason Interpretivists prefer qualitative methods stems from Goffman’s Dramaturgical Theory – People are actors on a ‘social stage’ who actively create an impression of themselves.

Goffman distinguished between ‘front stage’ performances of social roles and the ‘back stage’ aspects of life (at home) where we are more ‘true to ourselves’.

Goffman argued that some people put on ‘genuine performances’ – e.g. one teacher might really believe in teaching, and genuinely care about their students – their professional role is who they ‘really are’. Others, however, put on what he calls ‘cynical performances’ – another teacher, for example, might act like they care, because their school tells them to, but behind the scenes they hate the job and want to do something else.

A Qualitative method such as participant observation would be pretty much the only way to uncover whether someone is genuinely or cynically acting our their social roles – because the flexibility of following the respondent from front stage to back stage would allow the researcher to see ‘the mask coming off’.

If you just used a questionnaire, even a cynical teacher would know what boxes to tick to ‘carry on the performance’, and thus would not give you valid results.

 

 

Theory and Methods A Level Sociology Revision Bundle 

If you like this sort of thing, then you might like my Theory and Methods Revision Bundle – specifically designed to get students through the theory and methods sections of  A level sociology papers 1 and 3.

Contents include:

  • 74 pages of revision notes
  • 15 mind maps on various topics within theory and methods
  • Five theory and methods essays
  • ‘How to write methods in context essays’.

 

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Analyse two reasons why women remain economically disadvantaged compared to men despite the increase in the gender gap in educational achievement (10)

Using material from item A and elsewhere, analyse two reasons why women remain economically disadvantaged compared to men despite the increase in the gender gap in educational achievement (10)

Item A

Girls have been outperforming boys in education for 30 years now. However, despite this, men still earn more than women.

There are many explanations for this: the most obvious being that schools fail to adequately tackle other aspects of gender inequality: such as gender differences in socialisation, social roles and gendered differences in subject choice.

Suggested Answer

gender gap education work

One reason is that despite getting better qualifications than men, women are more likely to work part-time than men.

This is because despite changes to education in the world of work women are still more likely to be the primary child carers, and thus take time off work, putting their careers on hold in order to bring up children.

According to Radical Feminists this shows that schools fail to tackle in-grained gendered socialisation learnt at home and via the media…. girls may increasingly be going into careers, but by the time they get to 35 and have their first baby it is generally women who take time off work, not men.

This might be because schools only focus on the formal aspects of qualifications (i.e. exam skills, grades) and fail to challenge gender-stereotypes about appropriate future work roles for men and women.

This could also be linked marketization – the curriculum narrows to focus on teaching to the test rather than focussing on broader educational issues such as promoting gender equality and diversity.

A second reason may be that girls are more likely to choose caring subjects which are linked to lower paid careers such as health and social care which leads into nursing.

In contrast boys choose more technical subjects which are linked to more highly paid careers, such as maths and computer programming leading onto engineering and computer programming.

According to labelling theory, this happens because of gendered stereotypes held by careers advisors, with subject advisors steering girls and boys into ‘traditional subject choices’.

This criticises the Liberal Feminist view that mere ‘equality of opportunity’ is sufficient to being about wage equality, and supports the Radical Feminist view that patriarchy (in the form of stereotypical assumptions) still works within schools to disadvantage girls.

However, all of this is changing and that a higher proportion of girls are choosing to do traditionally male subjects and are going into male jobs in greater numbers and that things are actually becoming more equal. Supporting evidence for this lies in the fact that women in their 20s actually earn more than men in their 20s.

 

 

Women do lower payed jobs than men.

Gender gap

Educational achievement

Also subject choice

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Sociological perspectives on the relationship between education and work

Functionalism

Education teaches us specialist skills for work – At school, individuals learn the diverse skills necessary for this to take place. For example, we may all start off learning the same subjects, but later on we specialize when we do GCSEs. This allows for a complex division of labour to take place.

Role Allocation and meritocracy – Education allocates people to the most appropriate job for their talents using examinations and qualifications. This ensures that the most talented are allocated to the occupations that are most important for society. This is seen to be fair because there is equality of opportunity – everyone has a chance of success and it is the most able who succeed through their own efforts – this is known as meritocracy

 Marxism

The reproduction of class inequality and the myth of meritocracy – In school, the middle classes use their material and cultural capital to ensure that their children get into the best schools and the top sets. This means that the wealthier pupils tend to get the best education and then go onto to get middle class jobs. Meanwhile working class children are more likely to get a poorer standard of education and end up in working class jobs. In this way class inequality is reproduced

 School teaches the skills future capitalist employers need through the ‘Hidden Curriculum (e.g. pupils Learn to accept authority; they learn to accept hierarchy, and motivation by external rewards)

Paul Willis

Willis described the friendship between the 12 boys (or the lads) he studied as a counter-school culture. Their value system was opposed to that of the school. They looked forward to paid manual work after leaving school and identified all non-school activities (smoking, going out) with this adult world, and valued such activities far more than school work. The lads believed that manual work was proper work, and the type of jobs that hard working pupils would get were all the same and generally pointless.

 Feminism

Stereotypical views of teachers and careers advisors as well as peer group pressure means that subject choices are still shaped by traditional gender norms – which limits the kind of jobs boys and girls go onto do in later life.

Even though girls do better at school, they still get paid less than men, so qualifications do not necessarily result in more pay!

 The New Right

The mid 1970s was a time of rising unemployment in Britain, particularly among the young.  It was argued that the education system was not producing a skilled enough workforce and that the needs of the economy were not being met. From the mid 1970s both the Conservative and Labour governments agreed that education should be more focussed on improving the state of the economy by providing training courses for young people in different areas of work.

This emphasis on meeting the needs of industry became known as ‘New Vocationalism’ which first took off in the 1980s.

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Does Peppa Pig Encourage Unnecessary G.P Visits?

Peppa Pig is one of the most recognizable celebrities in the U.K., recognizable by 93% of 18-24 year olds (compared to only 78% who recognize Jeremy Corbyn); s/he (?) is one of our most popular exports: now viewed in 180 countries in 40 languages; and s/he’s also the only pig in the world worth over £1 billion.

Media-effects-Peppa-Pig

But is this cutesy character unintentionally increasing strain on another national treasure : our beloved NHS. G.P. Dr Catherine Bell argues that it does – she even wrote an article for the British Medical Journal about it!

NB – In case you’ve never seen it: An episode of Peppa Pig…

G.P. Dr Catherine Bell regularly watches Peppa Pig with her toddler, and, based on (a largely involuntary, as she puts it), analysis of several programmes, has concluded that the relationship ‘Dr Brown Bear’ has with the ;Peppa Pig family’ misrepresents the way in which G.P.s deal with minor ailments in reality.

Dr Bell says of the above episode (NB her full article is well worth a read, it’s funny in a serious sort of way.)

‘In ‘George Gets a Cold’ Dr Brown Bear conducts a telephone triage outside normal working hours and again opts to make a clinically inappropriate urgent home visit. Had he explored Daddy Pig’s ideas, concerns, and expectations, he would have discovered that Daddy Pig already had a good understanding of the likely diagnosis and self limiting nature of the illness. ‘.

In the article (linked above) Dr Bell hypothesizes that the overall effects of the unrealistic representation of how G.P.s actually act actually encourages parents of toddlers to make unnecessary trips to their G.P.s: by encouraging them to seek medical advice for minor ailments which would clear up by themselves, for example. She basis her hypothesis on the fact that just the sheer exposure of parents to Peppa Pig must have some kind of effect.

Shame we can’t test it out in practice!

 

 

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Who is Poor in the UK?

In brief, 22% of the UK population, or 13.9 million people live in poverty in the UK (2016). Poverty rates are higher for lone parent households (46%), disabled households (34), and rates also vary significantly by ethnicity (e.g. the Bangladeshi poverty rate = 50%).

Below is a summary of the latest statistics on the characteristics of those living in poverty in the UK. NB These are the latest stats I could find which have been comprehensively analysed by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, based on their 2017: Poverty in the UK report. 

Poverty 2018.png

If you can’t see the above chart online (it’s designed to be downloaded and printed off in A3) the it’s all replicated below!

Basic Poverty in the UK Statistics 

A total of 13.9 million people lived in poverty in the UK in 2015-16, or 22% of people live below the poverty line, 30% children, and 18% of pensioners. However, there is significant variation between the proportion of working age adults, pensioners and children living in poverty.

Poverty statistics UK

What is Poverty?

Relative poverty: the stats in the JRF report summarised here mainly show  ‘relative poverty’: when a family has an income of less than 60% of median income for their family type, after housing costs.

A related measure is persistent poverty which is when a person is currently in poverty and has been in poverty for at least two of the three preceding years.

For more details for different ways of defining and measuring poverty please see this post: What is poverty?

Poverty rates by household type

46% of lone parent households are in poverty, twice as many as all other household types.

Household Poverty

Poverty Lines

The ‘poverty line’ varies by household type:

Family type £ per week, equivalised,

2015/16 prices

  • Couple with no children     = £248
  • Single with no children       = £144
  • Couple with two children*  = £401
  • Single with two children*   = £297

*aged 5 to 14

Poverty varies most significantly by disability 

In 2016 34% of working-age adults in families with disabled members lived in poverty, compared with 17% of those who did not.

Disable Poverty

Poverty also varies by ethnicity 

Approx. 2016 rates for working age adults Bangladeshi – 50%, Pakistani – 45%, Black British 37%, White – 19%.

Poverty ethnicity

Find out more…

There are other variations in poverty highlighted by the JRF report (link above), I’ve just selected the main ‘in focus’ trends as things stand in 2017.

NB on the ‘data lag’ – that’s just one of the problems of Official Statistics more generally – most of the data above has been analysed from various different types of government stats, which are already a year out of data before the ONS publishes them, then you have wait further for the JRF summary. If you want the 2018 stats, you’ll just have to wait til 2019!

If you like this sort of thing, then you might also like my previous post on ‘Poverty Trends’ in the UK, which looks at how poverty rates changed between 1996 and 2016.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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UK Poverty Trends 1996 – 2017

The UK has seen significant falls in poverty over the last 20 years, HOWEVER, this progress is now at risk of reversing as poverty rates have been increasing in recent years. This blog posts summarizes the 20 year trend in UK Poverty according to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s 2017 Poverty Report. Specifically it looks at:

  • The overall 20 year trend in UK poverty
  • poverty among pensioners and children
  • Three drivers of the reduction in poverty rates
  • Three threats to the continued reduction in poverty rates

NB I’m using the same information from the report, but I’ve changed the order in which it’s reported and summarized it down further. Personally I think my version is much more immediately accessible to your ‘non-expert’: IMO the ‘JRF have a tendency to ‘over-report’ reams of nuanced data, and the overall picture just gets lost. The detail’s important if you’re a policy wonk, but probably going to get lost on the average, interested member of the general public.

Before reading this post you might like to check out my ‘what is poverty?‘ post which covers the basic definition of some of the terms used below. 

The overall 20 year trend in UK poverty….the fall and rise of UK poverty rates

20 years ago, in 1996, nearly a quarter (24%) of the UK’s population lived in poverty. By 2004, this had fallen to one in five (20%) of the population. However, by 2016, the proportion had risen slightly to 22%.

Relative Poverty Rates UK 1996 to 2016.png

*Relative poverty is when a family has an income of less than 60% of median income for their family type, after housing costs.

Children and pensioners living in poverty 

As the chart above clearly shows, the biggest success stories in the long term reduction in poverty over the last 20 years are the numbers of pensioners who have been taken out of poverty and (to a lesser extent) the number of children.. As the chart above shows:

  • In 1995, 28% of pensioners lived in poverty, falling to 13% in 2012, but rising to 16% by 2016.
  • In 1995, a third of children lived in poverty, falling to 27% in 2012, but rising to 30% in 2016
  • However, during that time the proportion of working age couples without children in poverty actually grew slightly, from 16% to 18%.

Factors correlated with falling poverty rates

The report notes three main factors which are mainly responsible for this long term overall decline in poverty:

  1. Rising employment, linked with higher wages due to the minimum wage, and better education.
  2. Increased support through benefits, especially the increase in the state pension age, but also out of work benefits for working age people with children
  3. Housing benefit and increased home ownership containing the impact of rising rents.

Factors explaining the long term decrease of UK Poverty in more depth 

It seems that the main drivers behind the long-term decrease in poverty in the UK are the ‘positive’ economic factors such as improvements in the employment rate, pay and conditions, rather than increases to benefits. 

Below I select what appear to be the five most import factors from the report which explain the long term decrease in poverty. 

The increase in the state pension 

The most significant reduction in poverty has been achieved with pensioners, and according to the JRF report, the main reason for this was a one off increase in the state pension at the beginning of the century:

trend pensioner poverty UK 2018.png

NB – there is a lot of variation in pensioner income, which I may explore in a future post…

 

The employment rate has increase from around 71% in 1996 to around 75% in 2016…

Employment rates UK 2017.png

NB – while you are statistically more likely to be in poverty if you’re not in-work, being employed it itself is not sufficient to avoid being in poverty. Both the introduction of the minimum wage, and changes to in work benefits for lone parents have been essential to making sure that a higher proportion of people in employment are also not officially in poverty. While work today is more likely to lift you out of poverty than in 1996, it remains the case that a large percentage of those in poverty are in-work (typically in part-time jobs). 

Earnings are up for people with all levels of qualifications…

Increase wages UK 2017

Obviously higher earnings are more likely to lift people out of poverty, HOWEVER, at the bottom end of the income earning scale, and especially for those with children and in part-time jobs, the increasing cost of living, especially rent (but also childcare and even food and utilities) has negated much of the above increase in wages, hence why government support in the form of child tax credits and housing benefit remains important.

The number of people with degrees has nearly trebled in this period: from around 12% of the UK population to over 30%

Increase degrees UK 2016

Those with degrees earn approximately twice the amount of those with no qualifications, so it would seem that New Labour’s focus on ‘education, education, education‘, and their push to get more people into higher education has had a positive impact in poverty reduction. However, with the introduction of tuition fees and with increasing competition for highly skilled jobs coming from abroad, it’s not clear that this trend (of more and more people getting degrees) is set to continue.

The introduction of the national minimum wage has resulted in a 46% relative pay increase for the poorest 10%, compared to a 40% median national increase

Increase earnings UK 2016

Both the introduction of the minimum wage and its subsequent increases seem to have been one of the most important factors in tackling in-work poverty. However, even with the minimum wage, a possible future barrier to further poverty reduction lies in the growth of precarious jobs leading to ‘underemployment’ – where people get too few hours to earn a decent living. For more on this, see my summary of the RSA’s report on ‘Future Work in the UK‘.

The increase in out of work benefits for people with children 

 

Out of work benefits.png

Basically, there has a been a very slight long-term increase in out of work benefits for people with children, who are now slightly better off than 20 years ago, while poor people without children have seen no change, or are slightly worse off.

I guess this leads to an overall reduction in the poverty rate simply because there are more people per family household rather than just couple or single person household.

You can see from the above chart, that lone parents claiming JSA and child benefits were briefly lifted to 60% of median income (just on the poverty line) – sufficient to take them out of poverty, however, you can also see that benefits are again being cut back, so we can probably expect poverty rates to increase again in the future!

And one factor which doesn’t seem to explain the overall reduction in poverty… changes to in-work benefits…

in work benefits.png

With the exception of single parents who are better off over a twenty year period, every other household type seems to be worse off! Thus I can’t see how this variable would explain the long term decrease in UK poverty.

Potential barriers to further reductions in poverty 

All three of the main drivers of poverty reduction mentioned above are now under question:

  1. The continued rise in employment is no longer reducing poverty.
  2. State support for low-income families is falling in real terms, and negates the gains made by increasing employment and wages.
  3. Rising rents, less help for low-income renters and falling home ownership leave more people struggling to meet the cost of housing.

Sources

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation: UK Poverty 2017

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Contemporary Sociology: The Parsons Green Tube Bomber

The Tube Bomber: A “Duty” to Hate Britain?

The case of Ahmed Hassan, the 18 year old Iraqi asylum seeker who planted a homemade bomb onto a London tube train in September 2017, injuring 51 people is a good candidate for the most serious crime of 2017. Had his device worked properly (it ‘only’ created a fireball rather than actually exploding) dozens of people would have died.

Hassan was sentenced to life in March 2018, and ordered to serve a minimum of 34 years.

Hassan claimed that he never wanted to kill anyone, he said he was depressed and seeking attention and thrills, having watched Mission Impossible films and developed the fantasy of being a fugitive pursued by Interpol across Europe.

However, there was also the fact that he seemed to have harboured intense loathing of the UK, which he blamed for his death in an explosion in Iraq a decade ago. When he arrived in the UK in 2015 (illegally in the back of a lorry) he told immigration officials that he’d been seized by Islamic State and ‘trained to kill’ (although he claimed to have made this up in court); and he had previously been seen watching extremist videos and apparently sending money to Isis. He’d also told one of his teachers that he had a ‘duty to hate Britain’.

What’s interesting about this case, is how all of the ‘standard’ preventive measures just failed to work….he had been given a foster couple who ‘showered him with love’ and was getting on well with his education – in fact, he seemed to be flourishing, having been made student of the year in 2017 in his college in Surrey: although he actually used his £20 Amazon voucher prize to buy chemicals for his bomb, which he then packed with knives, screwdrivers and nails.

Hassan had also been referred to the ‘Prevent’ deradicalisation programme, but this clearly didn’t work, and social services didn’t even warn his foster parents about his extremist leanings.

Relevance to A-level sociology…

At first glance, this seems to be a good case study which illustrates the necessity the take a stronger line on illegal immigration…if someone can commit a crime of this magnitude with all of the Preventative measure we already have in place, surely it’s impossible to prevent something like this happening again? Maybe a tougher line on immigration would have prevented this?

However, what we’re not seeing with just one dramatic case study is the bigger picture – all of the other cases that the authorities are preventing with their various crime control techniques… and let’s not forget that in complex risk society it is practically impossible to eradicate all ‘bad things’ from happening, so perhaps we just have to need to learn to live with this without panicking unduly.

This could also possibly show us the failings of ‘categorical suspicion’ as a means of crime control – possibly the fact that Hassan had ‘good foster parents’ and he was doing well at college were enough for the authorities to disregard all the other warning signs?

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Why has Police Recorded Crime Doubled in Three Years?

The number of violent crimes and sex offences recorded by police in England and Wales have more than doubled in the last four years.

violent_crime_statistics

This is an excellent article by the BBC summarising this trend, with a pretty shocking embedded video in which reporters witness two serious crimes: one ‘moped mugging’ and another just ‘regular’ attempted mugging in a park.

The latest police figures for the 12 months to September from 44 forces show:

  • 68,968 robbery offences, up 29%
  • 138,045 sex offences, up 23%
  • 37,443 knife crime offences, up 21%
  • 1,291,405 violent crime offences, up 20%

However the ONS says higher-harm violent offences, such as knife crime occur in relatively low volumes, and also tend to be concentrated in cities and are therefore not “well-measured” by the Crime Survey.

Analysis (from the BBC)

Although there’s likely to be a dispute about the accuracy of the police crime figures because they hinge, to some extent, on the way forces log offences, how pro-active they are and the willingness of victims to come forward, they clearly demonstrate a rapidly rising caseload.

At the same time, the number of police officers has continued to fall: in the 12 months to last September, down 930 to 121,929. That combination – rising crime, declining police numbers – is creating enormous strain for forces.

Applying Perspectives to explain this increase in crime:

From Right Realist perspective, this increase crime will be a direct result of the declining police numbers, although the decline is so small, it probably doesn’t explain that much of the decrease.

From a Left Realist perspective, it could be due to increasing levels of marginalisation and relative deprivation (more likely?)

I think we can rule out postmodernism in the above cases – I don’t think (I might be wrong) that serious violent and sexual offences are done for the ‘thrill of the act’ – I’m fairly sure criminals don’t enjoy mugging people, for example.

From an Interactionist point of view, this increase in Police Recorded Crime (NB not reflected in the CSEW) is just an artefact of more people reporting crime – so there’s not necessarily a corresponding underlying increase.

What do you think the reasons are for the increase in the amount of violent crime recorded by the police in recent years?

 

 

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