Evaluate group interviews to investigate subject choices made by pupils

This methods in context question came up in the June 2022 A-level sociology education with theory and methods paper. 

Below I include the item, a plan and a possible response. NB this isn’t an easy question IMO!

The Item and Question 

Read Item C below and answer the question that follows

As well as compulsory subjects at school, pupils can often choose optional ones. Pupils may choose different subjects for a variety of reasons. They may have a personal interest or talent in a subject or act on the basis of advice given by parents, professionals working within schools or others. However, there are patterns in subject choices linked to class, gender and ethnicity which could result from factors external to schools. 

One way of studying differences in the subject choices made by pupils is to use group interviews. This type of interview can encourage deeper thought as participants can develop ideas put forward by other group members. However, participants may be influenced by peer pressure. Furthermore, some pupils, teachers and parents may find it difficult to find a time to meet as a group.

Applying material from Item C and your knowledge of research methods, evaluate the strengths and limitations of using group interviews to investigate the reasons for subject choices made by pupils.

Hints for Methods in Context Questions 

The difficulty with Methods in Context questions is keeping three things in mind at once:

  1. The specific topic as elaborated on by the item – in this case subject choice. 
  2. The research contexts – where and who you are researching. 
  3. The theoretical, practical and ethical strengths and limitations of the specific method – in this case group interviews.  

The easiest way to do this is to highlight the main points in the item and then do quick bullet points for the contexts and method. 

For example my plan to cover would look something like this: 

Topic (subject choice)Contexts Method – Group interviews
TAKEN FROM ITEM:
– Personal interest/ talent
-Advice from parents/ teachers/ others
– External factors (home, socialisation/ poverty/ culture)
-Influence of class, gender, ethnicity. 
– SCHOOL or HOME
– Who… pupils/ teachers/ parents. Mixture of the above 
– Practical – access/ time. 
-Theoretical – validity, reliability, representativeness.
-Also ethical factors such as consent.
  • I would then start with each of the four things on the left and TRY and relate them to BOTH context and then practical, ethnical, and theoretical issues. 
  • Then Contexts in relation to the method (and the topic)
  • And finally if you have time start with the method and relate to the other two. 
  • Try to not repeat yourself, but if you do it doesn’t matter, there are no points for style, but do make sure you have a conclusion!
  • Careful NOT to just recycle what’s in the item. 

This is NOT an easy question to answer!!! 

For more information on how to answer questions on methods in context

I briefly cover group interviews here

Evaluate group interviews to investigate subject choices made by pupils

Suggested answer below…

(First a reminder of the question AND item!)

an item for an A-level sociology methods in context exam question.

One of the general strengths of group interviews is it allows for respondents to bounce ideas off each other. This means you could get more in-depth answers than when interviewing individuals. It also allows for respondents to check each other’s answers for accuracy. A group interview can also be like a conversation, where the respondents are talking among themselves, which is natural. If the researcher is skilled they may even drift into the background. The researcher can also check group dynamics to know when to interject and possibly detect if respondents are exaggerating or lying based on the responses of others. All of this means group interviews should have relatively high validity. 

However these strengths may not apply when researching this particular topic of subject choice. 

If you are researching small groups of students and trying to find out their personal motives for choosing say science, or maths or performing arts, for example, they may not be forthcoming with their real motives if those motives are not perceived as being acceptable to peers. Embarrassment may prevent individuals from telling the truth in a group setting because of peer pressure. 

Similarly ideas about what is acceptable or cool may result in students in a group giving you what they see as socially desirable motives rather than their actual motives. For example among boys it might be desirable to make a lot of money, so that might be the reason given for choosing economics, rather than them just being interested in the subject.

Validity may further be reduced by the types of student, as mentioned in the item. Working class boys are more likely to see taking an interest in school as cool, thus you are less likely to get valid information about students liking a subject as the motive. However with middle class boys it is more acceptable to express interest in school work. 

Where parental influence is concerned it may be seen as shameful to admit this in front of one’s peers, so this method wouldn’t be good here. 

Girls are more comfortable with conversational settings and discussing their feelings, thus you are more likely to get valid information about why girls choose their subjects compared to boys. 

The mix of different classes, different genders and ethnicities in the group would also influence the results. In terms of reliability, it would be more difficult to repeat if you had a mixture because you may not be able to get the same mix in other schools. 

Thus if you want reliability, you might want to do research on just boys and girls from one class background and ethnicity. 

Another way of doing this would be to research on a subject by subject basis, and ask students why they chose that subject, here you would probably get more specific information compared to asking students in general. 

Another possible way of getting validity in group settings might be to get all the boys, for example, who chose typically girls subjects, they might be more willing to open up if they are with other students who have chosen subjects outside of their gender domain. .

You can also research with parents and teachers, the latter may be able to tell you their take on why students choose different subjects. In terms of researching parents I think you’d have little to gain because they don’t necessarily know their children’s real reasons, and they could be just as unwilling to open up about their role in subject choice in a group. 

From a practical point of view you would have to do these interviews in school, it’s going to be difficult to get groups of students together outside. This means you’d need to get past the headmaster, the teacher, gain parental consent ideally, it would be tricky practically. 

And students would either need to agree to stay after school or be given time off lessons. 

Group interviews would be quicker than individual interviews initially, you could research up to 5 students, any more and some students may clam up or sit back given the size of the group, but it would take a long time to transcribe. 

You would be able to interview dozens of students in say a week, in one school, using this method, so it’s good for representativeness. 

Ethically this allows for students to speak for themselves. 

It might be best to do this BEFORE students take their subject choices, that way students are more likely to be open about pressure, and it might make them think more about making choices independently. This could be a good method for improving reflexivity in the research process. 

In conclusion I don’t think this is a good method for researching this topic, it is too sensitive to reasonably expect students to open up about it. 

However if you were to be very selective and select all the non typical students who have chosen one subject it could work to yield valid, if not very representative data. 

Thoughts on this question 

It is not an easy question. This is mainly because this is not a particularly good method for this topic. Also it’s one of the LEAST interesting topics for students to have to think about. 

Because of these two factors, it is precisely the kind of question that will give you that empty and numb feeling. Especially in the exam you might well sit there and feel a sense of dredd. You might feel angry: ‘what is the point of this’? I think this and I’m a teacher INTERESTED in this kind of stuff. I can only imagine how bad this must have been for an average A-level student. 

For the most part the examiners have provided some pretty good questions over the last few years. THIS is an exception, you just had to suck it up and get on with it! 

But it is what it is. 

Sources 

For more information on how to answer questions on methods in context

For more general advise on all sociology exam papers.

Mark Scheme for 2022 paper 7192/1

The examiners report June 2022 for paper 7292/1

Sociological Perspectives on The TikTok Reselling Trend 

Reselling is when people buy cheap goods from one retailer and then sell them on at a higher price for profit. Reselling is one of the latest trends on TikTok. 

One such TikToker is a guy named Sam. He started out with buying branded clothing from charity shops and then selling them online for a profit. More recently he has been buying cheap products in bulk from supermarkets and selling them using Amazon’s Fulfilment Centers. 

He recently posted a video on TikTok of himself buying 100 lunch boxes from Tesco. Tesco had them for sale for £0.89, but Sam knew they sold for £7 on Amazon. He claims he made £1000 profit from selling these (he went back the  next day and bought more!). 

However, according to this article in the Sun newspaper, some people have criticised him. The consensus seems to be that he is a bit sad. The feeling is that he’s going against hidden social norms by buying as many as he can. He’s criticised for not leaving enough so other people can benefit from the cheap prices. 

Sociological Analysis 

I’m going to analyse two things from a sociological perspective here: one is Sam’s motives for doing this. The second is the societal reaction to Sam in Tesco. 

Motives 

Following Max Weber’s social action theory Sam is motivated by instrumental motives, and possibly value-rational motives. 

  • His instrumental motive is to make a profit. This particular reselling event is one more step towards his stated aim of becoming a millionaire. Sam is clearly not bothered by the flack he’s getting, he’s focused on the goal. This is instrumental motivation.
  • It is quite likely he is also motivated by value-rational motives.  He thinks what he’s doing has inherent value. You can see this from his site, he’d ‘rather be doing this than working under a roof’. 

The inherent value in being an entrepreneur 

Entrepreneurialism is where individuals set up their own businesses to make a profit, rather than simply working for someone else. Sam probably identifies with this entrepreneur mindset. 

Being an entrepreneur is seen as worthwhile in itself, it is better than working a regular job. Being an entrepreneur means being a self-starter, an individual. It is about doing it for yourself, it means more freedom than working for someone else. You are your own boss, someone isn’t the boss of you. You are the one taking the risks, anything you achieve is because of your efforts. Being an entrepreneur is more dynamic, more exciting, more interesting, more varied than working a regular job. Finally, it’s simply a smarter way of making money than working 9-5. In Sam’s case he’s making a decent amount of money without making that much effort.  

Self-concept

From an interactionist point of view you have to understand how someone sees themselves in order to understand them. I think this is very much the case here. Sam seems to be constructing an active identity based around being an entrepreneur. TikTok is simply his aid in this. He identifies against the masses who he calls ‘Karens’. These are ordinary shoppers too set in their ways to make a quick profit like he’s doing. The masses are too stupid to be entrepreneurs, or too scared. 

NB Sam may or may not identify himself as an entrepreneur, I think it’s quite likely he does. However I’d say this is a base level of entrepreneurship. Reselling doesn’t involve creating, innovating, adding value, for example. 

In more complex terms you might call Sam a neoliberal subject. 

Reselling and Masculinity 

I don’t know how Sam identifies in terms of gender for certain, but reselling ticks many of the identifiers of traditional masculinity. At the very least by engaging in reselling, he’s proving he is smart (think back to Miller!). He displays this smartness by weighing up the risks. The tubs cost less than £1, he knows they will sell for a lot more, minimal risk. While the risk involved with this trade is minimal, he is taking on risk by choosing to be a reseller. There is no security with working for yourself, much less than with having income related to a job. This kind of individual risk taking, ‘bravery’ if you like is another trait of traditional masculinity. 

He’s also identifying with making money by making little effort, without really trying. This is something boys tend to do in school: they want to be seen to be successful without making the effort. 

Entrepreneurship and social status 

Post/ Late Modern Society tends to give positive social status to entrepreneurs, we massively celebrate entrepreneurialism in our culture. Sam has probably been influenced by the valorisation of entrepreneurialism in late modern society. 

We see this in many television programmes from The Apprentice to Dragons Den, and many more. We also increasingly see it on social media. So much of Facebook and TikTok are also full of people making money through side-hustles. In some cases these become their main sources of income. 

Add to this the fact that entrepreneurship is increasingly seen as the way we are going to solve social problems. It is no longer just nation states which tackle climate change or take us to space. There is a trend in which the world’s wealthiest individuals also set up private ventures to achieve these highly desirable global goals. 

In other words Sam is engaged in behaviour which is not only acceptable, but laudable from society’s point of view. 

The global and virtual versus the local and in-real-life 

Sam gets his ideas and sense of status from a global network posting on TikTok and other types of social media. There are small scale entrepreneurs in every country, not just the U.K. But to make a profit, Sam finds it easier to exploit local opportunities. In this case a one off sandwich box sale in a local Tesco. And he annoys local people! 

Societal Reaction 

Sam is here providing us with an interesting ethnomethodological case study. In doing something unusual, he shows up some hidden social norms. 

Transgression of social norms?

Sam has definitely transgressed a social norm by buying up most of these lunch boxes. Most people would feel uncomfortable buying so many. Some would buy maybe a dozen, but to stack a trolley FULL of them and spend over £100, that is unusual. 

Most ordinary people would feel the weight of the collective conscience and restrict the amount they bought. 

This restraint is one of many hidden norms in the supermarket, and it maybe goes along with a sense of Britishness: restraint, politeness, fairness. Sam has breached all of these. This is maybe while people are upset. 

However it’s also maybe because Sam is so blatant about it, he clearly doesn’t care. He doesn’t care what the Karens think. To do this, AND be so bold about it, this not-caring, that is maybe why people are so upset. It’s his attitude. 

However, as Sam points out in his reaction video to The Sun’s article, he is only operating according to the same logic as Tescos. He isn’t anywhere near as bad as Tesco, or Amazon, for that matter. 

He is most definitely NOT the main scourge of British society from a Marxist point of view! 

Tesco’s motives for selling some products cheap

Tesco doesn’t do these occasional cheap deals because it loves its customers. 

Tesco has a huge amount of data on consumer habits. It will know precisely what high profit items to stack next to cheap lunch boxes (for example). By doing this, Tesco can make more profit overall even if it makes no profit, or a slight loss on the special-offer items. The lunch boxes were probably next to lots of very expensive children’s healthy mini-snacks in this case. 

Moreover If people know there will usually be something on special offer, they are more likely to return to Tesco. Tesco always have some products on special offer in order to keep customers coming back. 

This is known as a loss-leading strategy. This is a sneaky way of making themselves look good. However, it is really about manipulating customers into being more loyal and spending more. 

Large companies can afford to do this more than smaller companies. This strategy, which Sam took advantage of, is one of the ways large companies maintain market dominance. 

Ultimately their aim is to increase profit, just like Sam’s. The only difference is that Sam’s profit making strategy of buying in bulk and selling elsewhere at a profit is in-your-face. It’s obvious, crude, not sneaky and devious like the way Tesco sets up these special offers. 

All Sam is really doing is preventing Tesco making even more money* and skimming some of that profit for himself. *If everyone does this people are just going to get annoyed that the special offer is out of stock, that wouldn’t encourage loyalty to Tesco.

Media exaggeration 

The Sun’s main motive is to get people to read so they can get more advertising revenue. The journalist who wrote this article knows very well it’s going to be popular. This event taps into so many current social themes. And it clearly got a lot of reads. This video got Sam 1.5 Million views, Sam’s regular videos get 10s of thousands.

However if you read the comments closely there doesn’t appear to have been that much hating of Sam going on, there is a lot of praise too. In other words there wasn’t that much of a reaction. 

And honestly, he’s buying a few cheap lunch boxes! 

Also, Sam’s regular audience is hardly at global influencer level. So really Sam’s reselling is no big deal in the grand scheme of things. 

Sam the Reseller Final Thoughts

If you’ve ever watched Only Fools and Horses, Delboy used to buy and sell. Sam is like a modern aged Delboy, maybe without the dodgy goods, and with a virtual twist! 

This is a fantastic case study which illustrates many sociological concepts! 

Thanks Sam!

Security, Surveillance and Crime Control in Digital Society 

The advent of digital society has powerful implications for social control, surveillance, crime and social policy. 

Digital societies are those in which digital technologies are today integrated into daily life. They have powerfully changed the way human societies are governed. 

Digital technologies provide massive volumes of data which are analysed and used to inform policing practices and social control policies more generally. 

The police use big Data to construct gang databases for selective surveillance, and in sentencing decision making. 

This post explores how crime control is changing with the rise of Smart Cities, focusing on predictive policing as part of this. It also applies several social theories to understanding social control in digital society and examines criticisms. 

Social Control in Smart Cities 

Smart Cities link digital and physical infrastructure to enable social ordering. 

They are often presented as being desirable places to lift, with some accounts being utopian. However, they also allow for huge volumes of data to be collected and used to control citizens. 

According to Laufs et al (2020) there are three layers of technologies within Smart Cities…

  1. The sensor layer which are data collection units. Most obviously cameras, but this also includes facial recognition software. 
  2. The network layer – the infrastructure to analyse and aggregate data.
  3. The actuator layer – alerts which inform actors to act on the basis of data collected. Fully automated machines or human beings will do this analysis.

Thus in Smart Cities hardware, software and human beings are all integrated into a crime control network. 

diagram outlining the key features of a smart city.

How Smart Cities change Crime 

Smart cities open up new opportunities for certain actors to commit crime, and make new types of crime possible:

  1. There is more potential for domestic state crimes to take place.  The State now has more data on more people than ever in human history. 
  2. There is more scope for international state crime to take place. Transnational Corporations have greater access to public data. 
  3. Corporations such as Meta harvest much of our data. Thus there is more potential for Corporate Crime
  4. There is more potential for organised crime groups to hack state or corporate data. 
  5. There is more potential for cyber-terrorism

Digital Cities have multiple attack vectors for criminals:

  • Weak software and password security is one way in. 
  • Poor maintenance of out of date software systems.
  • Cascade effects with higher levels of integration. 
  • Criminals may exploit human error and disgruntled employees as a way in. 

Examples of damaging cyber-crimes:

  • The 2019 Suxnet Worm attack on an Iranian nuclear facility
  • The ‘WannaCry’ ransomware attack which damaged the NHS’ patient databases in 2017. 
  • Russia’s cyber attack on Estonia in 2007 which targeted banking, news providers and voting systems. 
screencapture from the wannacry ransomware attack.
Screencapture from the wannaCry Ransomware attack.

Potential crimes we may see in Smart Cities include:

  • Taking control of traffic networks and vehicles. 
  • Attacks on Smart Buildings – control of lifts, lighting, heating. 
  • Healthcare emergency and response systems 
  • Falsifying payments through smart metres, for example. 

Implications for security and surveillance 

We are already seeing the increased use of Body Worn Cameras by the police. We also see more Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (Drones), and the increasing use of GPS tracking to control crime. 

Technology in Smart Cities can prevent crime in the following ways:

  • Detecting crimes through cameras and other surveillance tools.
  • Authenticating at secure entrances to only allow authorised persons to enter buildings. 
  • Identifying actual criminals through facial recognition software 
  • Profiling the types of people who may have committed a crime, using existing data. 
  • Tracking objects through GPS, which can help prevent theft or find stolen goods. 

We now have an increasing array of sensors beyond cameras. These include acoustic sensors (to detect gunshots for example), and atmospheric sensors to detect potential harmful substances. Cameras have also evolved to track gait analysis and facial features. There is even ‘sentiment’ analysis.  

In terms of analysis the police are using more and more data in certain cases. Digital Forensics is a growing field, used especially in child abuse cases. This might sometimes involve hours and hours of searching through all phone records or browsing history. 

Predictive Policing 

Predictive policing is where police forces use existing data to predict patterns in future offending.

Four ways in which policing has become predictive:

  1. Spatio-temporal – where and when are crimes more likely to occur..? 
  2. Predicting offenders – what types of people are more likely to commit crimes in the future..?
  3. Identifying what types of offence are more likely to occur when and where and who is more likely to be committing the offence.
  4. Identifying victims. 

Predictive policing has increasing amounts in common with actuarialism (insurance). This is where the police calculate the risks of offending taking place based on past data. 

This means that algorithms based on past data are increasingly determining where police resources should be deployed. 

One company which worked with several police departments in America was PredPol. You can view a slide show of its presentation here. It outlines how its algorithms will show police at the beginning of a shift where the crime hotspots are in their areas. 

PredPol’s marketing presentation

NB evidence suggests this software is very inacurate! 

Criticisms of predictive policing 

Predictive Policing algorithms are not neutral. Old biases will feed into them. For example, historically the criminal justice system has been biased against young black men. This means any algorithm used to predict future offending may exaggerate the chances that any young black man could be a potential offender. In 2021 The Los Angeles Police Department scrapped their predictive policing programme because of this. 

These biases hold true for a range of characteristics: those from the lower social classes, in poverty, from inner-city estates, for example. 

Where algorithms are concerned there may be exponential combination effects when calculating risks of offending. Predictive Policing software is much more likely to flag someone with multiple ‘criminal risk features’.

Historically there is more data collected on the powerless than the wealthy elite. Thus, predictive policing models are more likely to catch the powerless, not the wealthy elite who have always committed crime but never got caught doing it. (Which is the case if you are coming from a Marxist perspective on crime!).  

Theories of surveillance applied to Digital Society 

Foucault’s classic theory of the Panopticon model of surveillance doesn’t work here. According to Foucault the general population are more likely to regulate their own behaviour because they know that a central authority is observing them. 

This panopticon model doesn’t capture the way surveillance in the Digital Society works. Surveillance today works by categorising people into those who need to be surveilled more and those who don’t. This is the case with predictive policing, for example. Here there are huge numbers of people: mainly middle class, older and white who simply aren’t in the police models as potential criminals. However, if you’re young, black, male and poor, the surveillance net is more likely to catch you.

Similarly, airport surveillance makes life easier for most of us, by making security checks quicker. However if you have a male muslim profile from a certain country, you are more likely to be checked. 

Mathieson’s model of synoptic surveillance works better in some respects. According to Mathieson we are all observing each other and this is where control comes from. This includes the relatively powerless observing the powerful. The case study of George Floyd is an example of this: where ordinary citizens filmed the police murdering him. 

In order to fully understand surveillance today we need to understand that we exist within a ‘surveillant assemblage’. This is where the state, the police, and private companies are all involved together in a social control network. 

This is easy to see if you consider how many surveillance technologies are created by private companies. However they are then paid for by the state and used day to day by the police. Facial recognition software is a great example of this. 

Actor Network Theory may be useful in helping to understand social control through surveillance in digital society. Actor Network Theory holds that technology acts like an agent. This means that while people shape technology, technology also shapes people and their environments. 

Relevance to A-level Sociology 

This material is most obviously relevant to the module in crime and deviance. It is also relevant to social theory, research methods and social policy! 

Relevance to social theory 

This is extremely relevant to postmodernism and approaches to social control in a post, or late-modern society…. 

Following Swift (2005) we live in an age of informational capitalism. In this age the distinction between online and offline worlds is blurred. Indeed, to be a citizen in the fullest sense of the word we need to be online. 

So it is unlikely we are going to see masses of people go offline anytime soon. Thus more and more people are going to be subject to social control in smart cities. More and more people are going to be subject to predictive policing. These shifts in social control are relevant to everyone! 

Relevance to research methods…

The use of Big Data in policing policy illustrates a shift in the way research methods relates to social policy…

Big Data has brought two epistemological shifts that have fundamentally changed the way we understand the world. 

  1. We are now less reliant on representative sampling. Big Data means we are more able to get relevant data for an entire population under study. 
  2. Issues of causality become less relevant. Correlations between different data points become more relevant. 

The implications for social policy are that speculative knowledge gains more status. Policy makers make data on the basis of correlations between the data points we have available based on digital technologies. 

Digital data analysis may appear neutral, but it is always biassed.

Sources 

Liebling et al (2023) The Oxford Handbook of Criminology

Smart City Picture

WannaCry Screen Shot Picture

The growth of virtual work experience

Firms like Springpod offer virtual work experience for students aged 14-18, providing insight into various career sectors through online activities. Advantages include scalability, accessibility, and easier organization for schools, but it lacks the real-world experience and may exacerbate inequality. It is relevant to sociology of education and postmodernism, impacting vocational education.

An increasing number of firms are offering aspiring young employees virtual work experience.

Virtual work experience involve a range online activities relevant to specific area of work which are done entirely at home on a computer.

One of the early adopter firms offering such placements is Springpod. Their main aim is to provide young people with a taste of what it’s like to work in their chosen career sectors.

screen capture of Springpod's main page
Springpod: Offering virtual work experience

Springpod partners with private sector companies and public sector bodies to offer relatively short periods of work experience. There are a wide variety of options on offer, from construction and engineering to social care and working for the British Library. Many big named firms are represented such as Amazon and Siemens.

‘Courses’ typically only last for a few hours, some have only 7 hours of content, for example. Typical content for the courses is to outline what it’s like working the sector through ‘immersive content’. This may involve videos, work-based scenarios and activities to work through and quizzes.

Springpod is targeting teenagers aged 14-18 and has positioned itself between students and employers, also partnering with schools.

It is currently funded by company sponsorship but also schools and colleges who can pay a subscription. As far as I can tell it’s free for students at the moment, but I can easily see the potential to charge them in the future.

Some springpod courses

Advantages and Disadvantages of virtual work experience

This seems like a postmodern form of vocational education. So you might like to think about which of the more general advantages and disadvantages of vocationalism apply here.

Advantages

This seems like a real win for those students who get onto these virtual courses. It seems like an efficient way to give students an insight into different careers. This would be impossible to replicate at scale through face to face work experience.

The courses are also short enough for students to be able to try several, whereas traditional work experience has only involved one placement.

It’s easier for schools and colleges to tick the work experience box. It is a lot of organising to match students with prospective employers.

However it is still an option to do face to face placements, this doesn’t have to replace those.

It is also a possible win for the firms offering these courses. If they can incorporate some kind of assessment into the process they could use this as the first stage in their recruitment process. This would probably only apply to course for older teenagers, and this later may take some years to develop.

Disadvantages

This is virtual reality. in postmodern terms it is hyper reality. I can already feel how the experiences students are going to be given aren’t anything like the actual work.

For example look at the marking around the British Library Experience…

You’re about to be whisked away into a thrilling immersive tour of all things library…

British Library virtual work experience at Springpod

In reality working as a librarian is a mixture of sitting in front of a computer categorising things and dealing with mundane enquires from the public. OK maybe a bit more, but the point is that most jobs are going to involve stresses and strains and people you don’t get on with.

These virtual experiences don’t prepare you for that in the same way going into an actual office would.

Will virtual work experience increase inequality?

I imagine many of the truly elite firms won’t be on this platform. The kind that recruit mainly from private schools. I can’t imagine there will be an insight into medical practice or corporate law or investment banking. These will remain closed-loop, only available face to face to the children of the wealthy who already work in such positions.

Also polarisation may be likely within virtual work experience.

Some companies are going to develop top notch virtual work experiences that feed into training programmes. These will likely be competitive and to to students on course for the best GCSEs, or those who already have them. That is the richer students.

Meanwhile there will be a lot of poorer quality courses on offer that poorer students can attend that add little value to their career portfolios. But the poorer schools and colleges have managed to tick that work experience box by paying a £500 a year subscription (or however much it is) that covers 100 students rather than having to go through the pain of organising actual work experience for them!

Relevance to A-level Sociology

This is mainly relevant to the sociology of education.

This is especially relevant to postmodernism and education.

Why is Haiti in a State of Anarchy?

Haiti is in a state of anarchy, controlled by violent street gangs due to a power vacuum. Factors like historical debts, dictatorial rule, and natural disasters led to poverty and gang recruitment. After the 2010 earthquake, aid mismanagement and lack of leadership worsened conditions. A federation of 12 gangs, led by Jimmy Chérizier, currently holds power, resisting political reestablishment. Efforts to restore order include international intervention and plans for elections in 2026. Despite the chaos, there is still hope for a better future in Haiti.

Haiti is currently in a state of anarchy.  There is no functioning government and the country is effectively in control of numerous violent street gangs.

There are currently an estimated 300 gangs in Haiti, consisting of around 40 000 members. At the moment the most powerful group of 12 gangs are organised into a federation headed by Jimmy Chérizier, nicknamed Barbecue.

The gangs control most of the capital, Port au Prince, and rule through fear and violence. Kidnappings for ransom are a daily occurrence, which many of the gangs use to raise funds. 

40% of the police are corrupt or liaising with the gangs. 

Why has Haiti descended into anarchy…?

This was the topic of a recent Radio Four podcast in which Mike Thomson explores the longer term history behind Haiti’s current precarious situation. 

At least the following factors explain Haiti’s descent into anarchy:

  • Longer term structural factors: more than a century of paying reparations to ex-colonial rulers France, more than $20 billion.
  • Half a decade of brutal dictatorial and military rule in the mid 20th century
  • Natural disasters – hurricanes and an earthquake since 2000.

All of these have contributed to grinding poverty in Haiti and left a modern day power vacuum which gangs have walked into!

Longer Term Structural Factors 

Haiti declared independence from France in 1804, following a revolt from slaves. It was the second country in the Americas to ever gain independence. Haiti was also the first country in world history to gain independence after a successful slave revolt. 

Following Haitian independence, Napoleon demanded hundreds of millions of dollars in reparations for the country’s former slave owners. Haiti’s new leaders complied with this in order to avoid going to war with France. 

This had a hugely damaging long term effect on the Haitian economy. Over the next several decades an estimated 50-70% of Haiti’s national income was used to service this debt. This scuppered any chances of positive economic and social development. 

In 2003 the then president of Haiti calculated that Haiti had paid $21 billion to France over the years. He publicly declared France should pay this back. However, France refused to repay a single cent, let alone apologise for enslaving Haitians in the first place. 

All of this is in line with classic dependency theory arguments. Dependency theory argues that the long history of colonialism and exploitation are to blame for underdevelopment today. 

20th Century Dictatorships 

In 1957 Francois Devalier, popularly known as Papa Doc,  won the presidential elections and became ‘President for Life’. He went on to  establish a brutal dictatorial rule. He maintained power through his paramilitary wing, the Tonton Macoute. These were well armed and loyal only to Papa Doc and his estate. They drove fear into the majority of Haitians through visible displays of violence on the streets. There was zero tolerance of criticism of the regime, anyone who spoke out against it was imprisoned or killed.  

To find out more about Papa Doc’s rule you might like to watch this documentary with Alan Wicker, from the 1960s…

Papa Doc died in 1971 but his son, popularly known as Baby Doc, immediately took over, and carried on the brutal regime for another 15 years. 

After almost 30 years of dictatorship an estimated 40 000 people had been killed by the regime.  

In 1986 there was a popular uprising that led to the fall of the dictatorship. Baby Doc and his family were forced to leave the country. Celebrations, however, were short lived as this created a power vacuum which was filled by the military. 

There were two military coups in the next two years until elections in 1990 brought Jean Bertrande Aristide to Power. However,  only six  months later he was overthrown in another coup and Astride went into exile in the U.S. for three years. 

Astride returned to Haiti 1994 with the help of the then American President Bill Clinton and 20 000 American troops.  On his return Astride disbanded the Haitian arm, to prevent further military coups from happening.  

This created a security gap which led to street-based military forces forming, in other words this was the beginning of the era of freelance gangs backing a range of political leaders. 

These gangs were possibly worse than Papa Doc’s Tonton Acuoute. They were just as brutal as the previous paramilitary wing, but this new wave of gangs lack any structure or accountability, and so there is no control over them. 

Post 2000 Natural Disasters and Aid Mismanagement 

Grinding poverty in Haiti has long been a fertile recruiting ground for gangs. And a series of natural disasters has made it impossible for standards of living to improve. If anything, living standards have declined over the last few decades. 

Haiti was plagued by Hurricanes in the 2000s making it difficult to improve the day to day conditions of the Haitian people. 

In 2010 a devastating earthquake struck, killing an estimated 300 000 people. Haiti received more than $13 billion in international aid to reconstruct after the earthquake.

The aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti in 2010.

However Haitians themselves had little say in how the aid money was spent. The international aid donors didn’t ask the Haitians what they needed. As a result many development projects got approved but few got off the ground. Many development initiatives weren’t relevant to the Haitians, so the aid did little to promote economic or social development.

In the decade that followed the earthquake, what the country needed was strong leadership, but this was lacking, so there was nothing to keep the gang’s power in check. 

Haitian Gangs since 2020

Since 2020 gangs have controlled most of the Haitian capital, Port au Prince, and by 2021 gangs had so much power that the president was assassinated in his own home. This sends out the message that no one in the political elite is safe. 

The most powerful body in Port au Prince at the moment is a federation of 12 gangs headed by a former police officer, Jimmy Chérizier, nicknamed Barbecue

Jimmy ‘Barbecue’ Cherizier.

The Federation sees itself as working on behalf of the Haitian people and is resistant to any formal political power base being re-established. 

In March 2024 gangs stormed the prison in Port au Prince releasing thousands of prisoners. 

There is currently a Transitional Council in Haiti who are working towards setting up elections in 2026, but the Federation is actively trying to stop this from taking place. 

Routes out of Anarchy…?

There are plans to put in place some kind of international intervention force. There is a deal for Kenyan forces to entire Haiti to try and restore order and the US has pledged $40 million towards this. 

Some people in Haiti are getting nostalgic for the days of Papa Doc’s dictatorship. 

They had schools, hospitals and people felt safe as a general rule, as the old style paramilitaries had more of a sense of order. 

These new gangs are much more chaotic and unpredictable, and there is a lot of infighting between them. 

Possibly the most miraculous thing is that after two centuries of turmoil, the Haitian people still have hope for a better future! 

Relevance to A-Level Sociology

The history of Haiti is most relevant to several areas within globalisation and global development.

Find out More

To find out more about the chaos of modern gang warfare in Haiti

The Week (March 2024) Haiti: Who is Jimmy Cherizier aka Barbecue, gang leader threatening civil war

BBC – Haiti Country Profile.

The exploitation of female migrant domestic workers in the UK 

Many migrant women in the UK working in domestic and home-care sectors face exploitation, including non-payment, long hours, racial abuse, and even rape. The global care chain sees workers from poorer countries supporting wealthier households. Limited state funding for domestic care in wealthier countries exacerbates the issue, with many migrant workers enduring poor conditions to support their families financially.

Many migrant workers who do domestic work in the U.K. are exploited by their employers. 

Approximately 80% of people engaged in employment in the domestic sphere are women. increasing numbers of workers in the home-care sector are also migrants. 

Abuses against such workers include everything from not being paid to overt physical violence including rape. 

This is according to a recent study: Abuses against Female Migrant Domestic Workers in the UK: An intersectional Approach by Joyce Jiang (2023). 

This study draws on two research projects: one an ethnographic study carried out between 2009 and 2013 and another a participatory video-study carried out between 2018 and 2020. 

The study takes an intersectional approach. It focuses on the intersection between these workers being both female and migrant workers.

This blog post is a summary of this research.

The global care chain

Domestic work in more wealthy households in rich countries is increasingly done by migrant workers from poorer, developing countries. We thus have a global care chain. 

This is a result of the lack of state funding for domestic care in wealthier countries. It potentially creates a divide between elite women in rich countries and poor women from poor countries. 

31% of  domestic workers in the UK are migrants. They are mainly from Asia and Africa, from countries such as The Philippines, India, Bangladesh and Nigeria. Most migrant domestic workers in the UK are live-in workers. 

They get into the UK with a domestic overseas work VISA which lasts for six months. They have to work for a particular employer in their country who will choose to bring them abroad. 

The number of organisations recruiting domestic workers has grown rapidly over the last 20 years…

The exploitation of female migrant domestic workers

A survey of 500 workers found that 70% of them don’t have their own bedroom, in some cases they have to sleep in the corridor. 

Paying below minimum wage and working long hours is the most common form of abuse. Some have reported having to work 90 hours a week and being required to be on-call 24 hours a day. 

More extreme cases of abuse include:

  • not being paid.
  • being locked in the house during the day.
  • racial abuse.
  • Isolation, having passports locked away is common.
  • A wide range of physical, psychological and emotional violence, including rape by male employers. 

Why migrant workers come to the UK

The main reasons why they come to the UK are financial. 

Many cannot cannot afford medical bills, or basic goods for the children. Or they are in debt. 

Some return back to the UK over and over again knowing how bad their working conditions are going to be. This is because they cannot earn enough to meet their needs in their home countries. 

Trades Unions are aware of the exploitation. However migrant workers are hard to reach because they are so isolated, and thus fragmented. 

Signposting/ find out more

This post is a summary of a 2023 episode of Thinking Allowed podcast on Intersections which covers the above study. 

This issue is most relevant to the globalisation and global development module. 

This is a useful report on domestic workers by the ILO.

While this post focuses specifically on domestic workers, the issue is broader. 

Recently the government added health and social care workers to the shortage list. Increasing numbers of migrants are now coming to the UK on these visas. 

According to one recent International Labour Organisation estimate there are 75 million domestic workers in the world.

Is school funding at a record high in 2024?

Gillian Keegan, the Education Secretary, claimed that school funding was at a record high, but an IFS report contradicts this. The government manipulates statistics by focusing on specific age ranges to present a positive image. Cuts have been made in sixth form, Local Education Authorities, and capital spending, highlighting government bias in statistics. This emphasizes the importance of critical analysis in government data.

The Education Secretary, Gillian Keegan recently claimed that school funding was at a record high. She claimed that schools were being funded at the level of £60 billion a year, the highest per-pupil figure in history. 

However this is not accurate, according to a recent episode of More or Less on Radio 4. 

According to Luke Sibieta, research fellow at the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS): 

Between 2010 and 2019 spending per pupil fell by about 9% in real terms. Since 2019, the government has increased school funding. Spending per pupil should be back to about where it was in 2010 by 2025, but only just. 

Prior to 2010 (when the Tories came to power) real-terms spending on education per pupil increased year on year. It was true to say that school spending was at ‘record levels’ nearly every year all the way back to 1945. 

The fact that this is now worth mentioning highlights the historically unusual cuts to school funding under Tory government for the last decade.  

graph showing education expenditure in the UK from 1955 to 2022.

The above figures from the IFS refer to spending on all pupils from the age of 3 all the way up to age 19. 

How the government manipulated the official statistics

The government uses spending on pupils aged only 5-16. By selecting these figures the government is able to paint a more positive picture of school funding over the years. Spending on 5-16 year olds shows flat spending during 2010-2015, then a cut to 2019. Then after this an increase. 

The government figures disguise the severe 25% cuts they have made to sixth forms over the last decade. 

The government figures also disguise cuts to Local Education Authorities which used to fund many important services to schools. Such services included SEN spending and running administrative services such as pay-rolls for example. Local Authority education funding for these services have been cut by 50% between 2010 and 2019.  Schools now have to pay for these things themselves out of smaller budgets. 

The government figures also disguise severe cuts to capital spending. Spending on school buildings and repairs was 20% lower in the last three years than it was in the late 200os. 

Relevance to A-level sociology 

This is most relevant to the module in research methods.

This brief update is a good example of government bias in the use of statistics. The government deliberately selects a narrow age-range to get a positive spin or bias on the education spending figures. 

However their claims are kept in check by the more objective IFS. Their more complete data with a broader age range (3-19) shows us that spending hasn’t been as much as the Tory’s claim. 

Overall this is a lesson in why you can’t trust official government statistics

Find out More

You might like this report on annual schools spending by the IFS.

Why is the clear up rate for crime in the UK so low…?

Only one in 20 offenders in the UK get charged. This is because of two main reasons: Tory funding cuts leading to declining police numbers and the increasingly complex nature of crime.

Only one in 20 offenders now get charged, according to a recent BBC Panorama documentary: Will my Crime get Solved…? For burglaries, only 4% of home burglars are charged.

And in 39% of crimes police fail altogether to identify a suspect. 

The documentary does the ususual job of combining case studies and interviews with experts who drill down into the statistics. 

The case studies are with three victims who haven’t had their crimes cleared up. In two of the cases the victims have even done their own work identifying the criminals. However the police haven’t pursued prosecutions in either case, despite having clear evidence. 

Why is there such a low clear up rate for crimes in the UK?

It isn’t due to rising crime rates overall. Most crimes have decreased over the last few decades according to the Crime Survey of England and Wales. Despite the low prosecution rates, burglary is falling, for example. 

However, two crimes in particular have increased: cybercrime and sexual related violence, mainly against women. 

Both of these crimes are very difficult to get prosecutions for, which goes some way to explain the very low clear up rates for crime. 

Cyber crime has increased dramatically in recent years, and is very difficult to solve because the perpetrators are often unknown, and quite possibly based abroad in the case of organised cybercrime. 

Sexual violence has seen an increase in reporting but it can be difficult to get prosecutions and victims are unwilling to to pursue the peretators in the courts because of fear of retribution, shame, and the historically low chances of getting a successful prosecution 

A second reason for the low clear up rates for crime is that the police are overstretched and increasingly inexperienced. Tory cuts to police funding saw 20 000 police officers leave the force after 2010. These have now been replaced but with younger and less experienced officers. 

And this now less experienced cohort of officers have to deal with increasingly complex crimes compared to a decade ago. This means more time is being spent on cyber crime, sex crimes, but not only that, more police time is being spent on dealing with global crimes too. 

This means that crimes such as burglary have been pushed to the back of the priority list. The police today are under increased pressure given their numbers and lack of experience. 

Public confidence in the police in the UK is at an all-time low.

Relevance to A-level sociology 

This is very relevant to left-realist criminology which argues victims should be put first when it comes to policing strategies. This evidence suggests such an approach is not working and victims are being let down. With such very low clear up rates, public trust in the police is at an all time low, and left-realist approaches rely on the public trusting and working with the police. 

It also shows us how the police are struggling to cope with the changing nature of crime. 

It is also possibly evidence of how neither left nor right realist approaches to tackling crime control are relevant today. Crime is increasingly global and complex and maybe new and innovative crime control measures are required. 

Sources…

Declining Trust in the Police

Should we control children’s use of mobile phones more?

The Department for Education recently revealed new guidelines on ‘banning’ mobile phones from classrooms across England. 

The D of E points out that by the age of 12, 97% of children have their own mobile phones. These can potentially cause students to get distracted from learning. Worse, they can facilitate harassment, sexual abuse and bullying in and outside of school. 

The guidelines present four models of prohibition which range from an outright ban on school premises, to allowing pupils to carry them as long as they are never used. 

Maybe these guidelines don’t go far enough?

The guidelines are just that, guidelines, they are NOT a social policy!

There is no obligation for schools to implement any of the suggested measures.  

Most schools already have strict policies on the use of mobile phones. 

More than 80% of schools forbid their use or only allow use when specifically permitted by teachers. Less than 1% of pupils use them at will when in school. 

However, despite the rules, students still use them when they shouldn’t be. One third of secondary school students say they’ve seen phones being used secretly in lessons. 

The guidelines don’t address the deeper problem of children’s exposure to social media via their phones more generally. For younger people especially, a constant string of notifications daily can fuel a toxic cycle of addiction. Many pupils will be distracted from homework and revision due to their mobiles.

Similarly these rules don’t address the harms from exposure to the more toxic aspects of social media. This will carry on outside of school, with pupils being exposed to the likes of Andrew Tate. 

Maybe what we need is more stringent societal level rules restricting children’s use of mobile phones more generally. We could, for example, only allow the sale of restricted phones to under 16s (or under 18s) that have very limited functionality. 

Signposting

This material is relevant to the education module within A-level sociology. It is also relevant to social control, an integral part of the Crime and Deviance module.

Find out more


Details of the guidelines on mobile phones can be found here.

Are British students being ‘pushed out’ by foreign students?

A recent investigation conducted by the Sunday Times found that international students were being offered places at British University with much lower grades than British students. 

However, on reading the article beneath the headline we quickly discover that the international students were being recruited onto one year foundation courses while the British students were being recruited onto regular degree courses. 

There is still a wide held belief that international students are taking places away from British students. It is widely thought that universities are motivated by money. They charge foreign students double or more for the same courses, and this is detrimental to British students. 

However, if we examine the data closer it appears that the opposite may be true!

bar chart comparing the numbers of British, EU and International students at UK universities.

In 2012 the maximum fees per year universities could charge for a course was set at £9000. Today it is still only £9250. 

Fees simply haven’t risen in line with inflation. Everything is more expensive today, especially the wages for lecturers. 

In real terms fees have slumped to only £7000 a year. This isn’t enough to pay for the cost of running universities and courses. 

Today universities lose money for every British student they recruit. 

However, fees for foreign students are not capped, and so universities make a profit on these. These profits subsidise places for British students. International fees make up 10-30% of many universities’ income. Hence capping the numbers of foreign students would probably be detrimental to them. 

British students are not being squeezed out…

If you compare the figures from 2019 with 2023 the numbers of UK students at British universities has increased by just under 20 000, an increase of just under 5%.

Over the same period the number of acceptances of foreign students has increased by 15000, an increase of just under 35%. 

However the above figures do not include students from the EU, who are counted in a different category. There were 30 000 EU students in 2019, but only 10 000 in 2023. 

Thus, if we add together the figures for ‘International’ students and ‘EU’ students we find there are fewer students in 2023 than in 2019. 

The main reason for the decline of EU students is Brexit. EU students used to be treated the same as British students with the same fees, but now they have to pay the international rate. 

Relevance to A-level sociology  

This is relevant to the sociology of education, especially the topic on globalisation and education.

It would seem that if you look at the data in some depth foreign students are effectively subsidising UK students. University fees in the UK have been kept low by the government and don’t cover the costs of education. Hence universities need more foreign students who pay higher fees to cover the costs!

Sources 

This is a summary of a recent More or Less podcast

Office for Students Annual Review