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Nature and Nurture Explanations of Human Behaviour

While not denying the role of biology in explaining some aspects of human behaviour, sociology very much emphasises the role of society (nurture) rather than nature in explaining human action. The material below forms part of lesson one of an eight lesson introduction to Sociology. 

naturenurture

Nature explanations of behaviour

In Sociology, we are looking at human behaviour. Human behaviour is the term we use that refers to all of the things that people do. There are many ways of explaining why certain people do things in particular ways.

Some biologists and psychologists think that people behave as they do because they are animals who primarily act according to their instincts. This is known as the “nature theory” of human behaviour. Other scientists and psychologists are researching whether our behaviour is “genetic” i.e. certain types of behaviour are passed down from parent to child. Again, this is a nature theory of human behaviour because it supports the belief that our behaviour is pre-programmed to a large extent. For example, it has been debated whether there is a criminal gene which means some people are more likely to commit crime.

Nurture explanations of behaviour

Nurture arguments focus on the way people are brought up and how their environment moulds their personality and behaviour. Sociologists argue that some people are brought up to be kind and caring, and others are brought up to display very different forms of behaviour. An individual’s personality and identify are moulded and developed in response to their social environments and the people they meet. They are by taught others around them telling them what is right and wrong, including teachers, siblings and most importantly parents. This is why sociologists study the family and education (the two topics on the AS course) amongst other topics because it allows to investigate how these institutions effect human behaviour.

Why do sociologists believe nurture arguments are more accurate?

We have two different ways of explaining human behaviour. One uses nature to explain behaviour, the other uses nurture. The question is, which is the best explanation? If you explain human behaviour as being the same as animal behaviour, that means that humans would all behave in the same way. French cats behave in the same way as British cats. Do British people behave like French people? People in Britain do tend to behave in a similar way. They do similar things and wear certain types of clothing. Do all people all over the world behave in the same way? Sociologists tend to say ‘no’ and use three types of evidence to prove the point.

1) Historical Evidence against Nature theories

Nature arguments suggest human behaviour isn’t dissimilar to animal behaviour, which is based on automatic responses and pre-determined modes of behaviour or that our behaviour is pre-determined by our genes. However, human behaviour has changed significantly throughout history whilst animal behaviour has changed only slightly over a very long period of time. This suggests humans interact with their environments in a unique manner, both moulding and being moulded by it.

changing gender roles
Rapidly changing gender roles are one example against nature theories of behaviour

 

2) Anthropological Evidence against Nature theories

The second argument uses anthropological evidence. Anthropologists are people who study and compare societies from all over the world. If our behaviour was in our genes then people all around the world would behave in the same way. This is because other than the external physical difference between humans, the actual biological difference between people from different parts of the world is tiny. However, anthropologists show that people behave differently in different societies.

nature and nurture
Tribal societies with different norms and values are good evidence against nature theories of behaviour

So we can see that someone’s gender, ethnicity and class can strongly affect their life chances. Society, through institutions such as the family, media, education and the police effects different group’s behaviour. This is a fact, because we can very accurately make generalisations about the expected behaviour of these groups in society. Your behaviour isn’t as unique and individual as you think.

The Analaysis podcast below demonstrates the importance of nurture over nature explanations of human action…

I should be a psychopath, but I’m not?” 5:30 – 11:44 http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b010mcl1 (2011)

  1. What was the pattern in the professor’s family history?
  1. What genetic pattern did the professor have?
  1. What factors does researcher suggest prevented him from becoming a killer, criminal etc?
  1. How do the researchers view of genetics vs surroundings explanations of behaviour change?

NOTE – the Nature Vs. Nurture debate is hotly debated topic. No side can claim to provide compelling evidence that entirely disputes the other i.e. neither side can completely disregard nature or nurture in explanation of human behaviour.

Related Posts 

All of the links below take you to introductory posts designed to provide a feel for what Sociology is, and what A Level Sociology looks like. 

What is Sociology?

AS and A Level Sociology – At a Glance

Core Themes in AS and A Level Sociology

Assessment Objectives in AS and A Level Sociology

Good resources for exploring AS and A Level Sociology further

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Feminist Perspectives on Society – A Summary Grid

feminism definition

Topic Area

Summary

A2 Main Ideas

Feminism the Basics:

  • Gender inequality primary lens for analysis

  • Gender is socially constructed

  • Patriarchy is one of the root causes of sex inequalities

  • Feminism is a political movement

Liberal Feminism

  • Socialisation main cause, not structures

  • What change within the system

  • Seek to eradicate discrimination and stereotyping

Radical Feminism

  • The structure of Patriarchy

  • Patriarchal ideology

  • Rape and Violence as tools of control

  • Radical Libertarian Feminists/ Radical Cultural Feminists

  • Political Lesbianism and Separatism

Marxist Feminism

  • Capitalism main source of oppression, capitalists the main beneficiaries

  • Women reproduce the labour force

  • Women take the shit

  • Men more dependent on wages

  • Ideological conditioning

  • Working class and women should work together

Difference Feminism

  • Do not see women as a single homogenous group

  • Criticised preceding feminist theory for claiming a ‘false universality’ (white, western heterosexual, middle class)

  • Sees Feminists theory – essentialist and part of the masculinist Enlightenment Project

  • Look at discourses and the relationship between power and knowledge rather than ‘politics and opportunities’

  • Helene Cixoux – a destabilising theorist

Research Methods Implications

  • Liberal/ Marxist – Prefer quantitative research – trends and bigger picture

  • Radical – mixture of qualitative and quantitative/ also consciousness raising and activism

  • Postmodern – Deconstruction and critique of male language/ researching and celebrating diversity to challenge gender norms.

How they understand family life

  • Liberal – Inequality is primarily to be tackled through improving equality of opportunity in work, politics and education, not the family

  • Marxist – the nuclear family structure and women’s oppression with in it primarily benefits capitalism, and stems from capitalism

  • Radical – The heterosexual nuclear family is one of the main structures through which men oppress and control women – through everything from the dual burden through domestic violence (see Germaine Greer as an example)

How they understand underachievement in education

  • Liberal – The gender gap in education is one of the strongest pieces of supporting evidence for Liberal Feminism

  • Marxist – Gender stereotypes in subject choice still result in a gender pay gap in later life as women go into lower paid jobs

  • Radical – Gender Regimes still make up part of the hidden curriculum – sexual harassment for example often goes unchallenged in schools (Kat Banyard)

Topic Area

Summary

How they understand crime and deviance

  • Hegemonic Masculinity is one of the fundamental drivers of crime (Messerschmitt)

  • Violence against women is one of the primary sources of control of women

  • The courts fail to prosecute and put the ‘victim on trial’ which perpetuates violence against women

  • Cultural norms around sexuality serve to control women – The Beauty Myth and the sexual double standard

Key Studies and Examples to use to illustrate

  • The correlation between economic growth and gender equality in wider society supports Liberal Feminism, and criticises Marxist and Radical Feminism.

  • The Equal Pay Act, Divorce Act, Equality Act and Maternity and Paternity Acts are all good examples of policies which liberal feminists support.

  • The gradual trend towards gender equality in the UK supports liberal feminism

  • The Gender Pay gap – and lack of women in control of Corporations supports Radical Feminism

  • The prevalence of the Beauty Myth supports radical Feminism

  • Stats on anorexia and ‘planet sad’ support radical feminism

  • Stats on Domestic Violence tend to support Radical Feminism

  • Stats on harassment from the Everyday Sexism Project supports radical feminism

  • The link between poverty, sex-trafficking and prostitution supports radical feminism

  • ‘Slutever’ is a case study supporting difference Feminism

  • Documentaries on ‘sex work’ support Difference Feminism

  • Bake off supports difference Feminism (and criticises Liberal Feminism

Evaluations

  • Liberal – Based upon male assumptions and norms such as individualism and competition, and encourages women to be more like men and therefor deny the ‘value of qualities traditionally associated with women such as empathy.

  • Liberal – is an ethnocentric perspective – based mostly on the experiences of middle class, educated women.

  • Radical – The concept of patriarchy has been criticised for ignoring variations in the experience of oppression.

  • Radical – Patriarchal systems existed before capitalism, in tribal societies for example

  • Difference – Walby, women are still oppressed by objective social structures – namely Patriarchy

  • Difference – Dividing women into an infinite number of sub-groups which weakens the movement for change.

Key Concepts

  • Patriarchy

  • Patriarchal ideology

  • Gender scripts

  • Hegemonic masculinity

  • The Beauty Myth

  • Dual Burden/ Triple Shift

Key Studies/ Evidence

  • The global gender gap

  • DV statistics

  • The Everyday Sexism Project

  • Pointlessly gendered products

  • The gender pay gap

  • Only 1/5 MPs are female

Related Posts 

Feminist Perspectives on Society (Summary Sheet)

Feminist Perspectives on the Family

A Liberal Feminist Perspective on the Family

A Radical Feminist Perspective on the Family

A Feminist Perspective on Education

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Sociological Perspectives applied to Social Policy

Social policy refers to the actions governments take in order to influence society, or to the actions opposition parties and ‘social movements’ (Marxism and Feminism) propose to do if they were to gain power.

The barriers to certain social policies getting implemented

  • Electoral popularity

  • Ideological preferences of governments

  • Globalisation

  • Cost/ Funding

Positivism applied to social policy

  • Sociologists should work with governments to uncover objective ‘causes’ of social problems such as crime/ suicide etc.

  • Examples: Durkheim’s study of Suicide

  • Evaluation: Consverative theory which supports the status quo

Social Democratic Perspectives applied to social policies

  • Agree with the above, and generally favour wealth redistribution

  • Peter Townsend’s work on Poverty leading to better welfare provision

  • Evaluation: Welfare breeds dependency

Neoliberal and New Right Perspectives applied to social policies

  • Believe the government should interfere less in social life

  • Believe in policies to encourage competition and are anti-welfare

  • Examples of policies supported: 1988 Education Act, Benefit cuts, Right Realism crime control.

  • Evaluation: all of the above perpetuate inequalities

Marxist perspectives applied to social policy

  • Policies tend to benefit elites by maintaining wealth inequalities and providing ideological control

  • Examples of Policies criticised: Private schools, 1988 education act, selective law enforcement

  • Evaluation: Many social democratic policies seem to benefitted the working classes

Feminist Perspectives applied to social policy

  • Lib Fem – working with governments to legislate for more equal opps

  • Examples of policies supported – equal pay acts, divorce act, maternity and paternity acts.

  • Radical Feminism argues more needs to be done to tackle Pornification and DV Post and Late modernism applied to global social policy – support all of the above, but more needs to be done.

  • Evaluation: enforcing radical feminist ideas means more interference in private lives

Postmodern Perspectives on social policy

  • Postmodernists generally not interested in social policy (but should be pro-diversity)

  • Examples of policies supported: 2010 Equality Act (possibly)

  • Evaluation: Bit of a cop-out!

Late Modern Perspectives on social policy

  • Late Modernists believe social policies need to adapt constantly to globalisation

  • Examples of policies responding to globalisation: New Labour and New Right education policies, numerous crime control policies.

  • Evaluation: Tend to assume policies are neutral responses to globalisation

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Postmodern and Late Modern Sociological Thought

A brief summary of post and late modern thought, for A Level Sociology.

Postmodern Thought

Late Modern Responses to Postmodern Thought

Ideas about the economy, politics and society

  • Post-Industrial, service sector, portfolio workers and consumption is central

  • Declining power of the Nation State

  • Disorganised Capitalism/ Liquid Capitalism (Bauman)

  • Culture is free from structure – it is more Diverse and Fragmented

  • Relationships more diverse

  • More Individual Freedom to shape identities

  • Media – more global, two- way, hyper reality (Baudrillard)

Giddens:

  • There is a clear global, modernist institutional structure -Heavy Capitalism still exists, in the developing world, service sector economies are dependent on it.

  • Against postmodernists, Giddens argues that Nation States remain powerful -Nation states are more ‘reflexive’ today – they try to ‘steer’ events in the future in the light of existing and continually updating (imperfect) knowledge.

  • Against Postmodernists Giddens argues that In Late Modern (not Post-modern) Society, there is a ‘duality of structure’- people are not just ‘free’ to do whatever they want – their freedom comes from existing structures

  • In terms of the self – Identity is no longer a given –identity becomes a task

  • Giddens rejects the concept of hyperreality – the main significance of the media is that it makes us more aware of diversity and of the fact that there are many different ways of living.

Ideas about Knowledge

  • Critique of the Enlightenment (Foucault)

  • Incredulity towards Metanarratives (Lyotard)

We need scientific and sociological knowledge to ‘colonise the future’ – to reduce risks from things such as global warming and terrorism for example –

however, knowledge can never be perfect, but we still need to use knowledge in order to ‘steer society’ forwards, thus we just have to do our best to be as objective as possible when doing social and scientific research and to use the most reliable, valid, and representative data there is to try and address social problems.

Research Methods Implications

  • Criticise Positivist research which aims to be objective

  • Deconstruction and Destabilising Theory

  • Foucault researched the history of deviance (transgression) to highlight the arbitrary nature of ‘normal’ and ‘deviant’ categories –

  • Foucault argued that research should be about ‘mining’ history to find ideas which are useful to you personally, and which help you to choose how to live now.

  • Research topics and methods should be diverse and experimental

  • No one is in a position to claim one research topic or method is more valid than any other can be anything the researcher wants or finds personally useful.

  • Research should not attempt to generalise.

There are significant global problems (manufactured risks) which we all face and none of us can escape – e.g. Global Warming. These are real, objectively existing problems, not hyperreal, and they bind us together, even if many of us fail to accept this. The role of Sociology could involve –

  • Doing research to help solve complex global problems (links to Positivism, also see Beck’s Risk Society)

  • Helping people to realise that they are still dependent on ‘structures’ and dispelling the ‘myth of total individual freedom’ (links to Functionalism)

  • – Encouraging people to get more involved with identity politics – (links to Marxism/ Feminism)

Unfortunately grids don’t cut and past that well into WordPress. A much neater version of the above grid can be found in my Theory and Methods Revision Notes, along with summaries of all the other perspectives too…

Functionalism notes

The notes cover the following sub-topics:

  1. Functionalism
  2. Marxism
  3. Feminism
  4. Social Action Theory
  5. Postmodernism
  6. Late Modernism
  7. Sociology and Social Policy
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Modernity and Postmodernity – A Summary

Technological changes, globalisation and the move from Modernity to Postmodernity

Two key processes which underpin the move from ‘Modernity’ to ‘Postmodernity’ are technological changes and globalisation. The development of satellite communications and transport technologies seem to be the main causes of globalisation, or the increasing interconnectedness of people across the world. Today we live in a truly global economy with many products in the UK produced in other parts of the world, and many British products being exported to other countries. Cultural globalisation has also taken place – with more people moving and communicating with each other across the world. We also face a number of shared global problems – such as new risky technologies and ecological problems. There are many different perspectives on Globalisation, but it is hard to argue that it is happening and that we have moved into a post-modern era as a result

Modernity (1650 – 1970s ish)

Postmodernity 1970s – Present Day

Industrial and Economic Contexts

  • Industrial economies – Production is central – jobs for life

  • Nation State, most people vote and are in trades unions

  • Organised/ Heavy Capitalism and the Welfare State

  • Post-Industrial, service sector, portfolio workers and consumption is central

  • Declining power of the Nation State

  • Disorganised Capitalism/ Liquid Capitalism (Bauman)

Features of Society

  • Culture reflects the underlying class and patriarchal structures

  • Nuclear family the norm, marriage for life

  • Identities shaped/ constrained by class position/ sex. (*)

  • Media – one way communication, reflects ‘reality’

  • Culture is free from structure – it is more Diverse and Fragmented

  • Relationships more diverse

  • More Individual Freedom to shape identities

  • Media – more global, two- way, hyperreality (Baudrillard)

Attitudes to Knowledge

  • Enlightenment – Science/ Objective Knowledge

  • Truth and Progress

  • Critique of the Enlightenment (Foucault)

  • Incredulity towards Metanarratives (Lyotard)

The role of Sociology

  • Positivism/ Functionalism – doing research to find how societies function and gradually building a better world

  • Marxism/ Feminism – concerned with emancipation – freeing individuals from oppression.

  • Narrative histories (Foucault) done on an individual basis

  • Deconstruction (Lyotard) and Destabilising Theory (Judith Butler)

Unfortunately grids don’t cut and past that well into WordPress. A much neater version of the above grid can be found in my Theory and Methods Revision Notes, along with summaries of all the other perspectives too…

Functionalism notes

The notes cover the following sub-topics:

  1. Functionalism
  2. Marxism
  3. Feminism
  4. Social Action Theory
  5. Postmodernism
  6. Late Modernism
  7. Sociology and Social Policy
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Social Action Theory – A Summary

Unlike structural theorists, social action theorists argue that people’s behaviour and life-chances are not determined by their social background. Instead, social action theorists emphasises the role of the active individual and interactions between people in shaping personal identity and in turn the wider society. In order to understand human action we need to uncover the individual’s own motives for acting.

Social Action Theory

Max Weber: Verstehen, and Social Change

  • Observation alone is not enough to understand human action, we need empathetic understanding. Gaining Verstehen is the main point of Sociology.

  • Understanding individual motives is crucial for understanding changes to the social structure (as illustrated in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism).

  • Weber still attempted to make generalisations about types of motive for action – there are four main types of motive for action – Instrumentally rational, value rational, traditional action and affectual action

  • Different societies and different groups emphasise the importance of different types of ‘general motive’ for action’ – so society still affects individual motives, but in a general way.

Symbolic Interactionism

  • People’s self-concepts are based on their understanding of how others perceive them (the looking glass self).

  • We act towards others on the basis of how we interpret their symbolic action, the same action can be interpreted differently by different people – we need to understand these specific meanings to understanding people’s actions.

  • We ‘are constantly ‘taking on the role of the other’ – thinking about how people see us and reacting accordingly, this is very much an active, conscious process.

  • Each of us has an idea in the back of our minds of ‘the generalised other’ – which is basically society – what society expects of us, which consists of different norms and values associated with different roles in society.

  • These social roles are not specific or fixed; they can be interpreted in various different ways.

Goffman’s Dramaturgical Theory

  • People are actors on a ‘social stage’ who actively create an impression of themselves

  • When we act in the social world, we put on a ‘front’ in order to project a certain image of ourselves (call this part of our ‘social identity’

  • To create this front we manipulate the setting in which we perform (e.g. our living room), our appearance (e.g. our clothes) and our manner (our emotional demeanour).

  • Impression management involves projecting an ‘idealised image’ of ourselves,

  • We must be constantly on our guard to practice ‘expressive control’ when on the social stage.

  • Acting out social roles is quite demanding and so in addition to the front-stage aspect of our lives, we also have back-stage areas where we can drop our front and be more relaxed, closer to our ‘true-selves’

  • Most acting is neither fully ‘sincere’ nor fully ‘contrived’ and most people oscillate between sincerity and cynicism throughout the day and throughout the role they are playing.

Labelling Theory

  • Focuses on how the definitions (meanings) people impose on situations or on other people can have real consequences (even if those definitions are not based in reality)

  • People in power generally have more ability to impose their definitions on situations than the powerless and make these labels have consequences compared to working class youths. Labelling theory

  • We still need to understand where people are located in the power-structure of society to fully understand the process of labelling and identity construction.

Evaluations of Social Action Theory

Positive

Negative

  • Recognises that people are complex and active and have their own diverse meanings and motives for acting

  • Overcomes the determinism found in structural theories such as Marxism which tend to see individuals as passive

  • Goffman’s dramaturgical theory seems especially useful today in the age of Social Media

  • Labelling Theory recognizes the importance of micro-level interactions in shaping people’s identities, and the fact that people in power are often more able to ‘define the situation’.

  • In-depth research methods associated with social action theory often have high validity

  • It doesn’t pay sufficient attention to how social structures constrain action – for example, material deprivation can have a real, objective impact on your ability to well at school, thus failure is not just all about labelling.

  • It tends to ignore power-distribution in society – it can’t explain patterns in class, gender, ethnicity.

  • If people are so active, then why do so many people choose to be so normal?

  • Labelling theory can also be criticised for being deterministic

  • The small-scale methods associated with this theory can equally be criticised for lacking reliability and representativeness

If you like this sort of thing then you might also like my Theory and Methods Mind Maps – only £0.99!

Related Posts 

Max Weber”s Social Action Theory

A Summary of Erving Goffmans’s Presentation of Self in Everyday Life

 

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Liberal, Marxist and Radical Feminist Perspectives on Society: An Introduction

Most Feminists would balk at the idea of generalising Feminist theory into three basic types because part of Feminism is to resist the tendency towards categorising things. Nonetheless, in A Level sociology it’s usual to distinguish between three basic types of Feminism – Liberal, Radical and Marxist, each of which has its own general explanation for sex and gender inequality, and a matched-solution.

Liberal Feminism

Liberal Feminists believe that the main causes of gender inequality are ignorance and socialisation. They do not believe that social institutions are inherently patriarchal. They believe in a “March of Progress” view of gender relations. This means that they believe that men and women are gradually becoming more equal over time and that this trend will continue.

As evidence, liberal feminists point to various legal reforms which promote sexual equality such as the sex discrimination act (1970), the fact that girls now outperform boys in education, the fact that there are now equal amounts of men and women in paid work. Liberal Feminists are especially keen to emphasise the beneficial effects which women going into paid work has had on gender equality – as a result, women are now much more independent than in the past, and women are now the main income earners in 25% of households.

Within the family, evidence shows men are doing a greater share of domestic labour (housework, childcare), decision making is becoming more equal and that male and female children are socialised in a much more similar manner with similar aspirations.

 Solutions to remaining gender inequalities

Liberal Feminists do not seek revolutionary changes: they want changes to take place within the existing structure.  The creation of equal opportunities is the main aim of liberal feminists – e.g. the Sex Discrimination Act and the Equal Pay Act.

Thus from a liberal feminist perspective, all the major barriers to gender equality have been broken down over the last century and since women now have equal opportunities to enter the workforce and politics, we have effectively achieved legal gender equality in the UK and there is very little else that needs to be done.

Only relatively minor changes need to be made to advance gender equality further, such as more flexible working hours for mothers, challenging gender stereotypes in subject choice and in children’s’ books.

Liberal Feminist ideas have probably had the most impact on women’s lives

One criticism of the liberal feminist view is that it is ethnocentric – it only really reflects the experiences of white, middle class women.

Marxist Feminism

Marxist Feminists argue the main cause of women’s oppression is capitalism. The disadvantaged position of women is seen to be a consequence of the emergence of private property and their lack of ownership of the means of production

From a Marxist Feminist perspective, the traditional nuclear family only came about with capitalism, and the traditional female role of housewife supports capitalism – thus women are double oppressed through the nuclear family and capitalist system. Women’s oppression within the nuclear family supports capitalism in at least three ways:

  1. Women reproduce the labour force – through their unpaid domestic labour, by socialising the next generation of workers and servicing the current workers (their husbands!)
  2. Women absorb anger – Think back to Parson’s warm bath theory. The Marxist-Feminist interpretation of this is that women are just absorbing the anger of the proletariat, who are exploited and who should be directing that anger towards the Bourgeois
  3. Women are a ‘reserve army of cheap labour’ – if women’s primary role is domestic, and they are restricted from working, this also means they are in reserve, to be taken on temporarily as necessary by the Bourgeois, making production more flexible.

Key thinker – Fran Ansley (1972) argues women absorb the anger that would otherwise be directed at capitalism. Ansley argues women’s male partners are inevitably frustrated by the exploitation they experience at work and women are the victims of this, including domestic violence.

Marxist Feminism – solutions to gender Inequality

For Marxist Feminists, the solutions to gender inequality are economic – We need to tackle Capitalism to tackle Patriarchy. Softer solutions include paying women for childcare and housework – thus putting an economic value on what is still largely women’s work, stronger solutions include the abolition of Capitalism and the ushering in of Communism.

They are more sensitive to differences between women who belong to the ruling class and proletarian families. Marxist Feminists believe that there is considerable scope for co-operation between working class women and men and that both can work together

One Criticism of Marxist Feminism is that women’s oppression within the family existed before capitalism and in communist societies.

Radical Feminism

 Radical Feminists see society and its institutions as patriarchal – most of which are dominated and ruled by men – men are the ruling class and women the subject class. Gender inequalities are the result of the oppression of women by men, and it is primarily men who have benefited from the subordination of women. Women are ‘an oppressed group.

Against Liberal Feminists they argue that paid work has not been ‘liberating’. Instead women have acquired the ‘dual burden’ of paid work and unpaid housework and the family remains patriarchal – men benefit from women’s paid earnings and their domestic labour. Some Radical Feminists go further arguing that women suffer from the ‘triple shift’ where they have to do paid work, domestic work and ‘emotion work’ – being expected to take on the emotional burden of caring for children.

Rape, violence and pornography are also methods through which men have secured and maintained their power over women. (Andrea Dworkin, 1981). For evidence of this, Radical Feminists point to the ‘dark side of family life’ –  According to the British Crime Survey domestic violence accounts for a sixth of all violent crime and nearly 1 in 4 women will experience DV at some point in their lifetime and women are much more likely to experience this than men.

Rosemarie Tong (1998) distinguishes between two groups of radical feminist:

  • Radical-libertarian feminists believe that it is both possible and desirable for gender differences to be eradicated, or at least greatly reduced, and aim for a state of androgyny in which men and women are not significantly different.
  • Radical-cultural feminists believe in the superiority of the feminine. According to Tong radical cultural feminists celebrate characteristics associated with femininity such as emotion, and are hostile to those characteristics associated with masculinity such as hierarchy.

 Solutions to gender inequality

Radical Feminists see the traditional nuclear family as particularly patriarchal, and advocate its abolition and the establishment of alternative family structures and sexual relations.

The various alternatives suggested by Radical Feminists include separatism – women only communes, and matrifocal (female centred) households. Some also practise political Lesbianism and political celibacy as they view heterosexual relationships as “sleeping with the enemy.”

Radical feminists have often been actively involved in setting up and running refuges for women who are the victims of male violence.

 Criticisms of Radical Feminism

  • Ignores the progress that women have made in many areas e.g. work, controlling fertility, divorce
  • Too unrealistic – due to heterosexual attraction separatism is unlikely
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Wealth and Income inequality in the U.K.

Official statistics suggest that the richest 20% of the U.K. are 100 times wealthier than the poorest 20%; the richest fifth’s annual household income is 5 times greater than the poorest 20% of the U.K. Population, after benefit and taxes are taken into account.

This post provides two accessible ‘headline’ statistics on wealth and income inequality, courtesy of some excellent animated infographics, and then goes on to look at the original data sources and organisations who produce the data in more depth. The point of this post is to both provide and overview of wealth and income inequality in the United Kingdom and to provide some useful links to allow students to explore statistics on wealth and income inequalities in more depth.

Wealth and income inequalities are closely correlated with social class, although economic measurements are just one indicator of social class, which is a broader concept, also encompassing social and cultural capital (if we are going to use the latest social class survey – see here for an introduction to the concept of social class.

Wealth Inequality in the United Kingdom

  • The richest 20% are about 100 times richer than the poorest 20% –
  • If we represent the wealth of nation as £100 pounds, then the richest 20% have £60 out of every hundred, while the bottom 20% have only 60 pence.

The inequality briefing below provides an overview of how wealth is distributed in the UK. It compares how people think wealth should be distributed, what they think the actual wealth distribution is in the UK, and finally what the actual wealth distribution is.

What people think wealth distribution in the UK should be

Wealth Inequality UK 2015.png

How people think wealth is actually distributed in the UK

Wealth inequality UK.png

How wealth is actually distributed in the UK

wealth-inequality-uk-3

Income Inequality in the U.K.

  • The bosses of Britain’s biggest companies earn 100 times more than the average wage.
  • It takes them just three days to earn what a Nurse earns in an entire year.

This video by the High Pay Centre summarises the situation in 2014

  • Brenda, nurse,  earns £12 an hour, the average wage in the U.K.
  • Brian, a chief executive of one of Britain’s biggest companies, earns £1200 an hour, 100 times what Brenda earns.
  • It takes Brian just three months to earn what Brenda will earn in her entire working life.
  • Brenda’s annual salary of £27 000 has hardly changed at all over the last decade, while the cost of living has increased.
  • Brian’s annual salary on the other hand has increased from 2.6 million to 4.3 million over the last decade.
  • If we redistributed the income of the U.K. on the same basis of the Netherlands, which would effectively involve reducing the income of the top 1% by a mere 25%, then 99% of us would be an average of £3000/ year better off.

Income inequality in the UK 2014

Income inequality U.K. 2014

A fairer income distribution, based on the Netherlands

A fairer income distribution, based on the Netherlands

Further Sources on Wealth and Income Inequalities

The sources below provide a more in-depth focus on the nature and extent of wealth and income inequalities in the United Kingdom today. Click on the links to explore them further!

Source 1 – The Office for National Statistics bi-annual ‘Wealth in Great Britain’ Survey

This link will take you to the latest 2014 report

  • The wealthiest 10% of households owned 45% of aggregate total wealth in July 2012 to June 2014.
  • The bottom 50% of households owned 9% of aggregate total wealth.
  • In 2012-14 the wealthiest 20% of households had 117 times more aggregate total wealth than the least wealthy 20% of households.
  • In comparison, the wealthiest 20% of households had 97 times more aggregate total wealth than the least wealthy 20% of households in July 2010 to June 2012.

  • The total net wealth of the lowest three decile households (30% of the U.K. population) is approximately £200 million.
  • The lowest decile have zero wealth, many such households will have net debt rather than assets.

Source 2 – The Office for National Statistics produces an annual report on ‘Household disposable income and inequality in the UK’

This is the report financial year ending 2016 with some of the main data summarised below…

  • Original household income (before cash benefits and direct taxes) for the richest fifth of households was around 12 times higher than the poorest fifth (£85,000 and £7,000 per year respectively)
  • Disposable household income (after cash benefits and direct taxes) for the richest fifth was 5 times higher than the poorest fifth (£62,400 and £12,500 per year respectively).
  • This shows us that, overall, cash benefits and direct taxes led to income being shared more equally between households

  • Over the past year, median disposable income for the poorest fifth of households rose by £700 (5.1%). In contrast the income of the richest fifth of households fell by £1,000 (1.9%) over the same period.
  • Looked at over the past decade, the incomes of the poorest fifth of households have increased by approximately 13%, while the incomes of richest fifth of households have fallen by approximately 3%.
Growth in median household disposable income, financial years 2008 – 2016

 Related Posts

Even more resources to explore wealth and poverty in more depth… 

 

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An Introduction to AS and A Level Sociology

Good Resources to explore further

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Assessment Objectives and Key Skills in A Level Sociology

There are three key skills you need to demonstrate in A level Sociology (see the Sociology Student Handbook for how they are weighted in the exam)

  • AO1 Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of sociological theories, concepts and evidence
  • AO2 Apply sociological theories, concepts, evidence and research methods to a range of issues
  • AO3 Analyse and evaluate sociological theories, concepts, evidence and research methods in order to:
    o present arguments
    o make judgements
    o draw conclusions.

Below are eight specific ways you can demonstrate these skills in relation to sociological concepts, theories and evidence. They get progressively harder, sort of.

AO1 – Define/ explain the theory or Concept
AO1 – Give examples to illustrate this theory or concept

AO2 – Apply the theory or concept – How far does the theory/ concept help you understand different aspects of social life?
AO2 – Analyse – What are the key foundational ideas of the theory or the concept?
AO2 – Analyse – How does the theory/ concept relate to other theories/ concepts – which are the most closely related, which the opposite?

AO3 – Evaluate from other PERSPECTIVES – What would other perspectives say about the theory/ concept? (obviously this overlaps with no/.5 above
AO3 – Evaluate – HISTORICAL CRITICISM – Is the theory/ concept dated? When was the concept developed? Is it still relevant today, or has society changed so much that it is no longer relevant? Has society changed in such a way that some aspects of the theory are now more relevant?
AO3 – Evalaute – POWER/ BIAS/ VALUE FREEDOM? Who developed the concept/ theory – whose interests does it serve?

You also need to be able to evaluate research methods – but more of that later!