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Assess the Usefulness of Positivist Approaches to Social Research (30)

Just a few thoughts on how you might go about answering this question… if it comes up on paper 3 of the A level sociology exam

 Paragraph one – outline the key ideas of Positivism

  • Positivists believe that sociology can and should use the same methods and approaches to study the social world that “natural” sciences such as biology and physics use to investigate the physical world.
  • By adopting “scientific” techniques sociologists should be able, eventually, to uncover the laws that govern societies and social behaviour just as scientists have discovered the laws that govern the physical world.
  • Positivists believe that good, scientific research should reveal objective truths about the causes of social action – science tells us that water boils at 100 degrees and this is true irrespective of what the researcher thinks – good social research should tell us similar things about social action
  • Because positivists want to uncover the general laws that shape human behaviour, they are interested in looking at society as a whole. They are interested in explaining patterns of human behaviour or general social trends. In other words, they are interested in getting to the ‘bigger picture’.
  • To do this, positivists use quantitative methods such as official statistics, structured questionnaires and social surveys
  • These methods also allow the researcher to remain relatively detached from the research process – this way, the values of the researcher should not interfere with the results of the research and knowledge should be objective

An example of the Positivist tradition in Sociological research – Durkheim’s cross national study of suicide in 1897. Durkheim believed that if he could prove that one of the most individual acts any human being could perform, that is, killing himself or herself, could be explained through social factors, then surely any action could be examined in such a way.  Durkheim’s analysis of official statistics, showed that rates of suicide were higher in countries experiencing rapid economic growth , among unmarried men rather than married men and in Protestant countries rather than Catholic countries.

Durkheim further theorised that the ‘causes’ of a higher suicide rate were low social integration and low social regulation. Thus Durkheim’s ‘general law of social action’ is that if people become detached from society they are more likely to kill themselves.

Paragraph two – Two Interpretivist criticisms of Positivism

Firstly, they argue that the ‘objective’ quantitative methods favoured by positivists are not actually objective at all, arguing that if we look at positivist methods in more detail, there are a number of subjective factors that influence the research process. Somebody has to write the structured questionnaires that are used to collect quantitative data, meaning there is probably selection bias over the questions used – and official statistics are collected by people.

Atkinson criticised Suicide Stats and Interpretivists more generally have criticised both police crime stats and imprisonment stats for being socially constructed.

Secondly, Interpretivists argue that human beings are not just puppets, merely reacting to social forces. In order to fully understand human action, once again, we need more in depth qualitative approaches to see why and how certain students can turn disadvantage around and make schooling work for them! People are also unpredictable, and sometimes irrational. Because individuals are thinking and self-aware, they can react to their situations in different ways.

Max Weber argued that human behaviour that has a “sense of purpose”. Human beings attribute their own meanings to their actions, and different people can engage in the same action for different reasons.   In order to understand human action, we need to ask individuals why they are doing what they are doing!

Interpretivists, or anti-positivists argue that one can only truly understand social action by understanding the meanings and motivations that people give to their own actions. They don’t believe that one’s actions are simply shaped by one’s position in the social structure, rather that they are a result of micro level interactions in daily life and how individuals interpret these micro-level interactions.

An Interpretivist approach to social research – An Interpretivist Approach to social research would be much more flexible and qualitative seeking to see the world through the eyes of the respondents. Good examples of Interpretivist research include Paul Willis’ study of ‘The Lads’, Venkatashes’ study – gang leader for a day and Douglas’s study of suicide – which explored the different meaning behind suicide.

What all of these qualitative studies provide is an in depth account of the lives of the people being researched. You get ‘their story’ and get to see the ‘world through their eyes’ – the researcher allows the respondents to speak for themselves and we can an empathetic understanding as they tell us what they think is important, find out why they act in the way they do according to their interpretation of the world.

The rich data the above studies doesn’t easily translate into stats and you can’t generalise these findings to the wider population, but Interpretivists argue that these qualitative studies are better because you get a much fuller understanding, at a human level, of why people act in the way that they do.

Paragraph three – Positivist criticisms of Interpretivism

A Positivist Criticism of Interpretivist research is that it may lack objectivity because of the intense involvement of the researcher with the respondents and that the government cannot use Interpretivist research to inform social policy because it is too expensive to get sample sizes that represent the whole of the population

Positivists are also uncomfortable with the idea that there is no ‘end goal’ to Interpretivist research, it just goes on and on, leading to an open ended post-modern relativism.

Paragraph four – Positivist research today/ Conclusion  

Sociologists have not completely abandoned the positivist tradition today – many researchers still do quantitative research focusing on correlations and generalisations. Two excellent recent examples of this are Inglehart’s World Values Survey and Richard Wilkinson’s cross national research on the effects of inequality – published in the spirit level – both suggest that a general ‘law’ of society is that the greater the level of inequality in a society, the more social problems such as crime and depression there are.

However, most researchers today have abandoned the extreme idea that society exists independently of the individual and that people are predictable – for example Anthony Giddens developed the concept of structuration to point out that people have to consciously make society, even though they often end up reproducing similar structures, while many recent events such as Brexit clearly show that people are not that predictable.

In conclusion, there is clearly still some usefulness in understanding society at a macro level and recognising the fact that individuals are ‘steered’ by the social structure, but we need to combine this will understanding people’s thoughts and feelings to truly explain human action.

Related Posts 

You might like this post: Positivism and Interpretivism in social research. 

 

 

 

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Evaluate the View that Theoretical Factors are the most Important Factor Influencing Choice of Research Method (30)

Just a few thoughts on how you might answer this in the exam. 

Introduction – A variety of factors influence a Sociologist’s decision as to what research method they use: the nature of topic, theoretical, practical and ethical factors.

Theoretical factors – Positivism vs Interpretivism – Positivists are interested in uncovering the underlying general laws that lie behind human action. They thus prefer quantitative methods because these enable large samples to be drawn and allow for the possibility of findings being generalised to the wider population.

They also prefer quantitative methods because the data can be put into graphs and charts, allowing for easy comparisons to be made at a glance.

Another method that is linked to the positivist tradition is the experiment – laboratory experiments allow researchers to examine human behaviour in controlled environments and so allow researchers to accurately measure the effects of one specific variable on another

Interpretivists generally prefer qualitative methods which are regarded as having high validity. Validity is the extent to which research provides a true and accurate picture of the aspect of social life that is being studied. Most sociologists would agree that there is little point doing sociological research if it is invalid.

Theoretical factors – Validity – Qualitative methods should be more valid because they are suitable for gaining an in depth and empathetic understanding of the respondent’s views of life. Qualitative methods are flexible, and allow for the respondents to speak for themselves, which avoids the imposition problem as they set the research agenda. Qualitative methods also allow for rapport to be built up between the respondent and the researcher which should encourage more truthful and in depth information to flow from the respondents.

The final reason why qualitative methods such as Participant Observation should yield valid data is that it allows for the researcher to see the respondents in their natural environment.

Theoretical factors – Reliability – Is the extent to which research can be repeated and the same results achieved. Positivists point out that it is more difficult for someone else to replicate the exact same conditions of a qualitative research project because the researcher is involved in sustained, contact with the respondents and the characteristics and values of the researcher may influence the reactions of respondents.

Moreover, because the researcher is not ‘detached’ from the respondents, this may detract from his or her objectivity. Participant Observers such as Willis and Venkatesh have, for example, been accused of going native – where they become overly sympathetic with the respondents.

Interpretivists would react to this by pointing out that human beings are not machines and there are some topics that require close human contact to get to the truth – sensitive issues such as abuse and crime may well require sympathetic researchers that share characteristics in common with the respondents. Interpretivists are happy to forgo reliability if they gain in more valid and in depth data.

 Representativeness – Obviously if one wants large samples one should use quantitative methods – as with the UK National Census. However, one may not need a large sample depending on the research topic.

 Practical Factors – Practical issues also have an important influence on choices of research method. As a general rule quantitative methods cost less and are quicker to carry out compared to more qualitative methods, and the data is easier to analyse once collected, especially with pre-coded questionnaires which can simply be fed into a computer. It is also easier to get government funding for quantitative research because this is regarded as more scientific and objective and easier to generalise to the population as a whole. Finally, researchers might find respondents more willing to participate in the research if it is less invasive – questionnaires over PO.

However, qualitative methods, although less practical, may be the only sensible way of gaining valid data, or any data at all for certain topics – as mentioned above UI are best for sensitive topics while participant observation may be the only way to gain access to deviant and criminal groups.

Ethical Factors – Ethical factors also influence the choice of research methods. In order for research to gain funding it will need to meet the ethical guidelines of the British Sociological Association. How ethical a research method is depends on the researcher’s efforts to ensure that informed consent is achieved and that data is kept confidential and not used for purposes other than the research.

Real ethical dilemmas can occur with covert participant observation. However, sometimes the ethical benefits gained from a study may outweigh the ethical problems. McIntyre, for example, may have deceived the hooligans he researched but at least he exposed their behaviour.

Howard Becker also argued that there is an ethical imperative to doing qualitative research – these should be used to research the underdog, giving a voice to the marginalised whose opinions are often not heard in society.

Nature of topic – There are certain topics which lend themselves naturally to certain modes of research. Measuring how people intend to vote naturally lends itself to phone surveys for example while researching sensitive and emotive topics would be better approached through UI.

Conclusion – In conclusion there are a number of different factors that interrelate to determine a sociologist’s choice of research method – practical, ethical, theoretical and the nature of the topic under investigation. In addition, sociologists will evaluate these factors depending on their own individual values. Furthermore it is too simplistic to suggest that sociologists simply fall into two separate camps, Positivists or Interpretivists.  Many researchers use triangulation, combining different types of method so that the advantages of one will compensate for the disadvantages of another.

Theory and Methods A Level Sociology Revision Bundle 

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

Contents include:

  • 74 pages of revision notes
  • 15 mind maps on various topics within theory and methods
  • Five theory and methods essays
  • ‘How to write methods in context essays’.
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The US bombing of Afghanistan – A $16 million distraction from the harms of neoliberal policies at home?

America’s two latest attacks on Syria and Afghanisatan have been headline news in the last fortnight – in case you missed either of them…

In Syria – the US launched 59 Tomahawk missiles to damage and air base in response to the claimed use of chemical weapons by Assad’s forces against civilians.

In Afghanistan they deployed the biggest ever non-nuclear bomb, at a cost of $16 million, to take out an ISIS stronghold.

The US claims the Syrian attack was because Assad crossed a line in using chemical weapons, and much of the news has focused on the declining relations with Russia (who support Assad), and they claimed the scale of second attack was to get into the underground bunkers used by ISIS, and here the news has focused on the message this sends to North Korea.

But why is the Trump administration playing ‘global policeman’ when just 6 months ago they campaigned on a ticket of focusing on domestic policy and making life better for ordinary America?

Noam Chomsky offers an interesting perspective and answer…

Noam Chomsky recently claimed that the Trump administration would need some kind of scapegoat or distraction to disguise the fact that their neoliberal policies are clearly in favour of big business and against the interests of the ordinary working class American, whose side Trump claimed to be on during the election campaign.

One good example of a recent neo-liberal policy which will make life worse for especially poorer working class Americans is the abolition of Obama’s anti wage-theft legislation this required a company to publish details of any violations of minimum wage or health and safety law that they’d made. The regulation forced businesses to disclose each time they broke a law in the past three years, including violations relating to civil rights, health and safety, and minimum wage and overtime violations.

There was also Trump’s recent attempt to repeal ‘Obamacare’ – which would have left 20 million more (poor) Americans without health insurance, but that was defeated, however, the defeat is an embarrassment which fuels the need for a distraction according to Chomsky.

So maybe there is some truth in this? Maybe now the real Trump is showing his colours and enacting policies which support big business and make life worse for the working man, what’s needed is a distraction – and what better than to bomb a few people, which will obviously just generate more problems abroad and more terrorist attacks on US citizens, possibly all ending up in a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If you like this sort of Chomskian analysis, you might also want to check out Naomi Klein’s ‘The Shock Doctrine’, what’s going on here seems to be an evolution of what she argues too.

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Assess the claim that ‘ethnic difference in educational achievement are primarily the result of school factors’ (30)

An essay on ethnicity and education written for the A Level Sociology paper 1 exam, AQA focus. 

Assess the claim that ‘ethnic difference in educational achievement are primarily the result of school factors’ (30)

There are significant differences in educational achievement by ethnicity. Around 80% of Chinese children achieve 5 or more GCSE grades at A*- C compared to only 55% of Caribbean and about 15% of Gypsy Roma children. The national average is around 65%.

The idea that in-school processes are the main reason for these differences is associated with Interactionism which focuses on processes such as teacher labelling, Institutional racism and pupil subcultures. I will explore how these in-school factors affect pupils differently while evaluating using cultural deprivation and cultural capital theory.

Two classic studies in Sociology found that teacher labelling based on ethnic stereotypes did occur in British schools 25 years ago.

Cecile Wright (1992) Found that teachers perceived ethnic minority children differently from white children.  Asian children were seen as a problem that could be ignored, receiving the least attention and often being excluded from classroom discussion and rarely asked to answer questions. African Caribbean children were expected to behave badly, were seen as aggressive and disruptive, and were more likely to be disciplined for bad behaviour than children from other backgrounds.

David Gilborn (1990) found that teachers tended to see African-Caribbean children as a threat when no threat was intended and reacted accordingly with measures of control. Despite the fact that teachers rejected racism their ethnocentric perceptions meant that their actions were racist in consequence. African-Caribbean children experienced more conflict in relationships with pupils, were more subjected to the schools detention system.

The main problem with both of these studies are based on small scale samples and they are very dated, and they tell us nothing about whether ethnic stereotyping exists today. If anything, teacher bias is less likely given the greater emphasis put on multi-cultural education and the increased awareness of diversity.

Having said this, the rates of African-Caribbean pupils are still 3-4 times higher than the national average, which could be a result of the biases found by Wright and Gilborn, but given lack of recent research, we simply don’t know whether African-Caribbean children are objectively more deviant, or whether they are just perceived to be so by racist teachers.

A further problem with the above is that if teachers are just ignoring Asian pupils, and letting them get on with it, then they can’t really be having much of an impact on their education – and thus it must be home factors which explain why many Asian (Indian and Chinese) students today do better than the white majority.

A second reason for ethnic differences in achievement may be Institutional Racism which is where discrimination against minority groups is built into the organisation of the school – this can happen in various ways: through the ethnocentric curriculum, through banding and streaming and through the hiring of fewer minority teachers.

The ethnocentric curriculum is one which reflects the culture of one dominant group – for example the white majority culture in Britain. The curriculum can be described as Ethnocentric – for example students have to study British history from the European point of view, use out of date textbooks that racially stereotype and some subjects having a narrow, white British focus.

Banding and Streaming has been found to disadvantage both the working classes and some minority groups. Gilborn and Youdell (2007) point out that Black Caribbean children are overrepresented in the lower sets  and talk of how those in the lower sets get ‘written off’ because they have no hope of achieving A-Cs.

Crozier (2004) examined the experiences of racism among Pakistani and Bangladeshi pupils and found that the experience of racism from both the school system and other pupils led to a feeling of exclusion.  The researchers discovered that Pakistani and Bangladeshi pupils had experienced the following – anxieties about their safety; racist abuse was a lived experience of their schooling; careers advisors at school believed South Asian girls were bound by tradition and it was a waste of time advising them; Not being allowed off during Ramadan; feeling that assemblies were not relevant.

The problem with the idea of the ethnocentric curriculum is that it cannot explain why so many ethnic groups do better than white children. It may be the case the Pakistani and Bangladeshi children feel marginalised by it, but they have caught up with white children in recent years and so achieve well in spite of ethnocentricity in education.

Moreover, schools in recent years have made huge efforts to be more multicultural – with RE and PSHE lessons and event such as ‘black history month’ doing a lot to raise awareness of diversity, so this has changed significantly.

However, some recent statistics do suggest that institutional racism is rife – black applicants are half as likely to be accepted onto teacher training programmes compared to white applicants (around 20% compared to 40% success rate) – the end result of this was that in 2013, in the whole of the UK only three black people were accepted as trainee-history teachers. Professor Heidi Mirza, herself of African Caribbean origin, says there is evidence of discrimination within our education system today.

Another in-school factor is pupil subcultures – as with teacher racism a number of classic studies from 20 years ago have focused mainly on black subcultures:

Tony Sewell (1997) observed that Black Caribbean boys may experience considerable pressure by their peers to adopt the norms of an ‘urban’ or ‘street’ subculture. More importance is given to unruly behaviour with teachers and antagonistic behaviour with other students than to high achievement or effort to succeed, particularly at secondary school. Fordham and Ogbu (1986) further argue that notions of ‘acting White’ or ‘acting Black’ become identified in opposition to one another. Hence because acting White includes doing well at school, acting Black necessarily implies not doing well in school.

Mac an Ghail (1998) looked at three subcultures – the Asian Warriors, the African- Caribbean Rasta Heads and the Black Sisters. He used mainly participant observation both in the school and through befriending the students and socializing with them outside of the school. What he found was that the African Caribbean community experienced the world in very different ways to white people – namely because of institutional racism in the college and he argued that any anti-school attitudes were reactions against this racism.

As with the research on teacher labelling, the research on the relationship between pupil subcultures and educational achievement is somewhat thin today. If anything, today subcultures are probably less important, as there seems to be less resistance to the school today than in previous years.

Most sociologists seem to agree that home background is more important than in-school factors in explaining differences in achievement by ethnicity: As with class and gender, schools only account for s10% of the differences in achievement (according to a recent Analysis podcast), home-factors are much more important. Pupils only spend a minority of their time in-school after all!

Tony Sewell, for example, focuses on the higher rates of single parent households and the influence of gangsta culture on young black boys, which is far more significant than anything which goes on in-school.

Also, where the excellent achievement on Chinese children is concerned, it seems to be the ‘tiger parenting’ style which advantages these pupils compared to others.

Most of the research on in-school factors focuses on African-Caribbean underachievement, which is a narrow focus, there are other differences too – Gypsy Roma for example, and given that the main reason for their underachievement is the low attendance rate, again school is not a significant factor here.

However, in-school factors may play a role in explaining the biggest problem with underachievement today – that of white working class children, who themselves feel excluded from the culture of the school because they feel school does not reflect their culture, but this is more of a matter of social class (and gender) rather than ethnicity.

In conclusion, I would say that in-school factors explain very little of the differences in achievement by ethnicity, most of the difference is accounted for by home factors and schools cannot be expected and should not be expected to close the gap, moreover, I believe that focusing on issues of race within education are a red-herring, the issue of class and differential achievement is far more important, irrespective of ethnic background, and here, as with ethnicity, much of the differences in achievement are down to differences in home background, not differential achievement within schools.

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4 and 6 Mark Outline Questions on Education for the A Level Sociology Paper 1 Exam

Possible questions for the A Level Sociology Education (71912) PAPER 1 exam – the two short answer questions in this paper will ask you to outline two reasons/ ways/ criticisms. You will have one 4 mark question and one 6 mark question in this format (outline 2 and 3 ways/ reasons/ criticisms respectively).

The five examples below are all taken from the Perspectives part of the education topic, but draw on other parts of the module, as you should do.

NB these are my (over qualified) educated guesses about why might come up, and the answers are my best guesses as what will qualify as full markers).

Also the questions may be more obscure, or much nastier – remember, there is a theory that the people who write these exam papers have a burning hatred of teenagers and haven’t seen daylight since 1984.

If you like this sort of thing, why not buy my ‘short answer practice questions and answers for A Level sociology‘ – it’s as much fun as it sounds, actually more because I’ve colour coded the skills. It includes examples of 4,6 and 10 mark questions in the education bit of the A level paper 1 exam.

Anyway, enough wittering – some exemplar questions and answers:

Outline two ways in which education might prepare students for work (4)

 Two developed examples, should get 4/4

  • Teaching specific skills for specific jobs – a complex economy requires lots of people doing different jobs, requiring different skills – school starts off with some people specialising in sciences, other in humanities – later, education splits into more vocational courses and degree courses to offer more specialisation.
  • Motivation by external rewards – at school, pupils learn to put up with boring lessons in order to reap the rewards of exam results at the end, this prepares them to put up with dull work in reward for pay at the end of the month in later life.

Possible additional identifiers (1 mark for each, you’ll need to add in the plus 1s)

  • Teaching soft skills such as team work
  • Role allocation (if developed appropriately)
  • Teaching to accept hierarchy/ authority as normal
  • Exams being competitive

Outline two ways in which the education system might perform ideological functions (4)

Two developed examples, should get 4/4

  • Passive subservience of authority/ hierarchy – in school students learn they should accept the authority of teachers, later at work they have to accept the authority of managers – this makes them passive and obedient, thus easily controlled, according to Marxists
  • Teachers ignoring sexual abuse of female students – according to Radical Feminist analysis this reinforces patriarchal control as it means girls are more likely to grow up learning to say nothing about male violence against women in later life.

 Possible additional identifiers (1 Mark each, add in the plus 1s)

  • Motivation by external rewards
  • Fragmentation of subjects
  • Reinforcing of gender domains in subject choice

Outline two reasons why schools today might fail to create value consensus among pupils (4)

 Possible identifiers (you’ll need to add in the plus 1s)

  • The ethnocentric curriculum
  • The growth of home schooling
  • The existence of private schools
  • Marketisation

Outline two criticisms of the Marxist view of education (4)

 Possible identifiers (you’ll need to add in the plus 1s)

  • There are many critical subjects taught at university that criticise elites
  • It is deterministic – not every child passively accepts authority
  • Some students from poor backgrounds do ‘beat the odds’ and go on to achieve highly

 

Marking Practice…

Outline two positive functions which the education system may perform (4)

Mark the 2 examples below (1 mark per point +1 for development of that point). Feel free to comment below, and I’ll respond with my marks/ comments if enough people do. If you can’t wait, you’ll find the marks and comments here

Candidate X

The first positive function is, according to Emile Durkheim, schools might create value consensus among pupils.

The second positive function is that schools teach pupils the same subjects through the national curriculum, thus making them think the same.

Candidate Y

Role Allocation – where pupils are sorted into appropriate jobs based on their qualifications. The idea here is that different pupils have different levels of ability, and the more able/ harder working get higher qualifications, proving they are more suited to the more demanding, professional jobs.

Social solidarity – making people feel as if they are working together towards a shared goal.

 

 

 

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How Are A-Level Sociology Essays Marked?

Below is a pared-down general mark-scheme for 20 and 30 mark sociology essays, adapted from the AQA’s more specific mark-schemes from the 2016-17 specimen A level papers.

/30 /20 Descriptor
25-30 17-20 Sound, conceptually detailed knowledge of a range of relevant material, good sophisticated understanding of the question and of the presented material. Appropriate material applied accurately and with sensitivity to the issues raised by the question.

Analysis and evaluation will be explicit and relevant. Evaluation may be developed for example through a debate between different perspectives, e.g. by comparing or contrasting different perspectives. Analysis will show clear explanation. Appropriate conclusions will be drawn.

19-24 13-16 Accurate, broad and/or deep but incomplete knowledge. Understands a number of significant aspects of the question; good understanding of the presented material.

Application of material is largely explicitly relevant to the question, though some material may be inadequately focused.

Some limited explicit evaluation e.g. the debate about the symmetrical family and/or some appropriate analysis, e.g. clear explanations of some of the presented material.

13-18 9-12 Largely accurate knowledge but limited range and depth, e.g. a broadly accurate knowledge of relevant concepts and theories. Understands some limited but significant aspects of the question; superficial understanding of the presented material.

Applying listed material from the general topic area but with limited regard for its relevance to the issues raised by the question, or applying a narrow range of more relevant material.

Evaluation limited at most to juxtaposition of competing positions or one to two isolated stated points. Analysis will be limited, with answers tending towards the descriptive.

7-12 5-8 Limited undeveloped knowledge, e.g. two to three insubstantial knowledge points. Understands only very limited aspects of the question; simplistic understanding of the presented material.

Limited application of suitable material, and/or material often at a tangent to the demands of the question, e.g. drifting into answering a different question.

Very limited, minimal or no evaluation. Attempts at analysis, if any, are thin and disjointed.

1-6 1-4 Very limited knowledge, e.g. one to two very insubstantial knowledge points. Very little/no understanding of the question and of the presented material.

Significant errors, and/or omissions, and/or significant incoherence in application of material. Minimal or no analysis or evaluation.

Of course the actual mark schemes will refer to the actual question, and have a bunch of ‘indicative knowledge’ at the end of it, but the above is a general guide at least.

 

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A Level Sociology Essays – How to Write Them

This post offers some advice on how you might plan and write essays in the A level sociology exams. 

The sociology A level exam: general hints for writing essays

  1. Allow yourself enough time – 1.5 minutes per mark = 45 minutes for a 30 mark essay.
  2. Read the Question and the item, what is it asking you to do?
  3. Do a rough plan (5-10 mins) – initially this should be ‘arguments and evidence’ for and ‘against’ the views in the question, and a few thoughts on overall evaluations/ a conclusion. If you are being asked to look at two things, you’ll have to do this twice/ your conclusion should bring the two aspects of the essay together.
  4. Write the essay (35 mins)– aim to make 3-5 points in total (depending on the essay, either 3 deep points, or 5 (or more) shallower points). Try to make one point at least stem from the item, ideally the first point.
  5. Try to stick to the following structure in the picture above!
  6. Overall evaluations – don’t repeat yourself, and don’t overdo this, but it’s useful t tag this in before a conclusion.
  7. Conclusion (allow 2 mins minimum) – an easy way to do this is to refer to the item – do you agree with the view or not, or say which of the points you’ve made is the strongest/ weakest and on balance is the view in the question sensible or not?

 

Skills in the A Level Sociology Exam

The AQA wants you to demonstrate 3 sets of skills in the exam – below are a few suggestions about how you can do this in sociology essays.

AO1: Knowledge and Understanding

You can demonstrate these by:

  • Using sociological concepts
  • Using sociological perspectives
  • Using research studies
  • Showing knowledge of contemporary trends and news events
  • Knowledge can also be synoptic, or be taken from other topics.
  • NB – knowledge has to be relevant to the question to get marks!

AO2: Application 

You can demonstrate application by…

  • Using the item – refer to the item!!!
  • Clearly showing how the material you have selected is relevant to the question, by using the words in the question
  • Making sure knowledge selected is relevant to the question.

AO3: Analysis and Evaluation (NB ‘Assess’ is basically the same as Evaluation)

You can demonstrate analysis by….

  • Considering an argument from a range of perspectives – showing how one perspective might interpret the same evidence in a different way, for example.
  • Developing points – by showing why perspectives argue what they do, for example.
  • Comparing and contrasting ideas to show their differences and similarities
  • You can show how points relate to other points in the essay.

You can demonstrate evaluation by…

  • Discussing the strengths and limitations of a theory/ perspective or research method.
  • You should evaluate each point, but you can also do overall evaluations from other perspectives before your conclusion.
  • NB – Most people focus on weaknesses, but you should also focus on strengths.
  • Weighing up which points are the most useful in a conclusion.

A note on using the item:

Every 30 mark question will ask you to refer to an ‘item’. This will be a very short piece of writing, consisting of about 8 lines of text. The item will typically refer to one aspect of the knowledge side of the question and one evaluation point. For example, if the question is asking you to ‘assess the Functionalist view of education’, the item is likely to refer to one point Functionalists make about education – such as role allocation, and one criticism.

All you need to do to use the item effectively is to make sure at least one of your points stems from the knowledge in the item, and develop it. It’s a good idea to make this your first point. To use the evaluation point from the item (there is usually some evaluation in there), then simply flag it up when you use it during the essay.

Seven examples of sociology essays, and more advice…

For more information on ‘how to write sociology essays for the A level exam’ why not refer to my handy ‘how to write sociology essays guide’. 

The contents are as follows:

Introductory Section

  • A quick look at the three sociology exam papers
  • A pared-down mark scheme for A Level sociology essays
  • Knowledge, application, analysis, evaluation, what are they, how to demonstrate them.
  • How to write sociology essays – the basics:

The Essays

These appear first in template form, then with answers, with the skills employed shown in colour. Answers are ‘overkill’ versions designed to get full marks in the exam.

  1. Assess the Functionalist View of the Role of Education in Society (30) – Quick plan
  1. Assess the Marxist view of the role of education in society (30) – Detailed full essay
  1. Assess the extent to which it is home background that is the main cause of differential education achievement by social class (30) – Detailed full essay
  1. Assess the view that education policies since 1988 have improved equality of educational opportunity (30) – Quick plan
  1. Assess the view that the main aim of education policies since 1988 has been to raise overall standards in education.’ (30) – Quick plan
  1. Assess the claim that ‘ethnic difference in educational achievement are primarily the result of school factors’ (30) – Detailed full essay
  1. Assess the view that in school processes, rather than external factors, are the most important in explaining differences in educational achievement (30) – detailed essay – Quick plan.

 

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Radical Feminism Applied to Globalisation, Gender and Development

Radical Feminists point out that Globalisation may actually be leading to new forms of exploitation of women, and that, despite globalisation generally improving the lives of women, there are still significant areas for improvement. Two examples of this include the emergence of the global sex-industry and the persistence of violence against women despite globalisation.

Globalisation and Modern Slavery

The most obvious example of globalisation opening up new forms of female exploitation is the rise of modern slavery, and especially the global sex industry.

The International Labour Organization estimates that there are 2.5 million trafficking victims who are living in exploitive conditions and another 1.2 million people who are trafficked across and within borders. These numbers include men, women, and children who are trafficked into forced labour or sexual exploitation, and appear to be on the rise worldwide. Women account for more than 50% percent of all trafficking victims. Globalization has provided for an easier means of exploiting those living in poverty who are seeking better lives, it also has provided for dramatic improvements in transportation and communications with which to facilitate the physical processing of persons.

Women are generally lured into slavery through promises of employment as shopkeepers, maids, nannies, or waitresses in developed countries. Upon arriving, these women are then told they have been purchased by someone and must work as a prostitute to repay the enormous debt they suddenly owe. To ensure that these women do not flee, their “owners” often subject them to beatings, take their documents upon arrival, and keep them under conditions of slavery. These women then either physically cannot go to the authorities or are fearful of being deported, especially if they do not have their documents or the documents were fraudulently obtained through their trafficker.

One of the main contributing factors to this increase in trafficking has been the widespread subjugation of women. Often ethnic minorities or lower class groups are more vulnerable to trafficking, because these women and girls have a very low social status that puts them at risk. Another contributor to the increase in trafficking is political and economic crisis in conflict or post-conflict areas. The breakdown of society and the rule of law have made these displaced populations vulnerable to the lure of a better future or an exit from their current countries.

Trafficking flourishes because it is a lucrative practice, generating from 7 to 12 billion dollars a year. In addition, the highly clandestine nature of the crime of human trafficking ensures that the great majority of human trafficking cases go unreported and culprits remain at large. There are reports that many human traffickers are associated with international criminal organizations and are, therefore, highly mobile and difficult to prosecute. Further complicating matters, sometimes members of the local law enforcement agencies are involved in trafficking. Prosecution is made difficult because victims of trafficking do not testify against traffickers out of fear for their and their family members’ lives.

South-East Asia and South Asia are considered to be home to the largest number of internationally trafficked persons, with estimates of 225,000 and 150,000 victims respectively.

The Continuing prevalence of Violence Against Women

Radical Feminists also point out that physical and sexual violence against women also poses a significant threat to women’s health and safety.

In 2013, the WHO sponsored the first widespread study of global data on violence against women, and found that it constitutes a ‘global health problem of epidemic proportions.’ Intimate partner violence is the most common form of violence against women, and 38 percent of all women who have been murdered were murdered by an intimate partner. Women who experience physical and/or sexual partner violence are also 1.5 times more likely to acquire a sexually-transmitted infection.

Some traditional cultural practices impose threats to the health of women, and may be more difficult to change through educational and preventative policies than unhealthy practices that are unrelated to culture, such as nutrition. The UN Human Rights Commission identifies the practices most threatening to women as:

  • Female circumcision, known as female genital mutilation to its opponents, which involves the excision of a woman’s external sexual organs
  • Other forms of mutilation, such as facial scarring
  • Traditional practices associated with childbirth
  • The problem of dowries in some parts of the world
  • Honour killings
  • The consequences of preference for male babies, such as parental neglect and infanticide of female babies.

Female genital mutilation is a special focus of many efforts to end violence against women, although the movement to view it as a violation of human rights meets some resistance to what some consider a violation of family and community sanctity. Amnesty International says,

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the cornerstone of the human rights system, asserts that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. It protects the right to security of person and the right not to be subjected to cruel inhuman or degrading treatment — rights which are of direct relevance to the practice of female genital mutilation. The traditional interpretation of these rights has generally failed to encompass forms of violence against women such as domestic violence or female genital mutilation.

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Sociology in the News: Parental Choice Versus State Control

The supreme court this week upheld the ban on parents taking their children out of school for family holidays during term time.

The decision upheld a fine imposed on Jon Platt by the Ilse of White Council for taking his daughter out of school for an unauthorised seven-day break in April 2015.

Regulations introduced in 2013 curtailed the ability of headteachers at state schools in England to grant up to two weeks’ term-time holiday for pupils with good attendance, but they can still grant authorised absences.

The standard penalty for an unauthorised absence is £60.

Arguments for restricting parents’ freedom to take their children out of school

Firstly it’s unfair on parents who stick to the rules…

Delivering the judgment, Lady Hale, said: “Unauthorised absences have a disruptive effect, not only on the education of the individual child but also on the work of other pupils…. if one pupil can be taken out whenever it suits the parent, then so can others … Any educational system expects people to keep the rules. Not to do so is unfair to those obedient parents who do keep the rules, whatever the costs or inconvenience to themselves.”

Secondly, it’s unfair on teachers who are under pressure to deliver results…

Ultimately teachers will have to carry of the burden of ‘catching up’ the students who have missed lessons.

Arguments against restricting parents’ freedom to take their kids out of school

Firstly – it takes power away from parents…

Jon Plat argues that it’s wrong for the state to take the power to make decisions affecting child welfare away from parents.

Secondly, it’s unfair on the poorest sections of society…

For those on a low income, the fact that they won’t be able to save £300 (or thereabouts) by going away in the second compared to the third week of July,  will make the difference between going on holiday or not.

There’s also the fact that this will be ineffective against thick-skinned, economically rational parents – basically the £60 fine is considerably less than the money a family will save going on holiday a week early in summer, before the proper summer holidays start.

Relevance to A-level Sociology 

This case also demonstrates the tension between ‘strong state control’ and individual freedom in New Right thinking on education – it’s something of a contradiction allowing parental choice of schools and then disallowing them this choice.

Marxists might point to the fact that this is really a case of disallowing the poor a choice – the rich who go to private schools or home educate their kids, or who simply have the cultural capital balls to not pay the paltry £60 fine and not worry about it, they can still go on holiday on the 14th of July.

Actuarial risk management’ has probably also got something to do with the government’s support for this – no doubt the aggregate (average) statistics  tell us there is a correlation between attendance and achievement and so this here is just being applied to everyone, without discrimination.

This case study is also relevant to the sociology of the family. 

 

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Dependency Theory Applied to Gender and Development

Dependency theory and Marxist-Feminists would probably point out that many Transnational Corporations are not interested in helping developing countries. Rather, they simply exploit patriarchal values rather than promoting real equality. They do this through taking advantage of ‘women’s material subordination’ – women put up with worse conditions than men because there is no better alternative other than to return to their roles as mothers and unpaid domestic labourers.

Women’s proportion of global supply chain production workers discloses a range of 65% to 90% women in many global supply chains, most obviously the garment industry, and in some countries it is much higher – in China, 75% of garment workers are women, in Bangladesh the figure is 85%, and it rises to 90% in Cambobdia.

The charity War on Want argues that women workers in ‘sweatshops’ in Bangladesh are exploited by the Corporations that employ them (link), although there is a view that this exploitation is gradually leading to greater emancipation for women (link).

From a Dependency perspective, increased participation in the work force also implies increased hazards for women. Women’s jobs outside the home tend to be the lowest earning, least secure, and most dangerous available in the economy, especially in periods of recession that plague most developing countries.

The following video shows the conditions of women working in Bangladesh. Although they work in hazardous and strenuous conditions, most of these women are willing to work in such environments in order to financially support their families.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2wqBRWa0fno

On April 24, 2013, Rana Plaza, a garment factory outside of Dhaka, Bangladesh, collapsed, killing at least 1,127 workers. Over half of the casualties were women. In Bangladesh, the garment industry is the largest employer of women, a majority of whom live in rural areas where employment is scarce. In addition, these women are often supporting large extended families, and working for the garment industry is often the only option other than working as a farm hand. Jobs in the garment industry do much to elevate the status of women, but they are often left powerless in the face of harassment and dangerous working conditions. The Bangladesh factory collapse is a prime example of how women are often required to take jobs in dangerous industries with little to no recourse of their own. (Uddin, 2013) To read more on the Bangladesh factory collapse, visit http://www.globalization101.org/manufacturing-after-the-bangladesh-factory-collapse.

The dearth of labour laws, or ignorance and lack of enforcement of the labour codes in practice, allow for the exploitation of women. In Guatemala, women constitute 80 percent of the textile factory sector, and thousands of mostly indigenous women provide services as domestic servants. In both sectors, women have only a precarious claim on the rights to Guatemala’s legally mandated minimum wage, work-week length, leave time, health care under the national social security system, and privacy protections. Often, they are subject to physical and/or sexual abuse, according to Human Rights Watch (Human Rights Watch, 2012).

Unfortunately, even the global nature of business does not confer universal rights for these women. Many U.S.-based companies, such as Target, The Limited, Wal-Mart, GEAR for Sports, Liz Claiborne, and Lee Jeans, have contracts with Guatemalan factories and continue to honor them even if the factories break explicit company policy, such as physically examining women to determine if they are pregnant and denying health care to employees. According to Human Rights Watch, strengthening legal protection for women labourers and increasing their access to legal recourse might cement increased participation in the work as a positive development for women.

Source: http://www.globalization101.org/uploads/File/Women/Women.pdf