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Some (Relatively) Recent Examples of Participant Observation Studies

Participant observation is one the main research methods on the A level sociology syllabus, but many of the examples in the main text books are painfully out of date.  This post provides some more recent examples of research studies which employed participant observation as their main research method.

Covert Participant Observation

Pearson’s (2009) covert participant observation study of Blackpool Football Club’s supporters

Pearson carried out covert participant observation of supporters of Blackpool Football Club between 1995 and 1998. He was known to other supporters as a student pursuing a degree in law, but his status as an academic researcher was unknown to them. His approach was to meet up with them in the pub before a match or sometimes on entering the stadium, and to meet up with them afterwards for a drink. He attended seventy-eight matches but notes that because he did not live in the area, he was unable to observe the supporters outside of a football context.

He chose Blackpool F.C. because it was close to Lancaster, where he was a student, and because of its reputation as having problems with football hooliganism. He seems to have been able to gradually insinuate himself into the supporters’ world by being recognised as a regular fan. Pearson played up his knowledge of the game and the club and was able to integrate himself into their world.

Dr Geoff Pearson – only committed ‘minor’ offences while doing covert research

Pearson says of his research…’ whilst it was possible to avoid committing some individual offences, a refusal to commit crimes on a regular basis would have aroused suspicions and reduced research opportunities. As a result I committed ‘minor’ offences (which I tentatively defined as those would not cause direct physical harm to a research subject). My strategy was to commit only the offences which the majority of the research subjects were committing and that I considered necessary to carry out the research. Furthermore, whilst I would commit lesser offences with regularity, I would, if possible, avoid more serious ones.’ (Pearson, 2009).

You can read an interview with Dr Geoff Pearson here.

Pearson’s research is a good example of covert research in which Pearson participated fully with the activities of the group…he was a ‘covert full member’ of the group he was observing.  

Overt Participant Observation

Khan’s (2011, 2014) ethnography of an elite high school in the United States

The majority of ethnographic work seems to have been carried out with (on?) the poor and the marginalised, Khan’s work provides us with a rare ethnographic study of an elite institution.

Khan says: ‘ethnography is a method wherein the scholar embeds himself in the relations under study, spending long periods of time with research subjects. For me, it meant getting a job at St. Paul’s School… I moved into an apartment on campus, and… observed the daily life of the school. After my years at St. Paul’s I returned many times, and I sought out alumni to interview and discuss some of the things I’d learned (Khan 2014).

Privilege: The Making of an Adolescent Elite at St Paul’s School – link to Amazon. The first few reviews summarise aspects of the book!

Similarly to Pearson, Khan is also a full member of the group which he is observing, it’s just that his group knows he is doing research.

In contrast to Pearson’s research, this ethnography by Khan illustrates one of the main advantages overt participant observation has over covert: you can carry on collecting data from the respondents afterwards!

Mears’s (2011) ethnography of the world of the fashion model

Ashley Mears (NB this may have been before she started her formal research!)

‘Two and a half years would be spend in participant observation, or more like ‘observant participation’ (a term borrowed from Wacquant 2004) working for both agencies in the full range of modelling work, including five Fashion Weeks, hundreds of castings, and dozens of jobs in every type of modelling work – catwalk shows, magazine shoots in studios and outdoors…. I sat besides bookers at their table in the office drank with them at their favourite pubs, and hung out with them backstage at fashion shows. As I was nearing the end of the participant observation phase… and withdrawing from modelling work, I formally interviewed a sample of bookers, managers and accountants’ (Mears, 2013).

Mears’s ethnography is reviewed in this London School of Economics book review post

In contrast to Khan’s research, Mears explicitly puts the observation before the participation, which suggests she is less immersed in the day to day life of her group than Kahn was.

Sampson’s (2013) ethnographic research on international seafarers

In April 1999, Sampson boarded her first cargo ship. ‘Contrary to my fears, the crew of Swedish and Filipino seafarers welcomed me into their lives and for forty-two days I lived and worked alongside them, painting the ship with them, venturing ashore to Seamen’s bars with them, laughing with them, even dancing and singing with them’. (2013)

Sampson’s study actually won Thinking Allowed’s first ethnography award in 2014 – A summary of the research can be found at the end of the show here – Thinking Allowed ethnography awards 2014.

This final example is what Bryman refers to as a ‘participating’ observer’ rather than a ‘full member’ – Sampson is working for the shipping company with the men on a very temporary basis.

The above four examples of participant observation studies are all taken from Bryman’s (2016) research methods book. Bryman ranges several studies (23 in total) on a scale ranging from ‘full member’ through to ‘partially participating observer’ down to ‘non-participating observer with interaction’.

Students might find it interesting to note that the well known study ‘Gang Leader for a Day’ (Venkatesh, 2008) is in Bryman’s ‘minimally participating observer’ category, 17th out of 23rd on the above scale, which makes it closer to a non-participant study! Actually I’ve read it, and I can see his point.

Sources

Bryman, Alan (2016) Social Research Methods, Oxford University Press

Related Posts

Participant Observation in Social Research

 

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Evidence of Right Wing Media Bias

Is there a right-wing bias in the British media? Here I explore some of the sociological evidence which suggests that there is a right wing bias in the media and point out some of the limitations of this evidence.

In a recent (May 2017) interview with the Radio Times, David Dimbleby pointed out that Jeremy Corbyn has been treated unfairly by the U.K. Media, but that didn’t appear to surprise him because he believes we have a ‘right wing’ press.

But is David Dimbleby right about the media being ‘to the right’? In this post I explore some of the available evidence to see how far it supports this view.

NB – I am aware that how you answer this question depends on how you define left and right, and that not only are there different dimensions to left and right (YES I have come across the political compass!), but that the meanings of left and right shift over time, so they are relative concepts.

Having said that, we have to start somewhere – so I broadly define ‘right wing’ as neoliberal – pro-privatisation of public services, deregulation and lowering taxation, an emphasis on economic growth rather than social progress, and a current commitment to austerity. I also include within my broad definition of ‘right wing’ anti-immigration sentiments (sorry, I know it’s vague!). Left wing I define as against further privatisation of public services (more to the left is in favour of re-nationalisation), an enhanced role of the state in regulating especially big business, and a belief in higher levels of taxation of especially the wealthy (those earning over £50K a year for example). Also included within a broadly leftist perspective is a commitment to end austerity and a commitment to internationalism – the free movement of people across boarders and so a much more relaxed attitude to migration than the right.

NB – That was all just off the top of my head, I’ll write something more articulate when I get around to it!

Something I find very interesting is that the first piece of evidence below gets around the whole tricky issue of operationalizing right and left wing… just by asking people ‘do you think the media is right or left wing’? This raises all sorts of sociological questions about objectivity and subjectivity and categories. From a teaching perspective I’m currently thinking this ‘measuring political attitudes’ topic could be the perfect one for explaining the difference between positivist and phenomenological approaches to social research.

Anyway – on to the point of this post…

Four pieces of evidence of right wing bias in the media

The general public certainly seem to feel that British newspapers have a right-wing bias, as the results of this March 2017 YouGov poll demonstrate:

right wing bias newspapers UK.png

The two most popular newspapers in Britain are the Daily Mail and the Sun (a joint readership of 10 million) and these are two of the most ‘right wing’ according to public opinion, which again suggests that according to people’s ‘gut feelings’ we do, indeed have a right wing press.

However, there are limitations with this evidence – it is only based on the subjective feelings of people – just because people feel a paper has a left or right wing bias, doesn’t mean that the paper actually has a left or right bias.

From a positivist point of view, in order to answer the question of whether there actually IS a right wing bias in the press, what we need is some more objective data, and in order to get that we need to find some content analysis of media sources which pin down, or operationalise more precisely what they actually mean by left and right wing views…..the rest of the sources below do just this, by focusing on specific aspects of right, or left wing thought.

A 2016 London School of Economic Report: Journalistic Representations of Jeremy Corbyn in the British Press found that Jeremy Corbyn was represented unfairly in the media before he was elected party leader.

The research cites the following examples of unfair representation:

  • through a process of vilification that went well beyond the normal limits
  • being denied his own voice in the reporting
  • sources that were anti-Corbyn tended to outweigh those that support him
  • He systematically  treated  with  scorn  and  ridicule  in  both  the broadsheet  and  tabloid  press  in  a way  that  no  other  political  leader  is  or  has
  • The press repeatedly  associated  Corbyn with  terrorism  and positioned him as a friend of the enemies of the UK.

Given that Jeremy Corbyn’s views are much more left wing than most labour MPs, evidenced by the fact that JC is one of the most outspoken critics of right wing neoliberal austerity policies, his vilification in the mainstream media could suggest a right wing bias: the very fact that he is generally talked about critically, rather than being allowed to express his views without distortion suggests an attempt to prevent left-wing political view points coming to public attention, and if they do come to public attention, an attempt to dismiss them as silly.

HOWEVER, a fundamental limitation with this piece of research evidence is its lack of representativeness of coverage of people with left wing views – it only focuses on Jeremy Corbyn – it might just be the case that during 2015 there were other people with left wing views who were being taken more seriously, so the vilification of Corbyn might have nothing to do with his left-wing views, it might be purely personal. This is unlikely, I know, but we don’t know this from the above research.

Neoliberalism, Austerity and the Mainstream Media – a 2015 report by the university of Sheffield looked at how over 1000 news articles about the impact of social policies. The research specifically looked at whether news articles had a neoliberal framework – i.e. did they discuss things like austerity purely in terms of economics (‘squeezing public finances’) or did they widen their discussion to talk about the broader human impact (family breakdowns, illness and death for example)

If an article limited itself to how policies would impact people’s finances, or the wider economy, then it was classified as a ‘neoliberal frame’, if it focused on the impacts on family, education, health or other non-economic impacts on individuals, it was coded as a non-neoliberal frame.

To my mind this is much stronger evidence of a ‘right wing’ bias in the media than the previous two pieces – at least if we accept the operationalization of ‘neoliberal framing’ as indicating a ‘right wing’ point of view.

However, a problem with the above research is that the category ‘neoliberal frame’ is quite broad, and precisely what statements come within the category is open to differential interpretation by researchers.

Also – exploring neoliberal framing is a very general level of content analysis – for more valid evidence of a ‘right wing’ bias you would have to look at how the media treated specific neoliberal policies such as privatisation, deregulation, lowering taxation, or the issue of immigration…

A recent 2016 Report on the United Kingdom by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance noted that:

“Hate speech in some traditional media, particularly tabloid newspapers, continues to be a problem, with biased or ill-founded information disseminated about vulnerable groups, which may contribute to perpetuating stereotypes.

It singled out Katie Hopkins’ article in The Sun, published in April 2015, as an example of how bad things can get – the article was entitled “Rescue boats? I’d use gunships to stop migrants”, in which Katie Hopkins likened migrants to “cockroaches”, “feral humans” and that gunboats should be dispatched to prevent further arrivals.

While the above does suggest a clear right wing bias in The Sun, case studies are not representative, so we’d need something more quantitative to see how widespread such a tone of reporting is.

So that’s four pieces of evidence, based on systematic research of several sources (NB the last one did look at more than one article!) which suggest a right wing bias in media content, however, they all have there limitations, so I’ll leave it to you to decide whether there’s sufficient evidence here to conclude that we really do have a right-wing media here in the U.K.

Further pieces of evidence of right wing media bias

Jeremy Corbyn being accused of making a U-turn on a promise to abolish student debt, when he didn’t actually promise to abolish student debt.

According to Channel 4’s Fact Check

In the run-up to the general election, Jeremy Corbyn made a comment about student debt. Speaking to the NME about the issue, he said: “I will deal with it.”

At the time, this was not widely picked up on by the national media. But – where it was reported – most papers accurately reflected that Corbyn had not explicitly promised to write off all debts. For instance, the Daily Mail said the Labour leader had pledged to “reduce or even write off” student debt.

But then (on Sunday (23rd July 2017) Corbyn was quizzed about this remark during a BBC interview.

Presenter Andrew Marr put it to him: “If you are a young voter and you heard those words: ‘I will deal with it’, you might have thought Jeremy Corbyn is going to relieve me of my debt.”

Corbyn was forced to defend his position, saying: “We never said we would completely abolish it.”

For some, this constituted a U-turn.

The Mail said: “Labour has backtracked on its promise to write off £100 billion of student debt.” The Telegraph said the party had “retracted its pledge to abolish student debt”. And Alan Sugar called Jeremy Corbyn a “cheat” and said he should resign for having “lied”.

So – the above is a great example of how a hostile right-wing editorial team from the BBC, fronted by Andrew Marr, can take a positive vote-winning part of Labour’s education policy, spin it out of context and turn it into a negative, which an even more hostile right-wing press further exaggerate. 

If you know of any more systematic content analysis on this topic, please do share – sharing is caring – which is very much NOT a right wing idea of course!

Related Posts

In this post Craig Murray analyses the political background of senior bureaucrats at the BBC – finding that they range from Blairite to UKIP – in other words, very right wing.

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Good Resources for Teaching and Learning Research Methods

Being able to choose appropriate research methods and executing those methods effectively are absolutely essential if we are to collect valid, reliable and representative data, and below I present some links to some of the best resources which enable us to do so. These are mainly relevant to the selection, application and evaluation of research methods within sociology, but might also be of interest to students of other social science related subjects such as psychologists, business studies students, international relations students, and anthropologists. 

I start off below by including some good ‘general resources’ such as text books and general web sites, followed by some links which focus on specific research methods – surveys, experiments, interviews, participant observation and secondary quantitative and qualitative data.

The point of this post is to provide links which take you to sources which are as broad as possible but where this isn’t possible, I provide links to specific examples of studies using certain research methods.

links to my own posts on research methods can be found at my main page on research methods!

This list is very much a work in progress and will be updated in an ongoing manner. 

Good general resources 

Bryman, Alan (2015) Social Research Methods – A great introductory book on research methods organised by the major different types of research method (surveys, interviews, etc.), with supplementary material including PowerPoints and mutli-choice quizzes.

Gilbert, Nigel (2015) Researching Social Life – A classic introductory text book which takes you through the research process step by step, from research design, to data collection and analysis.

Supporting web site for ‘Researching Social Life’ – I’ve set the link to the Sage Journal publication links page, which is probably the most useful of the supporting pages, but if you want something a bit more advanced than A-level then you might like to check out their Quizlet Flash Cards too – definitely first year degree level (or maybe even beyond that)

The British Sociological Association Code of Ethics – A very thorough consideration of what counts as ‘ethical research’ according to the BSA.

Good Resources for Quantitative Data 

Data Science Central – The online resource center for big data practitioners. Big data ‘scientists’ analyse huge data sets to reveal insights into human interactions. The link takes you to ’38 seminal articles about big data’.

YouGov is a great site for finding out results of recent surveys of public opinion on a range of issues. Of special interest at the moment (July 2017 at time of writing this paragraph!) are the election results, which give details of how different ages voted. If you like this sort of thing, you can even sign up to take part in YouGov surveys, which will give you a chance to find out some of the limitations of the survey method, and earn some cash.

The Office for National Statistics – ‘The UK’s largest provider of official statistics – it’s not actually that useful as a ‘search site’ (you’re better off just using Google), but you cant’ not include this!

The Crime Survey for England and Wales (about) – Crime stats are one of the most useful sources for illustrating how statistics are socially constructed – this is a useful Q and A on England and Wale’s massive annual victim survey.

The Crime Survey of England and Wales – The Results… A link to the results of the 2016 crime survey, towards the end is a discussion of methodology.

NB – these research methods resources are not meant as an exhaustive list, nor are they meant as a ‘good sources for A-level students’ list – this is more meant for first year degree students and people with a more general interest in learning about research methods.

As a final note, these are the resources which I have used (in modified form) to write many of the blog posts here on research methods.

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Sociological Perspectives on the London Riots

The London Riots of August 2011 are a good way of introducing ‘perspectives’ on crime and deviance, as well as the strengths and limitations of studying crime using different methods.

The 2011 London Riots – Background/ Context

Between 6 and 10 August 2011, several London boroughs and other cities and towns across England suffered widespread rioting, looting and arson.

london riots

The first night of rioting took place on 7 August 2011 after a peaceful protest in Tottenham, following the death of Mark Duggan, a local man from the area, who was shot dead by police on 4 August 2011. Police failed to notify Duggan’s family of his death and no senior police officer was available to meet the protest, creating anger at perceived disrespect. The protesting crowd outside the police station set light to two police cars, and the pictures of this circulated on social media attracted other people to the area – what started as a relatively peaceful protest quickly descended into a riot involving mass looting.

The following days saw similar scenes in other parts of London with the worst violence taking place in , Brixton, Chingford, Peckham, Enfield, Croydon, Ealing and East Ham. The city centre in Oxford Circus was also attacked. From 8 until 10 August, other cities in England including Bristol, Manchester, Birmingham and Liverpool, along with several towns, saw what was described by the media as ‘copycat violence’.

The riots were characterised by rampant looting and arson attacks of unprecedented levels. As a result, David Cameron returned early from his holiday in Italy and other government leaders also ended their holidays to attend to the matter. All police leave was cancelled and Parliament was recalled on 11 August to debate the situation.

There were a total 3,443 crimes across London linked to the disorder, including 5 deaths and at least 16 others injured as a direct result of related violent acts. An estimated £200 million worth of property damage was incurred, and local economic activity was significantly compromised.

The riots have generated significant on-going debate among political, social and academic figures about the causes and context in which they happened.

Biased Media Reporting on the London Riots

This Daily Mail article on the London riots by Melanie Phillips on is a superb example of  a New Right take on the ’causes’ of the event…extracts below…..

‘ The violent anarchy that has taken hold of British cities is the all-too-predictable outcome of a three-decade liberal experiment which tore up virtually every basic social value. What is so notable and distressing is that this mayhem has been carried out in the main by teenagers and children, some as young as eight. These youths feel absolutely entitled to go ‘on the rob’ and steal whatever they want.’

‘What has been fuelling all this is not poverty… what we have been experiencing is a complete breakdown of civilized behavior among children and young people… We are not merely up against feral children, but feral parents… either they are too drunk or drugged or otherwise out of it to care, or else they are helping themselves to the proceeds, too.’

‘As David Cameron observed yesterday, there are clearly pockets of society that are not just broken, but sick. Most of these children come from lone-mother households. And the single most crucial factor behind all this mayhem is the willed removal of the most important thing that socialises children and turns them from feral savages into civilised citizens: a father who is a fully committed member of the family unit. The result is fatherless boys who are consumed by an existential rage and desperate emotional need, and who take out the damage done to them by lashing out from infancy at everyone around them. Such children inhabit what is effectively a different world from the rest of society. It’s a world without any boundaries or rules. A world of emotional and physical chaos.’

‘This breaking of the family was encouraged by the Welfare State… Welfare dependency further created the entitlement culture that the looters so egregiously display. It taught them that the world owed them a living. It taught them that their actions had no consequences.’

Actual evidence on the ’causes’ of the London Riots’

Melanie Philips no doubt enjoys writing for the right wing daily mail, and her readers no doubt enjoy the sense of righteous moral indignation they feel when reading her articles (they are all in pretty much the same vein!). Unfortunately for them, but more unfortunately the impoverished teenage children of the single parents she lambasts, this is an extremely narrow analysis of the causes of the Riots. Moreover, Philip’s analysis is not supported by the rigorous quantitative and qualitative research carried out by the London School of Economics in the year since the riots. This is not to say that irresponsible parenting and the breakdown of social control didn’t have something to do with the riots – but there are a lot of other factors that need to be considered as well.

The findings below are based on the research findings taken from Reading the Riots Researchers spoke to 270 rioters: 185 people in London, 30 in Birmingham, 29 in Manchester, 16 in Liverpool, seven in Salford and three in Nottingham. Thirteen were in prison.

reading london riots

Who were the Rioters?

  • They ranged in age from 13 to 57
  • A third said they had never been found guilty in court or cautioned
  • The overwhelming majority said gangs played little or no part in what happened.
  • About three-quarters were aged 24 or under, only a small minority, people over 40.
  • Around 80% of interviewees were male, although anecdotal evidence from observers of the riots, suggest the proportion was nearer 90%
  • They came from a wide range of ethnic groups but A slightly larger proportion were from an ethnic minority (50% black, 5% Asian) or of mixed race (18%); this also varied by area: the ethnic makeup of interviewees in Salford and Manchester overwhelmingly white.
  • The general attainment levels were lower than those of the population as a whole: of the adults, a third had no qualification higher than GCSE , one-fifth of the rioters claimed to have no educational qualifications at all, one in 20 said they had a degree.
  • Most had prior experience with the Criminal Justice System – only 32% said they had never been found guilty in a court or been cautioned.

What were the main causes of the riots?

Based on the above interviews, the rioters themselves stated the following five main causes (percentages reporting this as a factor in brackets)

  • Poverty (86%)
  • Policing (85%)
  • Government Policy (80%)
  • Unemployment (79%)
  • The shooting of Mark Duggan (75%)

Of course, if you conducted the research again using a broader sample and different methods, then you might get different results. But based on this evidence, there does not appear to be any support for the New Right’s perspective on what caused the riots…

Sociological (/Criminological) Perspectives on the London Riots

Asking about the ‘causes’ of crime is only one aspect among many in the crime and deviance course. Some of the perspectives on crime look at crime much more broadly.

 Functionalism – argues that society needs crime. Rather than looking at crime as a purely negative phenomenon, crime also has positive social functions. The riots, for example, lead to a temporary suspension of inter-gang violence, and, as a media event, it gave the rest of us something unite against, thus increasing unity in society more generally.

Bonds of Attachment Theory (Functionalism) – The cause of deviance is the breakdown or weakening of informal agencies of social control such as the family and community. Criminal activity occurs when the individual’s attachment to society is weakened. This theory would blame poor parenting as the main cause of the riots.

Consensus Subcultural Theory – argues crime is a collective response to the above situation of frustration – If you can’t gain status by getting a job, you seek status by some other means within a subculture (possibly a gang) and riots can offer you an opportunity to gain status by ‘going further than the next person’.

Traditional Marxism – Argues that crime is a response to a Capitalist system that breeds materialism, greed and selfishness. They also point out that many members of the Elite classes are criminals themselves, but it is generally only the powerless that get punished for their criminal acts, while elites tend to avoid punishment. The rioters were largely teenage youths living in poor areas and many got disproportionate punishments for their involvement in the riots, while politicians engaging in criminal acts often get away without punishment.

Interactionists – See criminal behaviour as a response to labelling by agents of social control – mainly the police. Focussing on the riots – Interactionists would argue that police racism over the last 3 decades has led to black youths being disproportionately targeted by stop and search – and it was this history of negative attention from the police that sparked the riots.

Right Realists – Argue that the riots were caused because of a basic breakdown of both informal and formal social control – weak communities and too few police on the streets, and society not being tough enough on crime. Rioters had too much freedom and felt like they could get away with their crimes.

Left-Realism – Argues there are two main causes of crime – Marginalisation and Relative Deprivation – largely borne out by the Guardian research above.

Post-modernism – Argues that the riots are a response to a postmodern society characterised by consumerism, an obsession with self-identity and a quest for excitement. For many the riots were a ‘scene’ where they could ‘play a game’ – engaging in vandalism and challenging the police provide both status and excitement – much more than any nightclub could offer.

flawed consumers

 Explore the ’causes’ of the London riots in more depth…

They’re all pretty left wing, so redressing the balance of the right-biased mainstream media…

  1. The Moral decay is as bad at the top of our society as it is at the bottom by Peter Oborne –
  2.  and Zygmunt Bauman – The London Riots – Consumerism coming home to roost as the World’s leading critical sociologist – he’s got to get in somewhere near the top..
  3. ‘ Look whose ruling now’ – London Rioters speak out
  4. David Harvey – Feral Capitalism is to blame!
  5. Another post focussing on consumerism – Let them yearn for Tatt
  6. A nice Balanced view from the JRF – What do we actually know about the riot areas and rioters?
  7. Guardian article – the rioters – young, poor and unemployed
  8. Some Observations on the Riots by Mark Metcalf – a view from someone familiar with the area
  9. It wasn’t just youths involved in the riots
  10. The Guardian data maps – a nice visual resource!
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The Global Peace Index – What is it and How Useful Is It?

The Global Peace Index uses 23 qualitative and quantitative indicators to measure the state of peace using three thematic domains:

  • the level of Societal Safety and Security;
  • the extent of Ongoing Domestic and International Conflict;
  • the degree of Militarisation.

Global Peace Index 2017.png

The data is collated by the Institute for Economics and Peace – a think tank which develops metrics to analyse peace and to quantify its economic value. It does this by developing global and national indices of ‘peacefulness’, analysing country level risk, and calculating the economic cost of violence, and the positive benefits of peace.

Some of the findings from the most recent 2017 report include an analysis of the most significant ‘positive peace’ factors which result in increasing peacefulness, and the finding that decreasing peacefulness is correlated with increasing populism in Europe.

The Institute for Economics and Peace says its aim is to ‘create a paradigm shift in the way the world thinks about peace. We use data driven research to show that peace is a positive, tangible and achievable measure of human well-being and development.’

You can explore the Global Peace Index and download the full 2017 report for free on the Institute for Economics and Peace’s dedicated website – Vision of Humanity

Selected Key Findings of the 2017 Global Peace Index

Trends in peacefulness since 2016

  • the global level of peace has slightly improved this year by 0.28 per cent, with 93
    countries improving, while 68 countries deteriorated.

world peace 2017

  • Iceland remains the most peaceful country in the world, a position it has held since 2008. It is joined at the top of the index by New Zealand, Portugal, Austria, and Denmark.

global peace index top 30

  • Syria remains the least peaceful country in the world, preceded by Afghanistan, Iraq, South Sudan, and Yemen.

global peace index bottom 30

The Ten Year Trend in Peacefulness 

  • global peacefulness has deteriorated by 2.14 per cent since 2008, with 52 per cent of GPI countries recording a deterioration, while 48 per cent improved.

decline world peace

  • the domain that deteriorated the most over the ten-year period was Safety and Security, with 61 per cent of countries recording a deterioration.
  • the domain with the largest improvement was Militarisation where 60 per cent of countries became less militarised over the past decade.
  • Most of the detiororation in peacefulness is because of increasing terrorism and decreasing political stability in the MENA region; if this region were excluded from global peace indicators, the world would in fact be more peaceful!
  • The heightened media attention on conflict in the Middle East, refugee flows and terrorism in Europe has meant several positive trends have not been as widely covered. Two of the more positive trends from the last decade are decreases in the homicide rate and improvements in the Political Terror Scale which measures state sponsored violence and torture, where 2/3rds of countries improved.
declining militarisation
Reasons to be hopeful? The worldwide decline in militarization.

The economic costs of violence 

  • The economic impact of violence on the global economy in 2016 was $14.3 trillion in purchasing power parity (PPP),
  • This is equivalent to 12.6 per cent of the world’s economic activity (gross world product), or $1,953 for every person.
  • The economic impact of war was $1.04 trillion. Peacebuilding expenditure is estimated to be approximately $10 billion, or less than one per cent of the cost of war.
  • The impact of violence for the ten least peaceful countries was equivalent to 37 per cent of their GDP. This compares to only three per cent in the ten most peaceful.

NB – What’s above is just an overview – I strongly recommend you explore the data further at Vision of Humanity!

How Useful is the Global Peace Index in helping us to understand development?

Strengths

On the plus side, the data seems to be non-partisan, in the sense that there doesn’t seem to be undue influence in the data selection process from developed countries – there is a heavy peace-score penalty which some of the most developed countries pay for high levels of military expenditure – most notably the United States.

Also, if we can trust the data and the number-crunching, then there is a clear correlation between sustained peacefulness in a country and that country’s level of development, and so monitoring levels of peacefulness and violence seems to be one of the most important goals in global development.

The Global Peace Index covers a lot of indicators – and the reports break them down to look at individual indicators, so you get a certain level of insight into the levels of peacefulness and violence.

I do like the focus on ‘positive peace’ and the fact that the report recognizes high levels of military expenditure as retarding investment in more positive aspects of development.

Limitations 

On the downside, I’m not convinced that all of the data is 100% valid – there has to be a lot of differences in the way data is recorded from country to country, especially in war-zones, so lots of missing conflict-deaths no doubt. This means making comparisons is difficult.

Also, I’m not sure they’ve included a broad enough range of indicators – the fact that Qatar creeps in at number 30 makes me suspicious, also – is violence against women included?

Also, I’m not clear about how the data is weighted – there’s lots of talk in the report about ‘multiplying factors’, and I don’t know enough about the maths behind the indices to evaluate how valid these calculations are.

 

 

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Grenfell Tower – Profits before Safety?

This truly horrific, and avoidable tragedy seems to be a perfect illustration of the downsides of neoliberal policies – deregulation, cutting public services (such as social housing) and outsourcing to private companies are the three cornerstones of neoliberal economic policy – and the conflation of these three things together seem to be directly responsible for the deaths in Grenfell Tower.

Grenfell Tower neoliberalism
The official death toll for the Grenfell Tower is currently 79 people, although the actual number might be considerably higher.

NB – This isn’t just me saying this, below is an approximate quote by Diane Abbott, MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, in a speech given on 24th June:

‘The Grenfell Tower fire was a ‘direct consequence of Tory attitudes towards social housing… they think they are second class citizens, and thus they got second class fire safety standards. It is also a direct consequence of outsourcing and of deregulation” (video from The Independent).

Five things which suggest Kensington Council put profits before safety…

I’ve taken the  five pieces of evidence from a recent article in The Week : ‘The Grenfell Inferno: were profits put before safety’? (NB – as far as I can tell, this is only in the print copy of The Week, 24th June, Issue 1130).

One – The council ignored repeated warnings by Grenfell residents

Grenfell residents had repeatedly warned KCTMO that the building was unsafe:

  • rubbish blocking hallways was going uncollected
  • emergency lighting was inadequate
  • there was no fire escape (save the main stairs)
  • fire extinguishers weren’t being tested
  • repeated power surges had led to electrical appliances catching fire previously.
  • It was also claimed that on the night of the fire, the fire alarms failed.

The council’s response was to actually threaten one of those bringing up the issue of fire safety with legal action:

grenfell fire safety.png

Two – The council made a conscious choice to cut costs on social housing

The council had the money to make the Tower safe, but it chose not to spend it.

Amelia Gentlemen in The Guardian suggests that, in the context of the vast wealth in the borough, there is a strong suspicion that council officials ‘see social housing tenants, many of them immigrants, as a nuisance, occupying valuable land that could be sold off to developers at a vast profit’. 

Three – The council outsourced the recent refurbishment of Grenfell Tower to a firm called Rydon, which has a track record of putting profits before safety.

Rydon, which made a pre-tax profit of £14 million last year, won the contract over the councils ‘preferred contractor’ by undercutting them, despite the fact that another council, Sutton council, had recently cancelled a five year repairs contract with Rydon becaue its performance fell short of requirements.

Rydon Cladding.jpg

Rydon subcontracted out the Grenfell work to nine different companies, which raised ‘serious concerns about the quality of supervision and accountability’.

So it was Rydon that was the firm who would have agreed to install the non fire-proof cladding, rather than going for the fire-proof panels for an extra £5000.

Four – Deregulation has meant that landlords have managed to avoid acting on fire safety advice. 

Retrofitting sprinklers (which would have cost £200 000) was one of the recommendations made after a fire at Lakanal House in south London in 2009 killed nine people, but lawmakers decided not to make this mandatory – they left it up to landlords and councils to do so on a voluntary basis, and few did.

deregulation Grenfell
The Cabinet Office boasts how deregulation has reduced the rigor of fire safety inspections

Five – The incapable response by the council to the disaster

Despite an amazing voluntary response by the public, the ‘council was no where to be seen’ – even 24 hours after the fire, there was no centralised co-ordination from the council, no point of information about missing persons, and some residents were still sleeping rough 4 days later.

All of this suggests that the council see social housing tenants as second class citizens. 

Grenfell protests kensington.jpg

NB – the poor treatment is continuing several days later….According to The Guardian around 30 households were subsequently told by the council that they would have to move out their Holiday Inn accommodation because of previous bookings; some families have been asked to move several times.

The relevance of all of this to A-level sociology….

As I mentioned above, this tragedy can be used to illustrate downsides of neoliberal policies – deregulation, cutting public services (such as social housing) and outsourcing to private companies are the three cornerstones of neoliberal economic policy – and the conflation of these three things together seem to be directly responsible for the deaths in Grenfell Tower.

It’s also a useful reminder that poor people in rich (unequal) societies can be treated appallingly, suggesting that inequality is the main barrier to further social development in so called ‘developed’ countries like the United Kingdom.

I also think Bauman’s concept of ‘flawed consumers’ can be applied here – Bauman has long commented that capitalism produces ‘surplus people’ – those without the means to consume, and many of the Grenfell residents fit this category – and because they perform no useful function in a capitalist system (because they can’t buy that many things and keep profit flowing) these people are treated with contempt, as this case study clearly demonstrates.

As a final note, a harsh question I’d like people to consider is simply this – how many people in the U.K. genuinely believe that the state should guarantee a decent standard of housing for everyone, even if that means spending a few billion extra pounds at the national level, which in turn would mean an increasing in taxes?

Clearly the Kensington council leader, and probably most of the Tory party, think the state should provide no or minimal help to the poor in the form of social housing, that’s one of the main strands of neoliberal thought, but how many of those people cheering for Jeremy Corbyn at Glastonbury really believe the state should pay more towards social housing, especially if that means your council tax bill going up?

I have this uncomfortable feeling that while it’s easy to come together and hate the Tories, if you probed public opinion a little deeper, there probably wouldn’t be that much support for increased spending on social welfare, or that much commitment to giving serious thought about how to implement policies to make capitalism work better for the poor, let alone how to replace it with a post-capitalist order.

 

 

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Right Wing American Media Bias

Identifying media bias through content analysis is a key skill in sociology. The American media is often accused of having a right-wing bias which means they will present a pro-capitalist, pro-business world view as normal and desirable and promote a neoliberal policy agenda. (1)

Below I analyse one newspaper article (about why 66 million Americans have no savings at all) to illustrate how agenda setting, or what and what isn’t included in the article, results in a subtle right-wing, neoliberal bias. 

The article is as follows: Can you guess how many Americans have absolutely no savings at all – BY KRISTEN DOERER AND PAUL SOLMAN  June 21, 2016

OK – It looks like it might be a lefty topic, because it’s about the precarious financial life of the poorest sections of American society, but there’s no class-based analysis focusing on how it’s mainly low-paid and temporary jobs in the context of 30 years neoliberal economics resulting in productivity gains, but increasingly unequal national income distribution meaning the very rich get richer, while most of the rest of us, especially the poor, get relatively poorer.

Having alerted us to these ‘shocking statistics’ (oh those poor, poor Americans), we are then told that this low-savings rate is spread among all households –

‘the problem is hardly confined to the poor. Yes, more than half of all households with an annual income under $30,000 have no emergency savings. But fully one in six households with an annual income between $50,000 and $75,000 had no emergency savings either’.

The article then goes on to talk about how Gen Y is better at saving than Gen X – the tone of which seems to blame 40 to 60 somethings for having too high consumption levels and not saving enough… (‘if your damn kids can save, then why not you too’?) –  here ignoring the following two important contextual facts:

  • (A) Gen Xrs were encouraged to consume in the context of a growing economy, then the neoliberal crash came in 2007, and here we are: hyper-precarity;
  • (B) OK Yes – Gen Yrs may appear to be better at saving, rather than avoiding debt, but why are they saving? I bet once you take out all of those saving to go travelling (and hence consuming) or saving for a mortgage (you now need a bigger deposit than your parents), you’d have similar rates of debt being racked up across the generations.

The article ends with the classic neoliberal trick of individualising the whole problem:

“The biggest barrier to saving is not being in the habit of saving,” says McBride. “You have to set some money aside with every paycheck.” Making it automatic can help, he advises. But no matter how you do it, start now.”

Ignoring the fact that for the typical person with no savings (mots of them are in low-paid jobs) there simply isn’t enough money left at the end of the week to put something extra by!

In summary: why don’t people save according to the narrow agenda of this right-wing, neoliberal article?

  • 40-60 somethings got into the habit of consuming too much.
  • It’s a problem which effects all levels of income
  • 20-30 somethings are much better at saving than their parents
  • Irresponsible parents need to learn from their kids and just save more….

What’s not considered/ emphasised 

  • There are 10-15% of American households which are in no position to save for emergencies
  • This is because 30 years of neoliberal policies have created precarious and low-paid jobs, which has meant productivity gains, the gains from which have gone disproportionately to the top 1%.
  • Generation Yrs are shit-scared of their futures and so are more likely to save compared to their parents.
  • We need state-intervention to redistribute wealth away from the richest 1% and back to the lowest paid workers who actually created this wealth through their labour power.

Notes

(1) I didn’t intend to write this today, it just sort of happened, I was actually looking up stats on inequality in America, and I got quite annoyed when I read (and thought) about the content of this article.

Related posts 

Do the media influence our voting behaviour? – Deals withe bias in newspaper reporting of the 2017 U.K. Election

Is America and underdeveloped country?

 

 

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Evaluating the Usefulness of Official Statistics

Official Statistics are numerical data collected by governments and their agencies. This post examines a ranges of official statistics collected by the United Kingdom government and evaluates their usefulness.

Click the image to search 13, 848 official statistics produced by the U.K. government

The aim of this post is to demonstrate one of the main strengths of official statistics – they give us a ‘snap shot’ of life in the U.K. and they enable us to easily identify trends over time.

Of course the validity and thus the usefulness of official statistics data varies enormously between different types of official statistic, and this post also looks at the relative strengths and limitations of these different types of official statistic: some of these statistics are ‘hard statistics’, they are objective, and there is little disagreement over how to measure what is being measured (the number of schools in the U.K. for example), whereas others are ‘softer statistics’ because there is more disagreement over the definitions of the concepts which are being measured (the number of pupils with Special Educational Needs, for example).

If you’re a student working through this, there are two aims accompanied with this post:

  1. Before reading the material below, play this ‘U.K. official statistics matching game’, you can also do it afterwards to check yer knowledge.
  2. After you’ve read through this material, do the ‘U.K. official statistics validity ranking exercise’.

Please click on the images below to explore the data further using the relevant ONS data sets and analysis pages.

Ethnic Identity in the United Kingdom According the U.K. 2011 Census

U.K. Census 2011 data showed us that 86% of people in the United Kingdom identified themselves as ‘white’ in 2011.

How valid are these statistics?

To an extent, ethnic identity is an objective matter – for example, I was kind of ‘born white’ in that both my parents are/ were white, all of my grandparents were white, and all of my great-grandparents were white, so I can’t really claim I belong to any other ethnic group. However, although I ticked ‘white’ box when I did the U.K. Census, this personally means very little to me, whereas to others (probably the kind of people I wouldn’t get along with very well) their ‘whiteness’ is a very important part of their identity, so there’s a whole range of different subjective meanings that go along with whatever ethnic identity box people ticked. Census data tells us nothing about this.

Religion according to the U.K. 2011 Census

In the 2011 Census, 59% of people identified as ‘Christian’ in 2011, the second largest ‘religious group’ was ‘no religion’, which 25% of the U.K. population identified with.

Statistics on religious affiliation may also lack validity – are 59% of people really Christian? And if they really are, then what does this actually mean? Church attendance is significantly lower than 59% of the population, so the ‘Christian’ box covers everything from devout fundamentalists to people that are just covering their bases (‘I’d better tick yes, just in case there is a God, or gods?’)

The British Humanist Society present a nice summary of why statistics on religious belief may lack validity…basically based on the ‘harder’ statistics such as church attendance which show a much lower rate of committed religious practice.

The United Kingdom Employment Rate

The employment rate is the proportion of people aged from 16 to 64 in work.

The lowest employment rate for people was 65.6% in 1983, during the economic downturn of the early 1980s. The employment rates for people, men and women have been generally increasing since early 2012.As of December 2016, the employment rate for all people was 74.6%, the highest since records began in 1971

Critics of the above data point to the existence of an informal or shadow economy in the United Kingdom which is worth an estimated £150 billion a year – people who are working and earning an income, but not declaring it. In reality, the actual paid-employment rate is higher.

Household Income Distribution in the United Kingdom

Household income statistics are broken down into the following three broad categories:

  • original income is income before government intervention (benefits)
  • gross income is income after benefits but before tax
  • disposable income is income after benefits and tax (income tax, National Insurance and council tax).

In the year ending 2016, after cash benefits were taken into account, the richest fifth had an average income that was roughly 6 times the poorest fifth (gross incomes of £87,600 per year compared with £14,800, respectively)

Reasons why household income data may lack validity

While measuring income does appear to be purely objective (you just add and minus the pounds), the income data above may lack validity because some people might not declare some of the income they are earning. Cash in hand work, for example, would not be included in the above statistics, and some money earned via the ‘gig economy’ might not be declared either – how many people actually pay tax on their YouTube revenue for example, or from the goods they sell on Ebay?

The United Kingdom Crime Rate

Below I discuss data from the Crime Survey of England and Wales (CSEW), which is a victim-survey conducted by structured interview with 35 000 households. It seems pointless discussing the crime rate according to police recorded crime because it’s such an obviously invalid measurement of crime (and the police know it), simply because so many crimes go unreported and hence unrecorded by the police.

Latest figures from the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) show there were an estimated 6.1 million incidents of crime experienced by adults aged 16 and over based on interviews in the survey year ending December 2016.

The green dot shows the figure if we include computer based crimes and online fraud, a new type of crime only recently introduced to the survey (so it wouldn’t be fair to make comparisons over time!) – if we include these the number of incidents of crime experienced jumps up to 11.5 million.

Reasons why even the CSEW might lack validity

Even though its almost certainly more valid than police recorded crime – there are still reasons why the CSEW may not report all crimes – domestic crimes may go under-reported because the perpetrator might be in close proximity to the victim during the survey (it’s a household survey), or people might mis-remember crimes, and there are certain crimes that the CSEW does not ask about – such as whether you’ve been a victim of Corporate Crime.

The U.K. Prison Population


 

 

The average prison population has increased from just over 17,400 in 1900 to just over 85,300 in 2016 (a five-fold increase). Since 2010, the average prison population has again remained relatively stable.

Prison Population Statistics – Probably have Good Validity?

I’ve included this as it’s hard to argue with the validity of prison population stats. Someone is either held in custody or they or not at the time of the population survey (which are done weekly!) – A good example of a truly ‘hard’ statistic! This does of course assume we have open and due process where the law and courts are concerned.

Of course you could argue for the sake of it that they lack validity – what about hidden prisoners, or people under false imprisonment? I’m sure in other countries (North Korea?) – their prison stats are totally invalid, if they keep any!

United Kingdom Population and Migration Data


 

 

Net migration to the U.K. stood at 248 000 in 2016, lower than the previous year, but still historically high compared to the 1980s-1990s.

There are a number of reasons why UK immigration statistics may lack validity

According to this migration statistics methodology document only about 1/30 people are screened (asked detailed questions about whether they are long term migrants or not), on entering the United Kingdom, and only a very small sample of people (around 4000) are subjected to the more detailed International Passenger Survey.

Then of course there is the issue of people who enter Britain legally but lie about their intentions to remain permanently, as well as people who are smuggled in. In short the above statistics are just based on the people the authorities know about, so while I’m one to go all ‘moral panic’ on the issue of immigration, there is sufficient reason to be sceptical about the validity of the official figures!

Ranking Exercise:

You might like to rank the following ‘official statistics’ in terms of validity – which of these statistics is closest to actual reality?

  • Immigration statistics – Net migration in 2016 was 248 000
  • Prison statistics – There are just over 85 000 people in prison
  • Crime statistics – There were around 6 million incidents of crime in 2016
  • The richest 20% of households had an average income of around £85 000 in 2016
  • The U.K. employment rate is 75% in 2016.
  • 59% of the population were Christina in 2011
  • 86% of the population was white in 2011

Related Posts

Official Statistics in Sociology

Education Statistics – 12 things Department for Education data tell us about the state of education in England and Wales today (forthcoming)

Family and Household Statistics – seven interesting statistics about family life in the U.K.

Sources

Please click the pictures above to follow links to sources…

The United Kingdom Census is a survey of every person in the United Kingdom, carried out every 10 years, the last one being in March 2011. It asks a series of ‘basic’ questions about sex, ethnicity, religion and occupation. It is the only survey which is based on a ‘total sample’ of all U.K. households. You might also like this summary – What is a Census?

U.K. Prison Population Statistics – House of Commons Research Briefing

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How I would’ve answered A level sociology paper 3: crime and deviance with theory and methods, June 2017

Crime and deviance with theory and methods is the third and final exam paper (7192/3) in the AQA A level sociology specification – below are a few thoughts on how I would’ve answered the paper from the June 2017 exam…

Sociology paper 3: Crime and Deviance with Theory and Methods, 2017 

Q01 – Two reasons for ethnic differences in offending

I’m a bit concerned that the plural on differences means you need to talk about two different ethnic groups… so to be on the safe side. (Of course it’s not obvious that you need to do this from the question, and maybe you don’t, but remember the AQA’s burning hatred of teenagers… I wouldn’t put it past them!

To be on the safe side…

  • African-Caribbeans more likely to end up in jail due to more serious nature offences (knife/ gun convictions) compared to whites
  • Asians over represented due to Islamophobia – more labelling by media/ public/ police = higher conviction rate.

Both of those need to be better articulated, but they are two completely different reasons!

The hub post for ethnicity and crime is here – official statistics on ethnicity and crime

Q02 – Outline three functions of crime

BOOM!

Or so you probably thought… it’s simply a matter of explaining Durkheim’s three functions of crime:

  • Integration
  • Regulation
  • Social chance

BUT – Have you really nailed the difference between integration (belonging/ connections) and regulation (clarity of rules/ prevention of anomie)?

Q03 – Analyse two ways in which deviant subcultures may respond to the difficulties of achieving mainstream goals

The item directs you to underachievement at school and deprived or unstable neighbourhoods. You could draw on the material from subcultural theory – so I’d go with…

  • Albert Cohen’s status frustration and the standard rebellious subcultures.
  • Then you could draw on Cloward and Ohlin’s subcultural types (there’s that burning hatred of teenagers again, this is turgid old stuff that could be relevant) – criminal or retreatist subcultures
  • To link into the above point you could draw on Merton’s responses to strain and just relate these to subcultures.

Q04 – Evaluate sociological contributions to crime prevention strategies

The item directs you to both right and left realism and then surveillance… so it’s simply a matter of

Obviously topped and tailed with an intro and conclusion

Q05 – Outline two advantages of choosing overt observation compared to covert observation

I covered this at the bottom of this post of participant observation, but you’d need to expand on all the points!

I’d probably go for point 1 validity and point 2 on ethics to make sure the two points are very different.

One thing you NEED to do for this is to compare the two -overt and covert!

Q06 – Evaluate the view that conflict approaches are more useful than consensus approaches in our understanding of society

Straightforward – the item directs you to consensus and Marxism and labelling theory (also Weber’s social action theory, but I’d leave that aside and just settle for 16 or 17 out of 20) and talks about power.

So simply –

Point 1 – Functionalism and evaluate using contemporary evidence

Point 2 – Marxism and evaluate using contemporary evidence

Point 3 – Social action theory and evaluate using contemporary evidence

Overall evaluation – use PM to criticise both, and conclude that conflict theories are absolutely more relevant!

Overall I thought this was a reasonable paper! Classic, even.

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Scientific Quantitative Methodology in Sociology

Positivists prefer to the limit themselves the study of objective ‘social facts’ and use statistical data and the comparative method to find correlations, and multivariate analysis to uncover statistically significant ‘causal’ relationships between variables and thus derive the laws of human behaviour.

This post explores the Positivist approach to social research, defining and explaining all of the above key terms and using some examples from sociology to illustrate them.

Social Facts

The first rule of Positivist methodology is to consider social facts as things which means that the belief systems and customs of the social world should be considered as things in the same way as the objects and events of the natural world.

According to Durkheim, some of the key features of social facts are:

  • they exist over and above individual consciousness
  • they are not chosen by individuals and cannot be changed by will
  • each person is limited (constrained) by social facts

According to Durkheim what effects do social facts make people act in certain ways, in the same way as door limits the means whereby you can enter a room or gravity limits how far you can jump.

Positivists believed that we should only study what can be observed and measured(objective facts), not subjective thoughts and feelings. The role of human consciousness is irrelevant to explaining human behaviour according to Positivists because humans have little or no choice over how they behave.

For a more in-depth account of social facts, have a look at this blog post: What are Social Facts?

Statistical data, Correlation, and Causation

Positivists believed it was possible to classify the social world in an objective way. Using these classifications it was then possible to count sets of observable facts and so produce statistics.

The point of identifying social facts was to look for correlations – a correlation is a tendency for two or more things to be found together, and it may refer to the strength of the relationship between them.

If there is a strong correlation between two ore more types of social phenomena then a positivist sociologist might suspect that one of these phenomena is causing the other to take place. However, this is not necessarily the case and it is important to analyse the data before any conclusion is reach.

Spurious Correlations

Spurious correlations pose a problem for Positivist research. A spurious correlation is when two or more phenomena are found together but have no direct connection to each other: one does not therefor cause the other. For example although more working class people commit crime, this may be because more men are found in the working classes – so the significant relationship might be between gender and crime, not between class and crime.

Multivariate Analysis

Positivists engage in multivariate analysis to overcome the problem of spurious correlations.

Multivariate Analysis involves isolating the effect of a particular independent variable upon a particular dependent variable. This can be done by holding one independent variable constant and changing the other. In the example above this might mean comparing the crime rates of men and women in the working class.

Positivists believe multivariate analysis can establish causal connections between two or more variables and once analysis is checked establish the laws of human behaviour.

Positivism – Establishing the Laws of Human Behaviour

A scientific law is a statement about the relationship between two or more phenomena which is true in all circumstances.

According to Positivists, the laws of human behaviour can be discovered by the collection of objective facts about the world in statistical form and uncovering correlations between them, checked for their significance by multivariate analysis.

Positivism and The Comparative Method

The comparative method involves the use of comparisons between different societies, or different points in time

The purpose of using the comparative method is to establish correlations, and ultimately causal connections, seek laws and test hypotheses.

The comparative method overcomes the following disadvantages of experiments:

  • Moral problems are not as acute
  • The research is less likely to affect the behaviour or those being studied because we are looking at natural settings
  • The comparative method is superior to the experimental method because allows the sociologist to explore large scale social changes and changes over time

However, a fundamental problem with the comparative method is that the data you want may not be available, and you are limited to that data which already exists or which can be collected on a large scale via social surveys.

Related Posts

Positivism and Interpretivism in social research

Social Action Theory – criticises the positivist approach to social research, arguing that human consciousness is too complex to reduce to numbers.