Posted on Leave a comment

Meet the Natives (Sociology on T.V.)

Meet the Natives involves five people from a tropical island visiting a ‘strange land called England’, where they find many of the customs unusual.

At various points throughout the video the ‘natives’ from Oceania have problems understanding British dinner rituals, the food we eat, housework/ the amount of stuff we have and even the concept of wearing clothes.

Videos like this are a great way to introduce the ‘sociological imagination’ to students, because they are shot from the perspective of ‘the outsider’ and remind us that many of our taken for granted activities are actually quite unusual….

Advertisements
Posted on Leave a comment

What is Socialization?

A Basic Definition:

The social processes through which new members of society develop awareness of social norms and values and help them achieve a distinct sense of self. It is the process which transforms a helpless infant into a self-aware, knowledgeable person who is skilled in the ways of a society’s culture.

Socialization is normally discussed in terms of primary socialization, which is particularly intense and takes place in the early years o life, and secondary socialization, which continues throughout the life course.

Stages of Socialization 

Socialization takes place through various agencies, such as the family, peer groups, schools and the media.

The family is the main agent during primary socialization, but increasingly children attend some kind of nursery schooling from a very young age. It is in the family that children learn the ‘basic norms’ of social interaction – in Britain such norms include learning how to walk, speak, dress in clothes, and a whole range of ‘social manners’, which a taught through the process of positive and negative sanctions, or rewarding good and punishing bad behaviour.

In modern societies, class gender and ethnic differences start to affect the child from a very young age and these influence patterns of socialization. Where gender is concerned, for example, children unconsciously pick up on a range of gendered stereotypes which inform the actions of their parents, and they typically adjust their behaviour accordingly.

In adulthood, socialization continues as people learn how to behave in relation to new areas of social life, such as work environments and political beliefs. Mass media and the internet are also seen as playing an increasing role in socialization, helping to shape opinions, attitudes and behaviour. This is especially the case with the advent of new media, which enable virtual interactions via chatrooms, blogs and so on.

Taken together, agencies of socialization form a complex range of contrary social influences and opportunities for interaction and it can never be an entirely directed or determined process: humans are self-aware beings capable of forming their own interpretations of the messages with which they are presented.

Criticisms of the Concept

The main criticism of theories of socialization is that they tend to exaggerate its influence. This is particularly true of functionalism which tended to see individuals as cultural dopes, at the mercy of socializing agencies.

Dennis Wrong (1961) took issue with what he saw as the ‘oversocialized concept of man’ in sociology, arguing that it treats people as mere role-players, simply following scripts.

Today, theories of society and cultural reproduction are much more likely to recognize that individuals are active players and that socialization is a conflict-ridden and emotionally charged affair, and the results of it are much less predictable than functionalist theories suggested in the 1950s.

Posted on Leave a comment

Are League Tables Good for Education?

The New Right introduced league tables into the UK education system in 1988, and today they are part of the ‘education furniture’, but what are the pros and cons?

Arguments and evidence that league tables have benefitted education

  • Politicians say that accountability keeps the teaching profession on its toes and drives up standards.
  • According to Prof Simon Burgess there is some evidence to support this – In 2001 the Welsh assembly stopped the publication of secondary school “league tables” and this resulted in a significant deterioration in GCSE performance. The effect amounted to around two GCSE grades per pupil per year – that is, achieving a grade D rather than a B in one subject.
  • League tables also give parents information on how the schools they are contemplating sending their children to are performing, and they do offer a very simple way of comparing schools (Easy for everyone to understand!).

Arguments and Evidence against League Tables

  • League tables do not give a rounded picture of everything going on in each school: they focus exclusively on academic achievement and don’t show whether the school ethos is right for their particular child, or how likely their child is to be safe and happy in that particular school.
  • Schools at the top of the league tables can create a “property price bubble” where parents will pay vastly inflated property prices to live near a top school, which prices out the majority of parents from the catchment area of the best schools.
  • School league tables put pressure on schools and students to achieve, this can distort the basic values and principles of education: there is a lot teaching to the test for example.
  • Schools lower down the league tables suffer a stigma of being branded ‘in need of improvement’ which may have all of the effects associated with negative labelling.

Sources:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-20628795

Posted on Leave a comment

Taclott Parsons’ Perspective on Education

The American sociologist Talcott Parsons (1961) outlined what is commonly accepted as the Functionalist view of education as it relates to modern societies in the late 1950s.

Taclott Parsons.png
A typically convoluted quote from my man TP – He’s basically saying ‘individual ability, not class background is what determines achievement’

 

Parsons argued that, after primary socialisation within the family, the school takes over as the focal socializing-agency: school acts as a bridge between family and society as a whole, preparing children for their adult roles in society.

Within the family, the child is judged by particularistic standards. Parents treat the child as their own, unique, special child, rather than judging him or her by universal standards that are applied to every individual.

However, in the wider society the individual is treated and judged in terms of universalistic standards, which are applied to all members, regardless of their kinship ties.

Within the family, the child’s status is ascribed: it is fixed by birth. However, in advanced industrial society, status in adult life is largely achieved: for example individuals achieve their occupational skills. Thus it is necessary that the child moves from the particularistic standards and ascribed status of the family to the universalistic standards and achieved status of adult society.

The school prepares people for this transition. It establishes universalistic standards, in terms of which all pupils achieve their status. Their conduct is assessed against the yardstick of the school rules; their achievement is measured by performance in examinations. The same standards are applied to all pupils regardless of ascribed characteristics such as sex, race, family background or class of origin. Schools operated on meritocratic principles: status is achieved on the basis of merit (or worth).

Like Durkheim, Parsons argued that the school represents society in miniature. Modern industrial society is increasingly based on achievement rather than ascription, on universalistic rather than particularistic standards, on meritocratic principles which apply to all its members. By reflecting the operation of society as a whole, the school prepares young people for their adult roles.

Education and Value Consensus

As part of this process, schools socialise young people into the basic values of society. Parsons, like many functionalists, maintained that value consensus is essential for society to operate effectively. In American society, school instils two major values

  1. The value of achievement
  2. The value of equality of opportunity.

By encouraging students to strive for high levels of academic attainment, and by rewarding those who succeed, schools foster the value of achievement itself. By placing individuals in the same situation in the classroom and so allowing them to compete on equal terms in examinations, schools foster the value of equality of opportunity.

These values have important functions in society as a whole. Advanced industrial society requires a highly motivated, highly skilled workforce. This necessitates differential reward for differential achievement, a principle which has been established in schools. Both the winners (the high achievers) and the losers (the low achievers) will see the system as just and fair, since status is achieved in a situation where all have an equal chance. Again, the principles that operate in the wider society are mirrored in the school.

Education and Selection.

Finally, Parsons saw the educational system as an important mechanism for the section of individuals for their future role in society. In his words, it ‘functions to allocate these human resources within the role-structure of adult society’. Thus schools by testing and evaluating students, match their talents, skills and capacities to the jobs for which they are best suited. The school is therefor seen as the major mechanism for role allocation.

Evaluations of Parsons

The main criticisms of Parson’s work comes from Marxism.

Marxists criticize the idea that schools transmit shared values, rather they see the education system as transmitting the values of the ruling class, as outlined in Bowles and Gintis’ Correspondence Principle.

Marxists have also criticised the idea that schools are meritocratic, arguing that meritocracy is a myth, because in reality, which schools may treat pupils the same, class inequalities result in unequal opportunities.

Related Posts 

This post provides a more in-depth account of the Functionalist Perspective on Education. For a simplified version please see this post.

If you like this in-depth sort of thing then you might also like my post on Durkheim’s view of education.

 

 

Posted on Leave a comment

Ranking Exercises in Sociology

‘Ranking is an academic exercise; through the exchange of opinion thinking is exercised and personal understanding is achieved of key issues and concepts. This results in deep rather than shallow learning.’ (1)

Ranking research methods, concepts, or even simple value-statements against some pre-set criteria is (IMO) one of the most efficient and useful* ways of developing students’ evaluation skills.

As with just about everything in life – all of this is explained much better through the use of examples, below are a few of my favourite ranking exercises:

At some point, hopefully very soon I’ll get around to putting the actual resources I use online somewhere so you can download them!

EXAMPLE ONE: Rank the RESEARCH METHOD according to the criteria…

Research Methods Sociology Ranking.png

  • Obviously provide students with the above cards so they can sort them!
  • Additional instruction/ criteria slides might include ‘validity’, ‘representativeness’ etc.

EXAMPLE TWO: Rank the RESEARCH TOPIC according to the Methods criteria

Very useful for Methods in Context this!

(Display on PPT): Rank the following topics according to how easy YOU would find it to gain access to conduct research.

Cards you could use (each bullet point on a separate card)

  • Researching how the values, attitudes, and aspirations of parents contribute to the achievement of certain groups of children
  • Why boys are more likely to be excluded than girls
  • Why white working class boys underachieve
  • Exploring whether teachers have ‘ideal pupils’ – whether they label certain groups of pupils favourably
  • Looking at whether the curriculum is ethnocentric (racist/ homophobic
  • Exploring the extent to which sexist ‘bullying’ disadvantages children
  • Examining how ‘gender identities’ enhance or hinder children’s ability to learn
  • Assessing the relative importance of cultural deprivation versus material deprivation in explaining underachievement

Example 3: Rank the ’causes’ of the social change

(Display on PPT): Rank the following reasons according to how significant they are in explaining the long term decline in the birth rate.

Cards you could use (with this topic I might actually include a bit more detail on the backs)

  • Economic changes
  • Changes in the position of children
  • Changing gender roles
  • Postmodernisation
  • Technological changes

Example 4: Rank the Example to how far it applies to men and women AND how liberating/ oppressive it is

I’m claiming this ‘double whammy’ ranking exercise – never seen it before. NB If you ‘spatialise’ this by making students hold one card each and go to different places in the room, you can even add in a third axis by getting them to hold the cards high or low.

(Display on PPT): Along the horizontal axis rank the cards according to whether it applies exclusively to men or women, or equally to both; along the vertical axis rank according to whether the experience is oppressive or liberating:

Feminism Diagram

Suggestions for cards (I use about 20 for this)

  • Becoming a police officer
  • Becoming a nurse
  • Becoming a soldier
  • Going to jail
  • Becoming a politician
  • Becoming a CEO
  • Being the primary child carer
  • Motherhood
  • Fatherhood
  • Being a victim of sexual harassment

Hints and tips for using ranking activities effectively

  1. Use them – they are very efficient – all you need is a set of cards with the words on that need ranking and a power point slide with the criteria and instructions **.
  2. I recommend having no more than 8 cards (it gets tiresome with more than 8), and you probably don’t want to do more than ‘4 rounds’ of matching with the same cards, students tend to get a bit sick of it after that.
  3. Technically I’m sure you can match and rank nearly anything against anything, so mess around with it, you might even get some lateral thinking going!
  4. Do I really need to remind you to make yer cards real perty and laminate ’em???

Sources and Further Notes

(1) Ginnis (2002) Teachers Toolkit

*There are maybe more useful ways, but for the busy teacher in mainstream state education, ranking exercises are extremely quick to produce.

**You could do this on paper, and just get students to write in the order (say 1-10), or I’m sure there are online versions too, but personally I like cards – they’re nice and tactile!

Posted on Leave a comment

Revise Sociology on Facebook, Twitter and the Rest…

Below are some links to the main social media sites I use.

If you like this sort of sociology thang, then you might like to follow me by clicking on any, or all of the icons below….

Blog

Twitter – @realsociology

 

 

 

 

Facebook Page

 

 

 

 

Google Plus 

 

 

 

 

Linked In

 

 

 

 

And a few more….

I’ll add in the real perty (‘pretty’) logos later….

  1. YouTube
  2. TES
  3. Quizlet.com

Disclaimer/ Apology

OK OK I know this is a shameless ‘plug my online constructed self page’, but I’ve just spent two hours consolidating my social media profiles, so that’s it for today folks!

It’s probably worth noting that this blog is the main ‘hub site’ I use to post stuff: and most of the other sites are just what I use to publicize what I post on this blog – so cycling through all the above sites will give your the most wonderful feeling of an inward looking cycle of self-referentiality.

Also this is something of an experiment with the ‘contact details’ part of my C.V. which I’m currently trying to reinvent for the 21st century, and that is honestly about as much fun as it sounds!

Tomorrow I promise I’ll post some actual content.

Posted on Leave a comment

The Mars Trilogy – Good Sociology Novels!

I thought I’d take the unusual step of plugging a series of novels in this post….

The ‘Mars Trilogy’ by Kim Stanley Robinson (1990s) may well be a work of science fiction, but it’s full of sociological themes. I guess you’d call the genre something like ‘ecological science fiction’ – a lot of his novels are set in a future in which ecological limits play a major role in the story-lines, and the characters, like it or not, cannot escape such limits. Similarly, his novels, although science fiction, tend to imagine a world where corporate capitalism still remains the dominant power in society.

I actually first came across the author thanks to a quote by Naomi Klein in ‘This Changes Everything’, I guess it’s no surprise to find her linking to him, given that capitalism and climate change is her bag too.

In this particular series of novels (Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars) – the story follows Earth’s settlement of Mars, which starts with the ‘first hundred’ leaving for Mars and establishing a colony, soon to be followed by millions of other settlers.

The novels span about a couple of hundred years, and in the first novel (Red Mars) there’s lots of discussion among the first hundred about how to organise the environmental, social and economic aspects of ‘life on mars’.

A recurring theme is whether they should terraform the planet to make it suitable for human habitation – with views on the matter ranging between ‘Reds’ who want to leave Mars as it is and for humans to just live in ‘tents’, to the fullest supporters of terraforming, who want to turn the environment into one with liquid seas and breathable air.

Robinson also introduces the concept of ‘Aeroforming’ – a small group of the original settlers end up going ‘religious’ believing that the planet and themselves and their children need to co-evolve in a spiritual mutual-evolutionary process, and at various stages throughout the novel, Robinson comes back to the idea that New Mars needs some kind of religion to bind all of the disparate elements together.

Another major theme in the novels is the power of Transnational Corporations – which have become so powerful they effectively control the UN in the early stages of the of novels, but by the end they have effectively taken over whole countries on earth (because of bailing them out of their debts, sound familiar?).

The Transnationals basically see Mars as a place from which to extract resources to be shipped back to Earth, and idea which, in the second novel, is resisted by the third and fourth generation ‘Martians’ (who have never been to Earth) who have grown up in a world run largely on the basis of a ‘gift economy’ (made possible mainly by technological advances) rather than a profit economy.

Over the course of the novels, there are various conflicts between the TNCs, who have their own armed security forces, supported by various countries on Earth (rather than the other way around!) and the Martians, who actually reject the concept of ‘revolution’ because of it’s tainted history on Earth, developing a more selective and targeted, scientifically informed approach to getting rid of the TNCs.

Anyway, that’s a brief summary of some of the political and sociological themes in the novel, which also touches on issues of ageing (early on a treatment is invented that allows people to live well, well beyond 100 years); the issue of global warming (one key event on Earth is the collapse of a major Antarctic Ice Shelf) and obviously the role of technology in human relations (Robinson imagines it as mainly a liberating force); metaphysics (science vs religious frames of knowing the world); and the good old issue of cosmpolitanism (how can different cultures get along!?)

If you’re looking for sci-fi that imagines completely different futures, this isn’t it (so maybe it’s not actually sci-fi?), but if you want something that’s set in a future that seems like it’s a distinct possibility and in doing so reflects on many of the problems we face today, it’s a great read.

Just one criticism – each book is about 700 pages long, and each book IMO would benefit from loosing about 100 pages: too much unnecessary time is spent in ‘characters heads’ while adding little to the plot.

 

 

Posted on 4 Comments

Return to Eden and Eden Lost – A Case Study in Problematic Masculinity?

Starting in Spring 2016, Channel 4’s ‘Return to Eden’ was a year long social experiment in which 23 people moved to Inverness-shire in the Scottish Highlands – their mission – to form a community and survive for one year.

The experiment was a somewhat artificial community-experiment – in that the people were selected by the show, on the basis of their having the different skills thought to be required for a community to survive for a year; and with the exception of electricity and modern technology (most significantly phones and computers) they were given a shed load of equipment necessary to meet their basic needs – although they did have to grow their own food.

Oh, and the community members all had cameras, along with a bunch of fixed position cameras to film the whole experience.

Eden Lost 

‘Return to Eden’ initially aired in summer 2016, documenting the first three months of the experiment. Originally, it seemed that Channel Four were going to provide updates on the community throughout the year, but after the initial summer raft of episodes, there was a near total media blackout until the show ‘returned’ as ‘Eden Lost‘ in summer 2017, 3 months after the year long experiment ended.

Eden Lost starts in the summer of 2016, following the participants from 3 months to the end of their stay (by the end, there are only 10 people left, 13 people dropped out, mostly women, before the conclusion of the experiment).

After the first three months – the camp has basically divided into three – a group of five males who have ‘bonded’, 2 ‘outsiders’ who are living in a cabin on their own, and everyone else.

Episode 1 of ‘Eden Lost’ focuses on the group of five males, seemingly led by a character (a plumber) called Titch who at one point proposes a ‘gendered division of labour’ which offends pretty much everyone else outside of the clique of five. This group of lads seems to be quite the ‘Laddish subculture’ – openly joking about ‘sharing women’ in front of, well, the women in the community, and teasing them for ‘getting emotional’ when they got upset about their laddish behaviour.

You can see them throughout the episode justifying their behaviour, employing various of Matza’s ‘techniques of neutralisation’, clearly never taking responsibility for or really ever seeming to care about how their juvenile misogyny was having a negative effect on group dynamics.

The formation of this group seems to have led to yet more women leaving, further entrenching their position of power in the wider community (five in a group of fifteen, which is roughly how many were left by this point is quite a significant number too!)

Episode two focuses on the two outsiders – who effectively get voted out (75% majority required) by the others. These two seem to have been used as a scapegoat, constructed as a venting point for certain people in the main community.

Episode three – ‘Valley Boys’ focuses on the developing split between the five ‘valley boys’ and the other six people left in the original group. These five increasingly isolated themselves from the wider community, wanting to focus more on ‘themselves’ rather than doing things for the community as a whole.

It also seems that the lads deteriorate further into their laddishness, with scenes of derogatory ‘banter’ directed against the gay guy in the group (justified as just ‘banter’ by the lads).

At one point, the lads start eating nothing but meat, pushing the slaughter rate of animals up from one a week to six a week, which offends Rob P, the vet who has respect for animals and can’t see to see so many ‘shot in the face to feed greedy wankers’ (or something along those lines – and he becomes another one who leaves, effectively forced out by the relentless laddish subculture.

NB – what’s particularly grim about they way they deal with their meat fest is that they leave bits of bone and carcass lying around the valley, which makes it ‘stink of death’.

The final episode stars off with  Christmas Day – which seems to be going fine until Artist Katie, the girlfriend of the vet who left in the previous month, decides to leave the party stating she doesn’t want to spend the day with any of the people there because they’re all revolting (as far as she’s concerned)

There’s an issue with people getting contraband smuggled into Eden, and a debacle over someone having been using a mobile phone, although we never actually find out who was using it. which kind of makes a mockery of the whole experiment.

By this final episode, the two groups are living entirely separate lives, but they come together for a final fire-party on the beach.

What does Channel 4’s recent social experiment tell us about ‘community’ and social life more generally?

TBH I think it tells us very little…