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Evaluate the personal life perspective on the family(20)

This is a possible question which could come up in the AQA’s Paper 2, families and households topic. This post is just a few thoughts on how I’d go about answering it.

I thin this would be a fair question given that this is quite a difficult topic for students, and quite limited in what you can say for 20 marks.

Item

The Personal Life Perspective argues that sociologists should study family life from the perspectives of individuals, and focus on what families mean to them. If people believe that pets and dead relatives are part of their family, the sociologists should accept this.

This is very different from traditional sociological perspectives such as Functionalism and Marxism, which tended to study the nuclear family and look at what functions this performed for the individual and society.

Using the item and your own knowledge, Evaluate the personal life perspective on the family 

Decode/ discussion

What you need to do here is firstly show your knowledge of the Personal Life Perspective, and contrast this to Functionalism and Marxism. You can gain evaluation marks by showing how the PLP perspective criticise these older perspectives. Further analysis marks can be picked up by discussing how the former perspectives may have been relevant to a modernist society, but the PLP perspective is probably a better way of analysing the family in a post-modern society.

Finally, to criticise the PLP perspective, you could use Gidden’s Late Modernist theory. Although this would be a stretch for many students, especially as many of the text books don’t even recognise that Giddens is a Late Modernist.

Suggested Points

 

  • The PLP perspective emerged in the 1990s and criticised the Functionalist and Marxist view that the nuclear family should be the primary unit of analysis.
  • PLP argues that people still form meaningful relationships, but their Identity or sense of belonging increasingly comes from other people NOT traditionally regarded as part of a ‘normal family’ – for example pets, friends and dead relatives may all be seen as important to individuals.
  • The PLP perspective makes sense today because the nuclear family has declined in significance as fewer people get married, fewer people have kids, and more and more people spend time living alone, yet people still form meaningful relationships with each other.
  • The PLP perspective suggests we look at the family from the individual’s point of view, taking their definition – which can be useful, because if we do so we find that many people regard ‘non-nuclear’ family members as more important to them than their immediate traditional family.
  • This is is useful because it means we should not over-estimate the stability of the traditional nuclear family, and not be surprised by high rates of family break-down.
  • PLP also seems to fit in with interactionism – looking at the family from the ground up, rather than the top down, a strength of this is that we see that there are still families in the UK, nearly everyone has one, but just not in the standard ‘nuclear family’ sense of the word.
  • The PLP perspective is thus useful in criticising the New Right – people may not be in nuclear families, or married, but they are capable of establishing their own alternative families.
  • PLP is also useful to criticise Functionalism and Marxism – if families are different to the nuclear family, theories which focus on the role of the nuclear family must be wrong.
  • This is also a useful way of exploring family diversity, revealing family diversity if you like, and it’s appropriate when life-courses are diverse and complex.
  • The PLP perspective did, however suggest that people are not entirely free to construct their own families, they are constrained in their ability to do so by society and their immediate culture.
  • Finally, a weakness of PLP is that it ends up being a bit wishy-washy, descriptive rather than analytical, one is kind of left shrugging one’s shoulders wondering what the point of it is!
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How does social policy affect family life – Summary Grid

A summary grid of how five social policies might affect different aspects of family life. Designed to help students revise for A-level sociology – the families and households topic.

Picture below and then text version after!

Policy First Thoughts – How might this policy affect family life in the UK? More specifically will this support or undermine the conventional nuclear family?   Who does this policy benefit?

 

The 1969 and 1984 Divorce Acts  ·      Increases divorce and thus single parent, single person and reconstituted households

 

·      Undermine ·      Women (in abusive relationships)
Maternity and Paternity Acts ·      Should make relationships between men and women more equal

 

 

·      Undermine ·      Women (encourages men to become primary child carers)

·      And men – easier for them to be stay at home dads)

The Civil Partnership and Gay Marriage Acts ·      Reduces stigma against same sex relationships

·      Encourages more same sex families

 

·      Undermine ·      Same sex couples (reduction of stigma)
Universal Child Benefits ·      Encourage (poorer) parents to have more children, larger families

 

·      Support ·      Families with children

·      children

Income Support for Single Parents ·      Reduce the number of single parents

 

 

 

 

·      Support (recent changes make it more difficult for single parents to claim benefits) ·      (losers) single parents
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Globalisation and the Family

One of the more difficult topics on the families and households specification is how globalisation influences family life. Below are some examples. I’ve also tried to take these examples from different areas of the families and households specification (e.g. marriage, childhood etc.)

Whether you regard the points below as positive or negative is open to interpretation!

Some positive/ neutral consequences of globalisation for family life

  • Global optimists argue that economic globalisation has resulted in increasing trade which in turn has resulted in huge economic growth and rising prosperity, correlated with declining birth rates and family size.
  • Immigrant families to the UK have on average higher birth rates than non-immigrant families. A positive effect of this is that it reduces the dependency ratio, however a claimed negative consequence is an increased strain on public services, mainly schools.
  • Increasing migration to the U.K = increasing cultural diversity and diversity of family structures.  After several generations, more ethnic diversity.
  • Increased migration means more families are stretched across national borders and have family members living abroad, which in turn reinforces globalisation as more families maintain contacts through media and physical visits.
  • Cultural globalisation means more people create friendship groups based on shared interests online. Many people regard these friendship networks as ‘family’, if we follow analysis from the Personal life perspective.
  • There seems to be a globalisation of ‘single person households’. There seems to be a global trend of increasing numbers of people choosing to live alone (not necessarily not being in relationships.

Some negative consequences of globalisation for family life

  • Part of globalisation is people displacement following conflict, which sometimes results in the breaking up of families, U.K. policy has focused (to an extent) on taking in orphan refugee children, meaning more ‘global step/ foster families’.
  • Globalisation = increasing inequality in family life and increasing cost of living for the poor. Property price speculation has driven up prices in London meaning the basic costs of maintaining a family household had doubled in the last 30 years relative to inflation, this helps explain why so many young adults today ‘choose’ to live with their parents.
  • Globalisation = more diversity, choice, uncertainty, resulting in decline of people committing to long term relationships and more ‘pure relationships’. (Giddens)
  • Globalisation = more media flows – children more active users of media, more exposed to global media events can have negative effects:
      • More difficult for parents to prevent radicalisation (e.g. Shameena Begum)
      • More exposure to global media events (mass shootings in USA, natural disasters, terrorist attacks, war and conflicts) children are more risk conscious – anxious kids, more mental health issues. (More ‘toxic childhood’)
      • Parents are more paranoid, more restrictive parenting, less outdoor
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How important is it to using the Item in A-level sociology essay questions?

Many teachers I know give their students ‘model essay plans’ for the classic topics in sociology, which students can use and adapt if they get a question on that general topic area.

For example, an essay plan on the question ‘ assess the view that home based factors are more important than in-school factors in explaining class based differences in education achievement’ might have a model plan as below:

  1. Intro
  2. Home based factors – material
  3. Home based factors – cultural deprivation
  4. Home based factors – cultural capital
  5. In-school factors
  6. Conclusions.

(Obviously one could elaborate on this a lot further!)

Students can then change the order if the question is slightly different, such as on in-school factors, in which case in-school factors would be placed at no/2 after the intro and so on….

HOWEVER, I’m not convinced that such an approach will get students into the top mark band. If you check the 30 mark mark scheme carefully, it refers ‘appropriate material being carefully selected and sensitively applied to the question’. To my mind, carefully using the item and using that to structure the question might be a better way to go!

Take the example of the following question take from the 2016 AS sociology specimen paper. The item is clearly pointing you to address only certain aspects of home factors…..

 

 

An item-based structure for the above essay would look like this:

  1. Parenting practices encouraging intellectual development – links to cultural capital theory
  2. More involvement – links to cultural deprivation theory
  3. Evaluative paragraph dealing with material deprivation
  4. Evaluative paragraph dealing with policy
  5. Evaluate using in-school factors, explaining how they are interlinked with school factors!

Make sure you discuss all levels of education!

My thoughts are that this could well be an important strategy when dealing with especially 20 mark essay questions as your time is quite limited on these!

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Displacing the Poor from London (and its relevance to critical victimology)

Local Councils in London are increasingly resorting to moving poor homeless families out of London, because they can’t afford to meet their housing needs within London. In most cases they’re being moved to Kent and Essex, but in sometimes moves are made much further afield:

What the map above shows is the literal relocation of the poor – shifting poverty out of London and into poorer parts of the country. It’s the real life version of what happened at the end of ‘People Just do Nothing’.

The main cause: the high price of housing in the capital, fuelled by 30 years of cheap mortgages and foreign speculative investment on property in London.

The negative consequences for the poor 

At the very least these families are being removed from all of their local social connections and having their children’s schooling disrupted,  but in some cases they suffer much worse: cramped housing conditions and being housed in the same block of flats as ex criminals, as the recent case study of Terminus House suggests….

Various London councils have housed hundreds of poor recently-made homeless Londoners at Terminus House in Harlow, Essex, several miles outside of London.

The building is a 1960s 14 story, former office block converted into flats and run by the private company Caridon Property since April 2018.

The problem is that the complex is also home to several ex-offenders, including at least 25 people recently released from prison, and it’s something of a crime hot-spot, with high levels of anti-social behaviour, burglary and criminal damage.

Police figures show that in the first 10 months after people moved in, crime within Terminus House itself rose by 45%, and within by 20% within a 500m radius of the property.

Relevance to A-level sociology 

This strikes me as a great example of how the poor in London are the victims of local council policies (not defined as illegal of course) – they get moved out from their local areas, and then are more likely to become the victims of crime. It illustrates perfectly how the poor are more likely to be victims of social injustice and crime than the rich!

Sources 

https://www.essexlive.news/news/essex-news/harlow-terminus-house-nightmare-tower-2721068

 

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Censorship on Facebook and Twitter – supporting the dominant ideology?

Pluralists would argue that social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are just neutral sites through which anyone is free to express their opinion, however, Marxists would suggest that they work with governments and corporations to suppress views which go against the dominant ideology by censoring anything which challenges the mainstream capitalist world view.

The recent banning of the anti-media group from Facebook and Twitter seem to have gone further than just banning hate-groups and fake-news creators, and suggests support for the Marxist view of the media.

The banning of anti media from Facebook and Twitter

Anti-Media is an alternative news outlet that offers information that runs counter to the often pro-government narratives of traditional media outlets.

Their content is heavily critical of the current political system which they believe has heavily indebted ordinary people, and increasingly infringed on individual rights while expanding its reach and power.

They focus mainly on challenging unjust government corruption, oppression, and authority – criticising both ‘right’ and ‘left’ wing governments and part of their stated agenda is to awaken people from their passive subservience to big government and corporatism.

At their peak in 2016, Anti-media were reaching tens of millions of people per week, offering an alternative to the mainstream news, but their reach then declined, according to them, due to algorithmic changes following Trump coming to power.

Then in October 2018, the anti-media Facebook page was unpublished altogether, along with its Twitter feed shortly afterwards. A number of its employee’s twitter accounts were also suspended, including that of Carey Wedler, whose video about the issue, published on the censorship resistant site @dtube is well worth a watch.

NB her personal Twitter account was suspended without warning, and despite appealing this four months ago, she still hasn’t received a legitimate explanation of why her account was suspended.

The official Facebook and Twitter line was that they removed anti-media as part of a wider purge of  “spam” and “fake accounts” that targeted users with the intent of misleading them, by trying to do such things as driving them to ad farms to profit.

HOWEVER, neither anti-media nor their employees did any of this, they were dedicated to evidence-based factual reporting without sensationalism

Along with Anti-Media, dozens of pro-freedom libertarian pages were also deleted during the Facebook and Twitter purge back in October 2018, pages such as:

Some interesting analysis by Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi, who investigated these purges suggests that this isn’t about purging left or right political views, as both types of page and account were purged, but rather it was about censoring the following themes which are touched on by both ends of the political spectrum:

  • Anti-war content
  • Focus on police brutality and misuse of state power
  • Disinterest in two party politics

Relevance to A-level sociology

This seems to be a straightforward example of Facebook and Twitter censoring media content because of ideological reasons – anything which upsets the status quo by challenging the state too vociferously (whether from left or right ends of the political spectrum) and/ or draws attention to state violence is more likely to get censored.

In short, this suggests support for any perspective which argues that mainstream media companies collude to support the dominant ideology by gatekeeping out views which are hyper-critical of those in power.

If you don’t study the media, this is still yet more supporting evidence for Marxism in general, and relevant to Theory and Methods!

Sources

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Revising core themes in A-level sociology

There are six ‘core themes‘ in the AQA’ A-level sociology specification: 

  • Socialisation
  • culture
  • identity
  • Social differentiation
  • power
  • stratification

These six core themes cut across every compulsory topic and every optional topic (usually families and beliefs), and they can form the basis of any 10 mark or any essay question. Students should not be at all surprised if they see any of the words cropping up in one of the 30 mark essay questions.

NB – these themes should look familiar, as they are basically some of the core concerns of the perspectives: Functionalism and postmodernism tend to focus on the top three, Marxism and Feminism the bottom three, with interactionism sitting somewhere in between them.

Where 10 mark questions are concerned, I recommend trying to use these two sets of core themes to develop points you find in the item – ‘one way’ focussing on a Functionalist/ postmodern analysis, the other focusing on developing a marxist/ feminist/ postmodern analysis. To my mind, it’s easy to develop Postmodernism from Functionalism and Labelling theory from Marxism/ Feminism.

Where essays are concerned, the 4 boxes above might be used as a suitable structure for four paragraphs, again, in relation to the item.

Quite a useful revision task is to place different questions in the middle of the above slide and just talk through how you might relate the different core themes/ perspectives/ concepts to the question.

In future posts this month I’ll outline how I use this analysis structure in mainly 10 mark questions!

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Outline three reasons why girls are less likely to choose science subjects than boys (6 marks) 

This is a possible 6 mark question for the AQA’s 7192/1 Education and Theory with Methods Paper

The technique to answering such a question is to think of it in terms of 3 lots of 1 + 1 – you need 3 identifiers and then three developments

Possible identifiers

  • Teacher’s sexist ideas channeling girls into ‘girls subjects’
  • Science taught in a male way using male examples (engines), put girls off
  • Biological differences. Girls better at communication, not much discussion in science subjects
  • Differential parental encouragement
  • Boys more likely to play with technical toys
  • Fewer girls in text books
  • Fewer female science teachers
  • Boys dominate classroom by dominating practical equipment

Three identifiers plus three explanations/ developments…

  • (ID) Teachers may have stereotypical ideas that girls would struggle in male dominated subjects such as physics, (EX) and they may try and put them off, steering them towards other, more traditionally feminine subjects such as English, meaning fewer girls end up doing science subjects. 
  • (ID) Science subjects are often taught using masculine examples – for example, physics text books might use cars to illustrate the laws of motion. (EX) This might put girls off doing physics because they have no interest in the masculine examples used to teach these subjects. 
  • (ID) Girls are more likely to be socialised into discussing their feelings, (EX) and thus they might be more likely to choose subjects such as history and English where you need to discuss things more, rather than sciences where there is less discussion and ‘one right answer’. 

For more examples of exam practice questions, please see links on my ‘exams page‘!

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How the rich cheat their way into elite universities

Federal prosecutors in the U.S. recently charged dozens of wealthy parents with committing fraud in attempts to get their children into elite universities such as Yale and Stanford.

Parents have adopted strategies which range from faking athletic records and test scores to outright bribes.

Lori Loughlin (a sitcom star) and her husband Mossimo Giannulli (a fashion designer) allegedly paid $500 000 to get their daughters into the University of Southern California’s rowing crew, even though they weren’t actually rowers.

Felicity Huffmann (of Desperate Housewives) allegedly paid $15 000 to an invigilator to ensure her daughter did well on a SATs test.

The institution which facilitated all of this elite education fraud was called ‘The Key’ – a ‘college counselling business’ in Sacremento which paid off invigilators to provided certain students will correct answers or even correct their test sheets. He also bribed college sports officials to take on students who didn’t play sports.

This was all covered up by getting parents to donate to a bogus charity to help disadvantaged students, in reality of course the money went to the bent officials faking the test scores etc.

NB – this may not actually be as bad as the legal situation – if you look at Harvard’s entrance stats, 42% of students whose parents made donations got in, compared to only 4.6% of the wider population, and of course the whole of the university system is already stacked in favour of the rich given that it’s so expensive to get a university degree!

Relevance to A-level sociology

This is clearly relevant to the reproduction of class inequality within education, and supports the Marxist perspective on crime, within crime and deviance.

Sources 

https://www.thisisinsider.com/felicity-huffman-college-admissions-scheme-allegedly-disguised-bribe-as-charity-donation-2019-3

https://www.wsj.com/articles/an-idiots-guide-to-bribing-and-cheating-your-way-into-college-11552479762

https://www.vox.com/2015/6/15/8782389/harvard-donation-rebuttal

 

 

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Using interviews to research education

Interviews are one of the most commonly used qualitative research methods in the sociology of education. In this post I consider some of the strengths and limitations of using interviews to research education, focussing mainly on unstructured interviews.

This post is primarily designed to get students thinking about methods in context, or ‘applied research methods’. Before reading through this students might like to brush up on methods in context by reading this introductory post. Links to other methods in context advice posts can be found at the bottom of the research methods page (link above!)

Practical issues with interviews  

Gaining access may be a problem as schools are hierarchical institutions and the lower down the hierarchy an individual is, the more permissions the interviewer will require to gain access to interview them. For example, you might require the headmaster’s permission to interview a teacher, while to interview pupils you’ll require the headmasters and their parent’s permission.

However, if you can gain consent, and get the headmaster onside, the hierarchy may make doing interviews more efficient – the headmaster can instruct teachers to release pupils from lessons to do the interviews, for example.

Interviews tend to take more time than questionnaires, and so finding the time to do the interviews may be a problem – teachers are unlikely to want to give up lesson time for interviews, and pupils are unlikely to want spend their free time in breaks or after school taking part in interviews. Where teachers are concerned, they do tend to be quite busy, so they may be reluctant to give up time in their day to do interviews.

However, if the topic is especially relevant or interesting, this will be less of a problem, and the interviewer could use incentives (rewards) to encourage respondents to take part. Group interviews would also be more time efficient.

Younger respondents tend to have more difficulty in keeping to the point, and they often pick up on unexpected details in questions, which can make interviews take longer.

Younger respondents may have a shorter attention span than adults, which means that interviews need to be kept short.

Validity issues

Students may see the interviewer as the ‘teacher in disguise’ – they may see them as part of the hierarchical structure of the institution, which could distort their responses. This could make pupils give socially desirable responses. With questions about homework, for example, students may tell the interviewer they are doing the number of hours that the school tells them they should be doing, rather than the actual number of hours they spend doing homework.

To overcome this the teacher might consider conducting interviews away from school premises and ensure that confidentiality is guaranteed.

Young people’s intellectual and linguistic skills are less developed that adults and the interviewer needs to keep in mind that:

  • They may not understand longer words or more complex sentences.
  • They may lack the language to be able to express themselves clearly
  • They may have a shorter attention span than adults
  • They may read body language different to adults

Having said all of that, younger people are probably going to be more comfortable speaking rather than reading and writing if they have poor communication skills, which means interviews are nearly always going to be a better choice than questionnaires where younger pupils are concerned.

To ensure greater validity in interviews, researchers should try to do the following:

  • Avoid using leading questions as young people are more suggestible than adults.
  • Use open ended questions
  • Not interrupt students’ responses
  • Learn to tolerate pauses while students think.
  • Avoid repeating questions, which makes students change their first answer as they think it was wrong.

Unstructured interviews may thus be more suitable than structured interviews, because they make it easier for the researcher to rephrase questions if necessary.

The location may affect the validity of responses – if a student associates school with authority, and the interview takes place in a school, then they are probably more likely to give socially desirable answers.

If the researcher is conducting interviews over several days, later respondents may get wind of the topics/ questions which may influence the responses they give.

Ethical issues

Schools and parents may object to students being interviewed about sensitive topics such as drugs or sexuality, so they may not give consent.

To overcome this the researcher might consider doing interviews with the school alongside their PSHE programme.

Interviews may be unsettling for some students – they are, after all, artificial situations. This could be especially true of group interviews, depending on who is making up the groups.

Group interviews

Peer group interviews may well be a good a choice for researchers studying topics within the sociology of education.

Advantages 

  • Group interviews can create a safe environment for pupils
  • Peer-group discussion should be something pupils are familiar with from lessons
  • Peer-support can reduce the power imbalance between interviewer and students
  • The free-flowing nature of the group interview could allow for more information to come forth.
  • The group interview also allows the researcher to observe group dynamics.
  • They are more time efficient than one on one interviews.

Disadvantages

  • Peer pressure may mean students are reluctant to be honest for fear of ridicule
  • Students may also encourage each other to exaggerate or lie for laffs.
  • Group interviews are unpredictable, and very difficult to standardise and repeat which mean they are low in validity.