Cultural Capital and Social class differences in educational achievement

cultural capital refers to the skills, knowledge, attitudes and tastes through which typically middle class parents are able to give their children an advantage in life compared to working class children.

Cultural Capital refers to the skills and knowledge middle class parents have that they can use to give their children an advantage in the education system.

A closely related concept is Social Capital – which is the support and information provided by contacts and social networks which can be converted into educational success and material rewards.

cultural capital

Three ways in which middle class parents use their cultural capital

  1. Middle class parents are better educated and are more able to help their children with homework
  2. Middle class parents are more skilled in researching schools
  3. Middle class parents teach their children the value of deferred gratification

Two ways in which middle class parents use their social capital

  1. They speak to parents of children who already attend the best schools
  2. They are more likely to know professionals who work in the best schools

Supporting evidence for the importance of cultural capital in education

Diane Reay (1988) – Mothers make cultural capital work for their children. Her research is based on the mothers of 33 children at two London primary schools. The mothers of working class children worked just as hard as the middle class mothers. But the cultural capital of the MC mothers gave their children an advantage.

Middle Class Mothers had more educational qualifications and more information about how the educational system operated. They used this cultural capital to help their children with homework, bolstering their confidence and sorting out their problems with teachers.

Stephen Ball argues that government policies of choice and competition place the middle class at an advantage. Ball refers to middle class parents as ‘skilled choosers’. Compared to working class parents (disconnected choosers) they are more comfortable with dealing with public institutions like schools, they are more used to extracting and assessing information. They use social networks to talk to parents whose children are attending the schools on offer and they are more used to dealing with and negotiating with administrators and teachers. As a result, if entry to a school is limited, they are more likely to gain a place for their child.

The school/ parent alliance: Middle class parents want middle class schools and schools want middle class pupils. In general the schools with more middle class students have better results.. Schools see middle class students as easy to teach and likely to perform well. They will maintain the schools position in the league tables and its status in the education market. 

Analysis point

For the sociologists in this section, the cause of lower class failure is the very existence of inequality itself in society and differences in power held by the working and middle classes.

The role of Cultural Capital – Evaluations

Cultural capital has proved difficult to operationalise and measure

However, more and more research suggests this is important in explaining middle class success and working class failure

Helps to explain why the Middle classes always do better despite compensatory education

Related Posts

New Labour and Education Policy

There are three main strands to New Labour’s Education Policies –

  1. Raising standards – which essentially meant building on what the New Right had done previously
  2. Increasing diversity and choice within education
  3. Improving equality of opportunity

1. New Labour Policies designed to Improve Standards

  • Class sizes – were reduced to 30
  • Literacy and Numeracy Hour – one hour per day of reading and maths
  • Extension of school career and the school day – children now start at 4, even younger in Sure Start nurseries and the leaving age is being raised to 18.
  • Tougher Line on Inspection – Expanded the role of OFSTED
  • City Academies – 10% funded by the private or voluntary sector – extra money should help improve standards
  • Higher Education – expanded the number of places available in universities

2. New Labour Policies designed to reduce inequality of opportunity

  • Education Action Zones –  Extra money for schools in deprived areas
  • Sure Start  – 12 hours a week free nursery provision for children aged 2-4
  • Education Maintenance Allowance  – £30 per week to encourage students from low income households to stay on in 16-18 education

3. Polices designed to increase diversity

  • Specialist schools – Specialise in various subjects, providing expertise in areas from sciences to the performing arts.
  • Child centred learning (differentiation within schools) – Teachers are expected to focus more on each child’s individual learning needs and OFSTED focus on this more.
  • Special Educational Needs Provision – there has been a massive expansion of study and support under New Labour to support those with Special needs.
  • Faith schools – expanded under New Labour
  • Evaluating the Impact of New Labour’s policies

Positive Evaluations of New Labour Policies

  • Standards have improved and there is greater choice and diversity –
  • SATs and GCSE scores have improved significantly under New Labour
  • There are now a greater diversity of schools (Specialist Schools, City Academies) and a greater variety of subjects one can study (AS and A levels, Vocational A levels, the mix and match curriculum),  meaning there is more choice for parents and pupils.
  • New Labour have established a ‘Learning Society’ in which learning is more highly valued and created opportunities in which adults are able to relearn new skills in order to adapt to an ever changing economy,

Criticisms of New Labour policies

  • New Labour have not improved equality of educational opportunity
  • The gap between middle classes and working classes achievement continues to grow because of selection of by mortgage, cream skimming etc. (see last sheet)
  • The introduction of tuition fees in Higher Education puts many working class children off going to University
  • The Private school system still means that those with money can get their children a better education
  • City academies enable those with money to shape the curriculum
  • Gilborn and Youdell argue that more students have a negative experience of education in the ‘A-C economy’
  • Schools have become too test focussed, reducing real diversity of educational experience
  • Students are too taught to the test and less able to think critically

The Marxist Perspective on Education

According to Traditional Marxists, school teaches children to passively obey authority and it reproduces and legitimates class inequality.

Traditional Marxists see the education system as working in the interests of ruling class elites. According to the Marxist perspective on education, the system performs three functions for these elites:

  • It reproduces class inequality – middle class children are more likely to succeed in school and go onto middle class jobs than working class children.
  • It legitimates class inequality – through the ‘myth of meritocracy’.
  • It works in the interests of capitalist employers – by socialising children to accept authority, hierarchy and wage-labour.
Marxist theory of education - mind map

The main source for the ideas below is Bowles and Ginits (1976): Schooling in Capitalist America. These are the two main sociologists associated with Traditional Marxist perspective on education.

The reproduction of class inequality

This means that class inequalities are carried from one generation to the next.

Middle class parents use their material and cultural capital to ensure their children get into the best schools and the top sets. This means that the wealthier pupils tend to get the best education and then go onto to get middle class jobs. Meanwhile working class children are more likely to get a poorer standard of education and end up in working class jobs. In this way class inequality is reproduced

The Legitimation of class inequality

Marxists argue that in reality money determines how good an education you get, but people do not realise this because schools spread the ‘myth of meritocracy’ – in school we learn that we all have an equal chance to succeed and that our grades depend on our effort and ability. Thus if we fail, we believe it is our own fault. This legitimates or justifies the system because we think it is fair when in reality it is not.

This has the effect of controlling the working classes – if children grow up believing they have had a fair chance then they are less likely to rebel and try to change society as part of a Marxist revolutionary movement.

If you’d like to find out more about the above two concepts please see this post on ‘the illusion of educational equality‘ in which I go into more depth about educational realities and myths, as theorised by Bowles and Gintis.

Teaching the skills future capitalist employers need

Bowles and Gintis suggested that there was a correspondence between values learnt at school and the way in which the workplace operates. The values, they suggested, are taught through the ‘Hidden Curriculum’. The Hidden Curriculum consists of those things that pupils learn through the experience of attending school rather than the main curriculum subjects taught at the school. So pupils learn those values that are necessary for them to tow the line in menial manual jobs, as outlined below.

SCHOOL VALUES  Correspond to  WORK VALUES

  • Passive subservience  of pupils to teachers corresponds to Passive subservience of workers to managers
  • Acceptance of hierarchy (authority of teachers)  corresponds to Authority of managers
  • Motivation by external rewards (grades not learning)  corresponds to being Motivated by wages not the joy of the job

If you want a more in-depth post on this 1976 Marxist Theory you might like to read this post: Bowles and Gintis’ Correspondence Principle.

Evaluations of the Traditional Marxist Perspective on Education

Positive evaluations

  • There is an overwhelming wealth of evidence that schools do reproduce class inequality because the middle classes do much better in education because the working classes are more likely to suffer from material and cultural deprivation. Meanwhile, the middle classes have more material capital, more cultural capital (Reay) and because the 1988 Education Act benefited them (Ball Bowe and Gewirtz).
  • The existence of private schools is strong supporting evidence for Marxism – the wealthiest 7% of families in the United Kingdom are able to buy their children a better education which in turn gives them a better chance of getting into the top universities.
  • There is strong evidence for the reproduction of class inequality if we look at elite jobs, such as Medicine, the law and journalism. A Disproportionately high number of people in these professions were privately educated.

Negative evaluations

  • Henry Giroux, says the theory is too deterministic. He argues that working class pupils are not entirely molded by the capitalist system, and do not accept everything that they are taught – Paul Willis’ study of the ‘Lads’ also suggests this.
  • There is less evidence that pupils think school is fair – Paul Willis’ Lads new the system was biased towards the middle classes for example, and many young people in deprived areas are very aware that they are getting a poor quality of education compared to those in private schools.
  • Education can actually harm the Bourgeois – many left wing, Marxist activists are university educated for example.
  • The correspondence principle may not be as applicable in today’s complex labour market where employers increasingly require workers to be able to think rather than to just be passive robots.

Neo- Marxism: Paul Willis: – Learning to Labour (1977)

Willis’ research involved visiting one school and observing and interviewing 12 working class rebellious boys about their attitude to school during their last 18 months at school and during their first few months at work.

Willis argues pupils rebelling are evidence that not all pupils are brainwashed into being passive, subordinate people as a result of the hidden curriculum.

Willis therefore criticises Traditional Marxism.   He says that pupils are not directly injected with the values and norms that benefit the ruling class, some actively reject these. These pupils also realise that they have no real opportunity to succeed in this system.

BUT, Willis still believes that this counter-school culture still produces workers who are easily exploited by their future employers:

The Counter School Culture

Willis described the friendship between these 12 boys (or the lads) as a counter-school culture. Their value system was opposed to that of the school. This value system was characterised as follows:

1. The lads felt superior to the teachers and other pupils
2. They attached no value to academic work, more to ‘having a laff’
3. The objective of school was to miss as many lessons as possible, the reward for this was status within the group
4. The time they were at school was spent trying to win control over their time and make it their own.

Attitudes to future work

  • They looked forward to paid manual work after leaving school and identified all non-school activities (smoking, going out) with this adult world, and valued such activities far more than school work.
  • The lads believed that manual work was proper work, and the type of jobs that hard working pupils would get were all the same and generally pointless.
  • Their counter school culture was also strongly sexist.

Evaluations of Willis

  • On a positive note this study does recognise the fact that working class lads are not simply passive victims of a ‘middle class’ education system – they play an active role in resisting that system.
  • The study lacks representativeness – Willis conducted his research with a sample of only 12 working class white boys in just one secondary school, and most of the research was built on interviews with just 6 of these boys.
  • Willis has been criticised for being overly sympathetic with the boys – at one point when he was with them on a coach going on a school trip and they were vandalising the bus he just let them do it, he could be accused of going native!
  • This study is now over 50 years old and so one has to question whether it is still relevant – the education system, experience of education and working classes are so much different today compared to the mid 1970s!

For a more in depth summary of Paul Willis, please see this post which focuses more on the research methods.

Contemporary research applied to Marxism

A range of contemporary research evidence offers broad support for the view that education continues to reproduce social class inequalities, or at the very least fails to prevent it by improving social mobility in England and Wales.

The disadvantage gap

According to some quantitative research by the Institute for Education and the Nuffield Foundation (2022) there is a persistent- disadvantage gap among pupils by GCSES.

In 2018/19 only 41% of pupils eligible for free school meals achieved at least grade 4 or C in English. and maths compared to 69% of pupils from wealthier backgrounds who are not eligible for free school meals.

This means there is an education attainment gap of around 28% at GCSEs when we compare the poorest students with the rest.

While the results of all students have improved significantly since 2007/08 this disadvantage gap has remained almost level.

The disadvantage gap continues post-16

According to some research conducted in 2021 by the Education Policy Institute there is also significant disadvantage gap in post-16 education.

Disadvantaged students achieved on average 3 grades less across their best three subjects at A-level or BTEC compared to non-disadvantaged students, with disadvantaged students being defined as those who had been eligible for free school meals during at least one of their previous six years at school.

The study also found that disadvantaged students were more less likely to take the more prestigious A-levels and more likely to take BTECs, the later being correlated with lower wages compared to A-levels later on in work, suggesting that the education system reproduces class inequality overall.

Lockdowns harmed poor kids more than rich kids

According to The Sutton Trust’s October 2022 briefing on Education Recovery and Catch Up students from lower socio-economic backgrounds are much less confident than students from higher socio-economic backgrounds that they have caught up with lost learning caused by the Tory government’s chosen policy of locking down schools during the pandemic.

Further research by the Sutton Trust also reveals that the Pandemic and the chosen government response to the Pandemic had a differential effect on the career aspirations of young people.

Children from Independent schools were less likely to change their career aspirations due to covid compared to children from state grammar or independent schools.

This triangulates with the findings when we compare changing aspirations with household deprivation. Children from the most deprived areas were more likely to change their career aspirations because of Covid than those from the least deprived areas:

Although you could interpret the evidence above as criticising the Marxist perspective on education:

When schools close, the confidence and aspirations of poor kids decline more than for rich kids, which you might interpret as evidence that when schools are open they have a relatively positive impact on the social mobility of poor kids.

HOWEVER, given the pre-pandemic research above, it’s clear that schools and colleges over all have done very little indeed to improve social mobility in England and Wales between 2007/08 and 2019, the year before lockdowns, and lockdowns were still a government policy which harmed poor kids more than rich kids.

Exposure to elite peers helps rich kids more than poor kids

Moving away from the UK, A 2022 study from Norway found that exposure to elite peers from elite educated families increases the probability of a student themselves enrolling for elite education. 

The study found that if students from low socioeconomic backgrounds are exposed to elite peers, they are more likely to enrol in elite graduate programmes, but the same is true if students from higher socioeconomic backgrounds are exposed to elite peers. 

And the ‘enrolment to elite universities effect’ is twice as much for rich students compared to poor students. 

This means that elite-peers do more to reinforce the reproduction of class inequality than to encourage social mobility.

Other Related Posts on the Marxist Perspective on Education

Other related posts on other aspects of Marxism and related perspectives on Education

Sources/ Find out More

  • Bowles and Gintis (1976) Schooling in Capitalist America
  • Paul Willis (1977) Learning to Labour

Essay Plans/ Revision Resources

Education Revision Bundle Cover

If you like this sort of thing, then you might like my sociology of education revision notes bundle – which contains the following:

  1. 34 pages of revision notes
  2. mind maps in pdf and png format – 9 in total, covering various topics within the sociology of education
  3. short answer exam practice questions and exemplar answers
  4. how to write sociology essays, including 7 specific templates and model answers on the sociology of education

The Functionalist Perspective on Education

Functionalists focus on the positive functions of education – creating social solidarity, teaching core values and work skills and role allocation/ meritocracy

Functionalists focus on the positive functions performed by the education system. There are four positive functions that education performs

1. Creating social solidarity
2. Teaching skills necessary for work
3. Teaching us core values
4. Role Allocation and meritocracyFunctionalist perspective on education mind map for A-level sociology

Education Creates Social Solidarity

We have social solidarity when we feel as if we are part of something bigger. Emile Durkheim argued that school makes us feel like we are part of something bigger. This is done through the learning of subjects such as history and English which give us a shared sense of identity. Also in American schools, children pledge allegiance to the flag.

Durkheim argued that ‘school is a society in miniature.’ preparing us for life in wider society. For example, both in school and at work we have to cooperate with people who are neither friends or family – which gets us ready for dealing with people at work in later life.

Learning specialist skills for work

Durkheim noted that an advanced industrial economy required a massive and complex Division of Labour. At school, individuals learn the diverse skills necessary for this to take place. For example, we may all start off learning the same subjects, but later on we specialise when we do GCSEs.

The most obvious examples of this function of education are in the compulsory sector, especially with vocational education where students learn the specific skills required for particular professions – everything from engineering and construction to media and IT technicians and beauty therapy.

Durkheim believed that one of the most impressive things about modern education systems was that they simultaneously taught us core values and a sense of belonging to the whole (See below) while at the same time they teach us the DIFFERENT and DIVERSE skills that a modern economic system requires to function.

Education teaches pupils core values

Talcott Parsons argued that education acts as the ‘focal socializing agency’ in modern society. School plays the central role in the process of secondary socialisation, taking over from primary socialisation. He argued this was necessary because the family and the wider society work in different principles and children need to adapt if they re to cope In the wider world.

In the family, children are judged according to what he calls particularistic standards by their parents – that is they are judged by rules that only apply to that particular child. Individual children are given tasks based on their different abilities and judged according to their unique characteristics. Parents often adapt rules to suit the unique abilities of the child.

In contrast in school and in wider society, children and adults are judged according to the same universalistic standards (i.e they are judged by the same exams and the same laws). These rules and laws are applied equally to all people irrespective of the unique character of the individual. School gets us ready for this.

The above ties in quite nicely with the modernisation theory view of development – achieved status is seen as a superior system to the ascribed status found in traditional societies. 

Role Allocation and meritocracy

Education allocates people to the most appropriate job for their talents using examinations and qualifications. This ensures that the most talented are allocated to the occupations that are most important for society. This is seen to be fair because there is equality of opportunity – everyone has a chance of success and it is the most able who succeed through their own efforts – this is known as meritocracy.

Functionalists believe that meritocracy is extremely important for peace in society because people will only accept status and wage differences if those in lower status jobs believe they themselves had (or have) a fair chance to climb the ladder and get a higher status and better paid job themselves.

Positive evaluations of the Functionalist view on education

School performs positive functions for most pupils most of the time – even though students might not want to go to school sometimes and not necessarily enjoy school some of the time, the majority come out after 13 years of formal schooling as reasonable human beings.

There does seem to be a link between education and economic growth, suggesting a good education system benefits the wider society and economy. All countries in Western Europe have very good education systems while many poorer countries in Sub-Saharan Africa have many more problems with their education systems, such as low attendance rates.

Exclusion and truancy rates are relatively low, suggesting there is very little active resistance to schooling.

Schools do at least try to foster ‘solidarity’ – through PSHE lessons and teaching British Values for example.

Education is more ‘work focused’ today – increasing amounts of vocational courses. If you look at post-16 education especially there is a lot of diverse courses offered and it it is difficult to see how technologically advanced post-industrial economies could function without a thriving post-16 and university sectors.

Schooling is more meritocratic than in the 19th century (fairer)

Criticisms of the Functionalist View of Education

It is usual in A-level sociology to criticise one perspective using other perspectives, but in the case of Functionalism there are many more stand alone criticisms that we can make!

Marxists argue the education system is not meritocratic – wealthier students from higher socio-economic backgrounds still, in 2022, get better results than poorer students from lower socio-economic backgrounds, this is true within the state school system , but the largest difference in achievement is between the 7% of very wealthy students who attend fee paying independent schools and the 93% who attend state schools.

HOWEVER, there is evidence that a disadvantage gap opened up during school lockdowns in 2020 and 2021, with poorer students falling further behind than richer students, this actually suggests that when schools are open as usual, they at least narrow that achievement gap to an extent!

Marxists would also argue that the Functionalist view of education is ideological – the fact that it focuses on the postive functions of education means it reflects the views of the powerful – the education system tends to work for them and they suggests there is nothing to criticise.

The Functionalist perspective on education was developed in the late 19th century (Durkheim) and the 1950s (Parsons) – during modernity, but with the shift to postmodernity society has changed and the British school system seems to have adapted with it.

For example, schools today focus more on developing the individual rather than teaching duties and responsibilities that individuals should adopt towards society – it’s more about the individual and less about solidarity (following the shift from modern to postmodern society)

Functionalism ignores the negative sides of school – e.g. bullying and there are a minority for who it doesn’t work, such as those permanently excluded. If we were to do the kind of in-depth research Interactionists prefer we might find that a significant minority of children are harmed during school in more subtle ways.

It is difficult to argue that schools performed any of the above four functions during the disruption caused by the government’s response to the pandemic, especially not being judged by universalistic standards (no standardized exams) or meritocracy (because private school teachers inflated their students’ grades more than state school teachers).

Contemporary Evidence to Evaluate Functionalism (2022 update)

Students need to be able to evaluate sociological perspectives using contemporary evidence and a lot has happened in the last few years, most of the evidence suggesting that the Functionalist view of education is extremely limited in helping us to understand the role of education in society.

Below I consider five pieces of contemporary evidence mainly from 2020-2022 and what they suggest about some of the key ideas of Functionalism as applied to education.

The shift to the Ebacc

The government plans to make 90% of pupils sit GCSEs from with the Ebacc suite of subjects by 2025. This will result in a more similar experience of education for 14-16 year olds studying towards GCSEs and the Ebacc as the Ebacc consists of a relatively narrow range of subjects: English, maths, the sciences, history or geography and a language.

On the surface this move away from allowing students to have more choice in what they study could lead to more of a shared collective conscience and thus solidarity and value consensus as students are taught a higher proportion of rational (e.g. a lot more science) and critical subjects – so more students might finish their GCSEs thinking more similarly.

The ArtsProfessional blog points out that this will result in more students from more deprived backgrounds studying subjects NOT on the approved Ebacc list because such students are more likely to do seven rather than nine GCSEs – and they have to do seven from the list above as part of the Ebacc. This means we could have poorer students being excluded from creative subjects and P.E. because these aren’t on the list, while richer and more able students do the seven Ebacc subjects plus two or three other GCSEs of their choice.

It’s also likely that more able and affluent students will get better results in their Ebacc and have a more rounded subject base because of their additional subjects, while less able and poorer students end up with only Ebacc GCSEs and weaker results.

So the net effect of making students sit a narrower range of subjects is an increase in the inequality of outcomes along class lines, which goes against the idea of meritocracy as it reproduces class inequality.

The Problem with PREVENT and British Values

The requirement to teach British Values in schools started in 2015 and emerged out of the PREVENT agenda, which required schools to intervene when they suspected (mainly Muslim) children were being radicalised and drawn into terrorism.

The government defines British values as democracy, respect for the rule of law, individual liberty and tolerance and respect for those with different faiths – and the theory behind getting students to think about what ‘being British’ means is that it might to create a new tolerant and respectful national identity based on these values and help prevent radicalisation and terrorism.

OFSTED’s vision is that British Values are embedded into the curriculum and taught through several critical thinking subjects such as history and english – through which students learn about the historical struggles for democracy and the emergence of civil society. Ideally, students would also be taught to think about whether these values are universal beyond Britain.

However, according to a 2018 article in the Conversation it is highly unlikely that the requirement on schools to teach British Values is going to promote Value Consensus in any meaningful way.

Some schools, for example, confuse British Values with British stereotypes and get students to do projects such as doing collages of what Britishness in involving pictures of the Queen (or now King) and fish and chips, which hardly promote critical thinking.

A second problem is that these values are so general that each of them can be interpreted in many different ways, and they are also full of contradictions.

For example, there are different forms of democracy, other than our first past the post system, and ‘individual liberty’ is context dependent and clearly has its limits, but where? And as to the rule of law: Boris Johnson didn’t even respect that during lockdown so that is laughable. Hence any discussions around what the specifics of these values should mean could potentially reveal or even open up divisions between pupils.

There is also a problem that the whole PREVENT and British Values agenda emerged as a response to Islamic fundamentalism – it could potentially lead to further marginalisation of Muslim children in schools as the implicit message is that it’s mainly targeted at making Muslim children conform to this new Britishness (whatever that is!)

BREXIT

The EU Referendum in 2015 firmly split the UK population down the middle, with approximately half the population voting to stay in the EU and half voting to leave.

This is the only time that the UK Population has been offered the chance to vote directly on a specific social policy and the fact that it divided the nation in half suggests that there is no meaningful value consensus around the idea of how Britain should relate to the wider world.

And clearly if there is no value consensus in adult society, schools have roundly failed to foster any sense of value consensus on this issue during the last five decades!

Graduate Labour Market Statistics

The 2021 Graduate Labour Market statistics suggest some broad support for education performing the role allocation function, where a tiered education system sifts and sorts people into higher and higher skilled roles.

86.7% of graduates were employed in 2021 compared to 67.2% of non-graduates:

And graduates were three times as likely to be in ‘highly skilled’ jobs compared to non-graduates, suggesting that going to university successfully sifts most graduates into higher skilled jobs.

HOWEVER there are still around 25% of graduates who end up in lower skilled jobs so clearly the system isn’t that effective, and it’s also clear that going to university is NOT the only way to secure a higher-skilled job.

Apprenticeships

According to the 2021-22 apprenticeship data The total number of people doing apprenticeships in 2021-2022 was approximately 750 000, with the main sectors being health and social care and business administration.

The majority of people doing apprenticeships are under 25 and this suggests that apprenticeships are working alongside more traditional further and higher education institutions (colleges and universities) to further perform the function of role allocation.

The numbers of people doing apprenticeships certainly aren’t sufficient to suggest that apprenticeship, work based learning is undermining the role allocation function being performed my colleges and universities.

Test Yourself

Sociology of Education Revision Bundle

Education Revision Bundle Cover

If you like this sort of thing, then you might like my sociology of education revision notes bundle – which contains the following:

  1. 34 pages of revision notes
  2. mind maps in pdf and png format – 9 in total, covering various topics within the sociology of education
  3. short answer exam practice questions and exemplar answers
  4. how to write sociology essays, including 7 specific templates and model answers on the sociology of education

Signposting/ Related Posts

This post has been written primarily for students studying the education topic, as part of the AQA’s A-Level Sociology course.

The Functionalist perspective on education is usually the first discrete topic taught within the sociology of education module.

After reading this post you might like to read this Evaluations of Functionalism post which discusses the strengths and limitations of this perspective in more depth

After Functionalism students usually study The Marxist Perspective on Education which criticises much of what Functionalists say about the topic.

A related perspective is The New Right View of Education which is usually taught as an updated and modified version of Functionalism, more relevant to society today.

You might also like this summary of perspectives on education grid, although you might need to squint to see it (update pending!)

Please click here to return to the homepage – ReviseSociology.com

 

The Role of Transnational Corporations in Development

A few criticisms of  the role of Transnational Corporations in International Development 

Criticisms of Coca ColaTransnational Corporations are one of the primary agents of Global Capitalism and many have been criticised because of the social and environmental harms they cause in the pursuit of profit. In this blog I outline some case studies of Corporations exploiting workers.

My main inspiration for writing this blog is ‘The Corporation’ (1) (2). However, although this blog does draw on this excellent resource, it also provides more contemporary examples of corporate harm than this 2004 documentary.

Examples of Corporations exploiting workers

Probably the best known criticism to be levelled at well known Corporations such as Nike, Addidas and Primark is that they profit from ‘sweatshop labour’ – with the workers who manufacture their products working extremely long hours in poor conditions and for extremely low wages.

In chapter 5 of The Corporation, one researcher calculates that workers at one of Nike’s factories in Indonesia were earning 0.3% of the final selling price of the products they were making. Now, I know there are middle men, but in classic Marxist terms, this is surely the extraction of surplus value taken to the extreme! The anti- sweat shop campaigns are years old now, but still ongoing –

Of course sweat shop labour is not limited to the clothing industry – the BBC3 series ‘Blood Sweat and T shirts/ Takeaways/ Luxuries’, (3) in which young Brits travel to developing countries to work alongside people in a wide range of jobs, clearly demonstrates how workers in many stages of the productive process, including rice sowing, prawn farming, gold mining, and coffee packing, suffer poor pay and conditions. Many of the goods focussed on in this series end up being bought and the sold in the West by Transnational Corporations for a huge mark up, and it is extremely interesting to see the Brits abroad struggling with the injustice of this.

Apple SweatshopsThe Daily Mail recently conducted some undercover journalism in a Chinese factory that makes the i-pad – where the report they ‘encountered a strange, disturbing world where new recruits are drilled along military lines, ordered to stand for the company song and kept in barracks like battery hens – all for little more than £20 a week.’ Apparently workers have to endure shifts up to 34 hour s long, and the factory has been dubbed the ‘i nightmare factory’ (4)

Even worse conditions are to be found at some of Coke’s bottling factories in Columbia according to the killer coke campaign. Campaigners have documented a ‘gruesome cycle of murders, kidnappings and torture of union leaders involved in a daily life and death struggle’ at these plants. The bosses at some of Coke’s factories in Columbia have contacts with right wing paramilitary forces, and use violence and intimidation to force unionised labour out of work, and then hire non unionised labour on worse contracts for half the pay. There have been more than 100 recorded disappearances of unionised labour at Coke’s factories. (5) (6)

Now the Coca Cola Corporation is obviously not directly to blame for this, as Columbia is one of the more violent countries on the planet, and this culture of violence and intimidation is widespread. The company is, however, responsible for making the conscious decision to choose to invest in a region well known for such practices, and failing to either pull out or protect its workers.

See http://www.nosweat.org.uk/ for more details of Corporate Complicity in sweat shop labour and Union Busting (7)

(1)  http://www.youtube.com/view_play_list?p=FA50FBC214A6CE87 – All the chapters of the Corporation on youtube – although you should really show your support by purchasing this documentary!

(2)  http://www.thecorporation.com/ – The web site of The Corporation.

(3)  http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00s6103 – The BBC web site for the recent ‘Blood, Sweat and luxuries programme which has an interest blog of comments and a ‘what can you do to help’ link.

(4)  http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1285980/Revealed-Inside-Chinese-suicide-sweatshop-workers-toil-34-hour-shifts-make-iPod.html

(5)  http://www.killercoke.org/pdf/KCBroch.pdf – a link to the main campaign leaflet of the ‘killer coke’ campaign.

(6) http://www.staticbrain.com/archive/killer-coke-coke-is-the-drink-of-the-death-squads/ – featuring a video of the song ‘Coke is the drink of the Despots’ – sing along if you like!

(7)  http://www.nosweat.org.uk/files/New%20general%20leaflet%2009.pdf – A link to the most recent nosweat leaflet which has some nice ‘sweatshop sums’ peppered throughout which provide facts such as ‘Children as young as 10 were found working in a shop for Primark – Primark made sales of 1.1 billion in the sixth months to March 2009.’

The Golden Arches Theory of Decline – This 2016 post by George Monbiot argues that Transnational Corporations such as Mcdonalds are undermining democracy and that a global system which concentrates power in the hands of a relatively few TNCs is not compatible with the democratic will of the people of Nation States – hence why Trump won in the USA – he’s one of the few political candidates to have promised to limit the power of TNCs.

The effect of cultural deprivation on education

Cultural Deprivation theory holds that some groups, such as the lower social classes, have inferior norms, values, skills and knowledge which prevent them from achieving in education. Inferior language skills, and the fact that working class parents do not value education are largely to blame for working class underachievement, rather than material deprivation.

You might also hear ‘cultural deprivation’ theory referred to as ‘working class subculture theory’ – which is something of a throwback to the 1950s. Personally I don’t like the term, and so just use cultural deprivation theory, it’s a bit more modern!

Cultural Deprivation and education

All of the studies below suggest that working class cultures are deficient and that working class children are deprived as a result. These explanations thus put the blame for working class underachievement on the working class families themselves. In these explanations, working class parents basically teach their children norms and values that do not equip them for education in later life.

Five ways in which cultural deprivation can disadvantage children in education   

  1. Working class parents may show a lack of interest in their children’s education
  2. Lower class parents are less able to help their children with homework
  3. Lower class children are more likely to speak in a restricted speech code. Rather than the elaborated speech code- Basil Bernstein argued this.
  4. Working class children are more concerned with Immediate Gratification rather than deferred gratificationBarry Sugarman argued this.
  5. The underclass has a higher than average percentage of single parent families. Melanie Philips argued this.

Supporting evidence for cultural deprivation theory

Connor et al (2001) conducted focus group interviews with 230 students from 4 different FE colleges from a range of class backgrounds, some of whom had chosen to go to university and some who had not chosen to go to University. The main findings were that working class pupils are discouraged from going to university for three main reasons:

  • Firstly, such candidates want ‘immediate gratification’. They want to earn money and be independent at an earlier age. This is because they are aware of their parents having struggled for money and wish to avoid debt themselves
  • Secondly, they realise that their parents cannot afford to support them during Higher Education and did not like the possibility of them getting into debt
  • Thirdly, they have less confidence in their ability to succeed in HE.

Research by Leon Fenstein found that low income was related to the restricted speech code. His research revealed that children of working-class parents tend to be more passive; less engaged in the world around them and have a more limited vocabulary. Children from middle-class households had a wider vocabulary, better understanding of how to talk to other people and were more skilled at manipulating objects.

These studies actually show that cultural and material deprivation are related

Evaluations of cultural deprivation theory

  • If we look at ethnicity and gender differences in achievement – to triangulate, it does seem that cultural factors play a role!
  • It seems that it isn’t just cultural deprivation but also material deprivation that explains underachievement
  • Marxists would argue that cultural deprivation theorists blame the working class parents for the underachievement of their children whereas these parents are really the victims of an unequal society in which schools are run by the middle classes for the middle classes.

Related Posts 

The effects of material deprivation on education

The effects of cultural capital on educational achievement

Related External Posts – Useful 

Earlham’s Pages – do their usual ‘overwhelming for anyone but an A* students whose interested in Sociology approach’ (personally I like it though, then again I’m several levels above both of those criteria) – lots of contemporary links at the top (no summaries) and then a useful overview of ‘class subcultures’ below.

Factors influencing class based differences in educational achievement – probably written by a student but it’s quite a useful summary!

Related External Posts – Not so Useful 

The History Learning Site’s material is shockingly out of date – maybe useful for the history, but not so much for our contemporary era.

 

 

 

 

The Effects of Material Deprivation on Education

Material deprivation can be defined as the inability to afford basic resources and services such as sufficient food and heating. Material deprivation generally has a negative effect on educational achievement.

Material Deprivation and Educational Achievement

Gibson and Asthana (1999) pointed out that there is a correlation between low household income and poor educational performance. There are a number of ways in which poverty can negatively affect the educational performance of children. For example –

  1. Higher levels of sickness in poorer homes may mean more absence from school and falling behind with lessons
  2. Less able to afford ‘hidden costs’ of free state education: books and toys are not bought, and computers are not available in the home
  3. Tuition fees and loans would be a greater source of anxiety to those from poorer backgrounds.
  4. Poorer parents are less likely to have access to pre-school or nursery facilities.
  5. Young people from poorer families are more likely to have part-time jobs, such as paper rounds, baby sitting or shop work, creating a conflict between the competing demands of study and paid work.

Supporting evidence for the importance of material deprivation

  • Stephen Ball (2005) points out how the introduction of marketisation means that those who have more money have a greater choice of state schools because of selection by mortgage
  • Conner et al (2001) and Forsyth and Furlong (2003) both found that the introduction of tuition fees in HE puts working class children off going to university because of fear of debt
  • Leon Fenstein (2003) found that low income is related to low cognitive reasoning skills amongst children as young as two years old
  • The existence of private schools means the wealthy can afford a better education. Children from private schools are over-represented in the best universities

Evaluations of the role of material deprivation

  • To say that poverty causes poor educational performance is too deterministic as some students from poor backgrounds do well. Because of this, one must be cautious and rather than say there is a causal relationship between these two variables as the question suggests, it would be more accurate to say that poverty disadvantages working class students and makes it more difficult for them to succeed.
  • There are other differences between classes that may lead to working class underachievement. For example, those from working class backgrounds are not just materially deprived, they are also culturally deprived.
  • The Cultural Capital of the middle classes also advantages them in education.
  • In practise it is difficult to separate out material deprivation from these other factors.

Related Posts

The Effects of Cultural Deprivation on Education

The Extent of Material Deprivation in the UK

Evaluating the extent of material deprivation in the UK

 

 

Marriage and Cohabitation Essay Plan

An essay plan that should be sufficient to get you into the top mark band

Examine some of the reasons for changes in the patterns of marriage and cohabitation (24)

 There have been many changes in the patterns of marriage and cohabitation in the last 40 years. This is due a number of different factors including secularisation and changing attitudes towards the value of marriage and larger acceptance of cohabitation. Divorce rates have also influenced patterns of marriages and remarriages – likewise has women’s liberation and changing attitudes in women’s position.

Secularisation  – or the decreased value of religion in society has had a large impact on marriage roles and cohabitation. Marriage is now viewed as a contract of love, friendship and trust – often resulting in divorce if these fail to continue throughout the marriage (only ½ of marriages last for ten years). This is juxtaposed to the religious nature of marriage in the past – a binding contract – ‘til death do us part’.  Cohabitation has also become less frowned upon. However, this trend seems to be generational. 80% of 16-24 year olds said it was acceptable to cohabit in 2007, compared to only 44% of the 56-64 year olds.

Thus these changes in societal values have resulted in a decrease of marriage – due to declining of value and the increasing accessibility of divorce whilst roles of cohabitation are still on a steady incline.

The divorce act of 1969 made irretrievable breakdown the sole basis for attaining divorce. This caused a large influx of divorce, peaking in 1999. The seemingly stable idea of marriage now began to contract for many people. If their partner was not suitable, divorce was now available, which is another factor for the rise in cohabitation and the decrease in marriage.

Cohabitation is now seen as an option instead of marriage supporting more freedom and flexibility. Living together apart is one example of a serious relationship type where people do not live together. However, 80% of cohabitating partners intend to marry.

A decrease in secularisation has brought about an acceptance of cohabitation of same sex couples. The 2004 civil partnership act also allowed homosexual couples to marry – some sociologists argue that cohabitation – particularly a lesbian couple – is a way of resisting gender scripts and norms

This is relative to women’s liberation – women now resist the idea of marriage due to financial independent and stability. Also, women are increasingly resisting the idea of segregated conjugal roles for a more symmetrical relationship. For many women, cohabitation offers these opportunities. Availability of contraception has lessened the obligation of having to conceive children when in a long term relationship.

Feminists argue this is a movement of resistance towards the patriarchal institutions of marriage not the family as such.

Concluding, patterns of marriage and cohabitation have changed significantly due to divorce, women’s liberation and secularisation. Secularisation is perhaps the basis for the change due to social change in attitudes towards cohabitation and marriage. However, women’s liberation and divorce further instil this idea, offering more choice to the individual.

Related Posts

Marriage, Divorce and Cohabitation Short Answer Questions (Answers)

Explaining the Changing Patterns of Marriage

 

Family essay plan – Modern nuclear family….

Assess the view that the modern nuclear family is the most effective type of family unit in which to socialise children and stabilise adult personalities (24)

The above view is associated mainly with the Functionalist perspective, to an extent with the Marxist perspective, while Feminists tend to disagree.

George Murdock (1949) argued that that the nuclear family performs four essential functions to meet the needs of society and its members: The stable satisfaction of the sex drive – which prevents the social disruption cased by a ‘sexual free for all’; the reproduction of the next generation and thus the continuation of society over time; thirdly, the socialisation of the young into society’s shared norms and values and finally he argued the family provides for society’s economic needs by providing food and shelter.

Murdock thus agrees with the two statements in the question and goes further, arguing that the nuclear family performs even more functions. Furthermore, he argued that the nuclear family was universal, following his study of over 250 different societies.

Some sociologists, however, criticise Murdock’s view as being too rose tinted – pointing out that conflict and disharmony can occur both within nuclear families and within societies where the nuclear family is dominant. A second criticism is that the nuclear family is not universal – Gough studied the Nayr of South India and found that women and men had several sexual partners, but this type of matrifocal family was functional for that society.

A second Functionalist, Talcott Parsons  argued that the type of society affects the shape of the family – different societies require the family to perform different functions and so some types of family ‘fit in’ better with particular societies.

To illustrate this, Parsons argued that there were two basic types of society – modern industrial society and traditional pre-industrial society. He argued that the nuclear family fits the needs of industrial society and that the extended family fitted the needs of pre-industrial society. He argued that as society became industrialised, society had different needs, and that the nuclear family evolved to meet these needs. For example, one thing industrial society needed was a geographically mobile workforce – the nuclear family is appropriate here because it is more mobile than the extended family.

Parsons also argued that the family performs less functions with the move to industrialisation – as the health care and welfare functions come to be taken over by the state. However, the family becomes more specialised – and performs two ‘essential and irreducible functions’ – these are the two mentioned in the question – the primary socialisation of children is where we are first taught societies norms and values and learn to integrate with wider society and the stabilisation of adult personalities is where the family is the place of relaxation – the place to which one returns after a hard day of working to de – stress.

Parsons has, however been criticised, as with Murdock, for having a ‘rose tinted view’ – Feminists argue that women get an unfair deal in the traditional nuclear family, for example. A second criticism is that while he may have been right about the 1950s, when he was writing, the nuclear family seams less relevant in our post-modern age when many couples need dual incomes – meaning the nuclear family may be too small to effectively perform the two functions mentioned in the question.

The Marxist view of the family is that it does do what is stated in the question, but they criticise the Functionalist view, arguing that the family also performs functions for Capitalism. Firstly, they say it performs an ‘ideological function’ in that the family convinces children, through primary socialisation, that hierarchy is natural and inevitable. Secondly, they also see the family as acting as a unit of consumption – the family is seen by Capitalists as a something to make money out of – what with the pressure to ‘keep up with the Joneses and ‘pester power’

Thus, applying Marxism we learn that the Functionalist view is too optimistic – they see the Capitalist system as infiltrating family life, through advertising, for example, which creates conflict within the family, undermining its ability to harmoniously socialise children and stabilise adult personalities.

Finally, we come onto Feminist views of the family. Radical Feminists are especially critical of the view in the question. They argue, for example, that many nuclear families are characterised by domestic abuse and point to the rising divorce rates in recent years to suggest that the nuclear family is not necessarily the best type of family. Moreover, many Feminists have argued that the nuclear family and the traditional gender roles that go along with it has for too long performed an ideological function – this set up is projected as the norm in society, a norm which women have been under pressure to conform to and a  norm which serves to benefit men and oppress women – because women end up becoming dependent on men in their traditional roles – so they see the nuclear family as being the primary institution through which patriarchy is reproduced, again criticising the rather rose tinted view of the Functionalist perspective on the family.

So to conclude, while the statement in the question may have appeared to be the case in the 1950s, this no longer appears to be the case in British society today.

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