Analyse two reasons why the media portray minority ethnic groups negatively. [10 marks]

Read Item M below and answer the question that follows.

AQA 10 mark question item.PNG

Applying material from Item M, analyse two reasons why the media often portray minority ethnic groups negatively. [10 marks]

Commentary on the question

A non-standard question about representations, focusing on ‘why’ rather than on ‘how’ one group is represented. There are two clear hooks in the item – the first about power and the second just about difference, suggesting that candidates make two points – one from a broadly hegemonic perspective, the other focussing on the public/ pluralism.  Remember that you can pick up marks for evaluating in this type of 10 mark ‘with item’ question.

Before reading the answer you might like to review the material on ethnicity and representation, and some of the theories of ownership and control such as Pluralism, Instrumental Marxism and Hegemonic Marxism, all of which can be applied to this question.

Answer

The first reason why minority groups are represented negatively is because they have different values/ beliefs and practices from ‘mainstream’ society and are perceived by the wider public as not being fully integrated into the ‘British way of life’. The public at large is thus prejudiced against ethnic minorities, and anything which seems to threaten British identity.

By focusing on negative representations of minorities – Islamic terrorists, benefit claiming immigrants, Romanian beggars, for example, newspapers such as The Sun and the Daily Mail can sell more newspapers and make more profit – it is easier to do this by perpetuating stereotypes compared to running stories which challenge such negative representations.

It is relatively easy for papers to find stories about ethnic minorities which have many news values because some ethnic minorities do engage in activities which are ‘shocking’, and it’s maybe understandable why newspapers may choose not to publish stories in which minority groups are just ‘being British’ – because there’s nothing ‘newsworthy’ about such stories.

This theory fits in with the pluralist view – newspapers aren’t deliberately prejudiced against ethnic minorities, they just run stories which reflect public bias to increase profits.

Hegemonic Marxists would argue that ethnic minority groups are represented negatively because they are underrepresented in positions of power – both in society/ government and within the media itself.

According to Stuart Hall, ethnic minorities have been used as scapegoats for society’s larger economic problems – knife crime by black youths in London in the late 1970s was turned into a moral panic by negative reporting in the press, even though the rate of that crime was declining.

In a similar way gang crime today is largely constructed in the media as a black problem, rather than a multi-ethnic phenomenon.

A further reason why such negative representations are so common could be the lack of black voices among media professionals, meaning the white majority just go along with the racial victimization of young black youth by the government and police.

However, such negative representations may be changing in the age of New Media, which gives more power to ethnic minorities to challenge stereotypes and power inequalities in society more directly.

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Outline and explain two ways in which the new media may be creating a global popular culture. [10 marks]

Outline and explain two ways in which the new media may be creating a global popular culture. [10 marks]

 Commentary on the question

This seems to be a good question – there are some obvious links between new media and global popular culture, and two obvious points can be made – contrasting the neophiliac perspective with the cultural imperialist perspective.

Neophiliacs tend to emphasise the positive ways in which new media, such as social media sites, are creating a global popular culture. In short, neophiliacs believe new media is creating a global popular culture characterised by more choice and individual freedom of expression than ever before in human history.

Sites such as Facebook allow people to connect with others who share similar interests, instantaneously, in any part of the world, and thus there are now thousands of new ‘global tribes’ – groups of people with shared interest, connect globally through social media.

New Media has led to a more diverse global popular culture – as groups who have been historically invisible and marginalised due to lack of access to the mainstream media have proved to be very active in their use of new media – there are many disable and LGBT bloggers and vloggers for example. In fact it might even be the case that the greater diversity and choice offered through new media has led to broader representation of minority groups in mainstream popular culture forms such as films and television.

It is also possible that new media is leading to a new consensus of acceptance of diversity and equality, as minorities who are oppressed in one country feel a sense of solidarity with those who are not oppressed in other countries, which puts pressure on oppressive governments to become more liberal. For example, it is harder for some less developed countries to keep homosexuality illegal, or to oppress women, when social media connections constantly remind people that such things are not acceptable in (typically) more developed countries.

Cultural Pessimists on the other hand argue that New Media is largely responsible for creating a narrow and homogeneous global popular culture which transmits the dominant ideology and distracts people from important political issues with a diet of trivia.

Cultural pessimists argue that the New Media are primarily own by four large media conglomerates – namely Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon – ownership is concentrated in the hands of these four companies and they use their platforms primarily to make a profit by selling advertising space – thus global popular culture mainly exists and is transmitted to sell advertising space and keep consumer culture going.

Constant advertising results in a very distracting experience for users as they are constantly bombarded with media messages telling them to buy things they don’t need, which creates false needs and keeps people confused and anxious, especially if they don’t have the money to buy the things they are told they should have.

Global popular culture is also quite narrow – consisting of ‘approved cultural products’ such as music and films which for the most part do not challenge the dominant ideology – Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have even DE platformed some radical commentators from both the left and right ends of the political spectrum, for example.

Finally,  cultural pessimists argue that new media creates a fragmented, divided and polarised global popular culture as we are increasingly fed news from those we follow, rather than those we might disagree with, which creates bubbles or echo-chambers, which makes us less tolerant of those with different points of view.

What is concentration of media ownership?

Concentration of media ownership is the trend towards fewer individuals and/ or companies owning a higher proportion of the media.

Increasing concentration of ownership has long been a concern of sociologists. For example, In 2004 Bagdikian pointed out the following trend towards increasing ownership of the media:

  • In 1983, 50 corporations controlled the majority of news media in the USA
  • By 1992, 22 companies owned and operated 90% of the mass media

By 2014, United States media ownership was concentrated mainly in the hands of six companies: Comcast, Disney, 21st Century Fox/ News Corporation, Time Warner and Viacom

In the United Kingdom in 2017 10 companies received 70% of the revenue generated by all media companies, and 40 companies received 92% of all of the revenue (source: Deloitte media metrics, 2017).

 

The following were the three largest media companies by revenue in the UK in 2017

 

How do we measure concentration of ownership of media? 

Looking at revenue share as the above examples do is only one way of measuring concentration of ownership, however, there are several other ways concentration may be occurring which are not measured simply by looking at how revenue is distributed.

Below I outline several different ways in which media ownership can become more concentrated 

Vertical Integration

Where one company owns all of the stages of production of media products – for example a company owning a film production studio, and the cinema where the film is shown.

Horizontal integration

Where one company diversifies to own more types of media – e.g. when a film production company also gets into book publishing.

Lateral expansion or diversification

When media companies branch out into non media areas – e.g. Virgin Media getting into trains and insurance.

Global Conglomeration

Where companies in one country buy up companies in other countries. News Corp, for example, owns media outlets in several different countries.

Synergy

Where a media product is sold in several different forms – often as a form of marketing. For example, a company produces a film for cinema, then a DVD, a T.V. spin off series, a sound track for download, maybe a cartoon strip and some action figures too.

Technological convergence

Where traditional media companies link with IT companies to make sure their media products are available across several different devices.

Final thoughts 

Intuitively it seems likely that there is increasing concentration of ownership, especially with the rise of Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple, but at the same time it is difficult to say for certain given the complexity of the concept of concentration of ownership

Variables in quantitative reserach

What is the difference between interval/ ratio, ordinal, nominal and categorical variables? This post answers this question!

Interval/ ratio variables

Where the distances between the categories are identical across the range of categories.

For example, in question 2, the age intervals go up in years, and the distance between the years is same between every interval.

Interval/ ratio variables are regarded as the highest level of measurement because they permit a wider variety of statistical analyses to be conducted.

There is also a difference between interval and ratio variables… the later have a fixed zero point.

Ordinal variables

These are variables that can be rank ordered but the distances between the categories are not equal across the range. For example, in question 6, the periods can be ranked, but the distances between the categories are not equal.

NB if you choose to group an interval variable like age in question 2 into groups (e.g. 20 and under, 21-30, 31-40 and so on) you are converting it into an ordinal variable.

Nominal or categorical variables

These consist of categories that cannot be rank ordered. For example, in questions 7-9, it is not possible to rank subjective responses of respondents here into an order.

Dichotomous variables

These variables contain data that have only two categories – e.g. ‘male’ and ‘female’. Their relationship to the other types of variable is slightly ambiguous. In the case of question one, this dichotomous variable is also a categorical variable. However, some dichotomous variables may be ordinal variables as they could have one distinct interval between responses – e.g. a question might ask ‘have you ever heard of Karl Marx’ – a yes response could be regarded as higher in rank order to a no response.

Multiple-indicator measure such as Likert Scales provide strictly speaking ordinal variables, however, many writers argue they can be treated as though they produce interval/ ratio variables, if they generate large number of categories.

In fact Bryman and Cramer (2011) make a distinction between ‘true’ interval/ ratio variables and those generated by Likert Scales.

A flow chart to help define variables

*A nominal variable – aka categorical variable! 

Questionnaire Example 

This section deals with how different types of question in a questionnaire can be designed to yield different types of variable in the responses from respondents.

If you look at the example of a questionnaire below, you will notice that the information you receive varies by question

Some of the questions ask for answers in terms of real numbers, such as question 2 which asks ‘how old are you’ or questions 4 and 5 and 6 which asks students how many hours a day they spend doing sociology class work and homework. These will yield interval variables.

Some of the questions ask for either/ or answers or yes/ no answers and are thus in the form of dichotomies. For example, question 1 asks ‘are you male or female’ and question 10 asks students to respond ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to whether they intend to study sociology at university. These will yield dichotomous variables.

The rest of the questions ask the respondent to select from lists of categories:

The responses to some of these list questions can be rank ordered – for example in question 6, once a day is clearly more than once a month! Responses to these questions will yield ordinal variables. 

Some other ‘categorical list’ questions yield responses which cannot be ranked in order – for example it is impossible to say that studying sociology because you find it generally interesting is ranked higher than studying it because it fits in with your career goals.  These will yield categorical variables.

These different types of response correspond to the four main types of variable above.

 

 

 

Media representations of social class

How are different social classes represented in the mainstream media? 

This post looks at how the monarchy, the wealthy, the middle classes, working classes and benefits claimaints (‘the underclass’) are represented, focusing mainly on British television and newspaper coverage.

Generally speaking the ‘lower’ the social class, the more negative the media representations are, arguably because the mainstream media professionals disproportionately come from upper middle class backgrounds.

NB Social class is  a tricky concept and you might like to review it here before continuing.

Media representations of social class.png

Representations of the Monarchy

According to Nairn (2019) after WWII the monarchy developed close ties with the media industry and worked with them to reinvent itself as ‘the royal family’ and since then they have been represented in the media as a family that are ‘like us but not like us’, and the narrative of their lives is presented as a soap opera, and is part of our day to day media fabric, which encourages us to identify with the royals.

Media representations of royalty also reinforce a sense of national identity: The Queen is the ultimate figure head of the country and royal events form part of our annual calendar, as well as the fact that royals are often in attendance at other national events, such as sporting events for example.

Media representations of wealth

The very wealthy are generally represented positively in the media, for example Alan Sugar and the Dragons on Dragons Den.

The constant media focus on the lifestyles of wealthy celebrities tends to glamourize such lifestyles, suggesting this is something we should all be aspiring to, rather than focusing on the injustice of how much these people are paid compared to ordinary people.

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Are the wealthy generally represented positively in the media?

The Middle Classes

Middle class (higher income) families seem to be over-represented on day time T.V. especially – in shows such as homes under the hammer, escape to the country and antiques shows featuring typically very high wealth/ income families, and yet presenting them as ‘the norm’.

Most T.V. presenters are middle class, and so they are more likely to identify with middle class guests compared to working class guests, reinforcing the concerns of former as more worthy of attention.

Most journalists and editors are privately educated which means that the news agenda is framed from a middle class point of views.

The working classes

There are relatively few shows which focus on the reality of the lives of working class people.

Mainstream soaps tend to be the most watched representations of the working classes

Jones (2011) suggests the working classes are represented as feckless racists who hate immigration and multiculturalism – coverage of Brexit seems to offer support for this.

Benefits claimants (‘The Underlcass’)

Coverage tends to focus on the poverty of individuals rather than the structural features of society such as government policy which created the underclass.

Media coverage of the underclass is generally negative and they are often scapegoated for society’s problems. Benefits Street is a good example of this.

Please see this extended post for more details on how the media portray benefits claimants in stereotypical ways.

 

 

How equal are men and women in the UK?

The gap between men and women in terms of pay, and representation in big companies is decreasing rapidly, but significant inequalities remain in both of these areas, domestic life, and chances of being a victim of sexual assault. All of this is despite the fact that girls have been outperforming boys at GCSE (and above) for decades. The only area of life where there seems to be equality is reported happiness levels, yet women still report slightly higher anxiety levels.

This post summarizes statistics from six key areas of social life:

  • income – the gender pay gap.
  • domestic life – amount of time spent on leisure and unpaid work
  • economic power – the proportion of women represented on the boards of large companies
  • education – GCSE results
  • crime – the number of men and women who have been victims of sexual assault.
  • well being – reported levels of  happiness and anxiety.

There are a lot statistics available on gender inequality (both in the UK and worldwide) and here I’ve tried to select just six key statistics that summarize the state of gender inequality today.

I’ve kept the data to a minimum so as to avoid information overload, as this post is written as part of an introduction to A-level sociology for students in their first week of study. I’ve also deliberately selected data that is relevant to the topics students are likely to be studying deeper into the A-level, such as families and households and education, so they can get a first look at it now.

If you want to find out more about trends in gender equality in the U.K. I recommend the U.K. Government’s Gender Equality Monitor, which tracks progress towards gender equality.  This recent report was very much the basis for this post!

NB – you’ll find it easier just read the charts if you click here to get to my Tableau Public page where I’ve stored all of the data visualizations below.

Women’s Income compared to men’s 

The gender pay gap has fallen by about 10 percentage points since 1997, but the pay gap remains at just below 9%. 

Source: ONS: Gender Pay Gap in the UK, 2018.

Number of women running big companies

Source: Hampton-Alexander Review FTSE Women Leaders Improving gender balance in FTSE Leadership, November 2018.

GCSE results 

The 9-4 and 9-5 GCSE pass rates for girls are both approximately 7% higher than the corresponding pass rate for boys.

Source: GCSE and equivalent results: 2017 to 2018 (provisional).

Leisure and unpaid work 


Women report having an hour less leisure time per day and do an hour’s more unpaid work per day than men

Source: ONS analysis of UK Harmonised European Time Use Survey (HETUS), 2015.

Chances of being a victim of sexual assault

While the rates of BCS reported sexual assaults against females have fallen significantly, females are still more than three times more likely to be victims than males.

Source: ONS.

Happiness and anxiety 


Despite all of the above the reported happiness levels are almost identical for both males and females, and female anxiety levels are only slighter higher than male anxiety levels!

Source: ONS, Personal well-being estimates in the UK: October 2016 to September 2017.

Conclusions/ about this post

Hopefully you found this post useful, writing it has been a bit of a learning curve as I’m currently teaching myself how to use Tableau to do data visualizations.

Media representations of benefits claimants

In this post I summarize some recent sociological research which suggests newspapers and ‘reality T.V. shows represent benefits claimants in a limited range of stereotypical ways, focusing on them as lazy, undeserving scroungers engaged in immoral, wreckless and criminal behaviour.

A lot of the research below also reminds us that media representations in no way reflect the reality of being unemployed and claiming benefits in the UK.

This research is relevant to the A-level sociology media topic: representations of social class.

Stereotypes of benefits claimants in newspaper articles 

Baumberg et al’s (2012) research ‘Benefits Stigma in Britain’ analysed a database of 6,600 national press articles between 1995-2011.

Baumberg et al found an extraordinarily disproportionate focus on benefit fraud: 29% of news stories referenced fraud. In comparison the government’s own estimate is that a mere 0.7% of all benefits claims are fraudulent.

Common language used to describe benefits as ‘undeserving’ included:

  • Fraud and dishonesty (including those such as ‘faking illness’);
  • Dependency (including ‘underclass’ and ‘unemployable’);
  • non-reciprocity/lack of effort (e.g. ‘handouts’, ‘something for nothing’, ‘lazy’, ‘scrounger’); •
  • outsider status (e.g. ‘immigrant’, ‘obese’)

Language used to describe benefits claimants as ‘deserving’ included:

  • need (‘vulnerable’, ‘hard-pressed’);
  • disability (‘disabled’, ‘disability’).

In general, Tabloid newspapers such (especially The Sun) focused on representing benefits claimants as undeserving, while broadsheets such as The Guardian were more likely to focus on representing benefits claimants as ‘deserving’.

news reporting unemployment.jpg

NB – The Sun and The Mail are Britain’s two most widely circulated newspapers. 

Stigmatising benefits claimants

Finally, the study found an increase in articles about benefits claimants which focused on the following stigmatising themes:

  • fraud
  • ‘shouldn’t be claiming’ (for reasons other than fraud)
  • never worked/hasn’t worked for a very long time
  • large families on benefits
  • bad parenting/antisocial behaviour of families on benefits
  • claimants better off on benefits than if they were working
  • claimants better off than workers
  • immigrants claiming benefits

More neutral/ positive themes included:

  • compulsion of claimants (e.g. workfare, benefit conditionality)
  • cuts to benefits
  • need

As with the themes of ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’, Tabloids produced more stigmatising content than the the broadsheets.

negative reporting benefits claimants.jpg

Stereotypes of benefits claimants in reality T.V. shows 

Ruth Patrick (2017) has analysed the representations of those on benefits and in poverty on reality television shows such as ‘Benefits Street’ and Benefits Britain: Life on the Dole.

The number of such shows has exploded in recent years, but while they claim to provide and honest ‘realistic’ insight into  lives of Britain’s benefit claimants and those living in poverty, Patrick and others argue they are sensationalised and present stereotypical representations of those on welfare.

If we look at the opening scenes for the first series of Benefits Street for example, these featured:

  • sofas on the pavement,
  • men on streets drinking cans of lager,
  • women smoking cigarettes on their doorsteps.

Overall such shows present benefits claimants as lazy shirkers who don’t want to work, and as people who are different to the hard-working majority.

Such shows emphasize the difference between the working majority (‘us’) and the workless minority (‘them’) and invites us to identify ourselves against benefits claimants, and possibly to see claiming benefits as something which is a choice, long term and morally wrong, rather than as something which is a necessity, usually a short term stop-gap before a return work.

This interview with Jordan, who took feature in Benefits Britain as a claimant offers an insight into how negative representations of the unemployed are socially constructed by media professionals:

Jordan claims that he usually keeps his flat tidy, but was told by the producers to deliberately not tidy it up before they came round to shoot, because it would make people feel more sorry for him.

He also claims that the media crew bought alcohol and cigarettes for the shoot, and told the ‘claimants’ that if they didn’t consume them before the shoot was over they’d take them away again, which led to lots of images of the cast drinking and smoking, when Jordan claims he would only usually do this on special occasions.

Relevance of this to A-level Sociology/ Media studies….

It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that newspapers and ‘reality’ T.V. present you with the reality of ‘life on benefits’ – in fact both of these sources present highly sensationalised accounts of what it’s like to actually be unemployed.

All of the above research is based on careful content analysis which picks out the main ways in which benefits claimants are stereotyped and thus represented in a limited way.

This post has only focused on representations, forthcoming posts will focus on why mainstream media professionals choose to represent benefits claimants in negative, stereotypical ways.

Sources 

 

What’s the most valid representation of trends in Life Expectancy?

Here’s a dual line chart showing trends in life expectancy for males and females in the UK from 1948 to 2016….

The above chart is only one way of visualizing this data, starting at zero. It gives the impression of a steadily increasing life expectancy for both sexes, with little difference between them.

 

Visualizing starting at age 64

However, if you cut off the bottom 60 odd years, you get the impression of a much faster increase in life expectancy and you also get the impression of a more rapidly closing gap between male and female life expectancy:

 

Same data, two different impressions…. the first ‘calm and steady’, the second ‘rapid and intense’ – it just goes to show how easy it is to ‘distort’ even ‘hard’ data in the visualisation/ representation phase!

 

Evaluating the New Right’s Perspective on Education

In this post I offer four pieces of evidence students can use to evaluate the New Right’s perspective on education, particularly their claim that Marketisation policies since 1988 have raised standards for all pupils.

Item A: GCSE Pass Rates

Probably the strongest piece of supporting evidence for the New Right’s policies on education is that they have worked to improve GCSE results nearly every year for the last 30 years:

The latest reports focusing on the long term trend are a bit dated, such as this one from The Guardian, but it clearly shows a long term improvement in grades at GCSE:

Despite recent dips in top grades, this 2013 report from Full Fact, which also focuses on the long term trend in results since 1988 points out that:

  • The pass rate for grades A*-C has increased by almost two-thirds from 42.5% in 1988 to 68.1% in 2013.
  • A*/A grades have almost trebled from 8.6% in 1988 to 21.3% in 2013.

However, the report also recognizes that some of this is due to grade inflation as this increase in performance is not mirrored by English and Welsh students in international tests, such as PISA BELOW.

Item B: PISA international league tables

(http://www.oecd.org/pisa/aboutpisa/)

The PISA league tables demonstrate how the neoliberal/ New Right idea of ranking educational achievement has gone global – Since the year 2000 we now have International Education League Tables.

Since the year 2000, every three years, fifteen-year-old students from randomly selected schools worldwide take tests in the key subjects: reading, mathematics and science, with a focus on one subject in each year of assessment. In 2012, some economies also participated in the optional assessments of Problem Solving and Financial Literacy.

Students take a test that lasts 2 hours. The tests are a mixture of open-ended and multiple-choice questions that are organised in groups based on a passage setting out a real-life situation. A total of about 390 minutes of test items are covered.  Students take different combinations of different tests.

PISA is unique because it develops tests which are not directly linked to the school curriculum. The tests are designed to assess to what extent students at the end of compulsory education, can apply their knowledge to real-life situations and be equipped for full participation in society.

The students and their school principals also answer questionnaires to provide information about the students’ backgrounds, schools and learning experiences and about the broader school system and learning environment.

The UK currently ranks 23rd for English and Maths.

Item C: Stephen Ball (2003)

argues that government policies of choice and competition place the middle class at an advantage. They have the knowledge and skills to make the most of the opportunities on offer. Compared to the working class they have more material capital, more social capital – access to social networks and contacts which can provide information and support.

Ball refers 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. For example, they use social networks to talk to parents whose children are attending the schools on offer. They collect and analyse information about GCSE results, 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.

Ball also talked of 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.

Item D: Sue Palmer – The Problems of Tests, Targets And Education

Sue Palmer Is usually introduced in Families and Households module. She argues that technological and social changes have made modern childhood ‘toxic’, and testing in education (because of league tables and The New Right) is part of this problem. Sue Palmer writes…..

‘As long as league tables exist, in a risk averse society most people daren’t ignore them. Primary schools at the top of the league (which, by a strange coincidence, tend to be in the wealthiest areas) have a reputation to maintain; those at the bottom have to try to claw a little higher. The status of all interested adults (teachers, governors, parents) depends on how their Year Sixes perform in national tests.

So from four years of age, our children now live in the shadow of SATs. ‘No time for play in the reception class now,’ one teacher told me ruefully. ‘As soon as they arrive, it’s fast forward to the Key Stage One test.’ The curriculum is dominated by the core subjects of English, Maths and Science, broken down into a series of discrete‘learning objectives’ – closely matched to ‘assessment criteria’ – to be ticked off as children progress through the school.

There are ‘voluntary’ SATs for each year group, so children’s progress (and teachers’ competence in coaching their pupils) can be checked every summer. Then, in Year Six, come several months of concentrated exam practice, ‘booster classes’ during the Easter holidays for those who might not scrape the required mark, and sleepless nights for 11-year-olds terrified of ‘letting themselves down’ on the day.

Not surprisingly, this regime leaves far less time for creative but unquantifiable experiences, like art, drama and music, which through the millennia have nurtured children’s imaginations and contributed incalculably to their emotional and social development. Less time also for the active, hands-on learning children need if they’re genuinely to understand the concepts underpinning the tests.

Last year researchers found that the conceptual understanding of today’s 11-year-olds lags two to three years behind their counterparts in 1990. While performance on pencil-and-paper tests of has soared over this period, children are apparently less likely to understand the principles they’ve been trained to tick boxes about.

Research published recently by the independent Alexander Review of primary education shows that – on tests other than those for which children are coached – there have been only modest improvements in mathematics, and little change in literacy standards. And in last month’s PIRLS survey of international achievement in literacy, England had actually gone backwards, slumping from 3rd to 19th place.

Representations of Disability

Sociologists have argued that the media historically represents disabled people in a limited range of stereotypes, such as objects of pity, unable to participate fully in social life, and in need of our help.

Stereotypes of disability

Barnes (1992) identified a number of recurring stereotypes of disabled people including:

  • Pitiable and pathetic – a staple of television documentaries, which often focus on disabled children and the possibilities of miracle cures
disability stereotypes pity.PNG
The Elephant Man – an object of pity?
  • Sinister and evil – for example Villains in James Bond movies often have physical impairments
  • Atmospheric or Curio – where disabled people are included in drama to enhance atmosphere of menace, unease, mystery or deprivation.
  • Super-cripples – the disabled are sometimes portrayed as having special powers, for example blind people might be viewed as visionnaires with sixth sense.
  • Sexually abnormal – the media usually treat the disable as having no sense of sexuality, but when they do there are represented as sexually degenerate.
  • Incapable of participating fully in community life – disable people are rarely show as integral and productive members of working society – Barns calls this the stereotype of omission.

Telethons and disability 

Paul Longmore (2016) suggests that telethons historically present disabled children as people who are unable to participate fully in community life (sports/ sexuality) unless they are ‘fixed’.

Telethons put the audience in the position of givers and reinforce the idea that the disable receivers should be dependent on their able bodied donors.

Because telethons are primarily about raising money rather than raising awareness of the reality of being disabled, they may end up reinforcing stereotypes of disabled people.

children in need stereotypes disability.PNG
Does Children in Need reinforce disability stereotypes?

Newspaper representations of the disabled

Williams-Findlay (2009) examined the content of The Times and The Guardian to see whether the coverage of the disabled had changed between 1989 and 2009.

Williams-Findlay found that the use of stereotypical words had declined in those 20 years, but that stereotypical representations were still present in 2009 because journalists still assumed that disability was ‘tragic’.

Watson et al (2011) compared tabloid media coverage of disability in five newspapers in 2004-5 with coverage in 2010-11 they found that:

  • There had been a significant increase in the reporting of disability
  • The proportion of articles reporting disability in sympathetic and deserving terms had fallen.
  • In 2010-11 the reporting of groups with mental disabilities was particularly negative, often associated with them being welfare scroungers.
  • Articles focusing on disability benefit fraud increased threefold between 2005 and 2011.

Changing representations of disability?  

The recent Channel 4 show ‘The Undateables‘ has certainly made disabled people more visible in the media…. but whether or not these are positive representations or whether they reinforce stereotypes is a matter for further analysis and debate!

the undateables.PNG

More to follow…. 

This is an initial ‘place holder post’ TBU shortly!

Sources 

Chapman et al (2016) Sociology AQA A-level Year 2 Student Book