CoronaVirus: A very divisive virus?

The CoronaVirus seems to be dividing us

While our national response to CoronaVirus has been couched in terms of ‘working together to beat this’,  ‘solidarity’ and ‘social responsibility’, I don’t think our collective response to this virus can be characterised as ‘acting in solidarity’ or ‘enhancing social integration’.

Rather, I think the short- and long-term result of the Virus and our response to it is leading to more social fragmentation and division.

There is a lot of case study and statistical evidence you can use to back up this analysis:

In the initial phases of the ‘emergency response’ there was plenty of evidence of people not obeying the government advice of ‘social distancing’ – plenty of photos of people in buys Parks and crammed tube carriages for example, duly shared on twitter and other social media sites.  

Then there’s the most recent government’s orders that we should all stay indoors, with a handful of exceptions such as for exercise and food shopping, during which time we all need to keep 2 metres apart from each other.

You might interpret this as ‘solidarity’ – all ‘distancing together’, but TBH I don’t think we can characterize us NOT doing things as solidarity.  For the most part, people are staying indoors, isolated in their private life-worlds.

Yes, we can stay connected via social media and our Smart T.V.s, but this is a very selective kind of social interaction, we aren’t ‘rubbing up against’ people in public space anymore, at least not for the foreseeable future.  

What we are seeing are new norms about social interaction – people view each other as potential carriers of the virus and thus a potential threat to their own health.

Maybe there is a new kind of uniting against the social pariahs who do not social distance? This article outlines how there have been social media campaigns shaming people ‘not doing their bit by keeping their distance’…. But that strikes me as a very weak kind of solidarity, at about the same level as online petitions.

Then of course there’s the evidence of so many people just looking out for themselves – by stockpiling food, leaving the shelves empty for others!

The response the Virus is set to be even more divisive

Public sector workers (bizarrely) do quite well (at least for now) by keeping their pay, private sector workers get 80%, but the self-employed seemed to have been left to their own devices.

Those on lower incomes and in precarious employment are likely to suffer the most of course, as these do not have the funds to tied them over a reduction income in the short term and maybe further cuts to hours and pay in the long term as a recession is likely.

Meanwhile I have no doubt that there will be  a massive bail-out coming for the banks and Corporations, again, like in 2008.

All of this means that the young will probably pick up the tab as decreasing tax revenues and increasing government debt in future months will be managed by cuts to public services and probably pensions.

Finally, from a global perspective, I don’t imagine travelling abroad is going to be easy or welcomed by people in other countries – there may be more hostility towards tourists, let alone asylum seekers after this.

Final thoughts…

To make this sociologically relevant, I think CoronaVirus is a great example of an event that suggests Functionalist analysis is no longer relevant to understanding late-modern society.

TBH I’m not sure what perspectives are relevant to understanding this – I guess it’s an extreme example of how we manage Risk, so maybe Beck’s Risk Society thesis, maybe also Giddens – I think it was him who said Nation States were too small to tackle global problems, and this seems to be the case here!

Unless this current situation is the best we can do?

The Sociology of Halloween 2019

Halloween’s not a huge deal in the United Kingdom, but it is still an annual festival/ ritual that everyone recognizes, and I imagine most people can relate to it having gone trick or treating as kid?

At the very least you’ll likely be exposed to it via Strictly’s Halloween Special.

Some stats on Halloween

  • One third of Brits believe in ghosts, spirits or other paranormal activity
  • Britain is divided on Halloween – over half (56%) of the public say they won’t be celebrating it!
  • Britain is also divided over trick or treat – 40% think it’s harmless fun, but 38% would feel unsafe opening the doors to strangers.
  • Only 11% of Brits say they’ll be dressing up to go to a party.
  • Despite the low numbers of people who celebrate it, expenditure on Halloween has been increasing in recent years, and is now around the £400 million mark!

Sociological Perspectives Applied to Halloween

Functionalist Durkheim argued that national rituals are worth analyzing as they can reveal something about the collective conscience of a society – I think this is true to an extent: it’s now more commercialized than ever and the relatively high levels of fear of trick and treat are a reminder that we live in a ‘risk society’ .

However, more than anything the poll results show how divided we are as a nation, and how privatized – we’re split over Halloween, just like we are over Brexit, and it seems it’s mostly a private affair, rather than a public celebration, as evidenced in the fact that trick or treating is in decline.

Going back to Strictly, maybe that’s it for most of us – we experience Halloween like how we experience so many other things in life – through celebrities having a jolly old time playing dress up, while we cower indoors with the lights off to ward off the trick or treat threat?!

Maybe Halloween does offer us a commentary on social life today after all, just not the kind you’re likely to see revealed in an opinion poll.

Sources

Generation Anxious

700 000 children in the U.K. are currently registered with an emotional disorder, that’s 7.2%, of 5-19 year olds, or about 1 in 13, according to a recent survey by NHS Digital.

emotional disorders NHS

And that’s just those children who have been formally diagnosed. That figure of 7.2% represents those children who have reached the clinical diagnoses threshold – where their distress impairs them so much that it gets in the way of their daily functioning.

The Children’s society says there are many who can’t get help because their problems are not serious enough, maybe as many as 3-4 times the above figure.

Mental health disorders have a huge economic impact, costing the UK 4% of GDP.

In this blog post I summarize a recent podcast from Radio Four’s ‘Bringing Up Britain: Generation Anxious’ which explores why so many of today’s children suffer with anxiety.

The show explores various possible contributors such as social media, pressurized exams, genetics and parents passing on their own worries to their children, as well as changing cultural norms which remove children’s agency.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is the buzz word of the moment, but the anxiety which stops children going to school is different to butterflies in tummies before going on stage at the school play. The word covers both, a human experience we all feel and a clinical diagnosis.

The later type of ‘ordinary’ anxiety can be helpful in some senses, and anxiety is a normal response to stress and entirely normally developmentally – e.g. up to the age of three separation anxiety is normal as are phobias for pre-school children, and for teens there is a heightened sense of awareness of our selves and how others see us.

In order to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, the level of distress must be so debilitating that one cannot function – it’s where you can’t face going out because you’re so anxious.

There are also different types of anxiety: such as social anxiety – not being able to be scrutinized without going bright red, and generalized anxieties – about anything that can go wrong, for example.

If you get serious anxiety as a child, it harms your development – you’re behind your peers and with schoolwork, and it’s reinforcing – the more you get behind, then the more there is to be anxious about!

Anxiety Increases with age, more common with girls, strong link to deprivation and family history. It’s also affect by personality types – some are more cautious and socially shy.

What is it that’s making children feel more anxious?

Social context is important – not so long ago, children would be out playing at ages 6-7, away from their parents, developing a sense of their own agency, but we’ve now starved them of these chances to be independent in primary school – primary schools forbid children to travel their alone – hence why secondary school is now seen as more of a challenge!

It could also be parents are increasingly transferring their anxieties onto their children – linked to the fact that there are too many experts telling parents what to do and the increased pressure on ‘getting parenting right’ – anxious parents makes anxious children: they do share an environment, after all!

A recent column in The Times likened GCSEs to a type of child abuse, but increased exam pressure is dismissed as being linked to increasing anxiety, because we’ve been doing them for thousands of years, and they’re probably less stressful now than they were 30 years ago.

However, it doesn’t help that children are more sensitive about the future nowadays and that more creative subjects which many children prefer are now squeezed out in favour of English and Maths.

The show also considers the effect of Social Media – it makes sense because your social media presence is fundamentally linked to your social identity – and it doesn’t switch off, and this is especially likely to impact teens at the time of life when they’re thinking about their identities.

However, there is a lock of good evidence of the relationship between social media usage and anxiety levels: its just cross sectional but we don’t know what comes first, we don’t know what kind of social media activity teens are involved in and we don’t have longitudinal data.

Socioeconomic factors also play a role – giving time to children, both physically and emotionally is important for their development, but the lower an income you earn, then the more time you need to spend working, and the less time you have for your children.

Body Image and anxiety

There does seem to be evidence of a relationship between body image and anxiety.

A recent Mental Health Foundation Survey found that ¼ people aged 18-24 believed that reality TV shows such as Love Island makes them worry about body image.

1/3rd of young people worry every day about their body, feeling things such as shame.

Over 1/5th 17-19 year old girls have anxiety depression or both. Around 11-14 there is a relationship between obesity and anxiety, but the relationship is complex.

How to help children control anxiety…

Various solutions are offered

  • More resources for mental health services
  • Cognitive behavioural therapy is mentioned as a good way of dealing with more serious anxiety.
  • Forest Schools and meditation lessons in schools are day to day things we could be doing socially
  • Giving young people more of a sense of agency
  • Being prepared to listen to children and talking about anxiety.

We also need to remember that ‘normal’ levels of anxiety are helpful – without it, we probably wouldn’t care about how we perform in society, it’s a natural part of going through changes, and the best things in life don’t tend to happen in comfort zones!

Relevance to A-level Sociology 

This is of relevance to the sociology of childhood, especially toxic childhood, and also research methods: we need to question whether these anxiety stats are valid or whether they’re socially constructed. The growth of anxiety might just be because there are more experts more willing to diagnose anxiety.

 

Intersex Policing – the case of Caster Semenya

You’ll probably recognize Caster Semenya the female 400 meter runner with intersex traits who won the 800 meters in the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games.

800 meter gender police.PNG

However she probably won’t be at next year’s in 2020 because the Court of Arbitration for Sport recently judged that female athletes with intersex traits won’t be able to compete in middle distance events (from 400m to 1 mile) unless they take medication to suppress their naturally high levels of testosterone.

On the surface this seems to be creating a ‘level playing field’ for all female athletes, but if we’re going to insist that someone like Semenva takes medication to suppress her unfair natural advantage, surely we should drug all the future Michael Phelps and Usain Bolts of the athletics world too?

Michael Phelps’ 6 ft 7″ arm span and size 13 feet certainly gave him an unfair natural advantage, and Usain Bolt’s supreme body-mechanics contributed to his sprint world records: how many other people have you seen ‘jogging to line’ and winning that often?

So maybe there’s more to the Semenva Case? 

Maybe she (and anyone else whose intersex) is being punished for their ‘gender ambiguity’ rather than this being a just penalty for being physically advantaged.

Then there’s the fact that she (and other intersex females) are easy victims here: they are an extreme minority, and relatively powerless, after all – easy to mete out harsh justice on such individuals and then forget about it in the name of ‘fairness’.

Maybe this is about rendering intersex females invisible – policing our ‘normalised’ sex-boundaries, making sure the rest of us don’t become too uncomfortable about the reality that sex/gender are complex/ fluid….. it CANNOT be about just biological advantage as the cases of Phelps and Bolt demonstrate – we celebrate their ‘good’ freakishness, after all!)

NB – she’s rejected the ruling, it is a violation of her human rights, after all!

Sources

https://www.vox.com/identities/2019/5/3/18526723/caster-semenya-800-gender-race-intersex-athletes

 

The dumping of plastic waste – a green crime?

Only an estimated 9% of the world’s plastic waste is recycled. A further 12% is burnt and the rest, 79% is buried in land fill or just dumped.

China used to be the main dumping ground for the world’s rubbish, but it banned the import of plastic waste in 2017, which then lead to a surge in the amount of used plastic sent to other countries in South East Asia such as Malaysia.

In Malaysia, much of the world’s used plastic is either burnt, releasing toxic chemicals into the air or dumped in rivers, polluting local water supplies and ultimately the oceans.

The BBC recently made a documentary about the harmful effects of the vast plastic-waste mountains in Malaysia, caused by wealthier countries such as the UK not dealing with their plastic waste at home, but rather outsourcing its disposal to a poorer country, because it’s cheaper to do so.

green crime plastic waste
A pile of plastic waste somewhere in Malaysia

From a traditional criminology perspective there is nothing necessarily ‘criminal’ about a company in one country engaging in ‘law evasion’ by exporting plastic waste to a second company in another country with slacker environmental protection laws and then that second company burning or just dumping the waste –   it is up to each individual country to establish its own environmental laws, after all.

However, this case study may well be an example of a ‘green crime‘ from a green-criminological perspective – in the above example company A is knowingly doing something that will result in pollution and thus do environmental harm – even if it is thousands of miles away.

NB Malaysia recently announced that it will no longer accept imports of foreign rubbish, and has threatened to return 3000 tonnes of non-recyclable plastic waste back to the U.K. other countries.

Sources 

The Week, 8 June 2019

 

Contemporary sociology – religion in the news

Three very recent examples of news events relevant to the sociology of religion.

  • Austria recently joined the list of European countries banning the wearing of face veils in public – the headscarf is now banned in primary schools, but not Jewish or Sikh head coverings. Other EU countries to have done similar recently include France, Belgium, the Netherlands and Bulgaria. This could be interpreted as a moral panic over Islam, differential treatment for women maybe?
  • Hindu agains Muslim violence in India – this documentary is a useful, and shocking example of religiously inspired violence, evidence for religion as a source of conflict. The ruling party in India is the ‘Hindu-first Bharatiya Janata party (BJP)’, so there’s an argument that the state is actually supporting violence against Muslims, who are a religious minority in India.
  • Several states in the US are introducing bans on abortion – the religious right supported Trump in 2016, and now he is an outspoken supporter of anti-abortion policies.

Using contemporary examples to evaluate for theory and methods

A level sociology students should be looking to using contemporary examples and case studies to illustrate points and evaluate theories whenever possible. In the exams, the use of contemporary evidence is something examiners look for and reward.

Below are a few examples of some recent events in the news which are relevant to the theory and methods aspects of sociology

All of the above took place in either 2019 or 2018! 

Using contemporary examples to evaluate within the sociology of families and households

A level sociology students should be looking to using contemporary examples and case studies to illustrate points and evaluate theories whenever possible. In the exams, the use of contemporary evidence is something examiners look for and reward.

Below are a few examples of some recent events in the news which are relevant to the sociology of families and households. You’ll need to read the items for more depth on how to apply them.

All of the above took place in either 2019 or 2018! 

Using contemporary examples to evaluate the sociology of crime and deviance

A level sociology students should be looking to using contemporary examples and case studies to illustrate points and evaluate theories whenever possible. In the exams, the use of contemporary evidence is something examiners look for and reward.

Below are a few examples of some recent events in the news which are relevant to the sociology of crime and deviance. You’ll need to read the items for more depth on how to apply them.

All of the above took place in either 2019 or 2018! 

Sociological perspectives on drones over airports

Hundreds of flights were cancelled from Gatwick airport between the 19th-21st of December 2018 after reports of drone sightings nearby. This resulted in around 140 000 people’s flights being disrupted.

More recently, a drone was also sighted flying over Heathrow airport on Tuesday 8th Jan 2019 which led to flights being cancelled for an hour.

Despite ongoing police investigations and the military being involved in the Heathrow incident, we still don’t know who the drone pilots are!

This post simply provides some sociological analysis of drones over airports, applying various sociological perspectives – this is clearly most relevant to the crime and deviance module within A-level sociology, but also relevant to the media, given that these are media events!

drone.png

News Values

Firstly, it’s obvious why these events are newsworthy…. They tick lots of ‘news values’ boxes – Major drone disruption is very unusual, given that it’s never happened before, and it affected two of Britain’s best-known landmarks – Gatwick and Heathrow. This is also something most people can relate to, given that most people have used airports, the even at Gatwick at least had emotional appeal, because families were potentially being prevented from getting back together at Christmas.

The media and social reaction suggests support for aspects of Durkheim’s functionalist theory of crime – there was widespread condemnation of whoever the drone pilots in the media and one effect of their deviant act seems to have been an increase in social integration as the nation has come together in solidarity against them, even though no one knows who they are!

Interactionism – labelling and moral panic theory

An interactionist approach to these ‘drones over airports’ is, however, much more interesting…. One might ask why we’re making such a fuss over a few thousand people’s flight’s being delayed by drones, which is really no big deal, when the media fails to cover the use of drones by nation states to kill ‘suspected terrorists’ (and many innocent people) in foreign countries.

One might say this is a ‘moral panic’ over the general public’s use of drones to do ‘minor harms’, while the media ignores the use of powerful state actors to use drones to do ‘major harms’.

You can also apply interactionism to the police reaction…. As they arrested a working-class couple in a relatively poor part of the South East, only later to release them. I can just imagine the conversation…

  • ‘There’s a drone over Gatwick’
  • ‘Quick, go arrest someone’
  • ‘Who’?
  • ‘It’s probably poor people piloting it’
  • ‘But there are no poor people in Surrey?’
  • ‘What about Crawley, that’s nearby?’
  • ‘All units to Crawly, go arrest some poor people who own a drone, we need to be seen to be doing something about this.’

Or in other words, this just seems to be a straightforward example of the police labelling the marginalised.

Subcultural theory versus neo-Marxism

It’s tempting to think this is a group of lads doing this for status (come on, admit that’s the image in your head, it probably is!) However, this could be a political act…. Maybe climate change activists? IMO leisure flights are the perfect target for the environmentally conscious. Or it could (actually) be one of the bottom 30% by income, one of those people that will probably never be able to afford to fly anywhere, protesting about being marginalised by grounding flights!?!

Post and late modernism

Whether this crime was politically motivated or not, it’s unlikely that the drone pilots wanted to kill anyone…. They’re probably aware of the high levels of risk consciousness that surrounds airports… they were probably well aware of the likely impact of their drone flights… which was the grounding of all flights for a period.

It’s also the perfect postmodern crime in that this is preventing many people from engaging in their leisure pursuits (I imagine most flights are for leisure), it’s targeted at consumers.

Then of course there’s the uncertainty factor…. We still don’t know who did it, or when the next drone is going to appear…

Crime Control….

Given that international airports are so large, and thus the boundaries so big, it’s impossible to have on the ground security along all of the perimeter, and it’s difficult enough to get surveillance in place… especially when you have to go beyond the perimeter to cover the total area in which a drone could be operated from. In other words, it’s difficult to apply target hardening (preferred by right realists), and this goes to shows the difficulties of crime control in a postmodern age!

Gatwick aiport
Gatwick airport – a lot ground to police!

Globalisation

Finally, this could be used as an example of how easy it is to put ‘physical globalisation’ in the form of holiday migration into reverse… all it takes is one person in a car with a drone, and you can ground flights for days!