There are three key skills you need to demonstrate in A level Sociology (see the Sociology Student Handbook for how they are weighted in the exam)
AO1 Demonstrate knowledge and understanding of sociological theories, concepts and evidence
AO2 Apply sociological theories, concepts, evidence and research methods to a range of issues
AO3 Analyse and evaluate sociological theories, concepts, evidence and research methods in order to:
o present arguments
o make judgements
o draw conclusions.
Below are eight specific ways you can demonstrate these skills in relation to sociological concepts, theories and evidence. They get progressively harder, sort of.
AO1 – Define/ explain the theory or Concept AO1 – Give examples to illustrate this theory or concept
AO2 – Apply the theory or concept – How far does the theory/ concept help you understand different aspects of social life? AO2 – Analyse – What are the key foundational ideas of the theory or the concept? AO2 – Analyse – How does the theory/ concept relate to other theories/ concepts – which are the most closely related, which the opposite?
AO3 – Evaluate from other PERSPECTIVES – What would other perspectives say about the theory/ concept? (obviously this overlaps with no/.5 above AO3 – Evaluate – HISTORICAL CRITICISM – Is the theory/ concept dated? When was the concept developed? Is it still relevant today, or has society changed so much that it is no longer relevant? Has society changed in such a way that some aspects of the theory are now more relevant? AO3 – Evalaute – POWER/ BIAS/ VALUE FREEDOM? Who developed the concept/ theory – whose interests does it serve?
You also need to be able to evaluate research methods – but more of that later!
According to the AQA, the following are the most important aspects of studying Sociology. What’s below is taken straight from the AQA web site
All the following must be an integral part of the study of each topic area:
Sociological theories, perspectives and methods
The design of the research used to obtain the data under consideration, including its strengths and limitations.
Attention must be given to drawing out the links between topic areas studied.
Students must study the following two core themes:
Socialisation, culture and identity (Functionalism emphasises the importance of socialisation, postmodernism culture and action theory identity
Social differentiation, power and stratification (Marxism and Feminism emphasise the importance of these)
The themes should be understood and applied to particular substantive areas of Sociology. These themes are to be interpreted broadly as threads running through many areas of social life and should not therefore be regarded as discrete topics.
Contemporary UK society
The central focus of study in this specification should be on UK society today, with consideration given to comparative dimensions where relevant, including the siting of UK society within its globalised context.
Using the ‘Core Themes’ in A-level sociology
The most obvious exam-application is to use these as a basis for answering any 10 mark question – try to make sure one point is developed along the lines of socialisation, culture and identity, and another developed along the lines of differentiation, stratification and power. This way, you make sure you have two very different points!
As and first year A level course content at a glance – what’s below probably hasn’t cut and paste too well – if you want the pretty version, along with a whole load of other useful information, you can find it in this AS and A Level Student Handbook
(Related Posts – Core Themes in A Level Sociology)
AS Sociology and First Year A Level Content at a Glance
Paper 7191 (1) 90 minutes
Paper 7191 (2) – 90 minutes
Methods Applied to Education
Families and Households
1. Perspectives on Education
2. In school process and education
3. Education Policies
4. Social Class and Education
5. Gender and Education
6. Ethnicity and Education
Any of the research methods to the right applied to any aspect of education – e.g.
• Why boys are more likely to be excluded than girls
• Why white working class boys underachieve
• Exploring whether teachers have ‘ideal pupils’ – whether they label certain groups of pupils favourably?
• Looking at whether the curriculum is ethnocentric (racist/ homophobic)
• Examining how ‘gender identities’ enhance or hinder children’s ability to learn
1. Introduction to Research Methods – Basic types of method and key terms
2. The Factors Affecting Choice of Research Method – Theoretical, Ethical and Practical Factors
3. Secondary Quantitative Data – Official Statistics
4. Secondary Qualitative Data – Public and Private Documents
5. Experiments – Field and Laboratory
6. Interviews – Structured, Unstructured and Semi-Structured
7. Observational Methods – Cover and Overt Participant and Non-Participant Observation
2. Marriage and Divorce
3. Family Diversity
4. Power and Equality in Domestic Relationships
6. Social Policies
Second Year A Level – At a Glance
Assessed on A Level Paper 2
(along with the family)
Assessed on A Level Paper 3 (along with Theory and Methods)
Assessed on A Level Paper 1 (along with education) and Paper 3 (along with Crime and Deviance)
Crime and Deviance
Theory and Methods
1. Globalisation and its consequences
2. The problems of defining and measuring development and underdevelopment
3. Different theories of development, underdevelopment and global inequality
4. Aid and trade and their impact on development
5. The role of transnational corporations, nongovernmental organisations and international agencies in local and global strategies for development.
6. Development in relation to industrialisation and urbanization
7. Work, employment, education and health as aspects of development
8. War and Conflict in relation to development
9. Gender and Development
10. Population and Consumption in relation to development
11. The Environment and Development
1. Crime statistics
2. Locality and Crime
3. The media and crime
4. Consensus based theories – Functionalism; Social control’ theory; Strain theory and Sub cultural theory
5. The Traditional Marxist perspective on crime
6. Labeling Theory and The New Criminology
7. Left- Realist and Right-Realist Criminology
8. Post-Modernism, Late-Modernism and Crime (Social change and crime)
9. Methods of controlling crime – the role of the community, policing and punishment
10. Ethnicity and Crime
11. Gender and crime
12. Social Class, and crime
13. Age and crime
14. Victimology – Why are some people more likely to be criminals than others
15. Global crime, State crime and Environmental crime (Green crime)
16. The Sociology of Suicide
1. Positivism and Interpretivism
2. Is Sociology a science?
3. Can Sociology be value free?
8. Post Modernism
9. Sociology and social policy
· The Factors Affecting Choice of Research Method – Theoretical, Ethical and Practical Factors
· Secondary Quantitative Data – Official Statistics
· Secondary Qualitative Data – Public and Private Documents
· Experiments – Field and Laboratory
· Interviews – Structured, Unstructured and Semi-Structured
· Observational Methods – Cover and Overt Participant and Non-Participant Observation
Any of the research methods to the right applied to any aspect of crime
Assess the strengths of Participant Observation in Social Research (16)
The main strength of using Participant Observation is that it usually yields extremely valid data compared to most, if not all, other research methods. There are numerous reasons for this. Firstly, PO involves the researcher participating in the day to day lives of the respondents, and it typically takes place over extended periods of time – sometimes over months or even years. This is also the only method where the researcher gets to observe people in their natural environment – seeing what people do rather than what they say they do.
An extended period of close contact allows the researcher to get in-depth data of a qualitative nature and he should be able to ‘walk in the shoes’ of the respondents – seeing the world through their eyes, gaining an empathetic understanding of how they see their world and how they interpret their own actions.
PO is also respondent–led (at least in the early, passive stages of the research) – rather than having a structure imposed on the research process from the beginning as is the case with more quantitative research using pre-written questionnaires. This means that the research is flexible – and this can sometimes yield unexpected findings – as when Venkatesh discovered that the crack gangs he researched were embedded in to the wider community and actually provided financial support for many in that community.
There is disagreement over whether covert or overt participant observation will yield more valid data – It may seem initially that respondents should act more naturally with covert research because they do not know a researcher is present so they should ‘be themselves’ but some Sociologists have suggested that participants may be more honest with a ‘professional stranger’ ( someone who is not actually part of the group) because they may not want to admit certain things to someone who they believe to be part of the group (as would be the case with covert research). Also with covert research the respondents may still be wary of a new member – or even exaggerate their behaviour to impress them – as could have been the case with Macintyre’s research into football hooligans.
Most sociologists argue that PO has very poor reliability because it is extremely difficult to repeat research done using this method due to the personal relationships struck up between researcher and respondents and also due to the time it takes to do this type of research. Reliability is especially poor with covert research as with overt one can at least use other methods or invite someone else along to verify one’s findings. With both methods, one is reliant upon the integrity of the researcher.
Representativeness is generally poor but intepretivists argue that it is worth losing this, along with reliability for the greater insight one gains using this most in depth method.
Practical concerns – this method is very time-consuming given the small amount of respondents covered. The research itself can last for many months or years, it can take several months to gain access to the respondents and even longer to analyse the reams of qualitative data one would collect during the research process. Sociologists would also find it difficult to gain funding. Covert research is especially problematic in terms of being able to gain access and not being able to record data as you go. Having said this one big practical advantage is that covert research may be the only practical way of gaining access to deviant and criminal groups.
Finally, turning to ethics PO is a potential ethical minefield – The close contact between researcher and research means there is considerable scope for harm to come to the respondents, and anonymity is impossible. Covert research is especially problematic because of the deceit involved and the fact that the researcher may get involved in illegal activities if involved in certain groups. HOWEVER… the information gleaned about illegal and immoral activities may outweigh the ethical problems of deceit etc. Interpretivists also argue that this is one of the few methods where respondents are treated as equals with the research and really get to speak for themselves.
In conclusion… the usefulness of any method depends on a range of different factors. If you are Positivist, you would reject the method because it is unscented, it lacks objectivity, and it is impossible to achieve the large samples necessary to find correlations and make generalisations. If however, you are more of an Interpretivist and you are concerned with validity and gaining an empathetic understanding, then Pobs is the ideal method to use. However, research must take place in the real world, and so practical as well as the ethical factors mentioned mean that this method may not always be possible, even if, for some Sociologists, it is the most useful.
Mark Scheme for Participant Observation Essay
(adapted from the AQA’s mark scheme for the same essay, AS sociology paper). The above essay should get into the top mark band!
Sound, conceptually detailed knowledge of a range of relevant material on some of the problems of using participant observation (PO). Good understanding of the question and of the presented material.
Appropriate material applied accurately to the issues raised by the question.
There will be some reasonable evaluation or analysis
Broad or deep, accurate but incomplete knowledge of a range of problems of PO. Understands a number of significant aspects of the question; reasonable understanding of the presented material.
Application of material is largely explicitly relevant to the question, though some material may be inadequately focused.
There will be some limited evaluation or analysis, eg of reasons for loss of objectivity in PO.
Largely accurate knowledge but limited range and depth, eg a basic account of a few practical problems of using PO. Understands some aspects of the question; superficial understanding of the presented material.
Applying listed material from the general topic area but with limited regard for its relevance to the issues raised by the question, or applying a narrow range of more relevant material.
Answers are unlikely to have any evaluation but may have some limited analysis within a largely descriptive account.
Limited undeveloped knowledge, eg two to three insubstantial points about some features of PO. Understands only very limited aspects of the question; simplistic understanding of the presented material.
Limited application of suitable material, and/or material often at a tangent to the demands of the question, eg drifting into advantages of using PO.
Very limited or no evaluation. Attempts at analysis, if any, are thin and disjointed
Very limited knowledge, eg one to two very insubstantial points about PO or about methods in general. Very little/no understanding of the question and of the presented material.
Significant errors, omissions, and/or incoherence in application of material.
A suggested template for the Methods in Context Question on one of the AQA’s 7191 (1)education and methods in context sample exam papers – the template should work for most Method in Context questions, but it won’t work for all of them (it’ll fit less well for secondary data MIC questions)
Question: 06 Read Item B below and answer the question that follows
Investigating pupils with behavioural difficulties
Some pupils experience behavioural difficulties and problems interacting with others. This can create a major obstacle to learning, for both themselves and their classmates. In some cases, they are taught in specialist schools or in pupil referral units separate from mainstream education. Often, their behavioural difficulties result from problems outside school and many pupils come from materially deprived and chaotic home backgrounds.
Some sociologists may study pupils with behavioural difficulties using covert participant observation. This method enables the researcher to witness directly the pupils’ behaviour and its context. It may also allow the researcher to build a relationship of trust with pupils and parents. However, the researcher may find it difficult to fit in and he or she may need to adopt a specialised role such as teacher or support worker.
Evaluate the strengths and limitations of using covert participant observation to investigate pupils with behavioural difficulties (20)
Suggested Essay Plan
Cover Four things – Sampling/ Representativeness, Access, Validity, Ethics – In relation to the specific topic you are will be researching….
Discuss getting a sample/ Representativeness
How might you gain a representative sample of the group you are studying? Are there any reasons why it might be difficult to get a representative sample?
Will the research method in the question make achieving a representative sample easier or more difficult?
What could you do to ensure representativeness?
Discuss gaining access to respondents
Once you’ve decided on your sample, why might gaining access to respondents be a problem? (think of who you will be researching, and where you will be researching)
Will the choice of method make gaining access easier or more difficult?
What would you have to do to make sure you can gain access to this particular group?
Discuss validity/ empathy/ trust/ Insight
Think of who you will be researching – are there any specific reasons why they may not wish to disclose information, or be unable to be disclose information?
Will the research method in the question make gaining trust easier or more difficult?
What could you do to make sure you get valid data from the people you will be researching?
Think of the specific topic you are researching in relation to who you will be researching – are there any specific ethical problems with researching these people?
Given these ethical problems, is the research method appropriate?
How can you make sure research is ethical?
Based on all of the above is this a practical, theoretically sound and ethical method for this topic
NB – For the Topic you could discuss any of the following:
Who you might be researching
Where you might be researching pupils with behavioural difficulties
Specific characteristics of the subjects under investigation
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Evaluate the extent to which home based, rather than school – based factors account for social class based differences in educational achievement (30)
Focusing on home background initially, we can look at how material and cultural factors might affect a child’s education.
The lower classes are more likely to suffer from material deprivation at home which can hold children back in education because of a lack access to resources such as computers, or living in a smaller house means they would be less likely to have a quiet, personal study space. In extreme situations, children may have a worse diet and a colder house, which could mean illness and time off school. According to Gibson and Asthana, the effects of material deprivation are cumulative, creating a cycle of deprivation. This would suggest that home background influences a child’s education.
Also, the amount of money one has and the type of area one lives in affects the type of school a child can get to. Richer parents have more choice of school because they are more likely to have two cars or be able to afford public transport to get their children to a wider range of schools. Also, house prices in the catchment areas of the best schools can be up to 20% higher than similar houses in other areas – richer parents are more able to afford to move to these better schools. At the other end of the social class spectrum, those going to school in the most deprived areas may suffer disruptions in school due to gang related violence. All of this suggests that location, which is clearly part of your ‘home background’ in the broader sense of the word, is a major factor in educational achievement.
Cultural deprivation also has a negative effect on children at home. Bernstein pointed out that working class children are more likely to be socialised into the restricted speech code and so are less able to understand teachers at school compared to their middle class peers who speak in the elaborated speech code. The classes are also taught the value of immediate rather than deferred gratification, and so are less likely to see the value of higher education. In these theories, home background influences children all the way through school.
Although the concept of cultural deprivation is decasdes old, more recent research suggests it is still of relevance. Fenstein’s (2003) research found that lower income is strongly correlated with a lack of ability to communicate, while research by Conor et al (2001) found that being socialised into poverty means working class students are less likely to want to go to university than middle class students because they are more ‘debt conscious’.
Cultural Capital Theory also suggests that home background matters to an extent – this theory argues that middle class parents have the skills to research the best schools and the ability to help children with homework – and to intervene in schools if a child falls behind (as Diana’s research into the role of mothers in primary school education suggested). However, cultural capital only advantages a child because it gets them into a good school –suggesting that it is the school that matters at least as much as home background. There wouldn’t be such a fuss over, and such competition between parents over schools if the school a child went to didn’t have a major impact on a child’s education!
In fact, one could argue that probably the most significant advantage a parent can give to their child is getting them into a private school. To take an extreme case, Sunningdale preparatory school in Berkshire costs £16000/ year – a boarding school which confers enormous advantage on these children and provides personalised access via private trips to elite secondary schools Eton and Harrow. In such examples, it is not really home background that is advantaging such children – it is simply access to wealth that allows some parents to get their children into these elite boarding schools and the schools that then ‘hothouse’ their children through a ‘high ethos of expectation’ smaller class sizes and superb resources.
Similarly, the case of Mossborn Academy and Tony Sewell’s Generating Genius programme show that schools can overcome disadvantage at home – if they provide strict discipline and high expectation.
Although all of the above are just case studies and thus of limited use in generating a universal theory of what the ‘major cause’ of differences in educational achievement by social class might be, many similar studies have suggested that schools in poorer areas have a lower ethos of expectation (from Willis’ classic 1977 research on the lads to Swain’s research in 2006). It is thus reasonable to hypothesis that the type of school and in school factors such as teacher labelling and peer groups might work to disadvantage the lower classes as Becker’s theory of the ideal pupil being middle class and Willis’ work on working class counter school cultures would suggest, although in this later case, Willis argues that the lads brought with them an anti-educational working class masculinity, so home factors still matter here.
Finally – Social Capital theory also suggests that home background is not the only factor influencing a child’s education – rather it is the contacts parents have with schools – and later on schools with universities and business – that are crucial to getting children a good education, and making that education translate into a good job.
So is it home background or school factors that matter? The research above suggests home background does have a role to play, however, you certainly cannot disregard in school factors in explaining class differences in educational achievement either – in my final analysis, I would have to say that the two work together – middle class advantage at home translating into better schooling, and vice versa for the working classes.
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Here’s a quick visual overview of how I’m intending to teach the new (although not that new given the relatively minor changes made) AS Sociology AQA 7191 Families and Households Option. (Click to enlarge/ save).
NB – This isn’t in the same order as the Scheme of Work on the AQA’s web site, but the content is the same. Not that I think there’s anything wrong with the AQA’s SOW, it’s just that I don’t see the need to change what I’ve got!