Surveys on Family Life in the UK

Social Surveys are one of the most common methods for routinely collecting data in sociology and the social sciences more generally. There are lots of examples of where we use social surveys throughout the families and households module in the A level sociology syllabus – so what do they tell us about family life in modern Britain, and what are their strengths and limitations….?

This information should be useful for both families and households and for exploring the strengths and limitations of social surveys for research methods…

Attitudes to marriage surveys

Headline Fact – in 2016, only 37% of the UK population believe people should be married before they have children.

Findings from NatCen’s 2016 British Social Attitudes survey suggests that the British public is reaching a tipping point in its views on marriage.

For the first time since NatCen started asking whether people who want to have children ought to be married, the proportion who disagree (35%) is almost the same as those who agree (37%).

Back in 1989, seven people in ten (70%) felt that people should be married if they want to have children, compared with less two in ten (17%) who disagreed.

It’s actually worth noting how quickly attitudes have changed since the previous survey in 2012, as demonstrated in the info graphic below – in 2016 it’s now down to 37%

Percentage of the UK population who agree that parents should be married before they have children

What are the strengths of this survey (focussing on this one question)?

  • I’m tempted to say the validity is probably quite good, as this isn’t a particularly sensitive topic, and the focus of the question is the ‘generalised other’, so there should be no social desirability.
  • It’s very useful for making comparisons over time – given that the same question has been asked in pretty much the same way for quite a few years now…
  • Representativeness seems to be OK – NatCen sampled a range of ages, and people with different political views, so we can compare all that too – no surprises here btw – the old and the conservatives are more likely to be in favour of marriage.

What are the limitations of this survey?

  • As with all surveys, there’s no indication of why belief in marriage is in decline, no depth or insight.
  • The question above is so generalised, it might give us a false impression of how liberal people are. I wonder how much the results would change if you made the questions more personal – would you rather your own son/ daughter should be married before they had children? Or just different – ‘all other things being equal, it’s better for children to be brought up by married parents, rather than by non-married-parents’ – and then likehert scale it. Of course that question itself is maybe just a little leading….

Housework Surveys 

Headline ‘fact’ – women still do 60% more housework than men (based on ONS data from 2014-15)

housework UK

Women carry out an overall average of 60% more unpaid work than men, ONS analysis has shown.

Women put in more than double the proportion of unpaid work when it comes to cooking, childcare and housework and on average men do 16 hours a week of such unpaid work compared to the 26 hours of unpaid work done by women a week.

The only area where men put in more unpaid work hours than women is in the provision of transport – this includes driving themselves and others around, as well as commuting to work.

This data is derived from the The UK Time Diary Study (2014-15) – which used a combination of time-use surveys and interviews to collect data from around 9000 people in 4000 households.

It’s worth noting that even though the respondents were merely filling in a few pages worth of diary, this document contains over 200 pages of technical details, mainly advice on how researchers are supposed to code responses.

What are the strengths of this survey?

  • The usual ease of comparison. You can clearly see the differences in hours between men and women – NB the survey also shows differences by age and social class, but I haven’t included that here (to keep things brief).
  • It’s a relatively simply topic, so there’s unlikely to be any validity errors due to interpretation on the part of people completing the surveys: it’s obvious what ‘washing clothes’ means for example.
  • This seems to suggest the continued relevance of Feminism to helping us understand and combat gender inequality in the private sphere.

What are the limitations of this data? 

  • click on the above link and you’ll find that there is only a 50% response rate…. which makes the representativeness of this data questionable. If we take into account social desirability, then surely those couples with more equal housework patterns will more likely to return then, and also the busier the couple, the less likely they are to do the surveys. NO, really not convinced about the representativeness here!
  • this research tells us nothing about why these inequalities exist – to what extent is this situation freely chosen, and to what extent is it down to an ‘oppressive socialisation into traditional gender norms’ or just straightforward coercion?
  • given all of the coding involved, I’m not even convinced that this is really that practically advantageous…. overall this research seems to have taken quite a long time, which is a problem given the first criticism above!

Surveys on Children’s Media Usage

Headline Fact: 5 – 15 year olds spend an average of 38 hours a week either watching TV, online or gaming.

It’s also worth noting that for the first time, in 2016, children aged 5-15 say they spend more time online than they do watching television on a TV set.

This is based on research conducted In April/ May/ June 2016, in which 1,375 in-home interviews with parents and children aged 5-15 were conducted, along with 684 interviews with parents of children aged 3-4. (OFCOM: Children and Parents: Media Use and Attitude Report)

Strengths of this Survey

  • It makes comparisons over time easy, as the same questions are asked over a number of different years.
  • Other than that, I think there are more problems!

Limitations of this Survey

  • There are no details of how the sample was achieved in the methodology – so I can’t comment on the representativeness.
  • These are just estimations from the children and parents – this data may have been misrepresented. Children especially might exaggerate their media usage when alone, but downplay it if a parent is present.
  • I’m especially suspicious of the data for the 3-7 year olds, given that this comes from the parent, not the child… there’s a strong likelihood of social desirability leading to under-reporting… good parents don’t let their kids spend too much time online after all!

Further examples of surveys on the family

If you like this sort of thing, you might also want to explore these surveys…

The Working Families Parenting Survey – which basically shows that most parents are too busy working to spend as much time with their kids as they want….

The University of Manchester’s Online Parenting Survey (which takes 20-30 minutes)

How I would’ve answered the AQA A level sociology of education exam, June 2017

Answers to the AQA’s A-level sociology education with theory and methods exam, June 2017… Just a few thoughts to put students out of their misery. (Ideas my own, not endorsed by the AQA – NB – there is a certain level of subjectivity and irrationality within the AQA, and so they may interpret how you answer questions  to my (rational) interpretation below… )

Sociology A-level Paper 1: Education with Theory and Methods, 2017 

Q01 – Outline two cultural factors that may effect ethnic differences in educational achievement (2 marks)

Difficulty – very easy

Simply pick any two cultural factors and explain how….

  • language barriers
  • parental attitudes towards education (values)
  • parental educational levels
  • family structure

And then ideally explain how they differentially effect at least two ethnic groups. 

Q02 – Outline three ways in which factors within schools may shape gender differences in education (6 marks)

Difficulty – if you’ve just wrote-learnt the ancient Anne Colley etc. stuff then easy, if you didn’t then it’s medium because it’s quite a narrow subject (NB I did anticipate this narrowness!)

Select three in-school factors then explain how…

  • subject counsellors/ teachers labels about typical boys and girls subjects
  • male and female peer groups – peer pressure
  • male dominance ‘physical subjects’
  • Gendered subject images/ resources

Then talk it through with ideally three example of different subjects, discussing both boys and girls.

Q03 – Applying material from Item A, analyse two effects of increased parental choice on pupils’ experience of education

Difficulty – it appears hard, because you think ‘WTF’ but if you think about it, and use the item, it’s easy, because you can talk about pretty much anything from across class, gender and/ or ethnicity. So I’m going to call this ‘medium’ level of difficulty, as it’s half way between the two!

NB – There are really only two hooks here – in bold below…

Point one – ‘parental choice has led to a range of school types’ this means a greater diversity of experience….. contrast different experience of school types – succeeding schools/ sink schools, you could contrast and discuss ethos/ hidden curriculum, you could bring in faith schools and ethnicity, you could bring in specialist schools, free schools, no national curriculum, link all this to postmodernism. Criticse by saying there are still general similarities – e.g. testing/ pressure/ narrowing of curriculum.

Point two parents use league tables to choose – schools want to attract pupils this means more emphasis on results, teaching to the test, the school-parent alliance, cream skimming, working class covert exclusion – selection by mortgage.. just be careful to relate all of this to ‘experience of education’.

Q04 Applying material from Item B and your knowledge, evaluate sociological explanations of the role of education in transmitting ideas and values (30)

Difficulty – medium – this is basically a perspectives question, but the item demands that you address Feminism and PM

Intro – acknowledge the item

P1 – Functionalism (recognise it’s old) and evaluate with P/M.

P2 – Marxism – the stuff about ideology (‘ideas’) – evaluate using P/M

P3 – Feminism – evaluate with ‘girls are improving’, NB – the subject choice stuff from Q2 could be lifted in here to support the view in the item. (Actually quite bad exam design here , mr AQA!)

p4 – Postmodernism – fragmentation, diversity – evaluate with maybe NC/ teaching to the test (which also overlaps with Q3)

Conclusion – something like, oh my lord yes those old perspectives are really dated and we need to recognise education is diverse and complex…

Q05 – Using material from item C and your knowledge of research methods, evaluate the strengths and limitations of using field experiments to investigate the effects of teachers’ labelling of pupils

Difficulty – Medium, because it’s a fairly obscure method, but then again it’s applied to a very obvious topic – you can use R and J’s 1968 labelling experiment throughout (and the item!)

An obvious ‘easy in’ is that you have to be in the school in some way to conduct a field experiment. Lots of level 4 marks available right here.

I’d start with the Theoretical, practical and ethical strengths of the method, always applying to the topic, then do the limitations, the hooks in the item are asking you look at truancy and misbehaviour… you could also address performance… I’d pick up on the fact that truancy is easier to measure than misbehaviour…

The last point in the item is about people refusing to participate, which is just begging you discuss covert research to avoid this, then a whole load of practical and ethical problems which come from doing this IN SCHOOLS.

06 – Outline and explain two practical advantages of using documents in sociological research

Difficulty – Hard, because your average teenager just couldn’t care less about it!

The strategy I’d use here is to pick two different practical disadvantages and then discuss why they’re problematic for different types of public and private documents…

Practical factors include..

  • Access (the obvious one)
  • Time/ money
  • Funding
  • Personal skills of the researcher

Access should be easy – why you might find it difficult to access private documents – diaries/ letters, emails, link to ethics of using them, contrast to public documents.

Time/ money – there’s so many of them, such a diversity – it’s a never ending (time consuming) process to analyse (for example) newspapers, media reports in any depth – then I’d link to problems of sampling/ length of time it take to analyse and so on…

Not an easy question to discuss through – For both points I’d also bang on about interpretivism and positivism as much as possible, talking about how practical problems can undermine validity, representativness, reliability, and use as many examples as possible…

Anyway, just a few thoughts, the last question is probably the most difficult on reflection…

A-Level Sociology Revision Bundle

Education Revision Bundle CoverIf 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

Responses to Globalization

Seabrook (1) argues there are three principle responses to globalization:

Fatalism

A fatalistic response, which states that the world is simply powerless to resist globalization. Seabrook argues that most leaders of the developed world take the position that globalization is inevitable and irreversible. He suggests these leaders are experiencing an ‘impotence of convenience’ – their confessed powerlessness disguises the fact that the forces of globalization economically advantage their countries and their economic elites.

Reasserting Local Identity

Some cultures may attempt to resist globalization by reasserting local identity. This may involve deliberately highlighting and celebrating local folklore and languages. For example the French government have banned words such as ‘email’, ‘takeaway’ and now ‘hashtag’ and imposed a ‘culture tax’ on cinemas showing non-French films. Another aspect of this trend is ‘commodification’ in which local populations package and sell aspects of their local traditional cultures – for example members of the Masai tribe in Kenya perform for tourists, after carefully removing their trainers and watches to make the whole thing more authentic.

Violent Resistance 

A final response is the emergence of violent resistance, mostly in the developing world, as some peoples interpret globalization as an assault on their identity. Seabrook argues that this is how we should understand terrorism – not as a response to poverty, but as a response to the ‘supposed miracle working, wealth-creating propensities of globalism’ as some religious and ethnic groups resist globalization because their interpret the West as having declared an ideological war on local cultures.

Sources used to write this post

(1) Chapman et al (2016)

How Does Globalisation Impact Family Life?

Globalisation is the increasing interconnectedness of countries (and the people within them) across the globe – below are just a few (very brief) thoughts on how globalisation might impact family life the United Kingdom…

  • Increased immigration – more family diversity, mixed race couples. (link to topic 3)
  • Shift in manufacturing abroad – Decline in traditional male jobs, more equality between men and women in relationships (link to topic 5)
  • Globalisation of media – commercialisation of childhood (toxic childhood), awareness of global problems (paranoid parents) (link to topic 5)
  • More financial crises (‘credit crunch’) – more divorce/ family instability (link to topic 2)

AQA Exam Paper 7191 (2): Research Methods with Families and Households

An overview of the AS Sociology paper 7191 (2), and a few quick hints and tips on how to answer each of the questions…

NB – Technically this paper is research methods with topics in sociology, but nearly everyone does the families and households topic. If you don’t do that topic, choose the topic you have studied!

You will be given a total of 90 minutes to answer this paper and is out of a total of 60 marks (this means 1.5 minutes per mark). There are a total of 6 questions, 5 on ‘pure education’ and 1 on ‘methods in context’.

For paper 2, you get a booklet with the questions, and then a separate booklet in which to write your answers. There are two sections – section A on research methods has 2 questions – one four mark outline question and one 16 mark essay question. Section B2 will be on families and households –

The general structure of the paper is as follows:

Section A

  • QO1: Outline two advantages/ limitations/ problems of using a research methods (4 marks )*
  • Q02:  Evaluate the strengths/ limitations of a research method (16 marks)*

Section B (Families and Households Option)

  • Question 08: Define the term… (2 marks)
  • Question 09: Using one example, briefly explain something (2 marks)
  • Question 10: Outline three ways/ factors/ criticisms (6 marks)
  • Question 11: Outline and explain two ways/ reasons/ criticisms (10 marks)
  • Question 12:  Applying material from Item B and your knowledge evaluate something to do with the family (20 marks)

General hints and tips

Question 1 and Question 10: Outline 2/3 reasons –  these are 2/3 lots of ‘1+1’ – make sure you explain HOW each point has an effect, or is affected by something. For example, if the question asks you to outline two practical problems with doing participant observation – state a problem and explain why it’s a problem!

Question 16: For any pure methods essay – follow the TPEN plan – evaluate using practical, ethical, theoretical factors, and do nature of topic. Top and tail with positivism vs interpretivism. Use examples to illustrate where you can!

Question 08: Define the concept and give an example. Even though it says define, it’s good practice to do this and then back it up with an example to show you understand it. NB – this could be any concept within families and households – sometimes they’re obscure, sometimes they’re easier – if it looks unfamiliar, don’t worry about it and just move onto the next questions.

Question 09: Explain something using an example – you need to do two things here – think of it as a ‘1+1’ mark question.

Question 11: It’s good practice to try and pick 2 very different answers – from different parts of the education module. Explain and develop using perspectives/ research evidence.

Question 12: You should be familiar with the essay structure – Intro – then PEEC – Overall evaluations, then conclusion. 4 points all internally evaluated. If in doubt, chuck the perspectives at it.

Finally, if it all goes really pear-shaped, have a look at my alternative careers guidance – you don’t even need A levels to pursue these options!

*these are typical questions which focus on a method, you might be asked about other things, such as sample, or practical, ethical, or theoretical problems in general, for example!

Evaluate the View that Theoretical Factors are the most Important Factor Influencing Choice of Research Method (30)

Just a few thoughts on how you might answer this in the exam. 

Introduction – A variety of factors influence a Sociologist’s decision as to what research method they use: the nature of topic, theoretical, practical and ethical factors.

Theoretical factors – Positivism vs Interpretivism – Positivists are interested in uncovering the underlying general laws that lie behind human action. They thus prefer quantitative methods because these enable large samples to be drawn and allow for the possibility of findings being generalised to the wider population.

They also prefer quantitative methods because the data can be put into graphs and charts, allowing for easy comparisons to be made at a glance.

Another method that is linked to the positivist tradition is the experiment – laboratory experiments allow researchers to examine human behaviour in controlled environments and so allow researchers to accurately measure the effects of one specific variable on another

Interpretivists generally prefer qualitative methods which are regarded as having high validity. Validity is the extent to which research provides a true and accurate picture of the aspect of social life that is being studied. Most sociologists would agree that there is little point doing sociological research if it is invalid.

Theoretical factors – Validity – Qualitative methods should be more valid because they are suitable for gaining an in depth and empathetic understanding of the respondent’s views of life. Qualitative methods are flexible, and allow for the respondents to speak for themselves, which avoids the imposition problem as they set the research agenda. Qualitative methods also allow for rapport to be built up between the respondent and the researcher which should encourage more truthful and in depth information to flow from the respondents.

The final reason why qualitative methods such as Participant Observation should yield valid data is that it allows for the researcher to see the respondents in their natural environment.

Theoretical factors – Reliability – Is the extent to which research can be repeated and the same results achieved. Positivists point out that it is more difficult for someone else to replicate the exact same conditions of a qualitative research project because the researcher is involved in sustained, contact with the respondents and the characteristics and values of the researcher may influence the reactions of respondents.

Moreover, because the researcher is not ‘detached’ from the respondents, this may detract from his or her objectivity. Participant Observers such as Willis and Venkatesh have, for example, been accused of going native – where they become overly sympathetic with the respondents.

Interpretivists would react to this by pointing out that human beings are not machines and there are some topics that require close human contact to get to the truth – sensitive issues such as abuse and crime may well require sympathetic researchers that share characteristics in common with the respondents. Interpretivists are happy to forgo reliability if they gain in more valid and in depth data.

 Representativeness – Obviously if one wants large samples one should use quantitative methods – as with the UK National Census. However, one may not need a large sample depending on the research topic.

 Practical Factors – Practical issues also have an important influence on choices of research method. As a general rule quantitative methods cost less and are quicker to carry out compared to more qualitative methods, and the data is easier to analyse once collected, especially with pre-coded questionnaires which can simply be fed into a computer. It is also easier to get government funding for quantitative research because this is regarded as more scientific and objective and easier to generalise to the population as a whole. Finally, researchers might find respondents more willing to participate in the research if it is less invasive – questionnaires over PO.

However, qualitative methods, although less practical, may be the only sensible way of gaining valid data, or any data at all for certain topics – as mentioned above UI are best for sensitive topics while participant observation may be the only way to gain access to deviant and criminal groups.

Ethical Factors – Ethical factors also influence the choice of research methods. In order for research to gain funding it will need to meet the ethical guidelines of the British Sociological Association. How ethical a research method is depends on the researcher’s efforts to ensure that informed consent is achieved and that data is kept confidential and not used for purposes other than the research.

Real ethical dilemmas can occur with covert participant observation. However, sometimes the ethical benefits gained from a study may outweigh the ethical problems. McIntyre, for example, may have deceived the hooligans he researched but at least he exposed their behaviour.

Howard Becker also argued that there is an ethical imperative to doing qualitative research – these should be used to research the underdog, giving a voice to the marginalised whose opinions are often not heard in society.

Nature of topic – There are certain topics which lend themselves naturally to certain modes of research. Measuring how people intend to vote naturally lends itself to phone surveys for example while researching sensitive and emotive topics would be better approached through UI.

Conclusion – In conclusion there are a number of different factors that interrelate to determine a sociologist’s choice of research method – practical, ethical, theoretical and the nature of the topic under investigation. In addition, sociologists will evaluate these factors depending on their own individual values. Furthermore it is too simplistic to suggest that sociologists simply fall into two separate camps, Positivists or Interpretivists.  Many researchers use triangulation, combining different types of method so that the advantages of one will compensate for the disadvantages of another.

Theory and Methods A Level Sociology Revision Bundle 

If you like this sort of thing, then you might like my Theory and Methods Revision Bundle – specifically designed to get students through the theory and methods sections of  A level sociology papers 1 and 3.

Contents include:

  • 74 pages of revision notes
  • 15 mind maps on various topics within theory and methods
  • Five theory and methods essays
  • ‘How to write methods in context essays’.

Assess the View that Economic Indicators Provide an Unsatisfactory Picture of Development

Economic definitions and ways of measuring development are unsatisfactory. A much clearer and more useful picture emerges when wider social factors are included.’ Assess this view of development and underdevelopment. (20)

International organizations such as the World Bank prefer to measure development using economic indicators such as Gross National Product (GNP) and Gross Domestic Product (GDP)

GDP measures the total value of goods and services produced within a country in one year that are available for sale in the market place. GNP is the same but includes the value of all goods and services produced at home and abroad.

The use of GNP as a measurement of development is generally considered most useful by Modernisation theorists who believe that high GNP is an indication of how industrialised a country is, as high levels of production require efficient production in factories, and as far as Modernisation Theory is concerned, industrialisation will eventually lead to the developing countries catching up with the high age of mass consumption found in the west, thus GNP is the single most useful indicator of development.

Overall GNP/ GDP are more useful if we want an indication of how ‘powerful’ a country is, but if we want a better indication of social development; we need to divided GNP by head of population and take the cost of living into account (GNP per capita at PPP).

The usefulness of using GDP/ GNP is that they provide snapshot indicators of development which makes for easy comparisons between countries. However there are problems with both indicators.

However, there are many criticisms of the use of GNP as an indicator of development.

Firstly. It can disguise inequalities within countries. The USA, for example, has one of the highest GNPs in the world but some groups experience extreme poverty, suffering homelessness for example.

Secondly, GNP does not tell us how much wealth actually stays in the country, If production is carried out by Western Corporations, much of the profit may leave the country and not benefit the population. Similarly, some countries have a high GNP but a massive proportion of this goes on debt repayments.

Thirdly, if economic growth is driven by industrialization, this may bring about problems for some people in developing countries. In India for example, some villagers have has their farms destroyed and been reduced to coal scavenging for a living following the construction of open cast coal mines that are necessary to fuel economic growth.

Finally, it is the case that quality of life may be higher than suggested in poorer countries because production is often subsistence based, about survival and consumed locally in the community, and not sold in the market place. Subsistence agriculture is not measured in the GNP. Also, some people may get hold of goods and services illegally. This kind of economic activity is not included in GNP measurements.

Because of the limitations of economic indicators, the UN has developed social indicators such as the Human Development Index and the Millennium Development Goals which provide a picture of social rather than economic progress.

Many of these social indicators show us that high GNP is not necessarily accompanied by social progress, as in the case of Equatorial Guinea, which has a very high GNP but low social development because the corrupt elite keep most of the money to themselves.

The Millennium Development goals also provide a more useful indicator or development than GNP – The MDGs includes such things as female empowerment and sustainability, neither of which are taken into account by cruder economic indicators. Female Empowerment is especially important when considering development in India – it is rapidly developing in terms of GNP, but has very low gender equality, suggesting it has a lot of progress to make in that area.

Post-Development thinkers argue that sustainability indicators are especially important now that we are facing a climate change crisis, and if we take this as a measure of development, many of the richest countries are the biggest polluters, because consumption drives economic growth, which in turn drives pollution, which provides one of the most compelling challenges to the use of GNP as a valid measure of development.

Another seemingly more useful indicator of development is the level of peacefulness in a country – as measured by the Global Peace Index – this is important because where there is conflict, there is no chance of development, moreover, if we use this as an indicator, the USA and China fall down the development league tables because they spend so much money on their militaries, which are frequently used to oppress people and again reduce social development at home and abroad.

Another country which prefers to measure social development rather than economic development is Bhutan, which is poor, yet one of the happiest nations on earth, and the case of Bhutan seems to challenge the notion that economic growth results in greater happiness – many people living in Tokyo in Japan for example, are lonely and miserable.

The very fact that these other indicators exist suggests that many working within development feel that economic indicators are not a satisfactory measurement of ‘development’

In conclusion, it is clear that economic indicators do not provide a full picture of how developed a country is, and that it is clearly possible to have social development without a high GDP.

Moreover, it appears that the pursuit of economic growth can undermine social development, at home, if it leads to greater equality and misery, and abroad, if it leads to environmental decline and war and conflict.

Thus I believe that we really do need to look at a much wider range of indicators to fully understand how developed a country is, because development simply cannot be understood purely in economic terms alone.

Analyse two ways in which cultural capital may give some children an advantage in education (10)

 

Item A 

According to the Marxist sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, middle class parents possess more cultural capital, than working class children.

Bourdieu argues that the skills and knowledge middle class parents possess, such as themselves having benefited from education, and the fact that they are more comfortable dealing with middle class institutions such as schools, is passed down to their children, which explains why they do better in school.

Hooks in the item:

  • Skills – might be research skills
  • Knowledge (might be linked to tastes)
  • Better education
  • More comfortable dealing with middle class institutions

Suggested answer

Point 1 – More cultural capital means middle class parents are better educated than working class parents and they are more able to help children with homework and coursework.

Analysis 1 – This is especially likely to advantage children from high income earning families which can afford to have stay at home mums, so they have the time to advantage their children

 Analysis 2 – This advantages middle class children early on in their school careers by boosting confidence. This early advantage accumulates over time and develops through school.

 Analysis 3 – This takes place at home, not in school. It is unlikely that schools will have the resources available to close this gap

 Point 2 – Cultural Capital also means middle class parents are skilled choosers – They are more able to research schools, take time filling in application forms, and networking with teachers to give their child more chance of getting into the best schools – Stephen Ball found this.

Analysis 1– The opposite of this is working class parents who are disconnected choosers, they don’t have the skills to complete large amounts of applications and so just send their children to the local school.

 Analysis 2 – This aspect of cultural capital has become more significant since the introduction of the 1988 education act which introduced marketization and parentocracy and gave parents’ choice over schools.

 Analysis 3 – This means that the system has changed recently to allow those with more cultural capital to have even more of an advantage.

 

 

A Level Sociology – Outline Questions (4 and 6 Marks, Education Paper 1)

Four and Six mark outline questions appear on the education and crime and deviance AQA A level sociology exam papers. This blog post shows you some possible examples of outline questions which might appear on the Education exam paper, along with some suggested answers.

NB These questions are marked in a ‘1+1’ style – you get one mark for identifying and one mark for developing and explaining further. So to be on the safe side, make a point and then develop it – do this twice for a 4 mark question, and thrice for a three mark question.

Outline two ways in which material deprivation may affect educational achievement (4 marks)

Suggested points, you need to add in the explanations as to HOW these factors have a negative effect on educational achievement.

  • Smaller, overcrowded houses
  • Poor diets and higher levels of sickness
  • Less/no educational books/toys, PC’s
  • Parents can’t afford to support children in education after 16
  • Less access to nursery facilities
  • W/C more likely to have part time jobs.
  • Schools themselves, less resources etc than schools in M/C areas
  • Selection by mortgage
  • Can’t afford private tutors

Suggested full answers (outlining and explaining two ways)

  • (ID) Low income means families will live in smaller houses which could mean there is lack of a private study space, or children may even have to share bedrooms. (EX) This means there is no quiet space for children to do homework, which could result in them falling behind at school.
  • (ID) Children from low income households are more likely to have poor diets, the low nutritional content of which could result in higher levels of sickness. (EX) This could result in them having time off school, which could have a detrimental effect on their education.

___

Outline two ways in which cultural deprivation may affect educational achievement (4 marks)

Suggested full answers (outlining and explaining two ways)

  • (ID) Working class pupils are more likely to have immediate Gratification (wanting to work straight after school to earn money immediately) (EX) this explains working class underachievement because working class kids are more likely to be poor thus more likely to want to earn money immediately after finishing their GCSEs, which means they are less likely to stay onto further education
  • (ID) The working classes are more likely to be fatalistic, which is where one resigns oneself to the fact that they can’t improve their lot in life. (EX) This explains working class underachievement because they think they are inevitably going to go into working class jobs so don’t try hard at school as there is no point.

___

Outline three reasons why girls are now generally out-performing boys in education (6 marks)

Suggested full answers (outlining and explaining three ways)

  • (ID) Introduction of coursework: (EX) has enabled girls to do better as they are more organised, meticulous, persistent, etc than boys and this is rewarded in coursework.
  • (ID) Changes in the family such as more divorce (EX) has given girls a greater incentive to gain useful qualifications, as they cannot now expect to be full-time housewives permanently provided for by their husbands.
  • (ID) Changes in the labour market such greater numbers of women working and opportunities for promotion (EX) have given girls more role models and the inspiration to achieve qualifications with which to pursue a career. 

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

Suggested points, you need to add in the explanations in most cases.

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

 Suggested full answers (outlining and explaining three ways)

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

Sociological Perspectives on Advertising

A brief summary of pages of 27-32 of Joel Stillerman’s ‘Sociology of Consumption’: The Effects of Advertising and Branding on Consumers (with comments!).

The theories covered in this section include:

The Manipulation Thesis

(1) This originated with Adorno and Horkheimer’s essay ‘the culture industry’ which was inspired by their observations of 1930s Hollywood and the way the Nazis used propaganda.

The basic idea is that advertising manipulates consumers into buying goods. Mass entertainment is produced in a similar way as mass produced auto-mobiles and other products. Adorno and Horkheimer viewed advertising as standardised, artless and manipulative. Products offered people cheap thrills which provided them with compensatory pleasures after a day at a dissatisfying job. Playing to consumers’ emotional vulnerability, music, film and advertising offered instant gratification without true satisfaction while helping them to tolerate unacceptable working conditions.

In short, the culture industry was a form mass manipulation which helped to keep the working masses happy in order to discourage them from protesting about poor wages and working conditions.

A long line of scholars has followed this basic idea – through with different foci –

(2) Kenneth Galbraith argued advertising played the same function of manipulation but rather than seducing the masses into political apathy served the function of convincing shoppers to buy new goods and keep industry profitable.

(3) Jean Baudrillard argues advertising helps businesses solve the ‘realisation problem’ – namely how to sell the increasing number of goods which are produced as Capitalism ‘evolves’. However, Baudrillard accords advertising a more central role in changing our culture. He argues that rather than focussing on the functional properties of a good advertising articulates their emotional or symbolic properties, thereby unleashing an endless process of consumption that has lost its connection to exchange and only reflects a symbolic system which classifies goods into different categories.

Furthermore, goods are no longer appealing because of their individual properties, consumers only recognise them as part of a particular style: in a particular living room set, combined with certain objects and colour combinations for example.

As a result, for Baudrillard, advertising has overtaken our culture and we are trapped in a world of symbols and the incessant need to consume.

(4) More recent analysis focuses on the emotional aspect of advertising – how advertising attempts to link particular emotions and sex to certain products (e.g. Zukin 04 and Smart 10)

(5) Other analysis focuses on how society is increasingly organised around consumption rather than work and thus individuals are expected to consume at a certain level or else face rejection by their peers (Bauman 2007).

Comments

I’M broadly sympathetic to Manipulation Theory in that I believe we can distinguish between ‘basic’ and ‘false’ needs and the primary function of advertising is to manipulate people into buying shit they don’t simply need.

Taking all of the above together I think the primary function of advertising is that it reinforces a world-view in which it’s it’s normal to shop, it’s normal to consume at a historically high level, it’s normal to link happy states to products (or rather sets of products in Baudrillard”s case), it’s normal to construct your very identity using consumption, and it’s normal to spend a lot of time alone and with others, engaged in consumption.

In short the effect of advertising is to convince us that consuming is a normal part of everyday life which should not be questioned, and we are right to assume that shopping as a strategy can provide us with individual and collective emotional fulfilment as human beings.

However, I don’t actually think advertising is necessary to a high consumption society – the various reasons outlined in this post explain the emergence of a high consumption society – we’d probably consume at similarly historically high levels without advertising – advertising exists because of surplus production – broadcast by producers to get our attention amidst a whole load of other producers churning out what is essentially the same shit-we-don’t need.

The other bit of manipulation theory I agree with is that advertising has a sort of ideological function – it masks the truth of its existence and the truth about unnecessary consumption which is as follows

(a) Advertising primarily exists to help the capitalist class sell the shit they produce.

(b) Despite what advertising tells us about this or that shit we really don’t need any of it.

(c) If we ‘buy into’ the messages of the advertisers (which are a bunch of lies) we’re being stupid/ shallow

(d) In the case of Bauman – if we pursue happiness through consumerism, we’re probably going to end up being miserable in the long run.

(e) We don’t freely choose to consume, we are buffeted into it by social and economic pressures (meaningless work, pestering kids (who have been manipulated by advertisers), busy-hurried lives, the strange desire to stand-out) and the causes of these pressures-to-consume need to be put under investigation but the very act of consuming at a high level prevents us from doing so, and advertising helps in this.

(f) There are more effective ways to pursue happiness which aren’t about consumption – producing things, and ‘sprituality’ being the two most obvious.

‘Active Theories of Consumption’

Having outlined the above five aspects of Manipulation Theory, Stillerman now turns to more active approaches.

(1) Other scholars have criticised the manipulation thesis. Douglas and Isherwood (1996) argue that goods are a ‘communication system’ and that most of our consumption is ritualistic. There are essentially three reasons we consume

Firstly – we consume to remain connected with others and stay involved in the ‘information system’.

Secondly – people can also find their place within the group and mark of stages in the life cycle through engaging in consumption rituals.

Thirdly – consumption is also about boundary maintenance – the wealthy try to monopolise certain events and goods, the middle class try to gain access to them and the working classes try to maintain their consumption at a certain level.

COMMENT – All of this is true – we consume actively, BUT – the frame within which we consume has changed radically over the last few decades – the pace of consumption and overall level of consumption have increased, and so (inevitable) has the amount of choosing people have to do – as a result, we are devoting more and more time to keeping up with consuming… Take the average cost of weddings, houses and raising children increasing for example. Also, people may well consume actively in various ‘neo-tribes’ but the fact that this is the norm, also means more time has to be devoted to consumption – THUS society has made us into consumers, this is the thing I find most interesting, focussing on HOW people consume once they have been made into consumers just isn’t interesting….!

(2) Colin Campbell (2005) rejects the manipulation thesis for two reasons – first, he argues that this thesis distinguishes ‘needs’ from ‘desires’ but there is no easy way to know what ‘basic needs’ are because needs are always cultural defined in all societies (No they are not – food, water, shelter, clothing for warmth, security, this is straight up post-modern BS). Second, he argues that advertising tries to appeal to consumers in order to convince them to make a purchase, rather than manipulating them. (OK – I accept the fact that consumer are more active, but I’d like to see Cambell distinguish between the act of manipulation and appeal).

(3) Slater (1997) rejects the idea that consumers are cultural dopes, and argues that they buy products in response to their own individual or cultural needs and dispositions.

(4) DeCerteau (1984), Fiske (2000) and Miller (1987) also argue that consumers are more active – they use goods in their own ways, often appropriate goods and creatively recontextualise the meanings of them in ways which are specific to their own live (this sounds like Transformationalism and cultural hybridity in Globalisation), and some of these consumption practices are forms of resistance against advertisers.

(5) Other scholars emphasise the liberating aspects of consumption, arguing that because shopping and and consumption were not traditionally coded as masculine, these became the domain of women and women gained status, satisfaction and a degree of freedom by becoming skilful consumers.

Comment – I fully accept that people make active choices when it comes to consumption – however, to reiterate the above point – It is society which has made us into consumers, focussing on HOW people consume once they have been made into consumers sort of misses the point – As far as I’m concerned, for the majority of people, consumerism is a pathetic strategy toward ‘agency’ – agency within a sub-optimal framework, which is based on false promises and false hope of realising happiness and satisfation.

Beyond the Active Passive Debate

Recent scholarship has moved ‘beyond’ (sideways?) debates about whether individuals are active or passive in relation to advertising.

(1) Leiss (2005) argues that advertisers study society, recycle existing beliefs and practices and broadcast those ideas back to society. The importance of advertising lies in the fact that it has become integrated into our culture and affects how we view ourselves.

(2) Finally Holt and Holt and Cameron (2010) argue that advertising reconfigures existing beliefs and practices in a way that resolves psychological needs for specific groups of consumers, which arise because of social and economic challenges they face.

Advertisers create adverts based on profiling certain groups and try to strike a chord with them – advertising recycles existing cultural practices in a manner that resolves psychological distress and uncertainty among people within these groups.

Leiss and Holt and Cameron all argue that we should understand advertising as the product of a dialogue between creative professionals and specific social groups.

Once again to reiterate the above, advertising may well help people resolve psychological crises they’ve developed because of having alienating jobs and busy-hurried lives, but the consumption that one’s encouraged to do in order to resolved such psychological distress is only ever going to offer short-term release, a quick fix if you like.

Overall I think all of these active theories of advertising which (a) fail to contextualise its function within the broader social and economic context (alienating/ insecure/ liquid) and (b) fail to recognise the fundamentally false nature of advertising’s promises to alleviate the suffering induced by this social and economic context are ultimately incomplete theories (and probably derived from people with career-histories in advertising!)

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