In-School Processes in Education: Knowledge Check List

Main Sub Topics

The Interactionist Perspective – Introduces the topic area, make sure you can explain the difference between Interactionism and Structural Theories

School Ethos and The Hidden Curriculum

  • The School Ethos
  • The Hidden Curriculum

Teacher Stereotyping and the halo effect

  • The ideal pupil
  • Labelling and the Self Fulfilling Prophecy

Banding, streaming and setting

  • Definitions of banding/ streaming setting
  • Summaries of evidence on the effects of banding etc
  • Unequal access to classroom knowledge

Educational triage

  • Gilborn and Youdell’s work focusing on the significance of league tables and ‘writing off students who have no chance of passing

Student responses to the experience of schooling: school subcultures

  • Differentiation and Polarisation
  • Pro-School subcultures
  • Anti-school (or counter-school) subcultures =
  • Between pro and anti-school subcultures: a range of responses

Evaluations of in-school processes

  • Determinism (labelling)
  • Evidence based on micro processes (generaliseablity?)
  • Out of school more important (90% of the difference)

 

Selected concepts and research studies you need to know
·         Labelling theory and the self-fulfilling prophecy

·         Banding and Streaming

·         Subcultures

·         The Hidden Curriculum

·         School Ethos

·         Educational Triage

·         Deterministic

·         Gilborn and Youdell

·         However Becker

·         Stephen Ball

·         Rosenthal and Jacobson

·         Paul Willis

Selected short answer questions
Outline three ways in which the curriculum might be ethnocentric (6)

Outline two criticisms of labelling theory (4)

Using material from item A, analyse two ways in which the hidden curriculum may disadvantage working class students (10)

Selected Essay Questions

Evaluate the view that it is mainly in-school processes which explain differential education achievement across different groups in society (30)

Research Studies on In-School Processes

You are expected to be able to cite named research when looking at ‘in school processes’ in an essay – below are some studies we’ve looked at already, you should know these….

Research on Teacher Labelling and pupil responses

 

1.    Howard Becker – Labelling and the Ideal Pupil

2.    Rosenthal and Jacobsen – The Self Fulfilling Prophecy (p104)

3.    David Gilborn and Cecile Wright – Found that teachers had ‘racialised expectations’ (in ethnicity hand-out

4.    Heidi Mirza (p119)  – found that there were’ three types’ of teacher racism…. And that black girls had to adopt particular strategies for dealing with this

5.    Research has also shown that teachers label boys and girls differently…. (in gender hand-out)

6.    NB – Margaret Fuller (p118) – found that not all pupils accept their labels

 

Research on Peer Pressure and Pupil Subcultures

 

7.    Paul Willis – The Counter School Culture

8.    Mac an Ghail – found there were a variety of ‘class based subcultures’… (in class hand-out)

9.    Becky Francis – found that boys were more likely to adopt ‘laddish subcultures’ (in gender hand-out)

10. Louis Archer also found that working class girls’ ‘style subcultures’ can come into conflict with the school….(in gender hand-out)

11. Tony Sewell – notes that although there is a distinct ‘anti-school culture’ amongst some African- Caribbean boys, but there are also a wider variety of African- Caribbean subcultures (p119)

 

 

Research on Banding and Streaming
1.    Stephen Ball’s 1960s work on banding in beachside comprehensive showed that…. (class hand-out

2.    Gilborn and Youdell Found that there is an ‘A-C Economy’…. (ethnicity hand-out)

 

Research on School Ethos and the Hidden Curriculum
1.    Feminists argue that Gender Regimes still exist…(this and below both in gender hand-out

2.    School Ethos can have an effect on how boys express their masculinity – independent schools tend to have fewer problems with laddish subcultures than schools in poorer areas…

3.    Stephen Strand argued that ‘institutional racism’ exists in schools

 

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Max Weber’s Social Action Theory

Max Weber (1864-1920) was one of the founding fathers of Sociology. Weber saw both structural and action approaches as necessary to developing a full understanding of society and social change. In one of his most important works ‘Economy and Society’, first published in the 1920s, he said ‘Sociology is a science concerning itself with interpretive understanding of social action and thereby with a causal explanation of its course and consequences.’

max_weber
Max Weber – NOT a happy bunny

 

For the purposes of A level Sociology we can reduce Weber’s extensive contribution to Sociology to three things – firstly he argued that ‘Verstehen’ or empathatic understanding is crucial to understanding human action and social change, a point which he emphasised in his classic study ‘The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism’; secondly, he believed we could make generalisations about the basic types of motivation for human action (there are four basic types) and thirdly, he still argued that structure shaped human action, because certain societies or groups encourage certain general types of motivation (but within these general types, there is a lot of variation possible).

Social Action and Verstehen

Weber argued that before the cause of an action could be ascertained you had to understand the meaning attached to it by the individual. He distinguished between two types of understanding.

First he referred to Aktuelles Verstehen – or direct observational understanding, where you just observe what people are doing. For example, it is possible to observe what people are doing – for example, you can observe someone chopping wood, or you can even ascertain (with reasonable certainty) someone’s emotional state from their body language or facial expression. However, observational understanding alone is not sufficient to explain social action.

The second type of understanding is Eklarendes Verstehen – or Empathetic Understanding – in which sociologists must try to understand the meaning of an act in terms of the motives that have given rise to it. This type of understanding would require you to find out why someone is chopping wood – Are they doing it because they need the firewood, are they just clearing a forest as part of their job, are they working off anger, just doing it because they enjoy it? To achieve this Weber argued that you had to get into the shoes of people doing the activity.

 The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

protestant-ethicIn this famous work, Weber argued that a set of religious ideas were responsible for the emergence of Capitalism in Northern Europe in the 16-17th century. Weber argued that we need to understand these ideas and how they made people think about themselves in order to understand the emergence of Capitalism. (NB The emergence of Capitalism is one the most significant social changes in human history)

The video below, from the School of Life, offers a useful summary of Max Weber’s ideas about the emergence of Capitalism

Weber’s Four Types of Action (and types of society)

Max Weber didn’t just believe that individuals shape society – societies encourage certain types of motive for action – for example, the religion of Calvinism encouraged people to save money, which eventually led to capitalism

Weber believes that there are four ideal types of social actions. Ideal types are used as a tool to look at real cases and compare them to the ideal types to see where they fall. No social action is purely just one of the four types.

  1. Traditional Social Action: actions controlled by traditions, “the way it has always been done”
  2. Affective Social Action: actions determined by one’s specific affections and emotional state, you do not think about the consequences
  3. Value Rational Social Action: actions that are determined by a conscious belief in the inherent value of a type of behavior (ex: religion)
  4. Instrumental-Rational Social Action: actions that are carried out to achieve a certain goal, you do something because it leads to a result

To illustrate these different types of action consider someone “going to school” in terms of these four ideal types: Traditionally, one may attend college because her grandparents, parents, aunts, and uncles have as well. They wish to continue the family tradition and continue with college as well. When relating to affective, one may go to school just because they enjoy learning. They love going to college whether or not it will make them broke. With value rational, one may attend college because it’s a part of his/her religion that everyone must receive the proper education. Therefore, this person attends college for that reason only. Finally, one may go to college because he/she may want an amazing job in the future and in order to get that job, he/she needs a college degree.

Max Weber was particularly interested in the later of these – he believed that modern societies encouraged ‘Instrumental-Action’ – that is we are encouraged to do things in the most efficient way (e.g. driving to work) rather than thinking about whether driving to work is the right thing to do (which would be value-rational action.

Weber believed that modern societies were obsessed with efficiency – modernizing and getting things done, such that questions of ethics, affection and tradition were brushed to one side – this has the consequence of making people miserable and leading to enormous social problems. Weber was actually very depressed about this and had a mental breakdown towards the end of his life.

Evaluations of Max Weber’s Social Action Theory

  • Positive – He recognised that we need to understand individual meanings to understand how societies change (unlike Marxism)
  • Negative – Still too much focus on society shaping the individual – symbolic interactionism argues that individuals have more freedom to shape their identities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Social Action Theories for Second Year A Level Sociology – A Summary

We can divide sociological theories into two broad types: structural and action theories.

Functionalism, Marxism and Feminism are all structural theories, are interested in ‘society as a whole’ and ask ‘societal level questions’ such as ‘what functions does education perform for society and the individual’? (Functionalism) or ‘why does injustice exist’ (Marxism and Feminism)? They seek to understand the actions of individuals by looking at the structure of wider society and generally believe that ‘society shapes the individual’.

Interpretivism.png

Sociologists who adopt social action perspectives usually reject the view that society has a clear structure that directs individuals to behave in certain ways. Some social action theorists do not deny the existence of a social structure, but see this structure as rising out of the action of individual; others argue that there is no such thing as a social structure. For the purposes of Second Year sociology you need to know about four Action Theories – all of which have slightly different views on the relationship between social structure and social actions.

Max Weber is generally regarded as the founder of social action theory – he believed that we need to develop an empathetic understanding to uncover the personal meanings and motives individuals give to their own actions, and that this was crucial to understanding how social structures changed over time. However, he also believed that we could make generalisations about types of motive people had and that these general motivations were influenced by the wider society – thus he is half way between structure and action theory, rather than a pure ‘social action’ theorist.

George Herbert Mead developed ‘Symbolic Interactionism’, and he put more emphasis on the role of the active individual than Weber.

For Mead, there is still a society ‘out there’ which constrains human action, in the sense that there are a number of pre-existing social roles which people have to take on in order to get by in society. However, individuals have considerable freedom to shape their identities within and between these social roles.

Mead also argued that everything about society is open to multiple interpretations and meanings – the same institutions, social roles and individual-actions can mean very different things to different people. For Mead, individuals are constantly interpreting and re-interpreting each other’s ‘symbolic actions’ – and this is an ongoing, complex process – if we want to understand human action we need to understand the micro-details of how people interpret other people’s actions, and how their re-actions are in turn re-interpreted and so on.

In order to truly understand why people act in the way that they do, we need to understand people’s ‘self-concept’ – their identities, there ideas about the ‘generalised other’ (society) and micro-interpretations.

Erving Goffman’s developed Mead’s work in his Dramaturgical theory of social action – he argued that the most appropriate way to understand people is to view them as if they are actors on a stage – people use props (such as clothes and body-language) to project idealised images of themselves to a social audience – people have multiple identities which change according to the social setting and the audience they find themselves performing in front of. As well as the social world, the front stage, we all have backstage areas (mostly the home) where we prepare for our social performances, and reflect on how good or bad our performances have been, and plan to change them accordingly. For Goffman, individuals are very active and manipulative, and we may never actually get to see people’s real identities unless we spend considerable time with them during their day to day lives.

Labelling Theory focuses on how the definitions (meanings) people impose on situations or on other people can have real consequences (even if those definitions are not based in reality) – and argues that people in power generally have more ability to impose their definitions on situations than the powerless. For example, parents, teachers and the police generally have more power to make labels stick and make these labels have consequences compared to working class youths. Labelling theory criticises both Mead and Goffman, arguing that while we need to look at micro-level interactions and meanings to examine labelling, we still need to understand where people are located in the power-structure of society to fully understand the process of labeling and identity construction.

Sources

Most posts are adapted from standard degree and ‘A’ Level text books such as Haralambos and Holborn (2013) Sociology Themes and Perspectives

Labelling Theory of Crime – A Summary

People do not become criminals because of their social background, crime emerges because of labelling by authorities. Crime is the product of interactions between certain individuals and the police, rather than social background.

NB these are very brief summary notes, for a much more in-depth post on everything below please see my main post on the labelling theory of crime.

Crime is Sociology Constructed

  • There is no such thing as an inherently deviance act

  • Howard Becker (1963) “Deviancy is not a quality of the act a person commits, but rather a consequences of the application by others of rules and sanctions to an ‘offender’.”

  • Becker – The Outsiders – Malinowski – Incest example

  • Applies to drugs – compare illegal ‘legal’ highs UK to legal weed in Colorado

Not everyone who is deviant gets labelled as such

  • Whether an actor is labelled as deviant depends on: their interactions with the police, their background/ appearance, the circumstances of the offence.

  • negative labels (deviant/ criminal) are generally given to the powerless by the powerful.

  • Cicourel – first stage – working class kids more likely to be labelled as deviant by police; second stage – more likely to be prosecuted by courts, most of this is based on appearance and language, not the deviant act.

Labelling has real consequences – it can lead to deviancy amplification, the self-fulfilling prophecy and deviant careers

  • Lemert – primary and secondary deviance

  • Becker – labelling, the deviant career and the master status

  • Labelling theory applied to education – the self-fulfilling prophecy

  • Moral panics, folk devils and deviancy amplification

Labelling theory should promote policies that prevent labelling minor acts as deviant

  • Decriminalisation (of drugs for example)

  • Reintegrative shaming to label the act, not the criminal.

Evaluations

Positive

Negative

Labelling theory emphasises the following:

– That the law is not ‘set in stone’ – it is actively constructed and changes over time

– That law enforcement is often discriminatory

– That we cannot trust crime statistics

– That attempts to control crime can backfire and may make the situation worse

– That agents of social control may actually be one of the major causes of crime, so we should think twice about giving them more power.

– It tends to be determinstic, not everyone accepts their labels

– It assumes offenders are just passive – it doesn’t recognise the role of personal choice in committing crime

– It gives the offender a ‘victim status’ – Realists argue that this perspective actually ignores the actual victims of crime.

– It tends to emphasise the negativesides of labelling rather than the positive side

– It fails to explain why acts of primary deviance exist, focussing mainly on secondary deviance.

– Structural sociologists argue that there are deeper, structural explanations of crime, it isn’t all just a product of labelling and interactions.

The Labelling Theory of Crime

Labelling theory argues that criminal and deviant acts are a result of labelling by authorities – and the powerless are more likely to be negatively labelled.

The labelling Theory of Crime is associated with Interactionism – the Key ideas are that crime is socially constructed, agents of social control label the powerless as deviant and criminal based on stereotypical assumptions and this creates effects such as the self-fulfilling prophecy, the criminal career and deviancy amplification.

Interactionists argue that people do not become criminals because of their social background, but rather argue that crime emerges because of labelling by authorities. They see crime as the product of micro-level interactions between certain individuals and the police, rather than the result of external social forces such as socialisation or blocked opportunity structures.

Four Key concepts associated with Interactionist theories of deviance

  1. Crime is Sociology Constructed – An act which harms an individual or society else only becomes criminal if those in power label that act as criminal.

  1. Not everyone who is deviant gets labelled as such – negative labels are generally (deviant/ criminal) are generally given to the powerless by the powerful.

  1. Labelling has real consequences – it can lead to deviancy amplification, the self-fulfilling prophecy and deviant careers.

  1. Labelling theory has a clear ‘value position’ – it should aim to promote policies that prevent labelling minor acts as deviant.

1- Crime is Socially Constructed

Rather than taking the definition of crime for granted, labelling theorists are interested in how certain acts come to be defined or labelled as criminal in the first place.

Interactionists argue that there is no such thing as an inherently deviant act – in other words there is nothing which is deviant in itself in all situations and at all times, certain acts only become deviant in certain situations when others label them as deviant. Deviance is not a result of an act or an individual being ‘uniquely different’, deviance is a product of society’s reaction to actions.

Howard Becker - labelling theorist

As Howard Becker* (1963) puts it – “Deviancy is not a quality of the act a person commits, but rather a consequences of the application by others of rules and sanctions to an ‘offender’. Deviant behaviour is behaviour that people so label.” (*The main theorist within labelling theory)

Howard Becker illustrates how crime is the product of social interactions by using the example of a fight between young people. In a low-income neighbourhood, a fight is more likely to be defined by the police as evidence of delinquency, but in a wealthy area as evidence of high spirits. The acts are the same, but the meanings given to them by the audience (in this case the public and the police) differ. Those who have the power to make the label stick thus create deviants or criminals.

Becker provides a more extreme example in his book The Outsiders (1963) – in this he draws on a simple illustration of an anthropological study by anthropologist Malinowski who describes how a youth killed himself because he hand been publicly accused of incest. When Malinowski had first inquired about the case, the islanders expressed their horror and disgust. But, on further investigation, it turned out that incest was not uncommon on the island, nor was it really frowned upon provided those involved were discrete. However, if an incestuous affair became too obvious and public, the islanders reacted with abuse and the offenders were ostracised and often driven to suicide.

To be clear – in the above example, everyone knows that incest goes on, but if people are too public about it (and possibly if they are just disliked for whatever reason) they get publicly shamed for being in an incestuous relationship.

You could apply the same thinking to criminal behaviour more generally in Britain – According to a recent 2015 survey of 2000 people, the average person in Britain breaks the law 17 ties per year, with 63% admitting speeding, 33% steeling and 25% taking illegal drugs – clearly the general public is tolerant of ‘ordinary’ deviance – but every now and then someone will get spotted doing ‘ordinary’ criminal activities and publicly shamed.

labelling theory and drugs

All of this has led labelling theorists to look at how and why rules and laws get made – especially the role of what Becker calls ‘moral entrepreneurs’, people who lead a moral crusade to change the law in the belief that it will benefit those to whom it is applied. However, according to Interactionists, when new laws are created, they simply create new groups of outsiders and lead to the expansion of social control agencies such as the police, and such campaigns may do little to change the underlying amount of ‘deviant activity’ taking place.

In summary – deviance is not a quality that lies in behaviour itself, but in the interaction between the person who commits an act and those who respond to it. From this point of view, deviance is produced by a process of interaction between the potential deviant and the wider public (both ordinary people and agencies of social control).

Application of the concept of ‘social constructionism’ to drug crime

Looking at how drug laws have changed over time, and how they vary from country to country to country is a very good way of looking at how the deviant act of drug-taking is socially constructed…

In the United Kingdom, a new law was recently passed which outlawed all legal highs, meaning that many ‘head-shops’ which sold them literally went from doing something legal to illegal over night (obviously they had plenty of notice!)

Meanwhile – in some states in America, such as Colorado, things seem to be moving in the other direction – it is now legal to grow, sell and smoke Weed – meaning that a whole new generation of weed entrepreneurs have suddenly gone from doing something illegal to something legal, and profitable too!

NB – There’s a lot more information about the social construction of drug use out there – think about the difference between coffee, nicotine, alcohol (all legal) and cannabis. 

Discussion Question

Do you agree with the idea that there is no such thing as an inherently deviance act? Work your way through the list of deviance acts below and try to think of contexts in which they would not be regarded as deviant.

– Violence

– Theft

– Fraud

– Drug taking

– Public nudity

– Paedophilia

– Vandalism

2 – Not Everyone Who is Deviant Gets Labelled

Those in Power are just as deviant/ criminal as actual ‘criminals’ but they are more able to negotiate themselves out of being labelled as criminals.

NB to my mind the classic song by NWA ‘Fuck Tha Police’ is basically highlighting the fact that it’s young black males in the US that typically get labelled as criminals (while young white kids generally don’t)

Back to Labelling theory proper – the key idea here is that not everyone who commits an offence is punished for it. Whether a person is arrested, charged and convicted depends on factors such as:

    1. Their interactions with agencies of social control such as the police and the courts
    1. Their appearance, background and personal biography
  1. The situation and circumstances of the offence.

This leads labelling theorists to look at how laws are applied and enforced. Their studies show that agencies of social control are more likely to label certain groups of people as deviant or criminal.

The main piece of sociological research relevant here is Aaron Cicourel’s ‘Power and The Negotiation of Justice’ (1968)

Aaron Cicourel – Power and the negotiation of justice

The process of defining a young person as a delinquent is complex, and it involves a series of interactions based on sets of meanings held by the participants. Cicourel argues that it is the meanings held by police officers and juvenile officers that explain why most delinquents come from working class backgrounds.

The first stage is the decision by the police to stop and interrogate an individual. This decision is based on meanings held by the police of what is ‘strange’, ‘unusual’ and ‘wrong’. Whether or not the police stop and interrogate an individual depends on where the behaviour is taking place and on how the police perceive the individual(s). Whether behaviour is deemed to be ‘suspicious’ will depend on where the behaviour is taking place, for example an inner city, a park, a suburb. If a young person has a demeanour like that of a ‘typical delinquent’ then the police are more likely to both interrogate and arrest that person.

The Second Stage is that the young person is handed over to a juvenile delinquent officer. This officer will have a picture of a ‘typical delinquent’ in his mind. Factors associated with a typical delinquent include being of dishevelled appearance, having poor posture, speaking in slang etc. It follows that Cicourel found that most delinquents come from working class backgrounds.

When middle class delinquents are arrested they are less likely to be charged with the offence as they do not fit the picture of a ‘typical delinquent’. Also, their parents are more able to present themselves as respectable and reasonable people from a nice neighbourhood and co-operate fully with the juvenile officers, assuring them that their child is truly remorseful.

As a result, the middle class delinquent is more likely to be defined as ill rather than criminal, as having accidentally strayed from the path of righteousness just the once and having a real chance of reforming.

Cicourel based his research on two Californian cities, each with a population of about 100, 000. both had similar social characteristics yet there was a significant difference in the amount of delinquents in each city. Cicourel argued that this difference can only be accounted for by the size, organisation, policies and practices of the juvenile and police bureaus. It is the societal reaction that affects the rate of delinquency. It is the agencies of social control that produce delinquents.

Discussion Questions

Q1 – Do you agree that the whole criminal justice system is basically biased against the working classes, and towards to middle classes?

Q2 – From a research methods point of view, what research methods could you use to test this theory?

3 – The Consequences of Labelling

Labelling theorists are interested in the effects of labelling on those labelled. They claim that, by labelling certain people as criminal or deviant, society actually encourages them to become more so.

In this section I cover:

    • Primary and Secondary Deviance (Edwin Lemert)
    • The Deviant Career, the Master Status and Subcultures (Howard Becker)
    • Labelling and the Self-Fulling Prophecy applied to education (Howard Becker and Rosenthal and Jacobson)
  • Labelling theory applied to the Media – Moral Panics, Folk Devils and Deviancy Amplification (Stan Cohen)

If the material below seems a little samely – that’s because it’s all subtle variations on the same theme!

Primary and Secondary Deviance

Edwin Lemert (1972) developed the concepts of primary and secondary deviance to emphasise the fact that everyone engages in deviant acts, but only some people are caught being deviant and labelled as deviant.

Primary deviance refers to acts which have not been publicly labelled, and are thus of little consequence, while secondary deviance refers to deviance which is the consequence of the response of others, which is significant.

To illustrate this, Lemert studied the the coastal Inuit of Canada, who had a long-rooted problem of chronic stuttering or stammering. Lemert suggested that the problem was ’caused’ by the great importance attached to ceremonial speech-making. Failure to speak well was a great humiliation. Children with the slightest speech difficulty were so conscious of their parents’ desire to have well-speaking children that they became over anxious about their own abilities. It was this anxiety which lead to chronic stuttering.

Lemert compared the coastal Inuit which emphasised the importance of public speaking to other similar cultures in the area which did not attach status to public-speaking, and found that in such culture, stuttering was largely non-existence, thus Lemert concluded that it was the social pressure to speak well (societal reaction) which led to some people developing problems with stuttering

In this example, chronic stuttering (secondary deviance) is a response to parents’ reaction to initial minor speech defects (primary deviance).

Labelling, The Deviant Career and the Master Status

This is Howard Becker’s classic statement of how labelling theory can be applied across the whole criminal justice system to demonstrated how criminals emerge, possibly over the course of many years. Basically the public, the police and the courts selectively label the already marginalised as deviant, which the then labelled deviant responds to by being more deviant.

Howard Becker argued that the deviant label can become a ‘master status’ in which the individual’s deviant identity overrules all other identities. Becker argues that there are 5 stages in this process:

  1. The Individual is publicly labelled as a deviant, which may lead to rejection from several social groups. For example, if someone is labelled a junkie they may be rejected by their family.

  1. This may encourage further deviance. For example, drug addicts may turn to crime to finance their habit.

  1. The official treatment of deviance may have similar effects. EG convicted criminals find it difficult to find jobs.

  1. A deviant career may emerge. The deviant career is completed when individuals join an organised deviant group. This is the stage when an individual confirms and accepts their deviant identity.

  1. This is the stage at which the label may become a master status, overriding all other forms of relationship outside the deviant group.

Labelling Theory Applied to Education

Labelling theory has been applied to the context of the school to explain differences in educational achievement (this should sound familiar from year 1!)

Within Schools, Howard Becker (1970) argued that middle class teachers have an idea of an ‘ideal pupil’ that is middle class. This pupil speaks in elaborated speech code, is polite, and smartly dressed, He argued that middle class teachers are likely view middle class pupils more positively than working class pupils irrespective of their intelligence. Thus teachers positively label the students most like them.

There is also evidence of a similar process happening with African Caribbean children. Sociologists such as David Gilborn argue that teachers hold negative stereotypes of young black boys, believing them to be more threatening and aggressive than White and Asian children. They are thus more likely to interpret minor rule breaking by black children in a more serious manner than when White and Asian children break minor rules.

Rosenthal and Jacobsen (1968) argued that positive teacher labelling can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy in which the student believes the label given to them and the label becomes true in practise. They concluded this on the basis of a classic ‘Field Experiment’ to test the effects of teacher labels, which consisted of the following:

  • Stage one – tested the IQ (intelligence) of all pupils in the school

  • Stage two – gave teachers a list of the top 20% most intelligent pupils. However, this list was actually just a random selection of student names

  • Stage three –One year later those students who teachers believed to be the most intelligent had improved the most.

  • Stage four –Concluded that high teacher expectation had resulted in improvement (= the self-fulfilling prophecy)

Labelling Theory Applied to the Media

Key Terms: Moral Panics, Folk Devils and The Deviancy Amplification Spiral

Labelling theory has been applied to the representation of certain groups in the mainstream media – Interactionists argue that the media has a long history of exaggerating the deviance of youth subcultures in particular, making them seem more deviant than they actually are, which creates a ‘moral panic’ among the general public, which in turn leads to the authorities clamping down on the activities of those subcultures, and finally to the individuals within those subcultures responding with more deviance.

A moral panic is “an exaggerated outburst of public concern over the morality or behaviour of a group in society.” Deviant subcultures have often been the focus of moral panics. According to Interactionists, the Mass Media has a crucial role to play in creating moral panics through exaggerating the extent to which certain groups and turning them into ‘Folk Devils’ – people who are threatening to public order.

In order for a moral panic to break out, the public need to believe what they see in the media, and respond disproportionately, which could be expressed in heightened levels of concern in opinion polls or pressure groups springing up that campaign for action against the deviants. The fact that the public are concerned about ‘youth crime’ suggest they are more than willing to subscribe to the media view that young people are a threat to social order.

The final part of a moral panic is when the authorities respond to the public’s fear, which will normally involve tougher laws, initiatives and sentencing designed to prevent and punish the deviant group question.

The term ‘moral panic’ was first used in Britain by Stan Cohen in a classic study of two youth subcultures of the 1960s – ‘Mods’ and ‘Rockers’. Cohen showed how the media, for lack of other stories exaggerated the violence which sometimes took place between them. The effect of the media coverage was to make the young people categorise themselves as either mods or rockers which actually helped to create the violence that took place between them,which further helped to confirm them as violent in the eyes of the general public.

4 – Labelling and Criminal Justice Policy

Labelling theory believes that deviance is made worse by labelling and punishment by the authorities, and it follows that in order to reduce deviance we should make fewer rules for people to break, and have less-serious punishments for those that do break the rules.An example of an Interactionist inspired policy would be the decriminalisation of drugs.

According to Interactionist theory, decriminalisation should reduce the number of people with criminal convictions and hence the risk of secondary deviance, an argument which might make particular sense for many drugs offences because these are often linked to addiction, which may be more effectively treated medically rather than criminally. (The logic here is that drug-related crime isn’t intentionally nasty, drug-addicts do it because they are addicted, hence better to treat the addiction rather than further stigmatise the addict with a criminal label).

Similarly, labelling theory implies that we should avoid ‘naming and shaming’ offenders since this is likely to create a perception of them as evil outsiders and, by excluding them from mainstream society, push them into further deviance.

Reintegrative Shaming

Most interactionist theory focuses on the negative consequences of labelling, but John Braithwaite (1989) identifies a more positive role for the labelling process. He distinguishes between two types of shaming:

  • Disintegrative shaming where not only the crime, but also the criminal, is labelled as bad and the offender is excluded from society.

  • Reintegrative shaming by contrast labels the act, but not the actor – as if to say ‘he has done a bad thing’ – rather an ‘he is a bad person’.

A policy of reintegrative shaming avoids stigmatising the offender as evil while at the same time making them aware of the negative impact of their actions on others. Victims are encouraged to forgive the person, but not the act, and the offender is welcomed back into the community, thus avoiding the negative consequences associated with secondary deviance.

Braithwaite argues that crime rates are lower where policies of reintegrative shaming are employed.

Evaluation of Labelling Theory

Labelling theory emphasises the following

– That the law is not ‘set in stone’ – it is actively constructed and changes over time

– That law enforcement is often discriminatory

– That we cannot trust crime statistics

– That attempts to control crime can backfire and may make the situation worse

– That agents of social control may actually be one of the major causes of crime, so we should think twice about giving them more power.

Criticisms of Labelling Theory

– It tends to be determinstic, not everyone accepts their labels

– It assumes offenders are just passive – it doesn’t recognise the role of personal choice in committing crime

– It gives the offender a ‘victim status’ – Realists argue that this perspective actually ignores the actual victims of crime.

– It tends to emphasise the negative sides of labelling rather than the positive side

– It fails to explain why acts of primary deviance exist, focussing mainly on secondary deviance.

– Structural sociologists argue that there are deeper, structural explanations of crime, it isn’t all just a product of labelling and interactions.

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Related Posts

My main page of links to crime and deviance posts.

The labelling theory of crime was initially a reaction against consensus theories of crime, such as subcultural theory 

Labelling theory is one of the major in-school processes which explains differential educational achievement – see here for in-school processes in relation to class differences in education.

Labelling Theory is related to Interpretivism in that it focuses on the small-scale aspects of social life.

Social Action Theory – A Summary

Unlike structural theorists, social action theorists argue that people’s behaviour and life-chances are not determined by their social background. Instead, social action theorists emphasises the role of the active individual and interactions between people in shaping personal identity and in turn the wider society. In order to understand human action we need to uncover the individual’s own motives for acting.

Social Action Theory

Max Weber: Verstehen, and Social Change

  • Observation alone is not enough to understand human action, we need empathetic understanding. Gaining Verstehen is the main point of Sociology.

  • Understanding individual motives is crucial for understanding changes to the social structure (as illustrated in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism).

  • Weber still attempted to make generalisations about types of motive for action – there are four main types of motive for action – Instrumentally rational, value rational, traditional action and affectual action

  • Different societies and different groups emphasise the importance of different types of ‘general motive’ for action’ – so society still affects individual motives, but in a general way.

Symbolic Interactionism

  • People’s self-concepts are based on their understanding of how others perceive them (the looking glass self).

  • We act towards others on the basis of how we interpret their symbolic action, the same action can be interpreted differently by different people – we need to understand these specific meanings to understanding people’s actions.

  • We ‘are constantly ‘taking on the role of the other’ – thinking about how people see us and reacting accordingly, this is very much an active, conscious process.

  • Each of us has an idea in the back of our minds of ‘the generalised other’ – which is basically society – what society expects of us, which consists of different norms and values associated with different roles in society.

  • These social roles are not specific or fixed; they can be interpreted in various different ways.

Goffman’s Dramaturgical Theory

  • People are actors on a ‘social stage’ who actively create an impression of themselves

  • When we act in the social world, we put on a ‘front’ in order to project a certain image of ourselves (call this part of our ‘social identity’

  • To create this front we manipulate the setting in which we perform (e.g. our living room), our appearance (e.g. our clothes) and our manner (our emotional demeanour).

  • Impression management involves projecting an ‘idealised image’ of ourselves,

  • We must be constantly on our guard to practice ‘expressive control’ when on the social stage.

  • Acting out social roles is quite demanding and so in addition to the front-stage aspect of our lives, we also have back-stage areas where we can drop our front and be more relaxed, closer to our ‘true-selves’

  • Most acting is neither fully ‘sincere’ nor fully ‘contrived’ and most people oscillate between sincerity and cynicism throughout the day and throughout the role they are playing.

Labelling Theory

  • Focuses on how the definitions (meanings) people impose on situations or on other people can have real consequences (even if those definitions are not based in reality)

  • People in power generally have more ability to impose their definitions on situations than the powerless and make these labels have consequences compared to working class youths. Labelling theory

  • We still need to understand where people are located in the power-structure of society to fully understand the process of labelling and identity construction.

Evaluations of Social Action Theory

Positive

Negative

  • Recognises that people are complex and active and have their own diverse meanings and motives for acting

  • Overcomes the determinism found in structural theories such as Marxism which tend to see individuals as passive

  • Goffman’s dramaturgical theory seems especially useful today in the age of Social Media

  • Labelling Theory recognizes the importance of micro-level interactions in shaping people’s identities, and the fact that people in power are often more able to ‘define the situation’.

  • In-depth research methods associated with social action theory often have high validity

  • It doesn’t pay sufficient attention to how social structures constrain action – for example, material deprivation can have a real, objective impact on your ability to well at school, thus failure is not just all about labelling.

  • It tends to ignore power-distribution in society – it can’t explain patterns in class, gender, ethnicity.

  • If people are so active, then why do so many people choose to be so normal?

  • Labelling theory can also be criticised for being deterministic

  • The small-scale methods associated with this theory can equally be criticised for lacking reliability and representativeness

If you like this sort of thing then you might also like my Theory and Methods Mind Maps – only £0.99!

Related Posts 

Max Weber”s Social Action Theory

A Summary of Erving Goffmans’s Presentation of Self in Everyday Life

 

The Presentation of the Self in Everyday Life – Extended Summary

An ‘extended summary’ of Erving Goffman’s ‘Presentation of Self in Daily Life’ including his concepts of front and backstage, performers and audiences,  impression management, idealisation, dramatic realisation, manipulation, discrepant roles and tact. 

CHAPTER ONE – PERFORMANCES

Belief in the part one is playing

Goffman distinguishes between two approaches to acting out social roles – sincerity and cynicism. Sincere individuals really believe their act is an expression of their own identity, and truly want others to believe this too (the ‘typical’ case), while cynical individuals do not invest ‘themselves’ in their roles, they are acting with a means to another end, which can either be for self-gain (like a conman) or for the benefit of the people around them (a teacher who acts strict but is not necessarily like this in real life).

To quote Goffman:

‘At one extreme, one finds that the performer can be fully taken in by his own act; and he can be sincerely convinced that the impression of reality which he stages is the real reality. When the audience is also convinced in this way about the show he put one – and this seems to be the typical case – then for the moment at least, only the sociologist or the socially disgruntled will have any doubts about the ‘realness’ of what is presented.

At the other extreme, we find that the performer may not be taken in at all by his own routine… the performer may be moved to guide the conviction of the audience only a means to other ends, having no ultimate concern in the conception they have of him or of the situation.’

Goffman goes on to say that people can oscillate between these two extremes as they move through different stages of their lives. He gives the example of a new recruit to the army who first of all acts out the disciplined training routine and hates it but must go along with it in order to avoid punishment, but after time comes to feel that a disciplined life has real meaning for him personally.

Front

Goffman uses the term ‘performance’ to refer to ‘all the activity of an individual which occurs during a period marked by his continuous presence before a particular set of observers and which has some influence on observers. ‘Front’ is ‘that part of the individuals performance which regularly functions in a general and fixed fashion to define the situation for those who observe the performance’.

There are three things an individual can use to establish a ‘social front‘ – Setting, Appearance and Manner (the final two Goffman calls ‘personal front’)

‘Setting’ refers to the fixed elements of front – the physical layout of a room and associated background props – someone’s work space or living room is a good example of a ‘setting’.

‘Appearance’ consists of those things we most closely associate with the person themselves – the things which ‘follow them around’ and consists of fixed attributes such as one’s racial background or age, as well as things like clothes and the items one chooses to carry around.

‘Manner’ is the attitude to one’s setting one displays – confidence, humility, authority etc.

We generally expect there to be consistency between setting, appearance and manner, but these don’t always match up.

Goffman also notes that we are constrained by society in terms of the front we can put on. If we adopt certain roles in society, we don’t actually have that much choice over the front which we can adopt – we are required by social norms to put on a certain front, and there is little room for manoeuvre.

He further suggests that the same sorts of front are required in many different roles – so if we successfully learn to project one front in one setting, we can apply that front to many others.

Dramatic Realisation

‘While in the presence of others, the individual typically infuses his activity with signs which dramatically highlight and portray confirmatory facts which might otherwise remain hidden.’

Many social roles and ‘status positions’ require a certain amount of energy to be invested in the performance of the activities associated with them, energy that is in excess to actually performing the tasks associated with the roles themselves.

One of the best illustrations of this is the Aristocracy – who spend an enormous amount of intentional energy on performing day to day tasks with excess decorum in order to distinguish themselves from others. There are rituals associated with dress codes, greetings, eating, body language, speech and so on….

To give a more mundane example, many jobs require people do certain things to convince the customer or client that they are competent.

A problem in social life is that ‘those who have the time and the talent to perform a task well may not, because of this, have the time or talent to make it apparent that they are performing well.’

There are many roles which we are required to fill in social life, and so one finds that people must choose which performances to invest their egos in – some social roles and some routines are deemed to be more important than others.

Idealisation

‘When the individual presents himself before others his performance will tend to incorporate and exemplify officially accredited values of the society, more so, in fact, than does his behaviour as a whole.

To the degree that the performance highlights the common official values, we may look upon it as an expressive reaffirmation of the moral values of the community’ (in a nod to Durkheim).

To go out in the world is to attend a wedding, a celebration, to stay in one’s room is to miss out on the party.

People play up or down their actual status according to how they think others perceive them (without actually buying into it)…. Social Mobility requires a good performance – often conceived of as making sacrifices in order to maintain ‘front’,

People also engage in negative idealisation, which involves concealment – people will, for example, ‘play down’ when they are interacting with people they believe to be of lower status, in order to fit in with them (although this may not be appreciated by that particular audience)

‘a performer tends to conceal or under-play those activities, facts and motives, which are incompatible with an idealized version of himself and his products.’ There are a number of discrepancies between appearance and overall reality:

  1. Hiding the profit which is made from a performance

  2. Hiding the mistakes made during a performance

  3. Hiding the effort that goes into preparing a performance (the back-stage work)

  4. Hiding any illegal activities

  5. Hiding double standards – this happens because we are often expected to maintain multiple values/ standards which are cannot all be maintained – for example a team at a restaurant may have to sacrifice quality for speed of service, but keep quite about the decline in quality and hope this isn’t picked up on by the audience.

  6. Hiding of origins – people tend to hide the fact they were something else before their performance, giving off the impression that they have always been this way.

In addition, a performer often engenders in his audience the belief that he is related to them in a more ideal way than is always the case.’

An important part of keeping aspects a performance hidden involves practising audience segregation – different performances associated with different roles are often meant for different audiences, who ideally won’t see the actor in any of his other performances. This is especially important because something actors do is to make any particular audience feel as if they are special, the most important audience, when in reality they are just one audience amongst many.

Maintenance of expressive control

Performers can reasonably expect minor cues to be read by their audience as signs of something significant. Unfortunately, the opposite is also the case – minor cues which were not intended to be read by the audience may also be taken to be of significance and these may undermine the image the performer is trying to present.

These accidents and unmet gestures are very common and there are three general types:

  1. Losing muscular control – tripping, yawning, belching

  2. Showing too little or too much concern with the interaction

  3. Lacking dramaturgical direction – the setting may be sloppy, or the timing of aspects of a performance wrong.

‘The expressive coherence that is required in performances points out a crucial discrepancy between out all-too-human selves and our socialised selves. As human beings we are presumably creatures of variable impulse with moods and energies that change from one moment to the next. As characters for an audience, however, we must not be subject to ups and downs. A certain bureaucratisation of the spirit expected so that we can be relied upon to give a perfectly homogeneous performance at any given time’.

Misrepresentation

The same tendency of the audience to accept the importance of signs (even if they are not meant to give off any meaning) which leads to the need for expressive control also opens up the opportunity for the performer to manipulate the audience through using signs to signify things which have no basis in reality.

Not all misrepresentation is the same. For example we tend to think more harshly of someone acting up to a higher status than acting down to a lower status. Also, some statuses are ambiguous. We can prove easily that someone is not a legal professional, but it is not so easy to prove someone is not a ‘true friend’.

Most misrepresentation is not about blatant lying, it is about not putting on display everything one has to do fulfil one’s social roles, and there are hardly any roles in society where everyone can be completely open about everything the do without losing face in some way.

Mystification

One of the easiest ways to maintain an idealised image of oneself is to maintain a distance between oneself and one’s audience – The more distance a performer can keep between them and their audience, the more elbow room they have to maintain an idealised image of themselves (Kings should not mix with ordinary people).

Reality and Contrivance

We generally tend to think of performances as being of one or two types – the sincere and the contrived. The former are not acted, they come from the unconscious ‘pure self’ of the individual who really believes in what they are doing, the later is the cynic, acting out a role without really believing in it.

But most performances on the social stage fall somewhere between these two realities. What is required in social life is that the individual learn enough about role-playing to fulfil the basic social roles that are required of him during his life – most of us ‘buy into this’ and act out what is expected of us, so we invest an element of ourselves into our roles, but at the same time we don’t necessarily get into our roles in a gung-ho sort of way…. So most acting is neither fully ‘sincere’ or fully ‘contrived’.

CHAPTER TWO – TEAMS

People don’t just engage in the presentation of the self as single actors, performances (or attempts to define the situation) are often conducted in teams – Goffman uses the term ‘performance team’ to refer to a group of people who collaborate in staging a single performance.

Goffman notes two features of teams engaging in dramaturgical cooperation.

  • Firstly, anyone can one of the team members can mess up a performance, and everyone is dependent on the good conduct of everyone else.

  • Secondly, team members have a degree of ‘familiarity’ with one another – which means that they share a back-stage where they will drop their collective performance.

Teams have to conceal certain aspects of their activity to make their collective performance effective – for example the fact that they have engineered, or practised a ‘party line’ is hidden because a collective front seems more sincere if the audience thinks all the members agreed on the performance independently.

In large organisations the party line can become rather thin because it is difficult to keep everyone happy.

Also in order to be sincere, teams need to hold a united front, and so corrective sanctioning tends to be done backstage.

Teams have a division of labour – they have directors, they have those who are more dramatically dominant than others, and they have those that actually do the tasks (rather than the performance) which the team is expected to do.

CHAPTER THREE – REGIONS AND REGION BEHAVIOUR

‘In our Anglo-American society, a relatively indoor one, when a performance is given it is usually given in a highly bounded region, to which boundaries with respect to time are often added. The impression and understanding fostered by the performance will tend to saturate the region and time span, so that any individual located in this space-time manifold will be in a position to observe the performance and be guided by the definition of the situation which the performance fosters’.

During a performance in a front region, the performer tries to convince the audience that that his activities in the region maintain and embody certain standards. To do this he engages in ‘talk’ with the audience – actual verbal and non-verbal gestural interchanges, and also practices ‘decorum’ – maintaining moral standards and manners but where he just visible to the audience rather than interacting with them gesturally.

One form of decorum is called ‘make work’ – people acting like they are busy even when there is not work to be done when in the presence of a superior. Everyone knows what’s going on but to not act this out would be to show disrespect to one’s superiors.

A backstage region is where the impression fostered by a performance is contradicted as a matter of course. Here a performer can relax, and step out of character.

Backstage is a place where the performer expects the audience not to go, and they are necessary if the worker is to buffer himself from the deterministic demands that go along with a performance.

NB – The ability to control both front and backstage is a fundamental power distinction in society. Some have more power to control both than others.

Some regions are permanently front regions — such as churches or schoolrooms, so much so that people act in them with a certain deference even if they are not members of their congregations. Similarly some other regions are notably backstage. Such areas set the tone for the interaction.

In other regions, they can sometimes be backstage and front stage at different times – the household for example on Sunday morning or while entertaining.

Goffman now provides some examples of where some groups of people lack control over backstage or where the ‘walls’ between front and backstage are too thin to maintain effective boundaries.

He also notes that the boundary between back and front stage is a great place to observe transformation of character.

Where teams are concerned, familiarity backstage may not be total. Three things put paid to this – firstly team members still need to convince other team members that they are worthy players, secondly, they may need to maintain morale for the forthcoming performance, thirdly, where there are differences in age and gender, acts may be put on to differentiate these – it is very rare in cultures that men and women will fully relax backstage with each other for example.

‘In saying that performers act in a relatively informal, familiar, relaxed way while backstage and are on their guard while giving a performance, it should not be assumed that the pleasant interpersonal things of life – courtesy, warmth, generosity are reserved for those backstage and that suspiciousness, snobbishness, and a show of authority are reserved for front region activity.

Often it seems that whatever enthusiasm and lively interest we have at our disposal we reserve for those before whom we are putting on a show and the surest sign of backstage solidarity is to feel that it is safe to lapse into an associable mood of sullen, silent irritability.’

A third area for consideration is the outside, and outsiders – those who are not supposed to witness the performance. Embarrassment can occur when outsiders unexpectedly stumble across a performance meant for others only. Strategies can be employed to overcome this (such as loudly welcoming them or shunning them) but these rarely work to avoid embarrassment.

CHAPTER FOUR – DISCREPANT ROLES

One overall objective of any team is to sustain the definition of the situation that its performance fosters. Given the fragility and the required expressive coherence of the reality that is dramatized by a performance, there are usually facts which, if attention is drawn to them during the performance, would discredit, disrupt, or make useless the impression that the performance fosters. These facts may be said to provide ‘destructive information’. (in order for performances to work) the audience must not require destructive information about the situation that is being defined for them… A team must be able to keep its secrets, and have its secrets kept’.

There are three general types of secret:

  • Dark secrets – these are things which the team would want no one to know because their disclosure would fundamentally undermine the team’s credibility – The fact that Barclay’s Bankers regularly engage in Fraud for example

  • Strategic secrets – These are secrets which give a team a competitive advantage over another team – so their disclosure would harm the team but not discredit them

  • Insider secrets – basically ‘tricks of the trade’ – knowledge which allows teams to put on a good performance but the disclosure of which would not really harm the team in the eyes of the audience.

Goffman also distinguishes between entrusted and free secrets – which are to do with the kind of secrets an individual has in relation to his team. the former are those which if not kept by an individual would discredit both himself and his team if not kept, the later would discredit the team but not the individual if not kept.

Secrets are not the only sources of destructive information – there are also ‘latent secrets’ (harmful facts about which there is no hard evidence about) and unintended gestures – basically accidents and unmeant gestures.

There are three general roles involved in any social situation –

  • The performers who define the situation and have destructive information about the performance

  • The audience who largely accept the definition of the situation but do not have destructive information

  • Outsiders who no little of either of the above.

There, are however, a number of ‘discrepant roles’ which occur on top of the above three major roles:

  • The informer

  • The shill

  • The spotter

  • The shopper

  • The mediator

  • the non person – e.g. the servant, the very young and the very old.

There are also four additional discrepant roles – who are not present in a performance but have information about it (who may be present in our minds of performers while they are acting out roles).

  • The service specialist

  • Confidants

  • Colleagues

  • Renegades

CHAPTER FIVE – COMMUNICATION OUT OF CHARACTER

Discrepant sentiment is nearly always found when we study institutions. There are nearly always occasions when team members make it clear to each other that they are just playing a role, and they communicate with each other out of character – there are four types of communication in which the performer engages which are incompatible with the impression trying to be collectively portrayed to an audience – treatment of the absent, staging talk, team collusion and realigning action

Treatment of the absent – When backstage it is especially common for team members to speak in a derogatory way about the audience, and ritual profanations of the performance are part of this.

Staging talk – refers to discussion about the front stage apparatus and their suitability for impression management.

Team collusion – Performers often use secret signs to signal to each other during a performance. These may be secret messages pertaining to what they think of certain audience members, this may just be ‘catching the eye’ of another member of the team and a sly glance. One notable form of this is ‘derisive collusion’, an example of which is school children in class passing notes to each-other.

Realigning action – these are guarded exchanges between teams which send out feelers and set the tone for interaction where the boundaries are not clear

‘each of these four types of conduct directs attention to the same point: the performance given by a team is not a spontaneous, immediate response to the situation absorbing all of the team’s energy; the performance is something the team members can stand back from, back far enough to imagine or play out simultaneously other kinds of performances attesting to other realities.’

CHAPTER SIX – THE ARTS OF IMPRESSION MANAGEMENT

Unmeant gestures, inopportune interruptions and the like are sources of dissonance and embarrassment, but both performers and audience alike tend to have strategies for ‘saving the show’ and to prevent masks falling off in many performance situations.

Performers engage in defensive attributes and practices

Dramaturgical loyalty – attempts to achieve high levels of in-group solidarity to prevent some members of the team becoming too close to the audience and giving away dark or strategic secrets; regularly changing audience may also be another strategy.

Dramaturgical discipline – simply where each member of the team learns to better control aspects of their performance

Dramaturgical circumspection – basically trying to select the audience that is likely to be the kindest – teachers prefer middle class schools, salesmen prefer to sell to one rather than two people.

Audience members engage in protective practices

Goffman gives various examples – individuals voluntarily stay away from backstage areas, and audiences are careful to pay attention to the right aspects of a performance – when performances go wrong they practice tactful inattention for example.

Goffman finishing off by noting that performers and audiences need to be ‘tactful about tact’ – they need to be sensitive to when each is employing tact lest masks fall off and embarrassment is the result.

CHAPTER SIX – CONCLUSION

It’s worth quoting the first page at length, because it basically summarises the whole book:

‘…. any social establishment may be studied from the perspective of impression management. Within the walls of a social establishment we find a team of performers who cooperate to present to an audience a given definition of the situation. This will will include the conception of own team and of audience and assumptions concerning the ethos that is to be maintained by rules of politeness and decorum. We often find division into back region, where the routine is prepared and front region, where the performance is presented. Access to backstage is controlled to prevent the audience and outsiders from seeing preparations. Among members of the team, we tend to find solidarity, familiarity and secrets being kept.

A tacit agreement is maintained between performers and audience to act as if a given degree of opposition and of accord existed between them. Typically, but not always, agreement is stressed and opposition is underplayed. The resulting working consensus tends to be contradicted by the attitude towards the audience which the performers express backstage and through communication out of character while ‘on stage’. We find that discrepant roles develop which complicate the problems of putting on a show. Sometimes disruptions occur which threaten the definition of the situation which is being maintained. Performers and Audience all utilise techniques for saving the show – teams are careful to select loyal and circumspect members and prefer to play to audiences who are tactful.’

The analytical context

Goffman sees his ‘dramaturgical perspective’ as the fifth perspective among four already existing ones for viewing a social system (technical, political, structural, cultural)

‘The dramaturgical perspective can be employed, like any other, as a final way of ordering facts. This would lead us to describe the techniques of impression management employed in a given establishment, the principal problems of impression management, and the identity and inter-relationships of the several performance teams within the establishment.

Goffman also suggests that we can look at any of the above in relation to technical, cultural aspects of a social system as well.

He further suggests that we can look of all of the above in relation to their impact on the individual personality, the social interactions themselves and the wider society.

MORAL NOTE: THE ROLE OF EXPRESSION IS CONVEYING IMPRESSIONS OF SELF

To uncover fully the factual nature of the situation, it would be necessary for the individual to know all the relevant social data about others. Full information is rarely available; in its absence appearances must be relied upon instead.

The information off is treated as having a moral character – we tend to assume that people shouldn’t mislead us with the information they give off – even though we know full well that this is what we do, and that we also know that much information given off is not done so intentionally.

There is a basic dialectic – ‘In their capacity as performers, individuals will be concerned with maintaining the impression that they are living up to the many standards by which they and their products are judged. Because these standards are so numerous and pervasive, the individuals who are performers dwell more than we might think in a moral world. But, qua performers, individuals are concerned not with the moral issue of realising these standards but with the amoral issue of engineering a convincing impression that these standards are being realised.’… The dialectic is that the more effort we put into managing the impression of being a moral actor, the more distant we come to feel from the standards we are acting out, and the more and higher the standards, the more effort, so the more distant we feel!

‘the key factor in this structure is the maintenance of a single definition of the situation, this definition having to be expressed, and this expression sustained in the face of a multitude of potential disruption. (These are the interactional tasks which all of us share)

Staging and the self

Goffman splits the individual into two –

The character (or characters) – this is what the performer presents to the audience, the social self – which is constructed with the use of various props, a stage as setting and a team as collaborators. THE INDIVIDUAL CANNOT CONSTRUCT A SELF WITHOUT ALL OF THE SOCIAL STAGING THAT GOES ALONG WITH IT.

The performer – the harried actor who is putting on a performance – The performer’s own psychological well-being is fundamentally linked to his social-self.

Participant Observation to Research Education

A brief summary of Young, Gifted and Black (1988) by Mairtin Mac an Ghaill and a consideration of the practical, ethical and theoretical advantages and disadvantages of the method in this educational context.

In Young, Gifted and Black (1988) Mairtin Mac an Ghaill carried out two ethnographic studies in inner-city educational institutions where he worked. The first study looked at the relations between white teachers and two groups of male students with anti-school values – the Asian Warriors and the African Caribbean Rasta Heads – and the second study looked at a group of black female students, of African Caribbean and Asian parentage, called the Black Sisters.

Why study this subject?

Because of opportunity – He originally wanted to study Irish school students but no one could help him do this, so he was advised to study African Caribbean students instead. As to the Black Sisters he never intended to study them, but they found him – because he was perceived as being on the side of the students they were happy to talk to him about their views of racism.

Because Mac an Ghaill wanted to gain a close insight into the culture and values of respondents, he chose participatory methods – he became friendly with the students and they visited his home regularly… ‘The experience of talking, eating, dancing and listening to music together helped break down the potential social barriers of the teacher-researcher role that may have been assigned to me and my seeing them as students with the accompanying status perception’

At the time the dominant theories argued that black underachievement was due to subcultures of resistance – the problem was seen as being with the students themselves.

However, following his in-depth research, and his adoption of a ‘black perspective’ he realised that racism rather than the students themselves was the biggest problem in their schooling – their subcultures were a response to a racially structured institution.

Ethical Issues

Mac an Ghaill does not claim to be value free in his research – he was committed to helping students overcome their perceived racial barriers.

The research also brought him into conflict with some other members of staff, as he found himself becoming the defender of ethnic minority students against what he perceived to be a racist institution.

Practical Issues with this research

Mac an Ghaill was only able to do this research because of his position as a teacher, it would have been practically impossible otherwise.

Theoretical Issues

Reliability and Representativeness are both low.

Validity is an interesting one – given the in-depth and participatory nature of the method we might assume that we are gaining a true insight into the thoughts and feelings of the respondents. However, the research has only given us an insight into student perceptions of racism, not whether the institution was actually racist. However, even if the institution wasn’t actually racist, understanding the students perception that it was provides us with new insight into why they formed subculture.

Finally, given that Mac an Ghaill was both researcher and teacher, this may have meant some of the student respondents didn’t open up to him fully.

Learning to Labour by Paul Willis – Summary and Evaluation of Research Methods

Participant Observation in the Context of Education

Given the practical and ethical problems of conducting participant observation in a school setting, there are only a handful of such studies which have been carried out in the UK, and these are mainly historical, done a long time ago. They are, nonetheless interesting as examples of research. Below I consider one classic participant observation study in the context of education – Paul Willis‘  Learning to Labour (1977)

Learning to labour

learning-to-labourLearning to Labour by Paul Willis (1977) is an ethnographic study of twelve working class ‘lads’ from a school in Birmingham conducted between 1972 and 1975. He spent a total of 18 months observing the lads in school and then a further 6 months following them into work. The study aimed to uncover the question of how and why “working class kids get working class jobs” (1977: 1) using a wide range of qualitative research methodologies from interviews, group discussions to participant observation, aiming to understand participants’ actions from the participants’ point of view in everyday contexts.

Sampling

Willis concentrated on a particular boy’s group in a non-selective secondary school in the Midlands, who called themselves ‘lads’. They were all white, although the school also contained many pupils from West Indian and Asian backgrounds. The school population was approximately 600, and the school was predominantly working class in intake. He states that the main reasons why he selected this school was because it was the typical type of school attended by working class pupils.

Data Collection

Willis attended all school classes, options (leisure activities) and career classes which took place at various times. He also spoke to parents of the 12 ‘lads’, senior masters of the school, and main junior teachers as well as careers officers in contact with the concerned ‘lads’. He also followed these 12 ‘lads’ into work for 6 months. NB He also made extensive use of unstructured interviews, but here we’re focusing on the observation aspects.

Participant observation allowed Willis to immerse himself into the social settings of the lads and gave him the opportunity to ask the lads (typically open) questions about their behaviour that day or the night before, encouraging them to explain themselves in their own words…which included detailed accounts of the lads fighting, getting into trouble with teachers, bunking lessons, setting off fire extinguishers for fun and vandalising a coach on a school trip.

Findings

One of Willis’ most important findings was that the lads were completely uninterested in school – they saw the whole point of school as ‘having a laff’ rather than trying to get qualifications. Their approach to school was to survive it, to do as little work as possible, and to have as much fun as possible by pushing the boundaries of authority and bunking as much as they could. The reason they didn’t value education is because they anticipated getting factory jobs which didn’t require any formal qualifications. They saw school as a ‘bit cissy’ and for middle class kids.

Willis does not include an account of how he approached the ‘lads’ and built rapport with them. However considering the responses of the ‘lads’ during discussions and interviews, seeing that the ‘lads’ openly talk about their views and experiences and allow access to work at a later stage of the research, Willis seems to have built rapport effectively.

For more details the findings of this study see the Neo-Marxism section of the ‘Perspectives on Education Hand-Out’

Practical Issues with Learning to Labour

The research was very time consuming – 2 years of research and then a further 2 years to write up the results.

It would be very difficult to repeat this research today given that it would be harder to gain access to schools (also see reliability)

Funding would also probably be out of the question today given the time taken and small sample size.

Ethical Issues with Learning to Labour

An ethical strength of the research is that it is giving the lads a voice – these are lads who are normally ‘talked about’ as problems, and don’t effectively have a voice.

An ethical weakness is that Willis witnessed the lads getting into fights, their Racism and Homophobia, as well as them vandalising school property but did nothing about it.

A second ethical weakness is the issue of confidentiality – with such a small sample size, it would be relatively easy for people who knew them to guess which lads Willis had been focussing on

Theoretical Issues with Learning to Labour

Validity is widely regarded as being excellent because of the unstructured, open ended nature of the research allowing Willis to sensitively push the lads into giving in-depth explanations of their world view.

Critics have tried to argue that the fact he was obviously a researcher, and an adult, may have meant the lads played up, but he counters this by saying that no one can put on act for 2 years, at some point you have to relax and be yourself.

Something which may undermined the validity is Willis’ interpretation of the data – he could have selected aspects of the immense amount of data he had to support his biased opinion of the boys.

Representativeness is poor – because the sample size is only 12, and they are only white boys.

Reliability is low – It is very difficult to repeat this research for the reasons mentioned under practical factors.

 Related Posts

You might also like this summary of more recent research on why the white working classes continue to underachieve in education.

The Presentation of the Self in Everyday Life – A Summary

A summary of The Presentation of the Self in Everyday Life by Erving Goffman, and a brief discussion of its relevance to A level Sociology. 

Executive Summary

The best way to understand human action is by seeing people as actors on a ‘social stage’ who actively create an impression of themselves for the benefit of an audience (and, ultimately themselves).

When we act in the social world, we put on a ‘front’ in order to project a certain image of ourselves (call this part of our ‘social identity’ if you like) – we create a front by manipulating the setting in which we perform (e.g. our living room), our appearance (e.g. our clothes) and our manner (our emotional demeanour).

In the social world we are called upon to put on various fronts depending on the social stage on which we find ourselves and the teams of actors with whom we are performing – the work-place or the school are typical examples of social stages which require us to put on a front. On these social stages we take on roles, in relation to other team-members and carefully manage the impressions we give-off in order to ‘fit in’ to society and/ or achieve our own personal goals

Impression management involves projecting an ‘idealised image’ of ourselves, which involves concealing a number of aspects of a performance – such as the effort which goes into putting on a front, and typically hiding any personal profit we will gain from a performance/ interaction.

Unfortunately because audiences are constantly on the look-out for the signs we give off (so that they can know who we are) ‘performers can stop giving expressions, but they cannot stop giving them off’. This means that we must be constantly on our guard to practice ‘expressive control’ when on the social stage. There are plenty of things that can go wrong with our performance which might betray the fact that we are not really the person who our act suggests that we are – we might lose bodily control (slouch), or make mistakes with our clothing (a scruffy appearance) for example.

Acting out social roles is quite demanding and so in addition to the front-stage aspect of our lives, we also have back-stage areas where we can drop our front and be more relaxed, closer to our ‘true-selves’, and where we can prepare for our acting in the world.

We generally tend to think of performances as being of one or two types – the sincere and the contrived. Some people sincerely believe in the parts they are playing, they invest their true selves in the impression they give off, this is the typical case. However, other people act out their roles more cynically – they do not believe the parts they are playing are a reflection of their ‘true selves’ but instead only play their part in order to achieve another end.

However, most performances on the social stage fall somewhere between these two realities. What is required in social life is that the individual learn enough about role-playing to fulfil the basic social roles that are required of him during his life – most of us ‘buy into this’ and act out what is expected of us, so we invest an element of ourselves into our roles, but at the same time we don’t necessarily get into our roles in a gung-ho sort of way…. So most acting is neither fully ‘sincere’ or fully ‘contrived’ and most people oscillate between sincerity and cynicism throughout the day and throughout the role they are playing.

Some of the roles we play contradict each other – and so we need to keep audiences separate – some performances are only meant for certain audience members – For example a student might act studiously while at school but more care-free while amongst his friends outside of school.

Thankfully most audience members are tactful and voluntarily stay away from back-stage areas where we prepare for our social roles, and if we ever ‘fall out of character’ they tend to engage in ‘tactful inattention’ in order to save the situation.

The significance of Goffman’s work for A level Sociology

From a theoretical point of view Goffman criticises structuralist (Functionalist and Marxist) theories of socialisation – Marxism for example argues that school socialises children to passively accept authority and hierarchy thus preparing them for exploitation in later life. What Goffman’s theory suggests is that many children might just be acting out this acceptance of hierarchy in order to get through school with as little hassle as possible, while backstage they may think school is not particularly important, and they may not accept authority.

From a research methods point of view the significance of Goffman lies in the fact that f we really want to understand people, we would need to engage in participant-observation in order to get back-stage with them, because we only get to see peoples true feelings when they stop performing.

If a researcher merely gave people a questionnaire to fill out, or even if they did an in-depth interview with them – they could be perceived by the respondent as a member of an audience – and the results we get could just be a performance put on for the benefit of the researcher.

Ultimately from this Interactionist/ dramaturgical perspective human interaction is so intricately complex that the correct way to study human action is to look at either individuals or small groups and focus on the efforts they make to maintain their identities in public, and how these social identities differ from their more relaxed selves when they are back-stage.