I can’t think of any individuals who represent Britishness, continuity and stability better than THE QUEEEN – she’s just always been there throughout my entire life, and through all my Dad’s adult life too.
And, unlike younger members of the royal family, The Queen it seems has never put a foot wrong – she’s just done her queen thing for 70 years – attended thousands of national events, given her speech at Christmas, opened Parliament nearly every year (until recently) – she is very possibly THE ONLY continuous symbol that’s just ‘carried on’ for that length of time.
When she was coronated in 1953 (that date’s from memory I think it’s right), Functionalism was in its heyday, at least American Functionalism exemplified by the work of Talcott Parsons – and and events such as the Jubilee and the way the majority of people come together around The Queen seem to be good examples of a shared collective conscience.
And even the way the Royal Estate seems to be managing the succession – giving Charles more of a central role and making him more visible (he opened Parliament this year) seems very ordered, very MODERN – orderly change within a centralised authority – there really is something very modern about the whole institution of royalty.
And it seems to me that there’s a general feeling that the 70th Jubilee is something good – there’s almost a sense of relief that there’s something positive to celebrate post-covid and amidst the Cost of Living Crisis – I doubt there will be many overt protests this year.
However I also get the feeling there’s a kind of ‘disbelief in relief’ at having The Jubilee to celebrate – it’s obvious the Royal family has faded in ‘glory’, it’s obvious that this will probably be The Queen’s last significant jubilee, there’s almost a tinge of sadness about the whole affair.
It’s as if we’re witnessing a celebration of a bye gone era – it’s like a flashback to Modernity when things were more certain – kind of similar to when you go to an 80s party – you dress up and make believe for an evening – and so here does the Nation for the Jubilee Weekend.
Because in truth the Royal Family is more post-modern than ever – with Meghan and Harry having ‘divorced themselves’ from the institution, and with their very own paedophile-prince (Andrew) showing that they don’t all have the same norms and values.
And once The Queen is gone we are left with Charles and Camilla – it’s just not the same rally-round is it? Much more chalk and cheese!
And when the Jubilee weekend is over, it’s back to postmodern/ late modern reality for us all – the grind, the uncertainty, the increasing cost of living, the fear of the next Pandemic.
This Jubilee celebration is just a pit stop to the past, pleasant to play modernity dress up for a weekend, but that’s all it is.
The easiest way for students to prepare for the Theory and Methods parts of the A-Level Sociology Paper 1 and Paper 3 exams is to revise how Marxism applies to the different topic areas usually taught as part of the specification – typically the Family, Education, Religion and Crime and Deviance.
For an overview of these two papers please see my ‘exams advice page’.
This post is a summary of how Marxism applies to these topic areas.
Research Methods Implications
Scientific Marxism – The purpose of research is to find out more about the laws of Capitalism to see when revolution is ripe
Requires a Cross National Macro-Approach to social research focusing on economics and how the economy affects society
Humanistic Marxism – Research can be more varied, focusing on highlighting social injustices in order to make people more critical of Capitalism (Not value free!)
Using what Marxists say about the above topic areas is just one way to approach a theory question on Marxism, another way is to use the work of specific Marxists such as Althusser and Gramsci, and of course Marx himself. These ideas are outlined in this revision post: Marxism A-level Sociology Revision Notes.
For more links to Marxist theory please see my Theory and Methods page for A2 Sociology.
One of the easiest ways to revise for the Paper 3 theory and methods paper (the theory and methods section) is to rely on what different theories say about the topic areas within Sociology, such as the family, education and crime and deviance.
This post is a summary with links of what Functionalists say about the man topic areas…
Functionalism: Main Ideas
(D= Durkheim, P = Parsons)…
(D) Society exists externally to the individual as a series of social facts – there is a social structure which exists independently from individuals. This social structure shapes the individual.
(D) Individuals need to be constrained. (D) Anomie is the fundamental problem of advanced industrial societies. Figuring out how to achieve solidarity based on change and difference is the big question of our times.
(P) We should analyse society as a system – look at each bit by looking at the contribution it makes to the whole
(P) Socialisation is important – individuals need to be regulated for the benefit of everyone. The integration and regulation of individuals is a good thing.
(P) Advanced Industrial society is better than primitive society – one of the main reasons social order is so important is so we don’t go backwards – (ties into the idea of progress
A level Sociology teaching resources for sale – perspectives in sociology.
I’ve just release a new sociological perspectives teaching resource bundle as part of my A-level sociology teaching resources subscription package.
This teaching resource bundle contains everything teachers need to deliver 10-hour long theory lessons for A level sociology, focusing on perspectives in sociology.
An overview of the ten theory lessons
of the perspectives/ key sociological questions (2 lessons)
Action Theory (1 lesson)
Resources in the bundle include:
Six Student workbooks covering all of the above
Six Power Points covering most of the above
lessons (not for riots or the corporate crime research lesson.
Lesson plans covering all of the above lessons.
Various supplementary hand-outs for some of the
above lessons as necessary.
LOTS of different types of
theory grids and concepts for cutting and doing sentence sorts with
Full theory and methods scheme of work.
Fully modifiable resources
Every teacher likes to make resources their own by adding
some things in and cutting other things out – and you can do this with both the
work pack and the PowerPoints because I’m selling them in Word and PPT, rather
than as PDFs, so you can modify them!
NB – I have had to remove most the pictures I use
personally, for copyright reasons, but I’m sure you can find your own to fit
in. It’s obvious where I’ve taken them out!
A level sociology students should be looking to using contemporary examples and case studies to illustrate points and evaluate theories whenever possible. In the exams, the use of contemporary evidence is something examiners look for and reward.
Below are a few examples of some recent events in the news which are relevant to the theory and methods aspects of sociology
Popper believed that social science could be scientific, but that that social scientific knowledge has to be based on deduction and falsification (rather than induction and verification).
For Popper, sociology can be scientific if it makes precise predictions through the use of the hypothetic-deductive model.
In the hypothetic-deductive model, researchers start with a specific, testable, hypothesis, then they collect data, analyse it, and either confirm the hypothesis based on their evidence, or reject it and start the process over again. If a hypothesis is proven, then a theory may be derived which will form the basis of future research.
The principle of falsification means researchers deliberately look for evidence that could disprove their hypothesis.
In the above model, ‘grand theories’ such as those put forwards by Marxism are not specific enough to be tested.
The implications are that if sociology wants to be regarded as a science it must limit itself to research questions which can be turned into clear hypotheses and tested by others.
Unlike Durkheim, Popper believed that we can never verify laws of human behaviour because it’s always possible to find future evidence which could falsify existing social theories.
Comparison of Popper and Durkheim
Durkheim argued that science, and social science should be inductive and based on verification.
Popper argued that science and thus social science were based on deduction and falsification.
Induction = looking at the evidence and developing a theory from that evidence
Deduction = starting with a theory and testing it by working out what evidence would verify or falsify it.
I have summarised this from Chapman 2015, which in turn is obviously summarised from Haralambos edition 8.
A fairly lengthy, paraphrased summary with a few comments in italics
In consumer culture people behave ‘unreflexivly’ – without thinking about what they consider to be their life purpose and what they believe to be the right means of reaching it, without thinking about about what prompts them into action or escape, or about what they desire, what they fear and at what point fears and desires balance each other out
Nb – In defining consumers as unreflexive – that is, anyone who limits their conscious reflection to questions of what to consume- rather than focusing on the ‘deeper’ questions of life – Bauman seems to deny that such people have any sense of agency – they are not fully human.
The society of consumers stands for a set of existential conditions under which the probability is high that most people will embrace the consumerist rather than any other culture, and obey its rules.
The ‘society of consumers’ is a kind of society which ‘interpellates’ its members primarily in their capacity as consumers. While doing that, ‘society’ expects to be heard, listened to and obeyed; it evaluates – rewards and penalizes – its members depending on the promptness and propriety of their response to the interpellation.
As a result, one’s ability to engage in consumerist performance has become the paramount stratifying factor and the principal criterion of inclusion in or exclusion from society, as well as guiding the distribution of social esteem and stigma, and shares in public attention.
(Following Frank Trentmann) This is historically unusual – for most of the modern period consumption was little discussed and when it was it was typically associated with eccentricity and wastefulness.
For the better part of modern history (that is, throughout the era of massive industrial plants and massive conscript armies), society ‘interpellated’ most of the male half of its members as primarily producers and soldiers, and almost all of the other (female) half as first and foremost their by-appointment purveyors of services.
It was the body of the would-be worker or soldier that counted most; their spirit, on the other hand, was to be silenced, numbed and thereby ‘deactivated’.
The society of consumers, on the other hand, focuses its training and coercing pressures on the management of the spirit – leaving the manage- meant of bodies to individually undertaken DIY labour, individually supervised and coordinated by spiritually trained and coerced individuals.
This coercive pressure is exerted on members of the society of consumers from their early childhood.. Following Daniel Thomas Cooke…
‘the battles waged over and around children’s consumer culture are no less than battles over the nature of the person and the scope of personhood in the context of the ever-expanding reach of commerce.’
The society of consumers does not recognize differences of age or gender (however counter-factually) and will not make allowances for either; nor does it (blatantly counter-factually) recognize class distinctions. From the geographic centres of the worldwide network of information highways to its furthest, however impoverished peripheries…
‘the poor are forced into a situation in which they either have to spend what little money or resources they have on senseless consumer objects rather than basic necessities in order to deflect total social humiliation or face the prospect of being teased and laughed at.’ (In Ekstrom et al, Elusive Consumption, 2004.)
However it is down to the individual to negotiate the staggering amount of info in order to make the right consumer decisions to avoid derision.
Since ‘social fitness’ is the responsibility of the individual, if people fail to make the right choices they are blamed (and thus constructed as ‘flawed consumers’) – we are taught to believe that there is nothing wrong with society, because there is plenty of choice, and so if people fail to succeed they are not deserving of care.
At least the above is the case if we are unreflexive viz our consumption habits.
Consumption is an investment in everything that matters for individual ‘social value’ and self-esteem, thus the crucial, perhaps the decisive purpose of consumption in the society of consumers is not the satisfaction of needs, desires and wants, but the commoditization or recommoditization of the consumer: raising the status of consumers themselves to that of sellable commodities.
If you wish to take part in society, you have to consume in this way – turning yourself into a commodity – this is a precondition which is non negotiable thus market relations are fundamental to the society of consumers, as is the calculating mindset which goes along with it.
I’m left wondering what Bauman would make of attempts to set up alternative, low impact cultures assisted by alternative financial avenues such as Kick Starter?
Becoming and remaining a sellable commodity is the most potent motive of consumer concerns, even if it is usually latent and seldom conscious, let alone explicitly declared.
The society of consumers, with its compulsive and willing individualization places a magnified emphasis on the on the subject as the one who has the duty to make oneself something, and on the individual as being the one who is responsible if one fails. NB – I guess to simplify one of Bauman’s basic points you could just say that we believe that we are responsible for own successes and failures in life only because that is what society tells us, and this isn’t necessarily true.
In the society of producers, society took on the role of a ‘collective Prometheus’ – it took responsibility for the product in exchange for the individual conforming to social norms. If you just ‘became’ what society asked of you’ that was enough – your Promethean challenge, and sense of of Promethean pride could thus be earned if you fulfilled your social role.
However, in the age of individualisation, now that society ‘doesn’t exist’ (TINA) just becoming what society wants is no longer an option – ( in the consumer society the point, the task, is to continually become something else).
Being born, having become something are now sources of ‘Promethean shame’ and the task of the individual is to perfect themselves – to become more than they are, and there is never an end to this process… life is a never ending struggle of becoming.
Because of this, being a member of the society of consumers is a daunting task, a never-ending and uphill struggle. The fear of failing to conform has been elbowed out by a fear of inadequacy, and consumer markets are eager to capitalize on that fear, and companies turning out consumer goods vie for the status of the most reliable guide and helper in their clients’ unending effort to rise to the challenge. They supply ‘the tools’, the instruments required by the individually performed job of ‘self-fabrication’.
However, following Gunder Anders, it is absurd to think of those tools as enabling an individual choice of purpose. These instruments are the crystallization of irresistible ‘necessity’ – which individuals must learn to obey, in order to be free. Cites teen fashion as an example. I’d be interested in looking at the social construction of retirement in this… to what extent is retirement constructed as a time when we are expected to ‘consume hard’? Does all of this end then?
There are two versions of human history – That of life as a progression towards greater rationality and freedom, of which consumer choice is the latest ‘highest’ expression, the other is of the increasing colonisation of human life by commodity markets – the society of consumers is its zenith because humans are now obliged to interact with each other at the same level as the products they consume (as explained above) – they purchase products in order to maximise their own market-value and they have no choice but to do so. NB – I get the impression that Bauman sides with the later version.
Markets today are sovereign, you only get political rights if you are able to consume – people such as the underclass and illegal immigrants (flawed consumers) are seen as having no rights in the popular imagination, and there is no authority they can appeal to because the state’s ability to draw the line between the included and the excluded has been eroded by the market – it now makes these decisions, and it has no tangible body that can be appealed to if people feel unfairly excluded.
In recent decades the state has shifted many of its functions sideways to the market such that the state has now become the arbiter of market demands, evidence in the centrality of economic measurements as the state’s primary indicators of its ‘success’.
The secret of every durable (successfully self-reproducing) social system is the recasting of its ‘functional prerequisites’ into behavioural motives of actors – the secret is making individuals wish to do what is needed for the system to reproduce itself.
In the modern period, this required an emphasis on deferred gratification – people committing to the idea of putting off pleasure now in order to reap the rewards in the future.
We also see in the general theories of the time – such as Freud’s reality principle and in Bentham’s panopticon – that the good society could only be constructed with the individual’s subordination to the society.
(However, such theories were themselves a product of the crisis of community – the very fact that people were thinking about community demonstrates that community is no longer ‘taken for granted’ as it was in traditional times, and because of this, it was already losing its power as a coercive force).
Much of the modern period thus involved nation states vying to restrict freedom of choice through panopticon style discipline and punish rule, but this was always cumbersome.
In the post-modern era (mistakenly conceived as a decivilising process) the civilising process takes the form of the ‘obligation to choose’ but this breeds little resistance because it is represented and conceived as freedom of choice.
People now are obliged to seek happiness and pleasure and this is lived through as an exercise of ‘freedom’ and self-assertion. Today it is as if the (individualised) pleasure principle has taken over the reality principle as the primary regulating force in society. (Reminds me of happiness is mandatory.)
When society confronts us (which it rarely does as a totality, these days) it does so in ways which make it easy for us to act as solitary consumers… (rather than in large collectivities). Bauman now gives several examples of this:
As mentioned earlier on in the chapter, this starts with childhood
At university, the new future-elite of consumers are socialised into the norm of living on credit (phase one)
At home we have TV dinners and fast food, which protect solitary consumers.
The primary acts of consumption are done in swarms – groups who come together for limited times with loose connections.
Elsewhere Bauman has also written about the nature of shopping malls, privatised public spaces of individualised consumption.
Even our post-modern ‘collective’ carnivalesque acts reinforce individualism – we come together in fringe moments to get our ‘collective’ fix and then go back to being individuals again .. ..
The chapter finishes with something about tax cuts to the rich and shifting taxation away from income to expenditure which doesn’t make much sense in the context of the chapter.
It may sound odd doing a summary of a preface, but there is a lot of heavy stuff in here….
According to Bauman ‘Sociology can help us link our individual decisions and actions to the deeper cause of our troubles and fears – to the way we live, to the conditions under which we act, to the socially drawn limits of our ambition and imagination.’
This book just does this by exploring how Individualisation has become our fate, and by reminding us that if our anxieties are to be addressed, they must be addressed collectively, true to their social, not individual nature.
Lives Told and Stories Lived – An Overture
Bauman begins with Ernest Becker’s denial of death in which Becker suggests that society is ‘a living myth of the signficance of human life, a defiant creation of meaning’ and that ‘Everything man does in his symbolic world is an attempt to deny his grotesque fate’ (his eventual death).
He now goes back to Durkheim and argues that connecting oneself to society does not liberate the individual from nature, rather it liberates one from having to think about one’s nature and that genuine freedom comes from exorzing the spectre of mortality (which is ever present when close to nature) by linking oneself to (a more complex) society. It is through society that one tastes immortality – you become part of something which was there before you were born, and which will continue after you die.
(At the indivdual level) knowledge of mortality triggers the desire for transcendence – and this takes two forms – either the desire to leave something behind, a lasting trace of yourself, or the desire to live gloriously now. There is an energy (?) in this desire which society feeds off – it capitalises on this desire by providing credible objects of satisfaction which individuals then spend time pursuing.
The problem with the economy of death transcendence, as with all economies, is that the strategies on offer are scarce – and so there must be limits to how resources can be used. The main purpose of a life strategy (which involve the search for meaning) is to avoid the realisation of the truth of one’s own mortality, and given that all the various life- strategies fall short of this ultimate need-satisfaction it is impossible to call one strategy correct or incorrect.
Two consequences happen as a result.. Firstly, there is the continuus invention of new life-strategies – industries are forever coming up with new strategies for death-denial. Secondly some people are able to captalise on the energy of the quest of death-denial and this is where we get cultural capital and hierarchy from.
So to date Bauman seems to be suggesting that there is a pyschological need to escape facing up to our own mortality, and this is where society comes from. However because any life-strategy we adopt in the attempt to escape death is doomed to failure because all such strategies merely mask the truth of our own mortality which lurks in the background. Because of this, in truth, all such strategies are equally as valid (or equally as invalid) as each other. At the social level this then results in two things – a continues stream of new and improved life-strategies on offer to us from industry and secondly the emergence of cultural capital as those who are able to do so define their own life-strategies as superior which is where hierearchy comes from (and I guess this claiming of mythical superiority is also part and parcel of certain life-strategies of death-denial).
Pause for breath…. Bauman now goes on to say that…
However, just because all life-strategies are far from the truth of death-denial, this does not mean that all miss the targets by the same margin.
Some life-strategies on offer are the result of what Bauman calls ‘surplus manipulation’ of the desire to deny death. These are at their most viscious when they are biograpical solutions to systemic contradictions (following Beck) and rest on the fake-premise that self-inadequacy is the root cause of one’s anxiety and that the individual needs to look to themselves to solve this.
The result of this is the denial of a collective solution to one’s problems and the lonely struggle with a task which many lack the resources to perform alone which in turn leads to The result is self-censure, self-disparagement, and violence and torture against one’s own body.
I think the logic at work here is (a) Society is an invention which helps us deny death, however (b) in the post-modern age society falls apart – we find it harder and/ or it is less-rational to forge the kind of lasting bonds which will help us collectively deny-death (or strive for immortality to put in a positive phraseology) this results in (c) anxious individuals who are then (d) told by certain people in society (the elite – see below) that they need to find biographical solutions towards immortality (this is the surplus manipulation bit) but in reality this is impossible and so (e) this results in them killing or harming their social selves or actual physical bodies.
Bauman seems to be saying that, in the post-modern age some people, free of society, are thrown back on themselves, their true nature, and can’t handle it, they cannot deny-death alone, and so they kill themselves.
Bauman then goes on to say….
If we look at the whole life-story’ most of are simply not able to practice agency (articulation) – we are not free to simply construct of one set of relations out of another or redefine the context in which life is created. We may be able to do this in the realm of fashion or culture more generally, but not so with all aspects of of our lives.
To rephrase Marx – ‘People make their lives but not under conditions of their choice.’ It may be that we are all story tellers today, we all exercise reflexivity, but life is a game in which the rules of the game, the content of the pack and the way they are shuffled is not examined, rarely talked about.
The problem is that the individualisation narrative seems to assume that everything we do in our whole life is a matter of the choices we have made. This is, in fact, a narrataive that only works for the elite who do have lots of choice – they have resources and are mobile and can use opportunities in today’s mobile age to their advantage.
This narrative, in fact, works for the elite, it is ideological – if everyone thinks everything is open to choice and their fate is their fault, this becomes a nice control mechanism – you don’t need panopticons when people are always trying trying trying and choosing choosing choosing.
Furthermore, what is often precluded in the individualised age are strategies which involve acting together to change the broader social conditions, which just further perpetuates the problem.
In other words if we wish to reduce human suffering and allow individuals the opportunity to get back to collectively denying their own death (or constructing their immortality) then people need to feel as if they can constitutue society, at the moment the ideology of the biographical narrative serves to prevent people from realising this.
This book seems to aim to be a contribution towards bringing about greater genuine articulation (so it’s a shame you need to be educated well beyond graduate level to appreciate it)…..
As Bauman says towards the end of the chapter… ‘Genuine articulation is a human right but perform the task and the exercise the right in full we need all the assistance we can get – and sociologists can help in this by recording and mapping the crucial parts of the web of interconnections and dependencies which are kept hidden or stay invisible from the point of individual experience. Sociology is itself a story – but the message of Sociology is that there are more ways of living a life than is suggested by the stories which each one of us tells.’
Very interesting to see Bauman starting with Becker – although he doesn’t seem to go back to him at the end of the section, so I really think he’s pushing the boat out a bit too far in terms of how much he tries to include in this introductory paragraph. It doesn’t hold together that well, and you have to read things into it to an extent to complete it, maybe that’s the point?
I’m not comfortable with the idea that society denying-death is OK because it is rational, and that our goal should be to get back to a situation where individuals are free to construct society and thereby get back to affirming themselves and thus denying their own death. This just strikes me as the equivalent of papering over the cracks of a deeper human suffering which The Buddha realised 3000 years ago.
There’s probably an interesting Buddhist response to this – but I’ll post that up when it emerges, which isn’t now, unless someone else gets there first.
In my experience, students underplay the importance of this aspect of the course, but in fact there is a total of 40 marks for pure theory and or methods questions and an additional 20 via the methods in context question, so in fact, these are the MOST IMPORTANT areas of the Sociology A-level syllabus which students should revise.
This post simply provides a visual overview of mainly the Theory part of the theory and methods aspect of the syllabus, and if you like this sort of thing, or even just want to show your appreciation, you might like to purchase my ‘Theory and Methods Revision Bundle’… it includes more detailed revision notes on theory andmethods as well as exemplars of exam questions, mind maps, and all the slides below in PPT format and picture format, and lots lots more
Positivism and Interpetivism
Is Sociology a Science?
Can Sociology be Value Free?
Social Action Theory
To follow… research methods slides!
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.
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’.
Power Point Overview of sociological theories in slide and picture format.
Launched in the United Kingdom in January 2014, Veganuary is a global campaign that encourages people to try eating a vegan diet for the month of January.
Veganuary is dedicated to changing public attitudes, while providing all the information and practical support required to make the transition to veganism as easy and enjoyable as possible.
It is a growing movement, with over 50 000 people committed for January 2018 (1) compared to just over 20 000 in 2016 (2). The report of the impact of 2016 Veganuary (see 1 below) argues that the month long campaign has a positive impact on helping people maintain their veganism and helping some transition from vegetarianism. meat-eating to full-blown veganism.
Or, following postmodernism, is this just a case which illustrates a new forms of ‘incredibly weak solidarity’ orchestrated through social media. Is this is just yet another faddish lifestyle culture?
From a research methods perspective, you might also want to have a look at that report on the ‘impacts’ of Veganuary… the survey asked people about their diets in the first week of February, in order to measure the impact of going vegan in the previous months… hmmm, can anyone see any problems there???? As always, answers welcome in the comments below!
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