Is poverty a social problem in the UK?

Is poverty a social problem in the UK today?

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Whether or not we regard Poverty as a social problem depends on:

  • how we define and measure ‘poverty’
  • the extent to which we think individuals are responsible for their own poverty
  • our perspective on what we think the consequences of other people’s poverty will be for society as a whole
  • Whether we ‘care less’ about other people’s poverty.

In this post I’m going to focus on one definition of poverty: ‘destitution’, as defined by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (source below)

Is destitution problem in the UK?

The JRF defines destitution as when an individual cannot afford the basic material essentials which are necessary to leading a secure life. These essentials include housing, food, weather appropriate clothing and footwear, heating, electricity and basic toiletries.

According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 1.5 million people in the UK were in ‘destitute’ at some point in 2017, the latest figures available.

It’s worth noting briefly that nearly everyone who was (and probably is currently) destitute was either homeless or in temporary or sheltered accommodation.

Destitution in the UK is a social problem…

If you believe that everyone has the right to the basic material necessities of life, then you’d probably regard the fact of such a huge number of people being destitute as a social problem. This certainly seems to be the view of those at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

If you watch the video below in which the JRF define destitution there are lots of references to how it’s not acceptable for people to be destitute today.

If you’re the kind of person that’s upset by other people’s suffering, then you’d probably also regard this number of people as being destitute as a social problem – it doesn’t take that much empathy to realise that the state of destitution is extremely unpleasant.

Not only can being destitute involve being hungry and cold and being excluded from many aspects of social life (because you’ve got no money!), it can also mean living in a state of anxiety over the future if you can’t afford to pay the rent, and maybe depression that your situation has no end in sight.

Destitution today might also be the breeding ground for future problems for individuals and society – a hungry child not concentrating in school will get lower educational outcomes and be less employable in the future; someone living in a cold damp house now is more likely to develop long term chronic health problems – both situations which could mean those people being a long term drain on the nation’s resources in the future.

A further reason you might regard destitution as a problem is because of the non-necessity of it! We clearly have the resources in the UK to ensure that every single individual at least has the basic necessities of life, and yet there are 1.5 million people who lead lives so insecure that they’re not having their basic needs met!

People are probably more likely to think destitution is a problem if the reasons for it are not the fault of the individuals experiencing it – if they have fallen into destitution because of ill-health, a relationship breakdown, abuse, losing a job, or even something as basic as a high cost of living (rent, bills etc.). In such situations, maybe it is desirable that the benefits system kicks in and acts as a safety net.

The extremes of destitution existing alongside extremes of wealth might bother some people because of the social injustice of it, especially if they believe that destitution exists because of the means whereby the rich have got wealthy.

Finally, destitution might well lead to crime and social unrest. If people are hungry they might turn to crime to feed themselves, and if they collectively come to perceive their situation as one that is not fair or just, social unrest may be the result.

So it would seem that there several reasons, emotional and rational for why you might perceive destitution as a social problem!

Destitution in the UK is NOT a social problem…

Firstly, if you’re being hard-nosed about it you might point out that 1.5 million people is not that many – it’s only 2.5% of the population. And according to the JRF 2018 report into destitution, this number is declining.

The definition/ measurement of destitution used by JRF is quite ‘soft’ – someone only had to go without two of those basic needs above for a month in 2017 and they were counted in the statistics. You might think it’s not that bad going hungry for one month in a year, it’s not starvation, it’s unlikely to lead to long term malnutrition.

Then there’s the fact that you simply might not believe in individual rights. You might believe that individuals are not ‘entitled’ to anything, and if they fall on hard times it’s tough luck.

Or you might believe in radical individual responsibility and think that if individuals are destitute, for whatever reason, it is their job to lift themselves out of it, in which case the problem of destitution isn’t a social problem, it’s an individual problem, although this particular view point is quite anti-sociological, in fact it’s possibly the very opposite of the sociological imagination.

Even if you’re more left-wing and believe that the individual is NOT entirely responsible for their own poverty, but rather it’s something to do with the system, then it’s not poverty as such that’s ‘the real problem’ – it’s whatever you believe has caused poverty.

Finally, even if there are identifiable correlations between destitution and crime/ social unrest, it might be that with more measures of control (e.g. harsher penalties, more police, as right realists suggest) we might still be able to mitigate the worst effects of destitution.

Conclusions. .

Whether you think destitution in the UK is a social problem very much depends on your values.

If you’re leaning towards the left you’re more likely to believe that povert has social causes and that more equality is good, so are more likely to perceive destitution as a social problem with social solutions.

If you’re more right leaning, you’re more likely to frame destitution as an individual problem, have less of a problem with higher levels of inequality and think that individuals and society can and should adapt to cope with a certain degree of destitution, which individuals largely bring on themselves.

Finally, whether you think it’s a problem or not depends on your definition and measurement of it, and TBH with the soft definition used by the JRF I’m actually finding myself leaning to the view that destitution in the UK is NOT a serious social problem.

Sources/ find out more

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I’m not so sure Stuart is the victim of someone playing the race card…

Alastair Stewart recently resigned his position as a news reader for ITV, following accusations that he’d made a racist comment towards someone on Twitter.

Stuart was having a twitter conversation with Martin Shapland about the relationship between the taxpayer and the crown, and in a reply to Shapland he used a Shakespear Quote:

“But manproud man, Dress’d in a little brief authority, Most ignorant of what he’s most assur’d— His glassy essence—like an angry ape.

Shapland, who is black, picked up on the ‘ape’ part of the quote and accused Stuart of being racist, and trying to disguise a racial slur within a quote.

Stuart resign from his 40 year career as a news anchor before he was sacked – that tweet above which broke ITV’s guidelines on the use of social media.

NB Shapland has said that he didn’t want him to resigned/ be sacked, and that an apology would have done.

But is this an example of racism?

The first thing suggesting that the tweet had no racist intent is that Stuart has used that quote with other people, which suggests that the intention is to suggest someone’s opinion is invalid because it is not properly informed with all of the facts, rather than it referring to someone’s racial background.

The second thing in Stuart’s defence is his track record: I’ve never come across a sniff of him being Racist before? Obviously all is colleagues and friends say he isn’t, but then they would… but if one was racist, you’d expect something to have ‘come out’ after 40 years in the media spotlight?

Finally, there’s the background of Shapland – some of his previous tweets suggest he’s something of a ‘race warrior’, with some of his tweets calling out white privilege.

I’ve been looking around for an example of something that appears to be racist, but on slightly closer examination . almost certainly isn’t racist, and this seems to be a good example of that!

This feels like ‘trial by social media and political correctness’

As I understand it, in the eyes of the law (certainly where hate crime is concerned) if a victim perceives there to be racial intent, then there is racial intent, so in that sense, ITV had no choice to but to let Stuart go.

However, in this case, the objective truth seems more likely to be that there was any racial intent in that tweet:

It’s probably even the case that even Shapland himself didn’t really think Stuart was being racist: rather it feels like what happened is that Shapland sent off a terse reply ‘playing the race card’ without really thinking about it as part of a social media tiff.

And in the rapid world of social media, you might be able to delete those kind of tweets, but not before someone else has screen shotted and retweeted them!

Final thoughts

To my mind this is a very postmodern event – this kind of thing just couldn’t happen outside of social media.

I don’t think this has turned out too well for Shapland either – he’s getting a lot of actual abuse on twitter now, Stuart has been a popular part of our media landscape for generations!

Also, careful how you use Twitter, it’s not a great case for ‘debates’!

Marxism in Pictures

A selection of images to represent some of the main Functionalist concepts for A level sociology. Concepts covered include the organic analogy, socialisation, integration, regulation, anomie and more!

This post aims to simplify some Marxist concepts by representing them as pictures and providing some brief definitions…

For more detailed posts on Marxism you might like any of the following:

Feminisms

Capitalism and Class Structure

Society is structured like a pyramid, those with capital at the top

Society’s Structure is made up of institutions

Bourgeoisie and Proletariat

Exploitation

Lies at the heart of the capitalist system according to Marx

Surplus Value

Alienation

Where workers feel detached from their work, not at home in the work place, not in control, thus ‘alienated’

Ideological Control

Institutions such as the media teach the masses to be passive and not criticize the injustices of the capitalist system

Communism

An economic system based on shared ownership of the means of production

Revolution

Necessary to achieve Communism according to Marx

Repressive state apparatus

State institutions which perform ‘obvious’ social control – such as the police and the army

Ideological state apparatus

Institutions of the state which achieve social control through controlling people’s minds – namely schools

Organic Intellectuals

Middle class individuals who will emerge to educate the masses to be more critical of capitalism, according to Gramsci

Commodity Fetishism

Where we value material objects (and money) more than people and social relations

False Needs

The desire for unnecessary products created by advertising. False needs are necessary to keep capitalism going 

Correspondence Principle

Where norms learnt in school prepare children for their future exploitation in work

Neo-colonialism

Where western global institutions make developing countries economically dependent on western countries

The reproduction of class inequality

Where inequalities between classes are carried on across the generations, as wealth and poverty get passed down

The Transnational Capitalist Class

The new global capitalist class – world political leaders, billionaire and heads of large companies etc.

Marxism in pictures final thoughts

Marxism is a pretty complex theory, and this post does ‘simplify to the extreme. For more in depth posts on Marxism, please follow the links on my Theory and Methods page!

Competition …. Win REVISE tokens!

Post a picture in the comments of a picture which you think represents a Marxist concept, along with a short (20-100 words) explanation of why it’s a relevant picture.

Prizes

Prizes will be awarded purely at my own sole discretion.

  • First prize – 50 REVISE
  • Second prize – 30 REVISE
  • Third prize – 15 REVISE
  • First ten entries all receive 2 REVISE each, just for entering!
  • If you submit a hand-drawn original work of art or photo as part of your entry I’ll gift you 10 REVISE!

I’m going to make this a 6 month rolling competition and these prizes are going to be awarded EVERY MONTH – from December 2019 until May 2020.

WTF are ‘REVISE’ tokens?

The REVISE token is ‘ReviseSociology.com’ token. It’s basically a crypto-currency I’ve conjured out of virtual space which you can use on the site.

REVISE tokens can be redeemed for money off my revision resources and revision Webinars, all for sale in my Sellfy shop.

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NB signing up is a bit of a mission, but I’m on Steem myself and can thoroughly recommend it. Unfortunately there isn’t a viable way for me to truly integrated this Word Press site and my Steem account, so at this stage this is all separate. Integration will hopefully come in the future.

It’s just a bit of fun at this stage!

Redeeming REVISE tokens

ATM this process isn’t automated (it would cost me a fortune to pay someone to integrate all of this!) but if you want to purchase something and you’ve got some REVISE, just contact me (on here, on Steem, or via mail), tell me what you want to purchase and I’ll sort out a discount based on how many REVISE you’ve got!

You’ll need a Steem account to send me back the REVISE tokens so I can issue you the discount voucher.

If you would like a FREE INSTANT steem account, drop me a line, I’ve got about 100 free accounts I can give away!

The redeemable value of the revise token is a % off your purchase. So if you have 50 Revise then you get 50% off the purchase price. If you have 10 revise tokens, you get 10% off the purchase price.

This is up to a maximum discount of 100% of the purchase price!

You can also buy (and sell!) REVISE tokens on steem-engine.

Good luck with the competition and all the technicalities and working out the math!

Please post your competition entries in the comments below!

 

Functionalism in Pictures

A selection of images to represent some of the main Functionalist concepts for A level sociology. Concepts covered include the organic analogy, socialisation, integration, regulation, anomie and more!

Pictures are a powerful tool for simplifying key concepts in A-level sociology. In this post I select what I think are some of the most relevant pictures which represent some of the key concepts relevant to the Functionalist perspective on society.

The Organic Analogy/ society as a system

Institutions in society work together, like  organs in a body

Social Structure

Society’s Structure is made up of institutions

Social Facts

Durkheim theorized that social facts were ways of thinking, feeling and acting which were external to the individual and which constrained the individual.

Value Consensus

Society is based on shared values

Social Evolution

Societies gradually become more complex over time.

Mechanical and Organic Solidarity

Functional Fit Theory

The nuclear family emerged to ‘fit’ industrial society

Socialisation

Individuals learn the norms and values of society, within institutions

Stabilisation of Adult Personalities

Traditional gender roles within the nuclear family provide necessary emotional and psychological support for individuals.

Meritocracy

Individuals are rewarded on the basis of effort + ability. Both meritocracy and role allocation are key ideas in the Functionalist perspective on education.

Role Allocation

Where the exam system ‘sifts’ people into appropriate jobs based on their level of achievement

Social Integration

The more connections people have to others and institutions within society, the more integrated they are.

Social Regulation

Social regulation is the extent to which there are clear norms and value (‘rules’) which guide people in life.

Anomie

Anomie is a state of normlessness, brought on by rapid social change or breakdown. Lack of social integration or regulation can both lead to anomie

Functionalism in pictures final thoughts

This isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list of concepts, or definitive definitions, the idea of this post is to ‘simplify to the extreme’. For more in depth posts on Functionalism, please follow the links on my Theory and Methods page!

Competition …. Win REVISE tokens!

Post a picture in the comments of a picture which you think represents a Functionalist concept, along with a short (20-100 words) explanation of why it’s a relevant picture.

Prizes

Prizes will be awarded purely at my own sole discretion.

  • First prize – 50 REVISE
  • Second prize – 30 REVISE
  • Third prize – 15 REVISE
  • First ten entries all receive 2 REVISE each, just for entering!
  • If you submit a hand-drawn original work of art or photo as part of your entry I’ll gift you 10 REVISE!

I’m going to make this a 6 month rolling competition and these prizes are going to be awarded EVERY MONTH – from December 2019 until May 2020.

WTF are ‘REVISE’ tokens?

The REVISE token is ‘ReviseSociology.com’ token. It’s basically a crypto-currency I’ve conjured out of virtual space which you can use on the site.

REVISE tokens can be redeemed for money off my revision resources and revision Webinars, all for sale in my Sellfy shop.

You’ll need a Steem account to receive your REVISE tokens. Steem is a decentralised, censorship resistant cryptocurrency based social media platform. You can sign up here, or drop me an email if you’d like a free account. Once you’ve got an account, I can send you your tokens!

NB signing up is a bit of a mission, but I’m on Steem myself and can thoroughly recommend it. Unfortunately there isn’t a viable way for me to truly integrated this Word Press site and my Steem account, so at this stage this is all separate. Integration will hopefully come in the future.

It’s just a bit of fun at this stage!

Redeeming REVISE tokens

ATM this process isn’t automated (it would cost me a fortune to pay someone to integrate all of this!) but if you want to purchase something and you’ve got some REVISE, just contact me (on here, on Steem, or via mail), tell me what you want to purchase and I’ll sort out a discount based on how many REVISE you’ve got!

You’ll need a Steem account to send me back the REVISE tokens so I can issue you the discount voucher.

If you would like a FREE INSTANT steem account, drop me a line, I’ve got about 100 free accounts I can give away!

The redeemable value of the revise token is a % off your purchase. So if you have 50 Revise then you get 50% off the purchase price. If you have 10 revise tokens, you get 10% off the purchase price.

This is up to a maximum discount of 100% of the purchase price!

You can also buy (and sell!) REVISE tokens on steem-engine.

Good luck with the competition and all the technicalities and working out the math!

Please post your competition entries in the comments below!

Representations of men in the media

This post focuses on traditional representations of men as reinforcing aspects of hegemonic masculinity before considering some of the changes to male representations in more recent years.

Traditional representations of men reinforce hegemonic masculinity

Traditional representations of men have ascribed certain attributes to male characters such as strength, power, control, authority, rationality and lack of emotion. In other words, media representations of men have reinforced hegemonic masculinity.

Gilmore has summarised this even more simply, arguing that the media stereotype men into ‘the provider, the protector and the impregnator’.

Violence as a normal part of masculinity  

According to Earp and Katz (1999) the media have provided us with a steady stream of images which define violence as an ordinary or normal part of masculinity, or in their own words….

“The media help construct violent masculinity as a cultural norm. Media discourse reveals the assumption that violence is not so much a deviation but an accepted part of masculinity”.

Wider representations of men and masculinity

Children Now (1999) conducted research in the late 1990s and found that there were six common types of representation of men in the media

  • The joker – uses laughter to avoid displaying seriousness or emotion
  • The jock – demonstrates his power and strength to win the approval of other men and women
  • The strong silent type (James Bond) – being in charge, acting decisively, controlling emotion and succeeding with women.
  • The big shot – power comes from professional status
  • The action hero – strong and shows extreme aggression and violence
  • The Buffoon – a bungling father figure, well intentioned and light hearted. (Homer). Hopeless at domestic affairs.

(Boys to Men: Media Messages About Masculinity, Children Now 1999).

The Crisis of Masculinity, the New Man and changing representations of masculinity

As with women, the changing roles of men in society are reflected in changing representations of men in the media.

Representations of men are moving away from absolute toughness, stubborn self-reliance and emotional silence with more male characters being comfortable with showing emotions and seeking advice about how to deal with the problems of masculinity.

There are also an increasing amount of images within advertising which encourage men to be concerned with body image and appearance as well as a sexualisation of male bodies, in which they are presented as sex objects for female viewing pleasure, much in the same way as female bodies have been traditionally been used by the media.

Evaluate the pluralist view of the ownership and control of the media.

Read Item N below and answer the question that follows.

pluralism essay question.PNG

Applying material from Item N and your knowledge, evaluate the pluralist view of the ownership and control of the media.

Commentary on the Question

This seems to be a standard question, with the item picking up on the fact that the media are democratic and provide equality of opportunity and that they respond to the needs of the audience.

 Answer (plan)

Intro – outline Pluralism

  • content of the media broadly reflects the diverse range of opinions found in any democratic society.
  • audiences control media content as media professionals and owners produce what audiences demand because they are motivated primarily by profit.
  • media companies are in competition and if a media company doesn’t produce what audiences want, another company will and will attract more viewers.
  • In this essay I will evaluate the two points brought up in the item, using Marxist theories to develop my evaluation points.

Media are part of the democratic process

  • media are an important part of the democratic process: give different interest groups the opportunity to put forward their views (in item!)
  • Elections/ Brexit – media play a crucial role. no way that parties can get their views across to millions of voters without access to the Media.
  • The news has commentators from different political parties, suggesting that the people are well represented.
  • Social media the above seems especially true –political leaders and parties use Twitter and other outlets to voice their opinions, Donald Trump/ Momentum.
  • However, Marxists argue that there is a subtle bias in news broadcasting which favours right wing views because media owners and journalists are themselves part of the elite.
  • Gatekeeping used to keep issues damaging to the right out of the news agenda
  • Agenda setting skews debates in favour of right-wing arguments – the Green Party gets hardly any air time compared to the Brexit Party.
  • Fiona Bruce is notorious – sides with the right and is barely able to hide her sneering contempt for those on the left (e.g. Dianne Abbot). Perpetuates Dominant Ideology.
  • Some radical thinkers have been censored by social media platforms – Tommy Robinson is one example of this.
  • Advertising in political campaigns costs money – so the more money a party can spend, the more of a voice it has – the Trump campaign spent a fortune on the last election for example. Supports the Instrumentalist Marxist view that those with money control media content.
  • Social media encourages ‘echo chambers’ – while most groups are free to express themselves, they are only ever preaching to the converted – Labour’s views probably won’t be reaching Brexit voters, for example. Thus the media isn’t quite working democratically – it isn’t encouraging debate.

Media respond to the demands of the audience

  • Advertising is used effectively in the media by a range of companies to advertise their products and provide people with information about what they want.
  • Amazon, with its cheap products and peer reviews of products provide people with access to consumer goods and useful information more efficiently than ever.
  • However, from a Marxist point of view, the internet is primarily about advertising, and it is used by companies such as Facebook to manipulate people into buying things they wouldn’t otherwise – creating false needs.
  • This isn’t helped by concentration of ownership – especially vertical integration and lateral explanation
  • The fact that advertising revenue accounts for so much profit of the big four tech companies suggest more support for Marxist theories rather than pluralism –most people do not advertise anything online.
  • Advertising even influences what search results one gets on Google – suggesting that the answer to any question you ask is influenced by money.

Conclusion

In conclusion, while there is some support for the fact that New Media do allow more freedom of expression than traditional media, so there is some support for Pluralism, the content of such media does appear to be biased and limited in subtle ways, so that in terms of what we actually see, there isn’t equality of opportunity, and we are not provided with the information we want or need, so I reject the Pluralist view of the media, it remains too simplistic!

Media representations of age

This post focuses on some of the ways in which the mainstream media represent children, youth and the elderly.

Media representations of children

Children are often represented as vulnerable and as being in need of adult protection, which ties in with the way in which childhood is socially constructed in contemporary society.

The advertising industry represents children as consumers, possibly deliberately to socialise them into becoming consumers in later life, and to increase peer-pressure demand for their products.

Youth and Children’s Work has suggested that there are five major types of youth stereotype

  • Irritating/ annoying
  • Binge drinking/ drug addicted
  • The drain on society
  • The entrepreneurial go-getter
  • The exceptional super achiever.

Media representations of youth

Young people are largely represented in terms of lifestyle and identity, with much of the music and fashion industries aiming their products at young people.

Young people (teenagers especially) are also disproportionately likely to be represented as a problem – with a considerable amount of news coverage being devoted to youth gangs, crime and antisocial behaviour, rather than the challenges facing teenagers or the positive things young people do.

Historically, youth subcultures have been the focus of media led moral panics, which have tended to exaggerate the deviance of young people and sometimes increased public panic about youth subcultures, as Stan Cohen found in his classic study of the Mods and Rockers.

Charlotte Kelly (2018) has conducted research on the language used by journalists to describe young people who come into contact with the law and found there are three major types of representation:

  • Young people are dangerous
  • Young people are in need of protection
  • Young people are immature.

However, some documentaries do portray the complex issues young people face today, such as the recent spate of schools documentaries such as ‘Educating Essex’ etc, and in contemporary sitcoms such as Derry Girls.

Representations teenagers TV.PNG

Media representations of old age

Age Concern (2000) identified three key media stereotypes of the elderly. Old people were disproportionately represented as:

  • A burden
  • Mentally challenged
  • Grumpy

Lee et al (2007) conducted a study of adverts and found that old people were underrepresented, appearing in only 15% of ads, but of those 15%, more than 90% of representations were positive – portraying elderly people as ‘golden agers’ enjoying healthy, active lifestyles.

There are also significant gender differences in the way old people are represented in the media: older men are much more visible in the media than older women, and older men are much more likely to be associated with high status and work while older women are generally associated with the family and poverty.

This is very much a simplified post on this topic, more detailed investigative posts to follow! 

Sources 

Chapman et al (2016) Sociology AQA A-level Year 2 Student Book

Inside the school’s cuts crisis

This 2019 Panorama documentary is a case study in the effects of education funding cuts on one primary school in a deprived area of the U.K. in 2019.

school funding cuts effects.PNG

Summary        

This 30 minute documentary follows one primary school in a deprived area exploring the impact of cuts to education funding since 2010, and investigating the strategies adopted by the school management to deal with these funding cuts.

This particular school seems to have been hit especially hard because of its location in an area with high levels of material and cultural deprivation, meaning it educates a high proportion of disadvantaged children.

The main strategy adopted by the school is to reduce the number of support staff – a number of special education needs (SEN) pupils require additional support in class and we see how the school is facing the possibility of cutting up to seven support staff.

As a result, the parents of one pupil with autism have made the decision to pull him out of mainstream education and get him a place in a specialist school, because of the threat of his support worker disappearing, evidence of schools becoming less inclusive.

One of the staff being sacked is the librarian, and so some of the older pupils are being trained up to manage the library.

One of the initiatives the management insist on keeping alive is the school food bank: pupils who have limited food at home (maybe because their parent’s pay check has been delayed) can take home food parcels.

Relevance to A-level sociology

There are several examples of what material deprivation looks like in real life (lack of food etc.) and how this has a negative impact on students’ education.

Useful for adding to analysis of the effects of New Right/ Neoliberal education policy (cuts to education funding)

This is a good example of how education funding cuts have a negative impact on education, having a disproportionately negative impact on SEN pupils and pupils from deprived backgrounds.

However, at the same time this particular case study is an example of how such funding cuts can be managed effectively in order to minimize negative impact. This might suggest support for the New Right – IF we get competent management in schools, we can still provide a decent standard of education with fewer resources.

Having said that, Marxists might argue the selection of this school for this documentary is ideological – it gives the impression that ‘good management’ can still, on the whole, provide an effective education for most students, without the whole system falling apart.

The broader truth could be that the cuts are having more negative effects, but we don’t see this because of selection bias in sampling (we see a school with good management doing OK rather than average management struggling to cope).

Methodological strengths and limitations

Good validity (to an extent) as we get to see the negative consequences of educating funding cuts in one school, however one has to question the selection of content for the documentary – this is entirely focused on the negatives – for every pupil impacted negatively, there might be 10 who have hardly been impacted at all – the later kind of students don’t make for an interesting documentary.

Limited representativeness – this is only one school among thousands, and it’s unlikely the experience of this school will mirror the experience of other schools. The management and staff at this school are probably more competent than in the average school – the less competent you are, the less likely you are to let a film crew in to film you for a few months!

Ironically this documentary aired around the same time as Boris Johnson announced an increase in education funding, so it’s potentially already out of date. However, IF we come out of the EU without a deal this might send the economy into a downward spiral and the squeeze on education funding may continue.

Finally, while useful to ‘bring to life’ complex sociological issues, always keep in mind that documentaries are themselves social constructions, which reflect the biases of the producers.

 

Representations of sexuality in the media

Media representations of sexuality have historically been mostly heterosexual, with LGBT representations being largely invisible.

Batchelor et al (2009) found that when gay representations did appear in the mainstream media, they weren’t generally ‘integrated’ into plot lines, but rather gayness was part of the plot, seen as a source of anxiety, or as a target of teasing or bullying.

Dyer (2002) observed that ‘the person’s person’ alone does not show that a person is gay, and that the media have constructed stereotypical signs of ‘gayness’ which include certain facial expressions, vocal tones, stances or clothing.

Craig (1992) identified three media signifiers of gayness

  1. Camp – the ‘flamboyant figure of fun’ – a ‘non threatening’ representation of gayness, lying somewhere between male and female and one of the most widely found representations
  2. Macho – An openly sexual look which exaggerates aspects of traditional masculinity, as exemplified by the village people.
  3. Deviant – where gay people are portrayed as evil or devious, possibly as sexual predators or who feel guilty about their sexuality. Such representations seem to construct homosexuality as morally wrong.

Research conducted by Stonewall (2011) concluded that the LGBT community were being subjected to symbolic annihilation. They found that LGBTs were disproportionately consigned to the status of comedic relief – their characters presented as something to laugh at or deride. This was especially found to be the case with representations of lesbianism, frequently presented as over-sexualised and exotic, for male’s viewing pleasure.

Out of a total of 126 hours of television programmes analysed:

  • 5 hours and 43 minutes focused on LGBT related issues or characters
  • 46 minutes portrayed them realistically or positively.

Stoenewall noted that the majority of the coverage represented gays in particular as:

  • Unhappy and distressed about their sexual orientation
  • As people who had been bullied and rejected by their families

There was very little reference to lesbians or transsexuals.

Changing representations of LGBTs in the Media 

There are several examples of contemporary shows which have LGBT characters , and in which sexuality is largely incidental to the plots in the show, and only part of the character’s identity, rather than them being subsumed by it, as was so often the case in early representations.

Probably the most obvious example of this on British Television is Doctor Who – which has featured several gay characters in recent series.

In the USA (not UK unfortunately) GLAAD conducts an annual content analysis of the representation of LGBT characters.

Their 2019 report summarizes  content analysis of 111 primetime shows with 857 series regular characters broadcast on the main USA networks (ABC, CBS, The CW, FOX, and NBC).

They found that 8.8 percent of ‘series regular characters’ were LGBT,

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This was an increase of 2.4 percentage points from the previous year’s 6.4 percent. This is the highest percentage GLAAD has found since it first gathered data in the 2005-06 season.

Of the 8.8% of LGBT characters

  • 42% were gay men (a total of 47 characters)
  • 25% were lesbian
  • 29% were Bi+ characters make up 29 percent
  • 4% were transgender characters

The report also noted that last year, out bisexual actor Alan Cumming was the first gay lead in a U.S. scripted broadcast drama on CBS’ new series ‘Instinct’.

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However, closer analysis may reveal that although representation of LGBT characters is more common than ever, these representations may not be that positive compared to straight characters. Stefania Sarrubba argues that all of the LGBT characters in Game of Thrones are killed off before the end of the series, except for Yara Greyjoy, who does something powerful at the end of season eight (takes back the Iron Islands), but we don’t actually see this: the show ends focusing on all the straight characters. 

The LGBT community and new media

The representations of LGBTs on new media are generally more positive than in mainstream media, possibly because the content is user-generated.

Social media sites have been used to generate support for same sex marriages and companies such as Facebook and Twitter seem to be broadly supportive of the LGBT community.

Facebook highligeted its support for the LGBT community with its Celebrate Pride Rainbow Filter in 2015 and there were 3.6 million tweents in 2015 that used the #lovewins relating to the Supreme Court’s decision to legalise same sex marriage.

However, research by the University of Alberta tracked all public tweets in the period 2012-15 that used four negative terms about the LGBT community and recorded 56.5 million homophobic comments.

In 2018 Stonewall recently launched its BAME LGBT Voices documentary series to give more a voice/ presence to the diverse range of ethnicities and sexualities which are often under-represented in mainstream media, one such example:

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The U.K. now bans ads which reinforces gender stereotypes

In 2017 the Advertising Standards Authority published a report on gender stereotypes in advertising, prompted (among other things) by the hundreds of complaints it had received from the public about Protein World’s 2015 ‘Beach Body Ready’ advertising campaign.

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That particular advert led a public backlash, with several people posting images of themselves and their ‘ordinary’ bodies in bikinis, vandalism of some the posters, as well as making the advertising industry reflect on how it should be representing women.

The ASA’s 2017 report identified six categories of gender stereotypes in adverts:

  1. Roles Occupations or positions usually associated with a specific gender
  2. Characteristics Attributes or behaviours associated with a specific gender
  3. Mocking people for not conforming to stereotype or making fun of someone for behaving or looking in a non-stereotypical way
  4. Sexualisation Portraying individuals in a highly sexualised manner
  5. Objectification Depicting someone in a way that focuses on their body or body parts
  6. Body image – Depicting an unhealthy body image

Two years on from the report and ads are now being banned from UK television for representing men and women in stereotypical ways.

One example is Volkswagon’s recent electric Golf ad which shows men actively doing a range of dynamic activities (such as exploring space) and closes with a woman passively sitting on a bench with a pram, watching the car go by:

A second example is this Philadelphia ad, which was banned for depicting men as poor child carers, with one of them accidentally putting his child on a food conveyor belt in a restaurant:

An effective mechanism for combating gender stereotypes in advertising?

The very fact that the ASA is now censoring ads for representing men and women in narrow stereotypical ways suggests that we should see less gender stereotyping in adverts in the future: now that ads have actively been banned from UK screens for failing to conform to these new standards, it should make ad makers more sensitive to how they represent men and women: it doesn’t take a great deal of thought to avoid stereotyping, after all, and surely most ad makers would rather make ads that can be broadcast as widely as possible, especially in countries with large consumer economies like the U.K.

The limitation of this is that the ASA only has the power the censor in the United Kingdom, not globally, and the U.K. only makes up 1% of the global population!