Should we control children’s use of mobile phones more?

The Department for Education recently revealed new guidelines on ‘banning’ mobile phones from classrooms across England. 

The D of E points out that by the age of 12, 97% of children have their own mobile phones. These can potentially cause students to get distracted from learning. Worse, they can facilitate harassment, sexual abuse and bullying in and outside of school. 

The guidelines present four models of prohibition which range from an outright ban on school premises, to allowing pupils to carry them as long as they are never used. 

Maybe these guidelines don’t go far enough?

The guidelines are just that, guidelines, they are NOT a social policy!

There is no obligation for schools to implement any of the suggested measures.  

Most schools already have strict policies on the use of mobile phones. 

More than 80% of schools forbid their use or only allow use when specifically permitted by teachers. Less than 1% of pupils use them at will when in school. 

However, despite the rules, students still use them when they shouldn’t be. One third of secondary school students say they’ve seen phones being used secretly in lessons. 

The guidelines don’t address the deeper problem of children’s exposure to social media via their phones more generally. For younger people especially, a constant string of notifications daily can fuel a toxic cycle of addiction. Many pupils will be distracted from homework and revision due to their mobiles.

Similarly these rules don’t address the harms from exposure to the more toxic aspects of social media. This will carry on outside of school, with pupils being exposed to the likes of Andrew Tate. 

Maybe what we need is more stringent societal level rules restricting children’s use of mobile phones more generally. We could, for example, only allow the sale of restricted phones to under 16s (or under 18s) that have very limited functionality. 


This material is relevant to the education module within A-level sociology. It is also relevant to social control, an integral part of the Crime and Deviance module.

Find out more

Details of the guidelines on mobile phones can be found here.

Police and Policing in the U.K. 

Policing, meant to maintain order, is performed by both police and other agencies such as private security firms. It includes functions like crime control, emergency response, and social service. Policing pervades various areas, from local to international levels, and incorporates strategies like community and problem-oriented policing. However, policing faces issues like subculture influences and unequal attention towards different societal groups. Recent years have seen efforts to reform procedures and introduce technology for more efficient policing. The rise of private security firms reflects the growing pluralization in the field.

The police have legal sanctions and are able to use legitimate force to control crime and deviance. Policing embodies the quest for general and stratified order, from parking tickets to class repression. The police are the people who the public turn to when they feel something ought to not be happening, and that someone better do something about it now!

Definitions of the police and policing

It is usual to distinguish between the police and policing.

Police: the specialist state agency tasked with crime control, order maintenance, and emergency response. 

Policing: organised forms of order-maintenance, peace-keeping, rule or law enforcement, crime investigation and prevention and other forms of investigation and information-brokering, which may involve a conscious exercise of coercive power, undertaken by individuals or organisations, where such activities are viewed by them and/ or others as a central or key defining part of their purpose (Jones and Newburn, 19888: 18-19). 

As we will see below policing may be carried out by agencies other than the police, such as private security firms. 

Five Functions of Policing 

Police work performs a variety of social functions:

  • Crime control 
  • Emergency response 
  • Social service
  • Order maintenance 
  • Political repression. 

Police Discretion and Control 

Police discretion is the leeway officers enjoy in selecting from more than one choice in carrying out their work (Mastrofski, 2004: 101). 

Discretion is inevitable given the impossibility of enforcement of every law all of the time and also because of the need for interpretation on the frontline of policing practice which often involves complex and unpredictable situations. 

James Q Wilson (1968) observed that within the police force the amount of discretion increases as one moves down the hierarchy. 

A lot of police work is low in visibility and thus regulating police discretion is difficult. However in recent years the police have been required to spend more time recording their activities and body cams have been introduced in some areas of policing. 

Police Subcultures 

Much social research suggests occupational police subcultures are best understood as a collective cultural adaptation to the everyday realities of police work rather than down to individual personality traits. 

Early studies which were based on the observations of rank and file officers identified a relatively stable set of factors which made up cop culture. 

Skolnick (1996) identified three main aspects of cop culture: suspiciousness, internal solidarity coupled with social isolation, and conservatism. 

  1. Suspiciousness arises because of the pressure to achieve results by catching offenders and the concern with danger. People and places are constantly scrutinised for signs of crime or risk. This also encourages profiling of certain people along stereotypical lines. 
  2. Solidarity and isolation reinforce one another. Solidarity emerges because of the reliance on colleagues in difficult situations, and isolation comes because of people’s reluctance to engage with authority figures, compounded by shift work. 
  3. Conservatism is due to the police’s role in upholding the status quo. 

Later studies added to this checklist: an exaggerated sense of mission, cynicism and pragmatism, machismo and racial prejudice. 

Most studies of cop culture do not support the notion of a freestanding phenomenon into which successive generations are passively socialised. 

Police culture is generated and sustained by the problems and tensions of the role of the police, structured by legal and social pressures. Culture does not determine practice, for example racist officers can be deterred. 

Many reforms over the past 30 years have seen police culture as a problem and reforms have tried to address this in three ways:

  • Introducing more diversity and preventing recruits with inappropriate views from signing up. Also training has attempted to shift views of current officers. 
  • Moves to constrain discretion. This means tightening the rules surrounding what the police can and can’t do. 
  • Making procedural justice more transparent – Building trust and legitimacy…. People are more likely to obey the law if they feel the police and other authorities are acting appropriately and treating the public fairly and with respect and dignity. 
The BBCS’ 2003 Documentary ‘The Secret Policeman‘ explored police subcultures.

Unequal Policing 

Certain groups in society tend to be over-police and certain victims are more likely to be ignored. 

Policing tends to focus on marginalised groups, for example poor young men, and ethnic minorities. Young black men in inner-city areas experience over-policing to the extent that they develop a view of the police as the enemy and distrust them, which makes developing positive working relationships very difficult. 

Domestic abuse cases have traditionally been under-policed and thus the mainly female victims have got a raw deal. Improvements have been made in recent years, but challenges still remain. 

Governance and Accountability 

Police forces are ultimately answerable to the general public, who they serve. However meeting public need is difficult as the public is so diverse and has conflicting views about what the police should be doing. 

Police and Crime Commissioners are responsible for local police force areas. They are 

  • Securing and maintaining the local police force. 
  • Holding chief constables to account. 
  • Publishing a police and crime plan with strategic objectives for the area. 
  • Work cooperatively with community safety partners and develop joined-up responses to local crime and disorder problems. 
  • Commission community safety services including victim support. 
  • Some have responsibility for fire and rescue services. 

The idea behind them is operational independence from local authorities and central government. 

Models of Policing… 

Three popular models of policing are community policing, problem-oriented and linked policing models. 

Community Policing

Community policing proposes greater citizen involvement in the identification of the problems that the police should prioritise and in how they should respond to these problems. At heart, community policing is about overcoming concerns about the legitimacy of policing in the eyes of the public.

Community policing was very popular during the 1980s when police-community relations had deteriorated in both the United Kingdom and the United States. It was championed by Left Realist Criminologists.

By the end of the 1980s community policing was orthodoxy among senior police officers, which made it difficult for them at a time when politicians were driving home more of a right realist agenda. 

The problem with community policing is that it is a vague concept: almost anything can come under the term. It involves inclusiveness, consensus and consultation, but it is difficult to pin down. 

Problem oriented policing

Problem oriented policing is often considered a variant of community policing. 

POP is an explicit attempt to make police work more analytical in the identification of problems to be addressed and constructive in the way solutions are applied to the problems identified. 

The problem with policing as usual is that it tends to treat crimes or other problems as discrete events. However, with POP it looks for patterns and connections with the aim of finding lasting solutions. 

One tool is the problem analysis triangle: the offender, victim, location. 

Another is the SARA process – scanning, analysis, response, assessment:

Sustaining such strategies continues to be problematic. 

Linked Policing 

Linked policing strategies focus on patterns such as repeat offenders or prolific offenders. There is a growing literature around ‘hotspot policing’. Experimental studies and meta-analysis show significant, if small, crime control gains with potential diffusion of gains.  (Braga et al 2019). 

This is aka evidence based policing. 

However, few forces are equipped to take this approach and the appeal of traditional policing remains strong. 

Intelligence Led Policing (ILP) – prioritises crime hot spots, repeat victims, criminal groups, prolific offenders, aim is to make policing more efficient. 

Predictive policing or smart policing is linked to big data. Uses historical data to detect spatial and temporal patterns in crime and identify likely targets for police intervention to prevent crime or solve past crimes by making statistical predictions. 

Automatic Facial Recognition (AFR)  is a variation on this. This Increases surveillance capacity of the police. 

Technologies such as AFR represent a Move to preemptive policing. This is a sectoral shift in which more responsibility lies outside of the police! 

The Pluralisation of Policing

The pluralisation of policing is the process of policing becoming more diverse including other non-police agencies taking over some of the functions of policing. 

Examples of the pluralisation of policing include…

  • The expansion of private security firms.
  • New forms of public sector policing auxiliaries such as local authority patrol forces and municipal wardens 
  • The creation of new patrolling ranks such as Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) 
  • The increase in informal community self-policing such as vigilante groups. 

Bayley and Shearing (2001) have argued that we may be moving away from the era of one system policing. 

The expansion of the private security sector is the main driver of the pluralisation of policing. There are many more private security personnel in the United Kingdom than there are police officers. 

The Security Industry Authority estimates there are 440 000 licensed security personnel in the United Kingdom compared to only 149 000 police officers. 

Security Personnel work in areas such as asset-protection, body guarding, debt collection, and door-services (‘bouncers’). The most significant expansion in recent years has been the increase in the use of CCTV monitoring, and many security personnel work in surveillance and alarm monitoring. GPS tagging services are also on the increase. 

Shearing (2006) suggests that the State is increasingly less important in providing security. He suggested that we now have a pluralised security network consisting of a range of private and public sector nodes. 

Brodeur (2010) uses the terms ‘policing web’ and ‘policing assemblage’ to describe modern policing to emphasise the idea that modern policing for security is still co-ordinated. 

Why has policing become more pluralised?

Crime has become more diverse and complex. In particular cybercrime and fraud are so complex that the police now have to work in partnerships. 

Public sector cuts mean the police are less able financially to meet security needs, and so private sector agencies have stepped in to plug the gaps. 

In some cases deliberate Tory privatisation policies have shifted previously state functions to the private sector. For example in 2012 Lincolnshire police outsourced 18 police functions to G4S, including custody services. 

The growing privatisation of public space has also resulted in an increase of private security services to manage these. 

Problems with pluralisation

  • Market pressures being involved in security provision are unlikely to improve public safety. 
  • The differential ability to pay for security services may increase inequalities. 
  • The commodification of security services may undermine public trust and civic engagement. 

The Globalisation of Policing 

The increasing globalisation of crime has resulted in the increasing globalisation of policing, where 

Transnational policing refers to activities undertaken by policing bodies that draw their authority from polities that lie beyond individual nation states. 

The International Criminal Commission was first established in Vienna in 1923, succeeded after the Second World War by the International Criminal Police Office, or Interpol. 

Interpol has expanded significantly over the last 70 years, operating in more than 200 countries today, however it is no longer the primary site of transnational policing activity. 

Two key factors behind the increase in transnational policing are the increasing reach of US law enforcement activities and the expanding power of the European Union. 

Europol was established in 1992, becoming fully operational in 1999. Europol is the Europe wide police intelligence agency which receives and provides intel from police forces in member states. 

European policing expanded significantly after the September 11th 2001 attacks Today Europol is mainly focused on transnational organised crime and international terrorism. 

In the last five years Europol’s mandate has expanded to include investigation of murder, kidnapping, hostage-taking, racism, corruption, drug-trafficking, people-smuggling and motor vehicle crime. A European Arrest Warrant exists in 15 member states. The UK is still part of Europol, despite Brexit. 

The private security and private military services have also expanded globally. The value of the global private security industry was valued at over $100 billion, and that was over 10 years ago. 

A combination of wars, ecological disasters and global economic instability has resulted in increasing mass migrations and transnational security has become increasingly focused on border control as a result. This control is a fusion of public and private agencies and raises serious concerns about human rights. 

NB it is important not to exaggerate the significance of global policing, a lot of policing remains focused on local concerns. 

Signposting and Sources

This material is mainly relevant to the Crime and Deviance module within A-level sociology.


The Oxford HandBook of Criminology.

People in England and Wales are more class conscious today!

People in England and Wales are more class conscious today than they were in the 1980s!

This is according to the latest British Social Attitudes data. The latest wave of the BSA surveys was carried out between 7th September and 30th October 2022. The sample size was 6638, which is double the usual 3000 respondents. 

Social class identity in Britain in 2022

People today are much more likely to identify as working class. 

  • 29% of people identified as middle class
  • 46% of people identified as working class. 
  • In 2022 people are more likely to identify as either working or middle class rather than ‘no class’.
  • From the 1980s of the 2010s there was a stable level of class identification. Around 30% identified as working class, and 20% as middle class
  • Since 2015 class identification has increased, for both classes. 
  • This is despite the decline in traditionally working class jobs!
graph showing changing social class identities England and Wales 1983 to 2022
PINK: percent identifying middle class, PURPLE: percent identifying working class. England and Wales, 1983 to 2022.

Methodological note 

The survey asked people the following question: 

Do you ever think of yourself as belonging to any particular social class?

  • Yes, middle class
  • Yes, working class
  • Yes (other) please write in
  • No

If they didn’t respond as being either middle or working class a prompt question followed. This referred specifically to being either class. The above figures show the unprompted responses, so people who self-identified as either middle or working class.  

Who identifies as working class?

The job someone does isn’t necessarily related to the social class they feel they are. Although people who do traditionally working class jobs are more likely to identify as working class. 

  • 62% of people in working class jobs identify as working class  
  • 38% of people in middle class jobs identify as working class. 

Level of education is correlated with social class identity 

  • 60% of people who left school with GCSEs as their highest level of qualification identify as working class
  • 28% who went to university identify as social class. 

Somewhat surprisingly income levels are less well correlated with social class identity than education. 52% of those in the lowest quintile identified as working class compared to 32% of those in the highest. 

Attitudes towards social class mobility 

84% of respondents said they thought it was fairly or very difficult to move from one class to another in 2022. This has increased from just 59% of respondents  in 2005. 

table showing attitudes towards social mobility UK

Attitudes to politics and social policy 

Those who self identify as working class are more likely to hold left wing values. They are more likely to be supportive of policies which redistribute wealth and which restrict wealth accumulation. 

Interestingly those who identify as working class are no more likely to hold authoritarian views compared to those who identify as middle class. In other words, working class people are no more likely to ‘blame the immigrants’ for our problems than middle class people. 

Relevance to A-level sociology 

This material is an important update to the social class identity topic. This topic is part of the culture and identity module. 


National Centre for Social Research (September 2023) 40 years of British Social Attitudes: Class identity and awareness still matter

Mobile phones and social identity

Rich Ling’s research in Norway between 1997 and 2000 revealed the rise of mobile phones as symbols of identity among teenagers. Initially deemed vulgar and tied to yuppie culture, by 2000 nearly all teenagers owned them, with the model and manner of display reflecting individual and group identity. Ling’s findings suggest that phone choice and presentation is influenced by peer group pressures and are valuable for studying postmodern theories of identity.

Rich Ling conducted interview research on the meaning of mobile phone use among teenagers in Norway (Ling, 2000). (1)

Ling conducted interviews in 1997 and 1999-2000 to uncover attitudes to mobile phones as a fashion item. In 1997 hardly anyone owned a mobile phone, but by 2000 nearly everyone owned them. This is an interesting study showing how this change impacted the relationship between mobile phones and identity.  

Ling saw mobile phone use as a source of group and individual identity. Mobile phones can be used to express both group membership and individual uniqueness. 

Mobile phones are not just a functional device. They are also part of an individual’s personality kit, one of the tools they use to express their identity to others. Among teenagers, the ownership and display of mobile phones is an important part of their lifestyle. 

Mobile Phones, Fashion and identity 

Ling argues fashion is a way individuals communicate intention or status to others. Material objects such as phones help the individual to express group identities, such as those related to class or ethnicity. 

Teenagers in particular are of an age where they need to establish a group identity. But they simultaneously need to collaborate with peers to include themselves in a group and exclude others. 

Fashion is the main way this is achieved, and mobile phones are part of this. However the problem with fashion is that it is always changing. To successfully negotiate group membership, you have to get in on a fashion as it rises in popularity and then out before it declines. 

In terms of mobile phones, you thus need the right mobile at the right time. Some groups subvert this by being anti-fashion, but there is still no escaping it! 

Changing  mobile phone fashions and identity

In 1997 in Norway most teenagers had pagers. At that time mobile phones were associated with yuppie culture and so were not necessarily cool. Those who owned mobile phones and constantly displayed them were seen as vulgar. 

Some teenagers who owned Nokias (a popular phone at that time) and displayed them ostentatiously saw themselves as cool, and as having status. However most others saw them as pretentious, pompous and vulgar. 

By 2000 mobiles were owned by most teenagers and simply owning or not owning one was not a significant source of identity any more. 

By 2000, the age, price and style of mobile phones had become more important as a signifier of identity. 

Having a mobile was no longer thought of as snobby. In just three years since 1997 having an old ‘brick phone’ was seen as embarrassing. Just having one of these marked you as someone who didn’t fit in. 

picture of a Motorola brick phone
The Brick Phone: already unfashionable by 2000!

The way a mobile was displayed was a source of identity. For example, carrying it around on your belt was seen as silly. 


Ling’s work can be used to criticise postmodern theories of identity. With mobile phones, individuals are not entirely free to choose which ones they use, or how they display them. At least not if they wish to fit in with certain peer groups. 

Peer groups exercise considerable power over the choice of phones individuals make. 

Signposting and relevance to A-level sociology

This post is mainly relevant to the culture and identity module. This module is an option in the first year of the AQA’s A-level sociology specification.

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(1) Ling, R (2000) “We will be reached”: The use of mobile telephony among Norwegian youth.

(2) Brick Phone image source:

Fun and Creative Ideas for Studying Sociology:

Creative ideas for learning sociology include making mind maps and using images and metaphors.

Getting creative not only makes learning more fun, it also helps you to better understand complex sociological theories and concepts and remember them more efficiently.

I have selected below some creative strategies which should help you with learning A-level sociology.

Combining Concepts…

Select two concepts, theories, sociologists, research studies, news events, and try to make the links between them!

A chart or two containing such concepts with numbers up and down the sides may help with this!


A metaphor is where you make one thing represent another in order to draw comparisons. Try to come up with metaphors for sociological perspectives, theories and even research studies.

For example, in terms of shapes Marxism can be represented by a triangle, which reflects the class structure. Functionalism is more of a square, which reflects its concern with social order and regulation.

Keep an ideas notebook or videolog

Walk around town and observe people, interactions, adverts, shops, or watch the news or any programme.

Keep a notebook of what you observe and apply sociological theories and concepts to your daily observations.

If writing is too long winded, do a photo diary or video log instead, making it visual may actually help.

Model things

If you have some lego then you might like to spend some time making models to represent different sociological theories and concepts.

This may be a little time consuming, so maybe treat this a break activity which keeps the brain ticking over!

Mind Maps!

It may be obvious from this blog that I am a huge fan of mind maps. They really are a great way of summarising complex ideas which mirror the way the brain works: one central point for each map, and then a few main points coming off the central hub and then further sub branches…

Mind map example:

NB maps can be even more effective if you make them more visual by using pictures where possible rather than just words!

Play the expert sociologist

Think of any social problem, such as a high crime rate or a failing school and either plan a research project to figure out why.

Alternatively, imagine you are a government advisor and think up social policies which may solve the problem. Or make the case for a revolution!

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A-level results are down AND the attainment gap has increased

material deprivation still affects educational achievement!

The A-level exam boards in England decided to smackdown the 2023 A-level results this year. They are now back to the pre-pandemic levels of 2019.

line chart showing trends in A-level results 2019 to 2023, England and Wales.

For the top A and A* grades the trend looks like this:

  • 2019: 25.2%
  • 2021: 35.9%
  • 2023: 26.5%

So a slight, but not significant increase in top A-level grades in 2023 compared to 2019.

This clearly demonstrates that the 2020 and 2021 results were fantasy results. This is unsurprising given that they were awarded by teachers. The 2022 results, based on pre-release exams, were merely a half way step back to this years. Last years results now seem as ridiculous as the 2020 and 2021 results. Clearly this was an attempt to maintain credibility in the exam system by not bringing back down the results too suddenly.

None of this is the fault of the students, it’s the fault of the people running the education system. You might even argue the government and exam boards did the best they good faced with the uncertainty of the pandemic.

The problem now is that this year’s cohort are the real victims of this uncertainty and flawed responses. They are now the ones with the relatively worse grades. They now face huge competition to get into scarce university places. And they are the ones that had their schooling disrupted just as much as the previous three years of students.

What a mess!

One saving grace

The one saving grace of all this is that we can probably regard this years exam results as valid JUST FOR THIS COHORT.

What I mean by this is that individuals who achieved A grades this year are probably better at exams than those who achieved C grades.

What you can’t do is compare this years results with 2020-2022. So we have a reliability problem!

  • 2019 A-levels measured students’ ability to sit exams under ‘normal conditions’ compared to previous years.
  • 2020 and 2021 measured how far teachers were prepared to take the p*** and give their students inflated grades based on their theories of what the maximum they could possibly achieve.
  • 2022 measured student’s ability to sit exams based on having pre-release knowledge of some the material they’d be assed on.
  • 2023 exam results measured students’ ability to sit exams under ‘normal conditions’ having had significant disruption to their schooling during the pandemic.

NB please note that by ‘better at exams’ that’s all I mean. A student’s ability to get an A* doesn’t necessarily mean they are more intelligent or a better potential employee than someone who gets a B grade.

The main reason for this (IMO) is that some students are better trained for exams than others. And exam training is a very narrow skill, intelligence more generally is a much broader concept.

The attainment gap has increased

The education attainment gap between private and state schools is now wider than it was before the pandemic. 47.4% of A-level entries from private schools were awarded A or A* grades compared to just 22% from state schools.

bar chart showing that schools in richer areas get better A-level results than poorer areas, England and Wales.

To my mind this suggests privately educated students have been more shielded from the disruptive effects of the pandemic over the last three years compared to state school students.

This makes sense given the material advantages these wealthy students have. Such as:

  • smaller class sizes
  • better access to online learning
  • private tuition.

Some of these resources would have been put into exam training of course, a key part of ‘hothousing’ private school children.

The attainment gap by region has also increased

If we breakdown regions in quintiles by deprivation we find that 30.3% of A-levels in the least deprived regions were awarded A and above compared to only 22.2 in the most deprived regions.

This means parental wealth and income affects educational achievement more generally. Private schools just have a more extreme advantage at the very top end. (Private schools account for around 7% of pupils, so 1/3rd of the top quintile.)

Relevance to A-level sociology

Unfortunately this shows that material deprivation still affects educational achievement.

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Sources/ Find out More

The Guardian: Equality Depends on Education

TES: A-Level Results Reveal Worsening Rich-Poor Divide

FFT Education Data Lab: 2023 A-level Results

Globalisation, Nations and National Identity

two responses to globalisation are more hybrid identities but also a retreat to more restrictive national identities.

Andrew Pilkington (2002) argues that nationalisms are socially constructed. Nationalism is a relatively recent phenomenon, despite the fact that many nationalist movements claim their origins go back thousands of years.

For most of human history, humans organised themselves in small social groups, and the idea of identifying with millions of strangers would have seemed alien.

It was only in the 18th century that the idea of nations and national identities started to emerge, encouraged by economic changes brought about through the industrial revolution. Strengthening the idea of the nation was also useful for colonialism.

A concept of ‘otherness’ was also central to developing national identities. For example the British (Protestant) national identity was developed in contrast, even opposition to the French (Catholic) national identity and vice versa.

development of mass communications that the abstract idea of the nation became possible and national identities started to be constructed.

Pilkington documented how a sense of Britishness gradually filtered down from the elite to the middle classes as the population became more literate during the 18th and 19 centuries and then down to the whole population as mass communications spread the idea more broadly.

All of the pomp and ritual surrounding the British monarchy has been a crucial part of establishing British national identity over the centuries, as well as stories about heroes who fought the French, such as Nelson.

Pilkington notes that the British National Identity has historically been very white, with Black and Asian people having almost no representation (NB this may have changed recently), but that it never managed to overwhelm Scottish, English or Welsh identities.

Globalisation and National Identity

Because they are socially constructed, ideas surrounding national identities change over time, and globalisation has had a profound impact on nations and nationalisms around the world.

Globalisation brings a dual threat to nations and national identities which come under pressure from centralisation and decentralisation.

  • Centralisation creates pressures from above, with the increasing importance of regional and international institutions such as the European Union and the World Health Organisation.
  • Decentralisation creates pressures from below with the strengthening of ethnic identities within countries and the breakup of some countries, such as the collapse of the USSR.

One response to globalisation is the strengthening of ethnic identities as ethnic minorities, such as the Welsh and Scottish within Britain (for example) stress their ethnic distinctiveness in relation to the English and campaign for more independence and autonomy from the British State – as we see with the development of the Welsh and Scottish partially devolved governments.

Some people see globalisation as threatening national identities and one response is to retreat into a more restrictive and narrow definition of Englishness. Anyone who claims that White Britishness is superior would fall into this category.

Another response is increasingly hybrid-identities as some people accept that it is possible to have multiple identities at the same time – to be simultaneously European, British and Scottish, for example.

A good example of this is Gordon Brown who once claimed that he believed Britain could be the first multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi-national state. We see a similar mind-set in any group willing to celebrate hybrid-ethnic identities.


This material should be useful for anyone studying the culture and identity module as part of A-level sociology.

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Defining ‘Youth’

youth is a flexible concept, a social construct.

Youth is a state of transition between childhood and adulthood, and in most formal definitions the period of youth spans from later childhood to early adulthood.

The United Nations (1) defines youth as the ‘period of transition from the dependence of childhood to adulthood’s independence’, setting the age of youth for statistical purposes at the ages of 15-24.

Youth: a flexible concept

The U.N. recognises that the concept of ‘youth’ is a social construct, because the ages typically associated with this period of life vary considerably from society to society. In Nigeria for example youth refers to people aged 18-35, while Brazil uses the same age ranged as the OECD (3) which places the ages for youth at 15-29.

Youth and puberty

Youth is partly associated with puberty in all societies.

Puberty is a universal biological phenomenon involving rapid physical growth, increasing strength and endurance, the development of reproductive organs, hormonal changes and more body hair.

The age at which puberty happens varies from individual to individual, but typically in the early teenage years between 10-11 and 15-17 years of age for girls and 11-12 and 16-17 for boys.

Taking the definition of youth from the U.N. above we can see that the period of youth includes the very end of puberty but mainly occurs after puberty.

Youth and Adolescence

Youth is not the same as adolescence. The World Health Organisation defines adolescence as the period between adulthood and childhood ranging from 10-19 years of age.

Hence youth includes around half of this period but also extends several years beyond it.

timeline of childhood, puberty and adolescence to adulthood
‘Youth’ starts around half way into the adolescent period.

The transitions of youth

There are several transitions commonly associated with the 10-15 year period from late childhood to full adulthood including, but not limited to…

  • Moving out of full time compulsory education which ends at 16 years of age in most Western societies.
  • Further and then higher education or training. Typically this means two years of further education and then three years of higher.
  • Low paid (relatively), varied, and maybe intermittent employment and maybe further training. (Moving into one’s first full time professional job role is often seen as one of the key indicators of having moved into full adult status.)
  • Living with parents or in shared rental accommodation.
  • Entering into one’s first long (or medium) term relationship, possible co-habitation.
  • Starting out on finding oneself and one’s true identity.
  • Importance of Leisure and lifestyle: going out, partying, music, festivals, travel.
  • Higher prevalence of deviance and drug usage.

The meanings people attach to the term ‘youth’ also vary considerably, and it can have both positive connotations such as youth being a time of energy and vigour and negative connotations such as moral panics over youth gangs and knife crime.

Individual variations in youth transitions

The fact that ‘youth’ spans such a long period of time: 15-29 years if we accept the time frame of the OECD, means we should not be surprised that there is a lot of variety in when young people transition to adulthood.

Some will go straight through Further and Higher Education and end up in their final, stable careers by age 23, or younger if they opt for higher apprenticeship route, others will take much longer because of time taken out before and after graduating.

It isn’t just individual factors that affect the age of transition to adulthood, social class and gender can have an impact too. For example middle class youth are more able to buy their own houses earlier than working class youth because of parental support, and moving into your own home is one indicator of transitioning to adulthood.

Transitions to adulthood in traditional societies

In some societies the transition from childhood to adulthood is clearly marked out through ceremonies.

For example the Nandi people of Kenya circumcise boys to mark them out as transitioning to men, and for the Bemba people of Namibia a girls transition to womanhood happens when she has her first period, when she is washed ceremonially and then isolated indoors for a period before she is allowed to return to the community as a woman.

The concept of youth: conclusions

Youth is much more of a social construct than other concepts associated with the sociology of age such as childhood and adolescence because it mostly encompasses young adulthood.

Hence this is a very broad concept spanning a very broad age range and we can expect there to be huge variation in the experience of youth both across and within societies.

Besides the semi-formal definitions of the concept provided by agencies such as the United Nations the term is commonly used informally, applied to young people of various ages often younger than 15, so when we use the term sociologically it is important to keep in mind and be clear about what ages we are referring to!


(1) The United Nations (2013) Definitions of Youth.

(2) Timeline Image of puberty, adolescence. – By Mikael Häggström – Own work, Public Domain.

(3) OECD: Updated Youth Action Plan.

Gender Biases in Health

Women are underrepresented in medical research and this forms the basis of gender inequalities in health care.

Medical systems discriminate against women, leaving them misunderstood, mistreated and misdiagnosed.

There are biological sex differences in every organ and system of the body that mean there are significant sex differences in the health issues men and women face, the causes of their different health problems and the effectiveness of the treatments we might use to tackle these problems.

But these differences have been ignored in medical education, research and diagnoses on the front line meaning that countless women have suffered and died unnecessarily because of gender-data gaps all the way through the medical profession.

This is according to Caroline Criado Perez (2019) in ‘Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in World Designed for Men’, and below I summarise her chapter on gender bias in the medical professions.

Gender bias in medical education

Medical education is focused on ‘the male norm’ such that there is a male-default bias, with women in general being seen as abnormal.

This bias against women goes back to the Ancient Greeks: Aristotle saw the female body as a mutilated male body, the female was viewed as the male turned outside in and Ovaries were female testicle, not given their own name until the seventeenth century.

Representation of the male body as the norm persists in modern medical textbooks: A 2008 analysis of over 16000 textbooks revealed that the male body was used three times more than the female body to represent ‘neutral’ body parts; and the results of clinical trials were written up as relevant to both men and women even when women had been excluded from the trials.

Gender data gaps also exist in curricula, with gender related health issues rarely taught in medical degrees, and where they are, there are only a few courses in a few universities.

Health differences between men and women

There are significant biological differences between male and female bodies

There are sex differences in lung capacity such that women who smoke the same number of cigarettes to men are between 20-70% more likely to develop lung cancer.

Women are three times more likely than men to develop Autoimmune diseases, they make up 80% of those with these diseases.

There are sex differences in our cells and our proteins, in biological markers for autism and significant differences in how males and females respond to stress.

Research on heart attacks which focus mainly on men have found that chances of survival are higher if someone has a heart attack during the day, this is reliable research which has been repeated many times. However a 2016 study found a lower chance of survival for daytime heart attacks – the difference being that this study was done on female (mice).

Research bias in health studies

Women have largely been excluded from medical research.

Since the landmark discovery of the Y chromosome in 1990 as the ‘sex determining region’, most research has focused on testes development, it is only since 2010 that we started researching the active process of ovarian determination.

In 31 landmark trials of congestive heart failure between 1987 and 2012 females made up only 25% of participants.

Women make up 55% of people who are HIV positive in the developing world and yet less than 40% of people in vaccination studies were women and less than 20% were women in studies aiming to find a cure.

Pregnant women are routinely excluded from clinical trials to the extent that we lack solid data on how to treat them for practically anything. For example during the 2002-4 SARS outbreak in China pregnant women’s health outcomes were not systematically tracked, thus we have no information on how to treat them come the next pandemic.

Women are 70% more likely to suffer depression than men but animal studies on brain disorders are five times more likely to be done on male animals.

When female viagra was found to react negatively with alcohol in 2015 the manufacturer decided to run a trial – on 23 men and two women, and they did not sex-disaggregate their findings.

A 2001 audit of FDA records found that a third of documents didn’t sex-disaggregate their data and 40% didn’t even specify the sex of the respondents.

A 2014 op-ed in the journal Scientific American complained that including both men and women in experiments was a waste of resources.

The lack of sex-specific data prevents us from giving appropriate advice to women.

For example in 2011 the World Cancer Fund complained that only 50% of studies into the impact of diet on cancer specified differences between men and women so it is difficult to give sex-specific guidance for diets for women to reduce cancer risks.

CRT-D devices are used to correct delays in electrical signals in the heart. The frequency these are set to matters, they can save lives, and for men the correct frequency is 150 milliseconds, the default setting for both men and women. However when you sex-disaggregate the data you find that a setting of 130-149 MS reduced female deaths by 76%.

Even something as basic as advice on exercise is gender biased against women: trials have found that resistance training is bad if you have high blood pressure, again the standard advice for both sexes, but more recent research has found that it might actually benefit women with high blood pressure.


Women have been dying in greater numbers than they have to be, especially because they ingest 80% of pharmaceuticals in the U.S.

The whole of the medical profession is complicit in this and things need to change to save women’s lives!

Signposting and Sources

This material shows us that there are gender biases in healthcare, based on gender biases in medical research, and it reminds us of the continued importance of Feminism today.

Source: Caroline Criado Perez (2019) Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in World Designed for Men.

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Nationalism and Modernity

Ernest Gellner argued that the nations, the nation state and nationalism had their origins in modernity, more specifically in the French and industrial revolutions of the late 18th century.

The origins of Nationalism and the feelings associated with it are thus not rooted in human nature, but in the social processes which emerged with the particular historical period of modernity.

Industrialisation led to rapid economic growth based on a complex division of labour and this required a large scale rational system to organise and direct it, hence the emergence of the nation state and its bureaucratic systems.

The modern state requires large numbers of people to interact with strangers, which in turn requires them to have some sense of connectedness to each other. Mass education based on an official language taught in schools helped to form the basis for this sense of unity on a large scale.

Map of europe late 18th century
Nations emerged with modernity and the industrial revolution in Europe.

Evaluations of Gellner

Gellner’s theory is a functionalist one, and it tends to understate the extent to which modern education systems create divisions and inequalities.

His theory doesn’t explain the persistence of nationalism: national identity extends far beyond schooling and the kind of nationalisms we see in political conflicts can’t be explained by people simply having been taught in the same language at school several years or decades earlier.

The longing some people have for national identity precedes the industrial revolution by a long way, and there have been ethnic communities which resemble nations in previous periods: such as Jewish communities which stretch back 2000 years. The Palestinian minority in Israel also claim their origins in a longer historical time frame and that they have been displaced by the creation of the modern Israeli state in 1948.

Formal nation state identities in Europe are not recognised by some ethnic minority groups in many countries. A good example of this is the Basque language and identity which spans the border of France and Spain. Basques claim a unique identity of their own, neither French nor Spanish.

Nationalism is still an important part of identity

Malesevic (2019) reminds us that nationalism still has very broad appeal and argues that it is a ‘grounded ideology’ that has mass appeal and has been part of the political projects of peoples across the political spectrum: from liberals to socialists throughout modernity.

When globalisation theory started to become popular in the 1990s some predicted that the nation state and nationalism would decline in importance.

For example, Giddens thought that the Nation State was too big to deal with local problems and too small to deal with global problems. He also thought we would see an increasing importance for a global, cosmopolitan identity.

However as examples such as Brexit, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the pro-American rhetoric of Donald Trump and Jo Biden show us, ideas of nationalism and national identity have remained a persistent part of modern society!


This material is relevant to the Culture and Identity aspect of the A-level sociology specification.

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Siniša Malešević (2019) Grounded Nationalisms: A Sociological Analysis