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.
Media representations of old age
Age Concern (2000) identified three key media stereotypes of the elderly. Old people were disproportionately represented as:
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!
Chapman et al (2016) Sociology AQA A-level Year 2 Student Book
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.
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.
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
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
Macho – An openly sexual look which exaggerates aspects of traditional masculinity, as exemplified by the village people.
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,
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’.
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 Sarrubbaargues 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:
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.
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:
Roles Occupations or positions usually associated with a specific gender
Characteristics Attributes or behaviours associated with a specific gender
Mocking people for not conforming to stereotype or making fun of someone for behaving or looking in a non-stereotypical way
Sexualisation Portraying individuals in a highly sexualised manner
Objectification Depicting someone in a way that focuses on their body or body parts
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!
Cultural pessimists point to the possible downsides of the New Media such as the rise of Fake News, domination of a few media companies, the rise of echo-chambers, the reinforcing of elite power and increasing commercialisation.
There may be more information, more news channels and blogs, but a lot this is just copied and modified slightly, or recycled from other places.
Some of the information online may just be ‘fake news’ – deliberately misleading to serve political or corporate ends. The Vote Leave campaign is a good example of this.
More information sources make it more difficult to verify the sources of information, and this is not always possible (in which case you should not use the information!)
information overload may be a problem – having too much data too deal with.
Constant news feeds can lead to us just being ‘distracted by the new’ rather than taking the time to look at one thing in depth. We end up with a shallower understanding of the world as a result.
Domination by media conglomerates
Pessimists argue that rather than the internet being a free space which allows for the free development of individual expression, it has come to be controlled by a handful of big tech companies – namely Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook.
These companies have invested hugely in New Media in the last decade and they now control not only access to social media sites but also search engines and the web servers which store our information.
There are examples of people being de-platformed without warning or reason on YouTube and Twitter – typically those who hold radical views, suggesting these companies determine who can express what on social media.
So marginalised groups might be able to blog and have a say, but you’ll only be able to find them if these companies allow you!
Social Media has led to more polarisation and conflict – Social networks are increasingly isolated from each other into ‘bubbles’ or ‘echo chambers’ – people find other people with the same views as them and they all follow each other and just reinforce their own views of the world. People are now less likely to see views which challenge their own. As a result, we have a polarisation of opinion. The case of Brexit is a great example of this.
As well as allowing for ordinary people to connect with each other globally, the internet also makes it easier for organised crime to commit phishing (mass emails) and to sell drugs online, among other crimes.
Groups like 4chan are also a good example of the downside of online global communities – largely anonymous groups who organised collective trolling and hacking just for the lols.
Reinforcing Elite Power
Mainstream political parties now run sophisticated advertising campaigns using big data to manipulate the public into voting for them: Trump’s campaign and the Brexit campaign are two examples of this.
Larger political parties and corporations have more money to spend on advertising to keep their biased information at the top of internet search engines such as Google.
The most radical views are censored – while individuals may be free to express any opinion online, some of the most radical have de-platformed.
Politics is much less visible than entertainment on the internet – suggesting critical political thought is ‘drowned out’ more than ever
Surveillance – the ex-CIA analyst claimed in 2015 that the British security services had the technology to access the information stored on people’s smartphones.
Increasing consumption and commercialisation
The internet seems to have turned into a sphere of consumption, where most of what we see is aimed at selling us something. It is hard to read some news sites, such as The Independent, because of the sheer amount of space devoted to advertising.
Companies such as Amazon use the data we collect to find out our preferences and sell it to advertising companies, so they can target ads at users more effectively, thus manipulating them to buy products they wouldn’t normally buy – it’s estimated that 1/3rd of all Amazon purchase are a result of ‘recommendations’ for example.
This is a very brief ‘list post’ – more depth posts (and references) to follow later in 2019!
Pluralists argue that power in democratic, free market societies is spread out among diverse competing interest groups, and not concentrated in the hands of a minority economic elite, as Marxists suggests. According to pluralists, no one group has a monopoly on power. Their view of the media reflects their view of power in society more generally.
Media content driven by profit
Pluralists argue that in democratic, free market economies different media companies must compete for customers, and so they must provide the kind of content those customers want in order to make a profit and survive. If a company fails to provide the kind of news and entertainment that people need and want, customers will simply stop buying their media products and go elsewhere, forcing that company out of business.
It follows that control over media content ultimately lies with consumers, not the owners of media, because the owners need to adapt their content to fit the demands of the consumers.
Media owners primarily want to make money and so they would rather adapt their media content to be more diverse and keep money coming in, rather than use their media channels to publish their own narrower subjective views and opinions.
Media content thus doesn’t reflect the biased, one sided views of media owners, it reflects the diverse opinions of the general public who ultimately pay for that media content. The public (being diverse!) generally don’t want one-sided, biased media!
Consumers determine content
From the pluralist perspective audiences are active rather than passive and not easily manipulated. They are free to select, reject and re-interpret a wide range of media content, and they increasingly take advantage of new technologies and new media to produce their own content.
It is thus ultimately the consumers of media/ the wider audience who determine media content rather than the media owners.
Journalists not controlled by owners
Finally, pluralists point out that on a purely practical level media owners of large global corporations cannot personally determine the content of all their media products, there are too many products and too many global-level management issues to keep them occupied. Thus producers, editors and journalists have considerable freedom to shape media content, free from the control of the big bosses.
Criticisms of Pluralism
Ultimately it is still owners who have the power the hire and fire journalists and they do have the power to select high level editors who have similar views to themselves, which may subtly influence the media agenda.
It still requires a lot of money to establish a large media company, and ownership remains very concentrated. There is relatively little journalism which is both independent and widely consumed.
Owners, editors and most journalists share an upper middle-class background and a conservative worldview.
The pressure to maintain profits has led to narrowing of media content – more towards uncritical, sensationalist entertainment and less likely to be critical and independent.
Ebola recently resurfaced in Democratic Republic of Congo, and has now infected more than 2500 people in the Eastern part of the country, near the border with Uganda.
Ebola is one of the world’s most infectious and deadliest diseases: as of 22nd July 2019 the World Health Organisation reported 2503 cases in this latest outbreak, with 1764 deaths. (Source: Relief Web).
The World Health Organisation first declared an Ebola outbreak in the DRC in August 2018, but the number of cases have increased dramatically since Spring of 2019. This is now the second largest Ebola outbreak after the 2014-16 epidemic in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone, which killed 11, 300.
Health workers have a new vaccine which appears to work to deploy to help keep the disease under control but they face the following barriers to treating people:
There is ongoing conflict in Eastern DRC. This extends to attacks on health care facilities – there have been around 200 such attacks reported which have killed 5 people.
Local people are being displaced as a result of the conflict – at least 300 000 so far, and some of these are heading across the border to Uganda, where there have been some reported cases of Ebola.
There is a local rumor that aid workers are actually infecting people with Ebola because they are ‘paid by the corpse’ – and in a country mired by corruption and conflict, I guess this sounds plausible.
It remains to be seen whether the Ebola outbreak can be kept under control: the ongoing conflict and local suspicions are certainly going to hamper efforts, and it seems aid agencies are going to have to spend a lot of time working with locals and building trust in order to keep things under control!
Relevance to A-level Sociology
This recent tragedy should be of interest to any students studying the Global Development module in A-level sociology. The case of Ebola in the DRC illustrates the relationship between conflict and health problems and it also shows some of the local challenges Aid agencies face when trying to deliver emergency aid.
What can prison population statistics tell us about Crime Control in the UK? Is Prison an effective strategy for controlling crime?
These are questions that should be of interest to any student studying the Crime and Deviance option within A-level sociology.
Scotland, England and Wales have high prison populations
In England and Wales we lock up 40% more people than in France and almost twice as many people as they do in Germany, which are broadly comparable countries.
Yet there is no link between the prison population and levels of crime
England and wales have seen a rising prison population and a rising then a rapidly falling crime rate
Finland has seen a declining prison population and a rising and then a gradually declining crime rate.
Canada has seen a broadly level prison population and yet a relatively stable crime rate.
Most people are serving short sentences for non-violent offences
Nearly 70% of the prison population are in for non-violent offences – which means that 30% are in for violent offences. In those prisons where the two populations are mixed, this must be awful for some of those non-violent offenders.
People are getting sentenced for longer
I’m not sure what’s underlying this rise in more serious offences …. the most obvious long-sentence crime of murder has decreased in recent years, so maybe this is for violent gang related and terrorist related crimes which involve in harm rather than death ? Something to research further!
Does Prison work?
In short, if controlling crime is what you hope to achieve, then no it doesn’t because nearly 50% of those sent to prison are recalled within 1 year of being released.
However, there are more reasons why you might want to lock people up other than just rehabilitating them and preventing future offending – there is an argument that they just deserve to be punished whether they reoffend or not.
How do community service orders and suspended sentences compare to prison?
it seems that both of these are more effective at preventing reoffending, but the difference isn’t that great:
63% of people who serve sentences of less than 12 months reoffend compared to
56% of those who receive community orders and compared to
54% of those who receive suspended sentences.
HOWEVER, this may be due to the fact that those avoiding jail have different circumstances and/ or different characters to those who do go to jail – they might just be the kinds of people less likely to reoffend already!
Overall these prison statistics suggest that while we like to lock people up in England and Wales, there is little evidence that doing so prevents crime.
Maybe we should be looking for cheaper and more effective solutions – such as early intervention (initially expensive but cheaper than several years in and out of jail), or public shaming for example?
700 000 children in the U.K. are currently registered with an emotional disorder, that’s 7.2%, of 5-19 year olds, or about 1 in 13, according to a recent survey by NHS Digital.
And that’s just those children who have been formally diagnosed. That figure of 7.2% represents those children who have reached the clinical diagnoses threshold – where their distress impairs them so much that it gets in the way of their daily functioning.
The Children’s society says there are many who can’t get help because their problems are not serious enough, maybe as many as 3-4 times the above figure.
Mental health disorders have a huge economic impact, costing the UK 4% of GDP.
The show explores various possible contributors such as social media, pressurized exams, genetics and parents passing on their own worries to their children, as well as changing cultural norms which remove children’s agency.
What is anxiety?
Anxiety is the buzz word of the moment, but the anxiety which stops children going to school is different to butterflies in tummies before going on stage at the school play. The word covers both, a human experience we all feel and a clinical diagnosis.
The later type of ‘ordinary’ anxiety can be helpful in some senses, and anxiety is a normal response to stress and entirely normally developmentally – e.g. up to the age of three separation anxiety is normal as are phobias for pre-school children, and for teens there is a heightened sense of awareness of our selves and how others see us.
In order to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, the level of distress must be so debilitating that one cannot function – it’s where you can’t face going out because you’re so anxious.
There are also different types of anxiety: such as social anxiety – not being able to be scrutinized without going bright red, and generalized anxieties – about anything that can go wrong, for example.
If you get serious anxiety as a child, it harms your development – you’re behind your peers and with schoolwork, and it’s reinforcing – the more you get behind, then the more there is to be anxious about!
Anxiety Increases with age, more common with girls, strong link to deprivation and family history. It’s also affect by personality types – some are more cautious and socially shy.
What is it that’s making children feel more anxious?
Social context is important – not so long ago, children would be out playing at ages 6-7, away from their parents, developing a sense of their own agency, but we’ve now starved them of these chances to be independent in primary school – primary schools forbid children to travel their alone – hence why secondary school is now seen as more of a challenge!
It could also be parents are increasingly transferring their anxieties onto their children – linked to the fact that there are too many experts telling parents what to do and the increased pressure on ‘getting parenting right’ – anxious parents makes anxious children: they do share an environment, after all!
A recent column in The Times likened GCSEs to a type of child abuse, but increased exam pressure is dismissed as being linked to increasing anxiety, because we’ve been doing them for thousands of years, and they’re probably less stressful now than they were 30 years ago.
However, it doesn’t help that children are more sensitive about the future nowadays and that more creative subjects which many children prefer are now squeezed out in favour of English and Maths.
The show also considers the effect of Social Media – it makes sense because your social media presence is fundamentally linked to your social identity – and it doesn’t switch off, and this is especially likely to impact teens at the time of life when they’re thinking about their identities.
However, there is a lock of good evidence of the relationship between social media usage and anxiety levels: its just cross sectional but we don’t know what comes first, we don’t know what kind of social media activity teens are involved in and we don’t have longitudinal data.
Socioeconomic factors also play a role – giving time to children, both physically and emotionally is important for their development, but the lower an income you earn, then the more time you need to spend working, and the less time you have for your children.
Body Image and anxiety
There does seem to be evidence of a relationship between body image and anxiety.
A recent Mental Health Foundation Survey found that ¼ people aged 18-24 believed that reality TV shows such as Love Island makes them worry about body image.
1/3rd of young people worry every day about their body, feeling things such as shame.
Over 1/5th 17-19 year old girls have anxiety depression or both. Around 11-14 there is a relationship between obesity and anxiety, but the relationship is complex.
How to help children control anxiety…
Various solutions are offered
More resources for mental health services
Cognitive behavioural therapy is mentioned as a good way of dealing with more serious anxiety.
Forest Schools and meditation lessons in schools are day to day things we could be doing socially
Giving young people more of a sense of agency
Being prepared to listen to children and talking about anxiety.
We also need to remember that ‘normal’ levels of anxiety are helpful – without it, we probably wouldn’t care about how we perform in society, it’s a natural part of going through changes, and the best things in life don’t tend to happen in comfort zones!
Relevance to A-level Sociology
This is of relevance to the sociology of childhood, especially toxic childhood, and also research methods: we need to question whether these anxiety stats are valid or whether they’re socially constructed. The growth of anxiety might just be because there are more experts more willing to diagnose anxiety.