Introduction to Sociology

Last Updated on December 20, 2022 by Karl Thompson

An introduction to the basics of A Level Sociology 

This page contains links to several introductory posts on the core themes within AS and A Level sociology – covering sociological perspectives such as Functionalism, Marxism and Feminism; core themes such as social class, gender and ethnicity; and key concepts such as socialisation, identity, power and differentiation.

An Introduction to Sociology

These posts make up part of a two-week introductory block I do with my own students, and the aim is to introduce class, gender and ethnicity and sociological perspectives. If I had time, I’d introduce research methods too at this stage, I don’t because I’m under pressure to get the first key assessment out early which means we need to crack-on with the families module as soon as possible. Bloody system, a bunch of 16 year olds could design a better one. 

What is Sociology? –  A summary of Anthony Giddens’ definition of what sociology is and what ‘doing sociology’ involves

What is the Sociological Imagination? Part 1A summary of Anthony Giddens’ take on the Sociological Imagination, using the example of coffee to illustrate how you might apply the sociological imagination to every day events. 

What is the Sociological Imagination? Part 2An extract from C.Wright Mills’ classic book ‘The Sociological Imagination’

Big Sociological Questions a list of the ‘big questions’ we cover in the course of A-level sociology – such as ‘to what extent is the individual shaped by society’ and ‘is social progress possible any more>’. ?

An introduction to culture, socialisation and social norms – these three key concepts form the basis for sociology – introducing the basic sociological idea that behaviour is learnt through culture, rather than determined by biology. 

Nature and Nurture Explanations of Human Behaviournature theories explain human behaviour in terms of biological differences between individuals, nurture theories, which encompass pretty much all social theories (with the exception of aspects of New Right thought) emphasise the importance of social influences, such as the process of socialisation. 

What is Society?  this handy overview of the concept by Giddens demonstrates the difference between ‘modernist’ (i.e. Functionalist) sociologists viewed society, compared to more postmodern sociologists. 

Social Stratification

Social stratification refers to how society is divided up into different groups which have different life chances. The main divisions which interest sociologists are those which arise as result of differences in wealth and income, social class, sex and gender and ethnicity, as well as age and ability-disability. The posts in this section offer an introduction to to the main types of stratification in contemporary societies and the concepts sociologists have developed to help explain these divisions.

Social Class, Wealth, Poverty and Inequality

Social Class – An Introduction to the Conceptthis post outlines ‘common conceptions’ of social class (working/ middle/ upper class) before looking at the strengths and limitations of two sociological attempts to measure social class – the Registrar General’s social class scales and the New British Class Survey.

Wealth and Income Inequalities in the UKthis post provides two’accessible’ video infographics which provide an overview of some of the seriously large wealth and income inequalities in the United Kingdom, before taking a more in-depth look at some of the data from the Office for National Statistics on wealth and income inequalities. 

What is Poverty?you might crudely say that ‘poverty’ is the opposite of ‘wealth’ – this post explores the definition of poverty, looking at the difference between absolute and relative poverty. 

The Extent of Material Deprivation in the UKmaterial deprivation, or lack of money and physical resources, is a simple way of measuring poverty – this post provides a very brief overview of the extent of it the UK

The Effect of Poverty on Life Chancesthis post outlines the ways in which poverty restricts life-chances, using a range of official statistics. For example, poor kids are twice as likely to fail their GCSEs as non-poor kids. 

Exploring the Experience of Poverty in the UKsome recommended documentaries which provide an insight into the experience of poverty in the UK today, mainly focusing on child poverty. 

Sex and Gender

An introduction to sex, gender and gender identity – outlining the differences between sex and gender, traditional male and female gender roles, and the recent expressive explosion of diverse gendered identities, which certainly seem to suggest that gender is socially constructed.

Gender norms and stereotypes, a visual representationstudents might like to consider the extent to which these stereotypes still exist today and, if so, the extent to which people conform to them. 

How Equal are Men and Women in the UK? A few statistical ‘facts’ about gender inequality in the UK – limited to inequalities between men and women. 

Race and Ethnicity

An introduction to the concept of race  – sociologists generally don’t use the word ‘race’, because ‘race’ implies that there are distinct biological differences between humans, an idea which has largely been discredited. However, because the word has a long history of use in society, you still need to know about it for A-level sociology. This post covers the history of the concept of race, and ‘racialization’. 

An Introduction to Ethnicitywhile the concept of race has largely been discredited, there are still ethnic differences between peoples. To simplify to the extreme, ethnicity refers to social differences, while race (is usually used to) refers to biological differences. 

What is Racism?this post explores the definition of racism along with the related concepts of prejudice and discrimination, institutional racism and power differences in society. 

Sociological Perspectives

An Introduction to Sociological Perspectives – introducing the difference between structural and action perspectives, conflict and consensus perspectives and modern and postmodern perspectives on society.

An introduction to FunctionalismFunctionalism is what is known a structural consensus theory – it emphasises the importance of socialisation, shared values and social order in society. 

An introduction to MarxismMarxism is a structural conflict theory – it sees society as divided up into two basic classes – the Bourgeoisie and the Proletariat. As they see it, social institutions are basically run by and for the Bourgeoisie, who exploit the Proletariat to keep themselves rich. 

An introduction to Feminism – covering basic concepts such as sex and gender, patriarchy and the public private divide. 

Liberal, Radical and Marxist Feminist Perspectives on Societya basic introduction to these three Feminist perspectives on society. 

An introduction to social action theory – social action theorists try to understand human action by looking at how people interpret their world and the actions of others. This post offers a brief introduction to some of the key ideas associated with this perspective including the importance of self-concept and the basics of labelling theory. 

From Modernity to Postmodernity – the previous four theories (functionalism, marxism, feminism and social action theory were all conceived in the age of modernity (mainly the 19th to mid 20th century); however, most sociologists agree that since the 1970s we have been living in the age of postmodernity – this post introduces some of the differences between these two historical periods.

An introduction to postmodern social thoughtpostmodern thinkers argue that the shift to postmodern society means that sociology needs to focus on new issues such as the globalisation, consumerism and identity, individual freedom, diversity and difference and risk and uncertainty.

Overview of the AS and A Level Courses – Content, Core Themes and Assessment

The AQA provide a very brief formal specification (which has its pros and cons) and a slightly fuller scheme of work on its website – but none of these sources are sufficient for teachers of Sociology, let alone students to really ‘know what you need to know’.

To understand what you need to know, you need to look at the main AQA endorsed text books and revision guides – the exam board actually uses these to set the exam. The structure below is based on my 15 years of experience interpreting what I think the exam board wants you know – that is the minimum you need to know in each ‘sub-topic’ area in order to get you maximum knowledge marks in an essay question which may come up in one of the exams (NB – knowledge marks are only half the story, the other half (or so, it varies from question to question and paper to paper) are for application, analysis and evaluation).

Anyway – for your pleasure and enjoyment – a series of links to how I think AS and A level sociology should be structured into sub-topics (NB – this works, our results are ‘outstanding’).

It’s worth noting here that some of the modules below are optional, and different centres may teach different options – all centres have to do education, research methods, and theories, but everything else is optional – the options I choose are families, crime and deviance and global development.

AS and A Level Sociology – At a Glance – An extremely brief overview which outlines the main modules and the main topics within each module – It’s easiest to think of the first year as having three ‘modules’ – families and households, education (with methods in context) and research methods and the second year as having a further three modules – crime and deviance, theory and methods and global development. 

AS and A Level Sociology – Whole Course Overview – A more detailed version of the above, which includes modules, sub topics and ‘sub-sub-topics’.

Core Themes in AS and A Level Sociology – There are SIX core themes which the AQA say you need to know, which run all the way through both years – Culture, Identity, Socialisation, Power, Stratification and Differentiation. You probably won’t be taught these discretely, but the AQA reserves the right to emphasise any of these in any question on any paper. 

Assessment Objectives in AS and A Level Sociology – Knowledge and Understanding (of concepts, theories, research) is worth about 50% of the marks in the exam, the other 50% are for Application, Analysis and Evaluation. 

Good resources for exploring AS and A Level Sociology further – To get the most out of sociology, and to really ‘get it’ at all, it helps to be reading around the subject – this post provides a few links. 

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