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The Pessimist View of Globalization

Pessimist globalists argue that globalization is a form of Western, American Imperialism. They see globalization as a process in which Western institutions and ideas are imposed on the rest of the world. Transnational Corporations are the backbone of this new global order and these are the institutions that benefit from especially economic globalization. Two examples of pessimist globalists are Ha-Joon Chang and Jeremy Seabrook.

Global Pessimism

Chang argues that neoliberals paint a false picture of the benefits of economic globalization through the spread of neoliberal economic policy, suggesting that neo-liberal policies actually benefit rich countries and corporations more than poor countries. Neoliberal policies simply make it easier for western companies to move into a poorer country, take over local businesses, extract natural resources, pay local people low wages, and leave behind a trail of pollution because there are fewer national regulations which prevent them from doing so.

Chang refers to the World Bank, the IMF and the WTO as the ‘Unholy Alliance’ and claims they exist to force developing countries down the free-trade road. For example, the IMF and the World Bank will only lend money to developing countries on the condition that they adopt free-trade policies. Change points out that, as a result, the neoliberal world economy is dominated by the developed-world – rich countries conduct 70% of world trade for example, while Sub-Saharan Africa still (even in 2017) accounts for much less than 10% of global trade.

Seabrook argues that, by definition, globalization makes all other cultures local, and, by implication, inferior. He suggests that globalization implies a superior, civilised mode of living – it implicitly promises that it is the sole pathway to universal prosperity and security – consequently diminishing and marginalisation local cultures. Seabrook suggests that globalization sweeps aside the multiple meanings human societies and cultures have derived from their environments. He argues that integration into a single global economy is a ‘declaration of cultural war’ upon other cultures and societies and that it often results in profound and painful social and religious disruption.

Pessimists are further concerned about the concentration of the media in the hands of a few, powerful media corporations. Media conglomerates, mainly American (such as Disney, Microsoft, Time Warner and AOL) and Japanese (Sony) have achieved near monopolistic control of newspapers, film, advertising and satellites. It is suggested that media moguls are able to influence business, international agencies and governments and, consequently, to threaten democracy and freedom of expression.

It is also argued that such companies are likely to disseminate primarily Western mainly American, forms of culture. For example, most films releases by these organisations are produced in Hollywood and of a formulaic (predictable) plot. There have been concerns that these Western forms of culture reflect a cultural imperialism that results in the marginalisation of local culture.

Steven argues that ‘for the past century, US political and economic influence has been aided immensely by US film and music. Where the marines, missionaries and bureaucrats failed, Charlie Chaplin, Mickey Mouse and the Beach Boys have succeeded effortlessly in attracting the world to the American Way’.

Finally, mass advertising of Western cultural icons like McDonald’s and Coca-Cola has resulted in their logos becoming powerful symbols to people in the developing world (especially children) of the need to adopt western consumerist lifestyles in order to modernise.

Cultural globalization may therefor eventually undermine and even destroy rich local cultures and identities. Barber and Schulz (1995) fear the globalized world is turning into a monoculture, or McWorld in which cultures and consumption will be standardised, while other commentators have expressed concern about the coca-colonisation of the developing world.

Supporting Evidence for the pessimist view of globalization

global pessimism

1. Increased trade has had unequal benefits. Mainly Europe and America, lately Asia have benefited, but most of Sub Saharan Africa is largely left behind.

  • The graph outlining economic growth since 1800 in different continents on page 1 of the intro to GD document illustrates this point very well..
  • For a good example of the pessimist view of globalisation read KT’s summary of ‘liquid times’ by Zygmunt Bauman – You only need read the sections entitled ‘surplus people’ and ‘the experience of inequality’. I suggest you read selectively and look for three examples that illustrate Bauman’s point: ‘when the rich pursue their goals, the poor pay the price’. 

2. TNCs pollute, extract resources from and exploit cheap labour in the developing world. E.G.s include Shell in Nigeria, Coke in India and of course the Bhopal incident in India.

Also see the following video sources (you can search for both on estream)

  • The Age of Stupid (section on Shell in Nigeria)
  • Crude – The Real Cost of Oil (outlines Chevron’s pollution of the Amazon

3. Culture may be increasing global, but this mainly means Americanisation according to Pessimists. This takes the form of Cocacolonisation, and Dysnification – where American forms of popular culture and the shallow materialism this promotes erode local traditions. Another aspect of this is Mcdonaldisation

  • this and this suggest possibly suggest one of the downsides of the spread of consumer culture…
  • This illustrates the threat of Americanisation and Cocacolonisation very well – how some French people view Coca Cola as undermining their national identity. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DxjMqrZ6psw
  • This site does a very good job of explaning what Mcdonaldisation is – http://www.mcdonaldization.com/

4.    Sport may be increasingly globalised, but just as with trade there are winners and losers, especially where the Olympics are concerned… 

5. Rather than the spread of democracy, it is more accurate to talk of the spread of U.S Military power, as outline by John Pilger in the War on Democracy, and the fact that the U.S. spends almost $700 billion on its military every year.

  • The second half of John Pilger’s ‘The War on Democracy’ outlines America’s military involvement in more than 50 countries since World War 2 – Evidence suggests that the USA uses military force to get rid of democratically elected leaders that are not pro-U.S.

6. The spread of global media really means the spread of massive media firms such as Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp, with programmes such as Fox News presenting a pro-American view of the world. Also think of popular culture – X factor, and Hollywood and global advertising. The pessimist view on such aspects of the global media is that they lead to increasing cultural homogenisation.

7. Zygmunt Bauman argues that global cities are best described as ‘fortress cities’ – especially in the developing world cities are places of huge inequalities where the rich hide themselves away in exclusive gated communities and the poor are left to the slums.

Not exactly a global village?
Not exactly a global village?

Revision notes on globalisation…

If you like this sort of thing and want some more context on globalisation, then you might like these revision notes on globalisation, specifically designed for A-level sociology. 

Globalisation coverNine pages of summary notes covering the following aspects of globalisation:

– Basic definitions and an overview of cultural, economic and political globalisation
– Three theories of globalisation – hyper-globalism, pessimism and transformationalism.
– Arguments for and against the view that globalisation is resulting in the decline of the nation state.
– A-Z glossary covering key concepts and key thinkers.

Five mind-maps covering the following:

– Cultural, economic, and political globalisation: a summary
– The hyper-globalist view of globalisation
– The pessimist view of globalisation
– The transformationalist/ postmodernist view of globalisation.
– The relationship between globalisation and education.

These revision resources have been designed to cover the globalisation part of the global development module for A-level sociology (AQA) but they should be useful for all students given that you need to know about globalistion for education, the family and crime, so these should serve as good context.

They might also be useful to students studying other A-level or first year degree subjects such as politics, history, economics or business, where globalisation is on the syllabus.

Related Posts 

Jeremy Seabrook: Three Responses to Globalization

The Optimist View of Globalisation

The Transformationalist View of Globalisation

The Traditionalist View of Globalisation

Sources Used to Write this Post:

Chapman et al (2016) Sociology for AQA.

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The Hyper-Globalist/ Optimist View of Globalization

Hyper-globalists (sometimes referred to as global optimists) believe that globalization is happening and that local cultures are being eroded primarily because of the expansion of international capitalism and the emergence of a homogeneous global culture; they (as the ‘optimist’ part of the label implies) believe that globalization is a positive process characterised by economic growth, increasing prosperity and the spread of democracy.

Hyper-globalism (1)

Thomas Friedman (2000) argues that globalization has occurred because of the global adoption of neoliberal economic policies. Neoliberalism insists that governments in developing countries need to remove obstacles to free trade and free market capitalism in order to generate development. Governments should limit their role to providing a business-friendly environment that enables businesses (both inside and outside the country) to make a profit.

The theory is that if governments allow businesses the freedom to ‘do business’, wealth will be generated which will trickle down to everyone.

Friedman identifies a neoliberal economic set of principles that he calls the ‘golden straight jacket’ that countries need to fit into if they are to achieve success in the global economy: deregulation, fewer protections for workers and the environment, privatisation and cutting taxes.

Friedman argues that the golden straitjacket is “pretty much one size fits all… it is not always pretty or gentle or comfortable. But it’s here and it’s the only model on the rack this historical season’.

Friedman attributes economic globalization to the fact that most developing countries have adopted neoliberal policies since the 1980s. Neoliberalism has effectively restricted the power of nation states, making trade between nations easier. It has resulted in the freer movement of goods, resources and enterprises, and ultimately more jobs, cheaper products and increasing economic growth, prosperity and wealth for the majority of people on the planet.

These countries were often shepherded onto the ‘right’ economic path by the ‘good Samaritans’ of Western governments, especially the ‘three sisters’ of free trade: the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO, global institutions which have played a central role in shaping globalization according to hyper globalists.

Supporting Evidence for the Optimist View of Globalization

Optimist Globalism

1. More international trade, especially since the 1950s = Increasing wealth, health, education for most countries. Evidence below

  • This Hans Rosling Video illustrates the relationship between increasing wealth (brought about by trade) and health
  • The case of China’s economic growth – Use this‘trading economics’ web site to check out how China’s GDP growth over the last ten years (from 2001) appears to be directly correlated with its growth in exports (use the links to the right to change between graphs – you might need to change the years selection around too).
  • China is not the only country benefiting from increasing trade (imports and exports) – China is just one of four nations known as the BRIC Nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China) – 4 up and coming economies that are predicted to be wealthier than Britain by 2050.

2. Optimists argue that Transnational Corporations are a force for good. Companies such as Apple, Sony, etc bring investment and jobs to developing countries.

3.    Patterns of consumption are becoming globalised – More people around the world are consumers rather than living subsistence lifestyles. Also people increasingly consume similar foods and brands (and shop for them in similar ways). Increasing global tourism is another feature of this. Evidence below…

  • These photos of ‘what the world eats’ – Suggest similar consumption patterns.
  • Coke’s advertising supports the optimist view of cultural globalisation – Advert 1 (I’d like t teach the world to sing…) and advert 2 – The Happiness Bus

4.  Sporting events such as the world cup and the Olympics have become more popular.

cultural globalisation olympics
Are the Olympics a good example of optimist globalism?

5. The spread of Democracy and respect for human rights since the end of WW2 – E.G. The end of colonial rule in Africa, the collapse of communism and the Arab Spring. This is also evidenced in the establishment of the United Nations and the growth of global social movements such as green peace.

6. The growth of social media (Facebook and Twitter) have lead more freedom around the world.

7. Globalistion increasingly means global cities – urban centres which have highly educated, politically engaged middle classes.

Revision notes on globalisation…

If you like this sort of thing and want some more context on globalisation, then you might like these revision notes on globalisation, specifically designed for A-level sociology. 

Globalisation coverNine pages of summary notes covering the following aspects of globalisation:

– Basic definitions and an overview of cultural, economic and political globalisation
– Three theories of globalisation – hyper-globalism, pessimism and transformationalism.
– Arguments for and against the view that globalisation is resulting in the decline of the nation state.
– A-Z glossary covering key concepts and key thinkers.

Five mind-maps covering the following:

– Cultural, economic, and political globalisation: a summary
– The hyper-globalist view of globalisation
– The pessimist view of globalisation
– The transformationalist/ postmodernist view of globalisation.
– The relationship between globalisation and education.

These revision resources have been designed to cover the globalisation part of the global development module for A-level sociology (AQA) but they should be useful for all students given that you need to know about globalistion for education, the family and crime, so these should serve as good context.

They might also be useful to students studying other A-level or first year degree subjects such as politics, history, economics or business, where globalisation is on the syllabus.

Related Posts 

Kenichi Ohmae – A radical, neoliberal view of globalization

What is Cultural Globalisation?

The Pessimist View of Globalisation

The Transformationalist View of Globalisation

The Traditionalist View of Globalisation

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Explaining Why so many Young Adults Live with Their Parents

You might like this video version of some of the material discussed below

According to the Office for National Statistics, in 2011, nearly 3.0 million adults aged between 20 and 34 were living with a parent or parents, an increase of almost half a million, or 20 per cent, since 1997. This is despite the number of people in the population aged 20 to 34 being largely the same in 1997 and 2011. This means that nearly 1/3 men and 1/7 women in the UK now live with their parents.

If you look at just 30 somethings, however, then the numbers drop to just 5% of women and 10% of men living with their parents

However – Not all ‘Kippers*’ are the same! (*Kids living in their parents’ pockets)

It is important to keep in mind that not all ‘adult kids’ are the same; experiences of living at home with your parents into your 30s will vary.

For example, the experience of being a NEET and living at home with your parents may well be different to being one of the ‘Boomerang Kids’ – who move out to go to university but then move back in with their parents afterwards

Some adult kids would have lived at home continuously, but many would have moved out for a period with a partner, and then moved back in again.

Adult-Kids will also vary as to the extent to which they are forced into living with their parents due to financial reasons, or choose to do so for ‘lifestyle reasons’.

Experiences will also differ depending on parental attitudes to having their adult children living with them.

Why are increasing numbers of ‘adult children’ living with their parents?

Many commentators stress that young adults have no choice but to live with their parents, focusing on structural (mainly economic) reasons that force people to live with their parents.

The following structural changes mean it is harder for young people to transition to independent living.

  1. The massive expansion in higher education has seen the number of undergraduate students triple since 1970, from 414,000 to 1.27 million – this means more young adults are not in work and economically dependent on their parents for longer.
  2. The recent recession has been accompanied by a sharp increase in unemployment rates among young adults,” This means that recent graduates, especially men, are increasingly returning to live with their parents after graduating.  Their numbers are being swelled by the increasing levels of student debt they have accumulated by the time they finish their studies.
  3. Then there are changes in the housing market. Even those in work cannot afford to move out of the family home as first-time buyers now face house prices that are, on average, five times average incomes, compared with a multiple of three times 20 years ago.

However, there are also cultural changes which mean young adults are more likely to choose to live with their parents even when they could move out.

  1. There is more uncertainty about what a ‘normal relationship’ is. Changing roles of men and women and changing expectations of relationships and family life result in young people being more reluctant to settle down in a classic long term relationship.
  2. The meaning of ‘being 20 something is different today to what it was in the 1970s. Today, we simply want to ‘settle down’ later in life – 20s have become about ‘pulling and dating’, ‘30s about serious long term relationships, and late 30s about children. Of those 20 somethings who do flee the parental nest, they are increasingly likely to either live alone or share with friends. The number of young couple households has been decreasing in recent years.
  3. The increasing number of ‘kippers’ might also be linked to the increasing instability of relationships. There are plenty of late 20s and 30 somethings who have previously moved in with a partner for a few years, suffered a relationship breakdown, ended up back with their parents and are now reluctant to recommit!

See this Guardian post for further info

Perspectives on the ‘not quite children’

Most of the commentary on this social trend seems to be negative – focusing on such things as:

Some research, however, suggests that adults living at home with their parents can be a positive thingAs this research, based on 500 ‘adult-kids’ in the USA suggests

‘Few 20-somethings who live at home are mooching off their parents. More often, they are using the time at home to gain necessary credentials and save money for a more secure future.

Helicopter parents aren’t so bad after all. Involved parents provide young people with advantages, including mentoring and economic support, that have become increasingly necessary to success.’

Find out More

For More posts on families and households please click here

For a more extended discussion of trends which lie behind increasing family diversity please click here

Nice blog post on ‘how returning to live with our parents in our 30s benefited both sides’

BBC News – 1.6 Million people aged 20-40 live with their parents

Barbara Ellen of the Guardian really doesn’t approve – NB most of the commentators don’t approve of her views either!

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Free Schools – Arguments and Evidence For and Against

 

This is relevant to the educational policy aspect of the education topic within the sociology of education.

What Are Free Schools?

A Free School in England is a type of Academy, a non-profit-making, state-funded school which is free to attend. Free schools are not controlled by a Local Authority (LA) but instead governed by anon-profit charitable trust.

To set up a Free School, founding groups submit applications to the Department for Education. Groups include those run by parents, education charities and religious groups. Ongoing funding is on an equivalent basis with other locally controlled state maintained schools, although additional start-up grants to establish the schools are also paid.

Between 2010 and 2015 more than 400 free schools were approved for opening in England by the Coalition Government, representing more than 230,000 school places across the country.

Similarities between Local Authority schools and Free Schools

  • They are both free for students to attend

  • They are both have similar amounts of funding

  • They are both subject to same rules about how the select students (they have similar admissions policies)

  • They are both subjected to Ofsted inspections

Differences between Free Schools and Regular State Schools

Local Authority Schools

Free Schools

Must follow the National Curriculum

Don’t have to follow the National Curriculum

Funding controlled by Local Authority

Funding comes straight from government

‘standard’ school day and term times

Free to set school days and term times

Teachers must be qualified

Teachers don’t have to be qualified

A brief history and overview of types of Free School

Free Schools were introduced by the Coalition government in 2010 general election as part of the Big Society initiative. The first 24 Free Schools opened in autumn 2011.

Since 2011, any Local Authority in need of a new school must seek proposals for an Academy or Free School, with a traditional Local Authority school only being allowed if no suitable Free School or academy is proposed. Since July 2015 the government is regarded all new academies as Free Schools – hence if there’s demand to establish them, any new school being established will be a free school.

To date, since 2010 there have been around 400 Free Schools established, which translates into about 250 000 school places, and the government hopes to establish an other 500 Free Schools over the next few years.

Types of free school

The majority of free schools are similar in size and shape to other types of academy. However, the following are distinctive sub-types of free school:

Studio school – A small free school, usually with around 300 pupils, using project-based learning.

University Technical College – A free school for the 14-18 age group, specialising in practical, employment focused subjects, sponsored by a university, employer or further education college.

Arguments for Free Schools

Free schools are a very good example of a neoliberal policy – the government is taking power away from Local Education Authorities (local government) and giving more power to parents, private businesses and charities to run schools.

Supporters claim that:

  1. Free schools create more local competition and drive-up standards
  2. They allow parents to have more choice in the type of education their child receives, much like parents who send their children to independent schools do.
  3. They also claim that free schools benefit children from all backgrounds – which could especially be the case with….

Arguments against Free Schools

Critics argue that…

  1. Free schools benefit primarily middle-class parents with the time to set them up, fuelling social segregation – I can really see this being the case with ‘studio schools’. (I can’t help but imagine a nice, small school with extensive playground and playing fields in a Devonshire village, so nice in fact that the yummies occasionally leave their 4WDs at home and walk the school run, at least when they’re not in the mood for heels.)
  2. Free schools divert money away from existing schools – There is a set amount of money in the education budget, and if free schools (and academies) get initial start up grants from the government (which some do) this means relatively less money for the Local Education Authority maintained schools.
  3. They are not actually needed and have lead to a surplus of school places – More than half of Free Schools opening in 2012 opened with 60% or less of the student numbers predicted by the impact assessment documents of each institution, leaving more than 10% spare places. Elsewhere, where Free Schools are fully subscribed, regular Local Authority schools have surplus capacity. This replication of capacity is grossly inefficient.
  4. People don’t actually want Free Schools – Polling in April 2015 put public support for Conservative proposals to increase the number of Free Schools by at least 500 at 26%.
  5. While the image of Free schools might be of motivated parents setting them up, Peter Wilby has suggested that Free Schools would be run by private companies rather than parents, teachers or voluntary groups. There is also the fact that in 2012 over 60% of free school applications were made by faith groups.

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Modernity, Postmodernity and The Family

Modernity, Postmodernity and The Family is one of the most difficult topics for students to get their heads around – The first thing to understand is that modernist social theories (Functionalism and Marxism) are OLD – and were theorising about the family over 50 years ago.

The second thing is that Postmodern theories aren’t really theories – they just think that structures have disappeared and so Sociology should go all journalistic and just sort of marvel at the diversity of family life. IMO Postmodernism is not really Sociology at all, it’s (lame) lifestyle journalism.

Anyway, it’s on the spec, the mind map below is an overview of how Modernity, Postmodernity and ‘theorising’ about the family all fit together. Use in conjunction with my other posts on Post and Late Modernism for more depth.

Click to enlarge/ Save

Modernity postmodernity Family

Related Posts

Postmodern perspectives on the family

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Why Do so Many Twenty Somethings Live with Their Parents?

For the video version of what’s below please click here

This post is designed to help you revise the ‘increasing family diversity‘ of the AS Sociology families and households module

1. Not quite adults – Vital Statistics  

According to the Office for National Statistics, in 2011, nearly 3.0 million adults aged between 20 and 34 were living with a parent or parents, an increase of almost half a million, or 20 per cent, since 1997. This is despite the number of people in the population aged 20 to 34 being largely the same in 1997 and 2011. This means that nearly 1/3 men and 1/7 women in the UK now live with their parents.

If you look at just 30 somethings, however, then the numbers drop to just 5% of women and 10% of men living with their parents

However – Not all ‘Kippers*’ are the same! (*Kids living in their parents’ pockets)

It is important to keep in mind that not all ‘adult kids’ are the same; experiences of living at home with your parents into your 30s will vary.

For example, the experience of being a NEET and living at home with your parents may well be different to being one of the ‘Boomerang Kids’ – who move out to go to university but then move back in with their parents afterwards

Some adult kids would have lived at home continuously, but many would have moved out for a period with a partner, and then moved back in again.

Adult-Kids will also vary as to the extent to which they are forced into living with their parents due to financial reasons, or choose to do so for ‘lifestyle reasons’.

Experiences will also differ depending on parental attitudes to having their adult children living with them.

2. Why are increasing numbers of ‘adult children’ living with their parents?

Many commentators stress that young adults have no choice but to live with their parents, focusing on structural (mainly economic) reasons that force people to live with their parents.

The following structural changes mean it is harder for young people to transition to independent living.

  1. The massive expansion in higher education has seen the number of undergraduate students triple since 1970, from 414,000 to 1.27 million – this means more young adults are not in work and economically dependent on their parents for longer.
  2. The recent recession has been accompanied by a sharp increase in unemployment rates among young adults,” This means that recent graduates, especially men, are increasingly returning to live with their parents after graduating.  Their numbers are being swelled by the increasing levels of student debt they have accumulated by the time they finish their studies.
  3. Then there are changes in the housing market. Even those in work cannot afford to move out of the family home as first-time buyers now face house prices that are, on average, five times average incomes, compared with a multiple of three times 20 years ago.

However, there are also cultural changes which mean young adults are more likely to choose to live with their parents even when they could move out.

  1. There is more uncertainty about what a ‘normal relationship’ is. Changing roles of men and women and changing expectations of relationships and family life result in young people being more reluctant to settle down in a classic long term relationship.
  2. The meaning of ‘being 20 something is different today to what it was in the 1970s. Today, we simply want to ‘settle down’ later in life – 20s have become about ‘pulling and dating’, ‘30s about serious long term relationships, and late 30s about children. Of those 20 somethings who do flee the parental nest, they are increasingly likely to either live alone or share with friends. The number of young couple households has been decreasing in recent years.
  3. The increasing number of ‘kippers’ might also be linked to the increasing instability of relationships. There are plenty of late 20s and 30 somethings who have previously moved in with a partner for a few years, suffered a relationship breakdown, ended up back with their parents and are now reluctant to recommit!

See this Guardian post for further info

3. Perspectives on the ‘not quite children’

Most of the commentary on this social trend seems to be negative – focussing on such things as:

Some research, however, suggests that adults living at home with their parents can be a positive thingAs this research, based on 500 ‘adult-kids’ in the USA suggests

‘Few 20-somethings who live at home are mooching off their parents. More often, they are using the time at home to gain necessary credentials and save money for a more secure future.

Helicopter parents aren’t so bad after all. Involved parents provide young people with advantages, including mentoring and economic support, that have become increasingly necessary to success.’

Find out More

Nice blog post on ‘how returning to live with our parents in our 30s benefited both sides’

BBC News – 1.6 Million people aged 20-40 live with their parents

Barbara Ellen of the Guardian really doesn’t approve – NB most of the commentators don’t approve of her views either!

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AS Sociology 7191 – Families and Households – A Visual Overview

Here’s a quick visual overview of how I’m intending to teach the new (although not that new given the relatively minor changes made) AS Sociology AQA 7191 Families and Households Option. (Click to enlarge/ save).

AS Sociology Families and Households

NB – This isn’t in the same order as the Scheme of Work on the AQA’s web site, but the content is the same. Not that I think there’s anything wrong with the AQA’s SOW, it’s just that I don’t see the need to change what I’ve got!

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Positivism, Sociology and Social Research

This post provides a brief overview of Positivist Research Methods, which consist of a scientific approach to social research using quantitative data to ensure objectivity and reliability. (In contrast to the Interpretivist approach to research which favors qualitative data.)

Positivism

The historical context of Positivism is that it emerged out of The Enlightenment and The Industrial Revolution….

The Enlightenment  refers to a period of European history spanning from 1650 to 1800. During this time, the authority of the church was challenged as people started to believe that knowledge should be derived from science rather than from God. The Enlightenment witnessed the birth of modern science which lead to massive social changes. The following three core beliefs (there were others too!) emerged out of The Enlightenment:

  • Underlying laws explained how the universe and society work (wasn’t just God’s will)
    Scientific study could reveal these laws.
  • All men could understand these laws (unlike religious belief – God’s will is unknowable)
  • Laws could be applied to society to improve it (the belief in progress and the pursuit of happiness).

The Enlightenment, Industrialisation’, ‘Progress’ and the Birth of Sociology

The 18th and 19th centuries saw a number of new scientific discoveries in the fields of physics, chemistry and biology. Most notably for students of Sociology, scientific discoveries lead to new technologies which in turn lead to industrialisation, or the growth of factory based production and the building of such things as railways.

This in turn lead to much social transformation – such as Urbanisation and the growth of what Marxists called the Proletariat. Many commentators from the early 19th century onwards were disturbed by the contradiction between the huge advances, or progress being made in science and industry and the apparent worsening of the lives of the majority. As hundreds of thousands of people flooded into expanding industrial city centres such as Manchester and elsewhere in Britain and Europe, these new urban centres were plagued with new social problems – most notably poverty, unemployment, and social unrest.

It was in this context that August Comte founded Sociology – Comte basically believed that if we can use scientific findings to bring about improvements in production through industrialisation then we can study the social world and figure out how to construct a better society that can combat social problems such as poverty, lack of education and crime.

Auguste Comte (1798-1857): The Founder of Scientific Sociology (aka Positivism)

August Comte - The Founder of Positivist Sociology
August Comte – The Founder of Positivist Sociology

Comte introduced the word “Sociology” in 1839. The term “Sociology” is derived from the Latin word Socius, meaning companion or associate, and the Greek word logos, meaning study or science. Thus, meaning of sociology is the science of society.

Comte concentrated his efforts to determine the nature of human society and the laws and principles underlying its growth and development. He also laboured to establish the methods to be employed in studying social phenomena.

Comte argued that social phenomena can be like physical phenomena copying the methods of natural sciences. He thought that it was time for inquiries into social problems and social phenomena to enter into this last stage. So, he recommended that the study of society be called the science of society, i. e. ‘sociology’.

The General Ideas of Positivism – or The Scientific Method Applied to the Study of Sociology

1. Positivists believe that sociology can and should use the same methods and approaches to study the social world that “natural” sciences such as biology and physics use to investigate the physical world.

2. By adopting “scientific” techniques sociologists should be able, eventually, to uncover the laws that govern societies and social behaviour just as scientists have discovered the laws that govern the physical world.

3. Positivists believe that good, scientific research should reveal objective truths about the causes of social action – science tells us that water boils at 100 degrees and this is true irrespective of what the researcher thinks – good social research should tell us similar things about social action

4. Because positivists want to uncover the general laws that shape human behaviour, they are interested in looking at society as a whole. They are interested in explaining patterns of human behaviour or general social trends. In other words, they are interested in getting to the ‘bigger picture’.

5. To do this, positivists use quantitative methods such as official statistics, structured questionnaires and social surveys. Statistical, numerical data is crucial to Positivist research. Positivists need to collect statistical information in order to make comparisons. And in order to uncover general social trends. It is much more difficult to make comparisons and uncover social trends with qualitative data.

6. These methods also allow the researcher to remain relatively detached from the research process – this way, the values of the researcher should not interfere with the results of the research and knowledge should be objective

Emile Durkheim (1858-1917) – Positivism and Quantitative Sociology

Emile Durkheim - Founding Father of Sociology
Emile Durkheim – Founding Father of Sociology

The modern academic discipline of sociology began with the work of Émile Durkheim (1858–1917). While Durkheim rejected much of the details of Comte’s philosophy “positivism”, he retained and refined its method. Durkheim believed that sociology should be able to predict accurately the effect of particular changes in social organisation such as an increase in unemployment or a change in the education system.

Durkheim believed the primary means of researching society should be the Comparative Method which involves comparing groups and looking for correlations or relationships between 2 or more variables. This method essentially seeks to establish the cause and effect relationships in society by comparing variables.

Durkheim’s Study of Suicide (1897)

Durkheim chose to study suicide because he thought that if he could prove that suicide, a very personal act, could be explained through social factors, then surely any action could be examined in such a way.  Durkheim’s method consisted of comparing the incidence of various social factors with number of cases of suicide.  Durkheim did this work so well, that seventy years later his study was still being cited in textbooks as an excellent example of research methodology

The starting-point for Durkheim was a close analysis of the available official statistics, which showed that rates of suicide varied:
• From one country to another – countries experiencing rapid social change had higher suicide rates.
• Between different social groups – The divorced had higher suicide rates than the married.
• Between different religious groups – Protestants had higher suicide rates than Catholics

Durkheim noted that these rates were relatively stable over time for each group. The rates may have gone up or down, but the rates remained stable relative to each other. Durkheim theorised that if suicide was an entirely individual matter, untouched by the influence of social factors, it would be an astonishing coincidence if these statistical patterns remained so constant over a long period of time.  Entirely individual decisions should lead to a random pattern.

Durkheim used his data to derive his now famous theory – that suicide rates increase when there is too little or too much social regulation or integration. Social Regulation is the extent to which there are clear norms and values in a society, while social integration is the extent to which people belong to society.

Even though this study is now almost 120 years old it remains the case that suicide rates still vary according to the levels of social integration and regulation.

Positivism and Social Facts
Durkheim argued that social trends are ‘social facts’ – they are real phenomena which exist independently of the individuals who make them up. He claimed that by if sociology limited itself to the study of social facts it could be more objective. He argued that these facts constrain individuals and help us to make predictions about the way societies change and evolve.

Some Criticisms of the Positivist Approach to Social Research

  • Treats individuals as if they passive and unthinking – Human beings are less predictable than Positivists suggest
  • Interpretivists argue that people’s subjective realities are complex and this demands in-depth qualitative methods.
  • The statistics Positivists use to find their ‘laws of society’ might themselves be invalid, because of bias in the way they are collected.
  • By remaining detached we actually get a very shallow understanding of human behaviour.

Theory and Methods A Level Sociology Revision Bundle 

If you like this sort of thing, then you might like my Theory and Methods Revision Bundle – specifically designed to get students through the theory and methods sections of  A level sociology papers 1 and 3.

Contents include:

  • 74 pages of revision notes
  • 15 mind maps on various topics within theory and methods
  • Five theory and methods essays
  • ‘How to write methods in context essays’.

 

Alternatively, you might like to purchase my extensive no-nonsense revision notes – over 50 pages of accessible, user friendly, exam-focused notes for only £0.99* – from iTunes, Barnes and Noble and Kobo.

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Related Posts 

Official Statistics in Sociology

Positivism and Interpretivism – A Very Brief Overview

Further Reading 

S Cool – Positivism (click through for link to Positivism)

The Open University – Positivism 

The Open University – Interpretivism

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Positivism and Interpretivism in Social Research

Positivism and Interpretivism are the two basic approaches to research methods in Sociology. Positivist prefer scientific quantitative methods, while Interpretivists prefer humanistic qualitative methods. This post provides a very brief overview of the two.

 

positivism-interpretivism

Positivism

  • Positivists prefer quantitative methods such as social surveys, structured questionnaires and official statistics because these have good reliability and representativeness.
  • Positivists see society as shaping the individual and believe that ‘social facts’ shape individual action.
  • The positivist tradition stresses the importance of doing quantitative research such as large scale surveys in order to get an overview of society as a whole and to uncover social trends, such as the relationship between educational achievement and social class. This type of sociology is more interested in trends and patterns rather than individuals.
  • Positivists also believe that sociology can and should use the same methods and approaches to study the social world that “natural” sciences such as biology and physics use to investigate the physical world. By adopting “scientific” techniques sociologists should be able, eventually, to uncover the laws that govern societies just as scientists have discovered the laws that govern the physical world.
  • In positivist research, sociologists tend to look for relationships, or ‘correlations’ between two or more variables. This is known as the comparative method.

Interpretivism

  • An Interpretivist approach to social research would be much more qualitative, using methods such as unstructured interviews or participant observation
  • Interpretivists, or anti-positivists argue that individuals are not just puppets who react to external social forces as Positivists believe.
  • According to Interpretivists individuals are intricate and complex and different people experience and understand the same ‘objective reality’ in very different ways and have their own, often very different, reasons for acting in the world, thus scientific methods are not appropriate.
  • Intepretivist research methods derive from ‘social action theory
  • Intereptivists actually criticise ‘scientific sociology’ (Positivism) because many of the statistics it relies on are themselves socially constructed.
  • Interpretivists argue that in order to understand human action we need to achieve ‘Verstehen‘, or empathetic understanding – we need to see the world through the eyes of the actors doing the acting.

Positivism and Interpretivism Summary Grid 

Positivism and Interpretivism

Theory and Methods A Level Sociology Revision Bundle

Theory Methods Revision CoverIf you like this sort of thing, then you might like my Theory and Methods Revision Bundle – specifically designed to get students through the theory and methods sections of  A level sociology papers 1 and 3.

Contents include:

  • 74 pages of revision notes
  • 15 mind maps on various topics within theory and methods
  • Five theory and methods essays
  • ‘How to write methods in context essays’.

Related Posts 

Links to more detailed posts on Positivism and Social Action Theory are embedded in the text above. Other posts you might like include:

Positivism in Social Research 

Max Weber’s Social Action Theory

The Presentation of the Self in Everyday Life, A Summary

Links to all of my research methods posts can be found at my main research methods page.

 

 

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Is Childhood Disappearing?

There is an argument that childhood as we know is disappearing; that the distinction between adulthood and childhood is narrowing. Neil Postman (1994) argued that childhood is ‘disappearing at a dazzling speed’.

As supporting evidence he looked at the trend towards giving children the same rights as adults, the growing similarity of adult and children’s clothing and even cases of children committing ‘adult crimes’ (murder, rape).

Postman’s theory is based on the view that communications technology is the primary thing which shapes society.

Following Aries, he suggested that in the middle ages most people were illiterate (they couldn’t read or write) and speech was the main form of communicating, thus there was hardly any distinction between adults and children.

Postman argues that childhood emerged along with mass literacy. This was because the printed word created a division between those that could read (adults) and those that couldn’t (children). This division emerged because it takes several years to master reading and writing skills.

HOWEVER, he argues now that things like television and the internet blur this separation and that children are now much more able to access the ‘adult world’. As a result, childhood as we know it is disappearing.

Three pieces of supporting evidence for the disappearance of childhood –

  • Growth of the Internet/ Social Media means parents and children are becoming more equal
  • The ‘Learner Voice’ in education – and children being used on interview panels for some new teachers
  • Children having the same rights as adults (UN’s rights of the child)
  • ‘Kidults’ – adults becoming more like children!

Criticisms of the theory that childhood is disappearing

  • It’s more complex than just ‘disappearance – several trends going on at once
  • E.G. Children are more protected (labour and welfare laws)
  • E.G. Children are more controlled (cotton wool kids)