Sociological Perspectives on Social Policy and the Family

The Functionalist View of Social Policy and The Family

Functionalists see society as built on harmony and consensus (shared values), and free from conflicts. They see the state as acting in the interests of society as a whole and its social policies as being for the good of all. Functionalists see policies as helping families to perform their functions more effectively and making life better for their members.

For example, Ronald Fletcher (1966) argues that the introduction of health, education and housing policies in the years since the industrial revolution has gradually led to the development of a welfare state that supports the family in performing its functions more effectively.

For instance, the existence of the National Health Service means that with the help of doctors, nurses, hospitals and medicines, the family today is better able to take care of its members when they are sick.

However, the functionalist view has been criticised on two main counts:

  • It assumes that all members of the family benefit equally from social policies, whereas Feminists argue that policies often benefit men more than women.

  • It assumes that there is a ‘march of progress’ with social policies, gradually making life better, which is a view criticise by Donzelot in the following section.

Adapted from Robb Webb et al

A Conflict Perspective – Donzelot: Policing the Family

Jacques Donzelot (1977) has a conflict view of society and sees policy as a form of state power and control over families.

Donzelot uses Michel Foucault’s (1976) concept of surveillance (observing and monitoring). Foucault sees power not just as something held by the government or the state, but as diffused (spread) throughout society and found within all relationships. In particular, Foucault sees professionals such as doctors and social workers as exercising power over their clients by using their expert knowledge to turn them into ‘cases’ to be dealt with.

Donzelot applies these ideas to the family. He is interested in how professionals carry out surveillance of families. He argues that social workers, health visitors and doctors use their knowledge to control and change families. Donzelot calls this ‘the policing of families’.

Surveillance is not targeted equally at all social classes. Poor families are much more likely to be seen as ‘problem families’ and as the causes of crime and anti-social behaviour. These are the families that professionals target for ‘improvement’. For example as Rachel Condry (2007) notes, the state may seek to control and regulate family life by imposing compulsory Parenting Orders through the courts. Parents of young offenders, truants or badly behaved children may be forced to attend parenting classes to learn the ‘correct’ way to bring up children.

Donzelot rejects the Functionalists’ march of progress view that social policy and the professionals who carry it out have created a better society. Instead he sees social policy as oppressing certain types of families. By focussing on the micro level of how the ‘caring professions’ act as agents of social control through the surveillance of families, Donzelot shows the importance of professional knowledge as a form of power and control.

However, Marxists and Feminists criticise Donzelot for failing to identify clearly who benefits from such policies of surveillance. Marxists argue that social policies generally operate in the interests of the capitalist class, while Feminists argue men are the beneficiaries.

Adapted from Rob Webb et al

The New Right and Social Policy

The New Right have had considerable influence on government thinking about social policy and its effects on family. They see the traditional nuclear family, with its division of labour between a male provider and a female home maker as self-reliant and capable of caring for its members. In their view, social policies should avoid doing anything that might undermine this natural self-reliant family.

The New Right criticise many existing government policies for undermining the family. In particular, they argue that governments often weaken the family’s self-reliance by providing overly generous welfare benefits. These include providing council housing for unmarried teenage mothers and cash payments to support lone parent families.

Charles Murray (1984) argues that these benefits offer ‘perverse incentives’ – that is, they reward irresponsible or anti-social behaviour. For example –

If fathers see that the state will maintain their children some of them will abandon their responsibilities to their families

Providing council housing for unmarried teenage mothers encourages young girls to become pregnant

The growth of lone parent families encouraged by generous welfare benefits means more boys grow up without a male role model and authority figure. This lack of paternal authority is responsible for a rising crime rate amongst young males.

The New Right supports the following social polices

Cuts in welfare benefits and tighter restrictions on who is eligible for benefits, to prevent ‘perverse incentives’.

Policies to support the traditional nuclear family – for example taxes that favour married couples rather than cohabiting couples.

The Child Support agency – whose role is to make absent dads pay for their children

Criticisms of the New Right

Feminists argue that their polices are an attempt to justify a return to the traditional nuclear family, which works to subordinate women

Cutting benefits may simply drive many into poverty, leading to further social problems

Feminism and Social Policy

Liberal Feminists argue that that changes such as the equal pay act and increasingly generous maternity leave and pay are sufficient to bring about gender equality. The following social policies have led to greater gender equality:

  • The divorce act of 1969 gave women the right to divorce on an equal footing to men – which lead to a spike in the divorce rate.

  • The equal pay act of 1972 was an important step towards women’s independence from men.

  • Increasingly generous maternity cover and pay made it easier for women to have children and then return to work.

However, Radical Feminists argue that patriarchy (the ideal of male superiority) is so entrenched in society that mere policy changes alone are insufficient to bring about gender equality. They argue, for example, that despite the equal pay act, sexism still exists in the sphere of work –

  • There is little evidence of the ‘new man’ who does their fair share of domestic chores. They argue women have acquired the ‘dual burden’ of paid work and unpaid housework and the family remains patriarchal – men benefit from women’s paid earnings and their domestic labour.

  • Some Feminists even argue that overly generous maternity cover compared to paternity cover reinforces the idea that women should be the primary child carer, unintentionally disadvantaging women

  • Dunscmobe and Marsden (1995) argue that women suffer from the ‘triple shift’ where they have to do paid work, domestic work and ‘emotion work’ – being expected to take on the emotional burden of caring for children.

  • This last point is more difficult to assess as it is much harder to quantify emotion work compared to the amounts of domestic work and paid work carried out by men and women.

  • Class differences also play a role – with working class mothers suffering more because they cannot afford childcare.

  • Mirlees- Black points out that ¼ women experience domestic violence – and many are reluctant to leave their partner

New Labour and Family Policy

New Labour was in power from between 1997 – 2010. There are three things you need to know about New Labour’s Social Policies towards the family

1. New Labour seemed to be more in favour of family diversity than the New Right. For example –

In 2004 they introduced The Civil Partner Act which gave same sex couples similar rights to heterosexual married couples

In 2005 they changed the law on adoption, giving unmarried couples, including gay couples, the right to adopt on the same basis as married couples

2. Despite their claims to want to cut down on welfare dependency, New Labour were less concerned about ‘the perverse incentives of welfare’ than the New Right. During their terms of office, they failed to take ‘tough decisions on welfare’ – putting the well-being of children first by making sure that even the long term unemployed families and single mothers had adequate housing and money.

3. New Labour believes in more state intervention in family life than the New Right. They have a more positive view of state intervention, thinking it is often necessary to improve the lives of families.

For example in June 2007 New Labour established the Department for Children, Schools and Families. This was the first time that there was ever a ‘department for the family’ in British politics.

The Government’s aim of this department was to ensure that every child would get the best possible start in life, receiving the on-going support and protection that they – and their families – need to allow them to fulfil their potential. The new Department would play a strong role both in taking forward policy relating to children and young people, and coordinating and leading work across Government and youth and family policy.

Key aspects included:

Raising school standards for all children and young people at all ages.

Responsibility for promoting the well-being, safety, protection and care of all young people.

Responsibility for promoting the health of all children and young people, including measures to tackle key health problems such as obesity, as well as the promotion of youth sport

Responsibility for promoting the wider contribution of young people to their communities.

Advertisements

Why do White Working Class Kids Lack Aspiration?

This useful Thinking Allowed Podcast summarises two recent pieces of qualitative social research and helps further our understanding of why white working class boys underachieve in education.

The podcast starts with Michael Wilshaw in 2013 (when he was head of OFSTED) pointing out that only 35% of white girls from low income households and 26% of white boys achieved 5 GCSEs at grades A*- C.

Wilshaw states that there is no reason why such pupils shouldn’t be able to achieve, and effectively blames their failure on a lack of aspiration among white working class boys.

Two sociologists who take issue with Wilshaw’s theory are Garth Stahl (spent nine years teaching in state secondary schools in England before conducting interviews in three London schools), and Heather Mendick ( who has researched the relationship between urban youth and schooling more generally). Together Stahl and Mendick effectively argue that white working class boys don’t lack aspiration at all, what they lack is a middle class view of aspiration, and it is this which puts them at a disadvantage in education.

Schools are Based Around a Middle Class Idea of Aspiration

Stahl argues that aspiration is a big thing in contemporary education – the dominant discourse in the system (which is unquestioned) is that learning will eventually equal earning, and that it is up to the individual student to do this on their own – i.e. the right kind of aspiration is to aspire to earn and then sacrifice now in order to get the grades to get you that income in the future.

The podcast also mentions that this discourse is tied up with the neoliberal idea of ‘self-crafting’ – or working on the self to progress – and no doubt this means that part of aspiration means skilling yourself up to make yourself more attractive to employers – you know the sort of thing – D of E and other volunteering, team sports, musical instrument, winner of the Young Apprentice.

The problem with the above is that it is a very middle class definition of aspiration – the kind of thing middle class parents spend a lot more time instilling in their children than working class parents.

White Working Class Aspirations and how They Conflict with School’s 

According to Stahl, working class boys do  have aspirations – they generally wished for a nice, ‘ordinary life’, not to be greedy, just wanting to get a decent job and to  ‘bring home the bacon’for their family.

There was a significant focus on trades (plumbing for example) as being good careers where they could do an honest days work for a decent wage, a focus on ‘authenticity’ (rather than ‘constructing an image of yourself and selling your image,, maybe?)

One point of conflict was over the paid work some of the boys did while at school – for them it was all part of their future ‘honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay’ aspiration (demonstrating a clear work ethic) but not for the school, as it conflicted with the ‘learning = earning’ discourse.

Interestingly, the boys didn’t reject school like Willis’ lads did, rather they invested in ‘ordinary learner identities’  – they didn’t want to succeed or fail and settled for middling positions in the school.

The harmful effects of the normalisation of middle class aspiration 

Mendick points out that aspiration is now used to judge people – certain aspirations which do not fit into the ‘learning = earning’ discourse are seen as failures – such as being a celebrity, having a family at a young age, or just wanting to being normal for example, all of these are seen as not good enough. The effective of this is normalises a middle class pathway through life and to further denigrate working class culture and aspiration as inferior.

This is supported by Stahl who found that the boys he interviewed had a sense of working class pride, but they weren’t so loud and proud of this identity like Willis’ lads were in the 1970s.

Mendick also found evidence of some middle class children just wanting out from this competitive culture – it’s not just the working classes who are disempowered.

Finally, and depressingly, the researchers both found a widespread acceptance of self-blaming for failure.

Brief Commentary

I think these pieces of research are an invaluable antidote to the dominant culture of middle class aspiration which has infiltrated our education system.

These ideas about aspiration and individual responsibility haven’t just emerged out of thin air after all – as Zygmunt Bauman would probably out, they’re just part of the wider social process of individualisation – Where individuals are expected to find biographical solutions to system contradictions.

I think more students should question the ‘learning = earning’ equation, because in the future formal education and qualifications may well not be the best way for kids to guarantee a secure income (if, indeed they can ever gain a secure income).

Finally, we should ask ourselves whether there’s anything wrong with ‘merely’ aspiring to having a decent job, paying your way, and feeling like you’re contributing to society, rather than always wanting to ‘work harder, earn more cash and so on….’

This is only a selective commentary from the podcast, read the research if you want to find out more…!

 References

Identity, Neoliberalism and Aspiration – Educating White Working Class Boys, and Mendick as studied the relationship

Urban Youth and Schooling

Cultural Capital and Educational Achievement

Cultural Capital can be defined as the skills and knowledge which an individual can draw on to give them an advantage in social life. In this post, I explore Bourdieu’s foundational concept of the Habitus and then look at how cultural capital can give children an advantage in education.

This is in a bit more depth than you would usually get on a regular A level course.

Key Terms

Capital can be defined as any assets that can improve your life chances.

Cultural Capital – having the skills, knowledge, norms and values which can be used to get ahead in education and life more generally.

Social Capital – possession of social contacts that can ‘open doors’.

Cultural Capital Theory is a Marxist theory of differential educationl achievement. In contrast to cultural deprivation theory, cultural capital theory does not see working class culture as inferior, or lacking in any way, it just sees it as different to middle class culture. Instead of blaming working class underachievement on flawed working-class culture, cultural capital theory focuses on the dominance of middle class culture in society and social institutions.

In short, middle class children are more likely to succeed because the education system is run by the middle classes and works in their interests. The middle classes are able to define their own culture as superior and thus working class culture and working class children are marginalised in the education system and end up underachieving.

Pierre Bourdieu and The Habitus

The Marxist sociologist Pierre Bourdieu is the theorist most closely associated with developing the concept of cultural capital and applying it to education.

Bourdieu argued that each class has its own cultural framework, or set of norms, values and ideas which he calls the habitus. This habitus contains a set of assumptions about what counts as good and bad taste which influences the kind of leisure activities different classes engage in, the kind of places they visit, where they go on holiday, the kind of television programmes they are likely to watch, what kinds of books they are likely to read and the type of music they are likely to listen to.

The middle class habitus places much more value on the following kinds of activities, and thus these are the kinds of activities which middle class children are more likely to be exposed to compared to working class children:

  • Reading non-fiction and classical literature rather than pop literature

  • Watching documentaries rather than soap operas

  • Learning to play classical instruments (e.g. The Piano)

  • Going on educational visits – to museums and art galleries for example

  • Going on holidays abroad (to ‘broaden horizons’).

Exposure to the above activities provides middle class children with ‘cultural capital’ – many of the above activities are inherently educational in nature and provide middle class children with skills and knowledge which give them an advantage at school. This knowledge can either be specific – such as with reading non-fiction, or more general – such as cultural trips providing children with a sense of independence and self-confidence.

Middle class culture is also the dominant culture in most schools, and schools place high value on the above types of middle class skills and knowledge. Middle class children thus ‘just fit in’ with middle class schools, they are at home in a middle class environment, they don’t need to do anything else other than be themselves in order to belong and thrive at school.

In contrast, working class culture (with its immediate gratification and restricted speech codes) is seen as inferior by most schools. The default assumption of the school in regards to working class children is that school is somewhere where working class children are taught to be more middle class – thus by default working class culture is devalued and working class children are more likely to struggle in education as a result.

Educational Capital

One important (and easy to undersand) aspect of cultural capital theory is educational capital – middle class parents are educated to a higher level than working class parents (they are more likely to have university degrees) – an obvious advantage of this is that they are more able to help children with homework throughout their school careers, but the are also more likely to socialise their children into thinking that going to university is a normal part of life – and thus good GCSEs and A levels are a necessity rather than being a choice.

Research on Cultural Capital (look up the following)

  • Dianna Reay – Middle Class Mothers Make The Difference
  • Stephen Ball – The 1988 Education Act gave middle class parents more choice
  • Alison Sullivan – A Quantitative Study of how cultural capital effects 400 children
  • Why do Working Class Kids Lack Aspiration (Broad support for Cultural Capital Theory)

Evaluations of Cultural Capital Theory

Positive Evaluations

  • Cultural capital seems more relevant now with neoliberal education policies – marketisation (and free schools) gave parents and schools more freedom – middle class parents and schools use this freedom to exlude the working classes.

  • Social capital theory is useful in explaning the punishingly depressing fact that privately educated children often use their social networks to get internships to get them into the ‘professions’.

  • Unlike cultural deprivation theory Bourdieu etc. do not see working class culture as inferior or blame the working classes for the failure of their children.

  • The theory links indside and outside school factors – middle class families and middle class schools work together to exlude working class children (espeically see Ball’s idea about the school-parent alliance).

  • The theory may be more relevant now with the establishment of Free Schools – Only middle class parents really have the cultural capital necessary to set up Free Schools.

Criticisms/ Limitations of Cultural Capital Theory

  • Most statistical research suggests material deprivation and economic capital are more significant factors than cultural capital in explaining class differences in educational achievement.

  • It may be unfair to blame schools for being biased against working class children – many schools put extra resources into helping working class children.

  • From a research methods point of view, it is more difficult to research and test out some aspects of cultural capital theory – how do you measure the effect of piano lessons on educational achievement for example?

  • If cultural deprivation theory is true – there are no practical solutions to reducing class inequalities in education within the existing system – more radical (revolutionary?) changes are necessary.

Cultural Capital Theory – A Summary of The Key Ideas:

  • Marxist Theory

  • Middle Class Socialisation = Cultural Advantage– Literature, Classical Music and Museums

  • Middle Class Parents better educated = help with homework/ University seen as necessary

  • Stephen Ball – Skilled Choosers and the School Parent Alliance

  • Social Capital = Internship in friends Dad’s Law Firm = UNFAIR

  • Positive Evaluation – Blames the middle classes/ More relevant with 1988 and Free Schools

  • Negative Evaluation – Money matters more/ no practical solutions to WC failure.

Examples of Cultural Capital in Action

  • Parents encouraging their children to read.

  • Parents taking their children on a trip to a museum.

  • Parents taking their children on a cultural sight seeing tour abroad.

  • Parents encouraging their children to learn the Piano.

  • Parents helping their children with homework.

  • Parents using their research skills to research which school to send their child to.

  • Parents phoning the school to get their children extra support lessons.

  • Parents taking their child for a dyslexia test to get them extra time in exams.

Hirschi’s Social Control Theory of Crime

A consensus theory which argues that crime increases when the bonds attaching the individual to society weaken

The ‘Social Control’ Theory sees crime as a result of social institutions losing control over individuals. Weak institutions such as certain types of families, the breakdown of local communities, and the breakdown of trust in the government and the police are all linked to higher crime rates.

Hirschi: Bonds of Attachment

Travis Hirschi argued that criminal activity occurs when an individual’s attachment to society is weakened. This attachment depends on the strength of social bonds that hold people to society. According to Hirschi there are four social bonds that bind us together – Attachment; Commitment; Involvement and Belief.

According to this theory one would predict the ‘typical delinquent’ to be young, single, unemployed and probably male. Conversely, those who are married and in work are less likely to commit crime – those who are involved and part of social institutions are less likely to go astray.

Truancy
According to Social Control Theory, truancy is an indicator of low social-attachment, and thus a predictor of criminal behaviour

 

Politicians of all persuasions tend to talk in terms of social control theory. Jack Straw from the labour party has argued that ‘lads need dads’ and David Cameron has made recent speeches about the importance of the family and the problems associated with absent fathers. These views are also popular with the right wing press, which often reminds their (middle class, nuclear family) readers that ‘Seventy per cent of young offenders come from lone-parent families; children from broken homes’

Supporting evidence for Hirschi’s Social Control Theory

Evidence for Social Control Theory tends to focus on three problem areas that are correlated with higher crime rates. These are: Absentee parents; Truancy; Unemployment

The Cambridge Study in Delinquent Development (Farington and West 1991). Looked at 411 ‘working class’ males born in 1953 who were studied until their late 30s. Found that offenders were more likely to come from poorer, single parent families with poor parenting and parents who were themselves offenders. This study suggests that good primary socialisation is essential in preventing crime.

Martin Glyn has pointed out that many young offenders suffer from what he calls ‘parent deficit’. He argues that this is the single most important factor in explaining youth offending. He argues that children need both discipline and love, two things that are often both absent with absent parents.

Research commissioned by NASUWT, a teachers’ union, based on reviewing existing literature and in depth studies of two schools in Birmingham and London found that Family breakdown and a lack of father figures could be to blame for pupils joining gangs, Children as young as nine are being drawn into organised crime for protection and to gain a “sense of belonging” because of the lack of positive role models at home, it is claimed. Others are being effectively “born into” gangs as membership is common among older brothers and even parents in some areas. The problem is increasingly threatening some inner-city schools, with teachers claiming that the influence of gang culture has soared over the past three years.

Criticisms of Social Control Theory

  • Some crimes are more likely to be committed by people with lots of social connections – e.g. Corporate Crime
  • Marxism – It’s unfair to blame marginalised people – they are victims of an unfair society which does not provide sufficient opportunities for work etc.
  • Interactionism – Middle class crimes are less likely to appear in the statistics – In reality the attached (middle classes) are just as criminal.
  • By focussing on the crimes of the marginalised, the right wing elite dupe the public into thinking we need them to protect us from criminals (whereas in reality we need protecting from the elite)
  • This may be a case of blaming the victim – We need to look at structural factors that lead to family breakdown (poverty, long working hours, unemployment.)
  • Parent deficit does not automatically lead to children becoming criminals. There are also ‘pull factors’ such as peer group pressure.

Revision Notes for Sale 

If you like this sort of thing, then you might like my Crime and Deviance Revision Notes  – 31 pages of revision notes covering the following topics:

  1. Consensus based theories part 1 – Functionalism; Social control’ theory; Strain theory
  2. Consensus based theories part 2 – Sub cultural theories
  3. The Traditional Marxist and Neo-Marxist perspective on crime
  4. Labeling Theory
  5. Left- Realist and Right-Realist Criminology (including situational, environmental and community crime prevention)
  6. Post-Modernism, Late-Modernism and Crime (Social change and crime)
  7. Sociological Perspectives on  controlling crime – the role of the community and policing in preventing crime
  8. Sociological Perspectives on Surveillance
  9. Sociological Perspectives on Punishment
  10. Social Class and Crime
  11. Ethnicity and Crime
  12. Gender and crime  (including Girl gangs and Rape and domestic violence)
  13. Victimology – Why are some people more likely to be criminals than others
  14. Global crime, State crime and Environmental crime (Green crime)
  15. The Media and Crime, including moral panics

 

The Functionalist Perspective on Crime and Deviance

Functionalist believe that crime is actually beneficial for society – for example it can improve social integration and social regulation.

The Functionalist analysis of crime starts with society as a whole. It seeks to explain crime by looking at the nature of society, rather than at individuals. There are two main thinkers usually associated with the Functionalist Perspective on Crime: Emile Durkheim and Robert Merton.

This post provides a summary of Durkheim’s Functionalist Theory of why crime is inevitable and functional for society. For Merton’s Strain Theory of Crime please see the link below.

Durkheim: Three Key Ideas About Crime 

  1. A limited amount of crime is inevitable and even necessary
  2. Crime has positive functions -A certain amount of crime contributes to the well-being of a society.
  3. On the other hand, too much crime is bad for society and can help bring about its collapse, hence institutions of social control are necessary to keep the amount of crime in check. Refer here to Durkheim’s Theory of Suicide 

Durkheim developed his theory of crime and deviance in The Rules of Sociological Method, first published in 1895.

Crime is Inevitable

Durkheim argued that crime is an inevitable and normal aspect of social life. He pointed out that crime is inevitable in all societies, and that the crime rate was in fact higher in more advanced, industrial societies.

Durkheim theorized crime was inevitable because not every member of society can be equally committed to the collective sentiments (the shared values and moral beliefs of society). Since individuals are exposed to different influences and circumstances, it was ‘impossible for them to be all alike’ and hence some people would inevitably break the law.

Durkheim also imagined a ‘society of saints’ populated by perfect individuals deviance would still exist. The general standards of behaviour would be so high that the slightest slip would be regarded as a serious offence. Thus the individual who simply showed bad taste, or was merely impolite, would attract strong disapproval.

Durkheim argues that all social change begins with some form of deviance. In order for changes to occur, yesterday’s deviance becomes today’s norm.

Crime Performs Positive Functions 

Durkhiem went a step further and argued that a certain amount of crime was functional for society.

Three positive functions of crime include:

  1. SOCIAL REGULATION (reaffirming the boundaries of acceptable behaviour) – Each time the Police arrest a person, they are making it clear to the rest of society that the particular action concerned is unacceptable. In contemporary society newspapers also help to perform the publicity function, with their often-lurid accounts of criminal acts. In effect, the courts and the media are ‘broadcasting’ the boundaries of acceptable behaviour, warning others not to breach the walls of the law (and therefore society)
  2. SOCIAL INTEGRATION (Social Cohesion) – A second function of crime is to actually strengthen social cohesion. For example, when particularly horrific crimes have been committed the whole community joins together in outrage and the sense of belonging to a community is therefore strengthened
  3. Social Change – A further action performed by the criminals is to provide a constant test of the boundaries of permitted action. When the law is clearly out of step with the feelings and values of the majority, legal reform is necessary. Criminals therefore, perform a crucial service in helping the law to reflect the wishes of the population and legitimising social change.

Durkheim argued that crime only became dysfunctional when there was too much or too little of it – too much and social order would break down, too little and there would not be sufficient capacity for positive social change.

The suffragettes: anticipating the morality of the future?

Durkheim’s view of punishment

Durkheim suggested that the function of punishment was not to remove crime from society altogether, because society ‘needed’ crime. The point of punishment was to control crime and to maintain the collective sentiments. In Durkheim’s own words punishment ‘serves to heal the wounds done to the collective sentiments’.

According to Durkheim a healthy society requires BOTH crime and punishment to be in balance and to be able to change.

Evaluations of Durkheim’s Functionalist View of Crime

  1. Durkheim talks about crime in very general terms. He theorizes that ‘crime’ is necessary and even functional but fails to distinguish between different types of crime. It could be that some crimes may be so harmful that they will always be dysfunctional rather than functional.
  2. Secondly, Durkheim is suggesting that the criminal justice system benefits everyone in society by punishing criminals and reinforcing the acceptable boundaries of behavior. However, Marxist and Feminist analysis of crime demonstrates that not all criminals are punished equally and thus crime and punishment benefit the powerful for than the powerless
  3. Interactionists would suggest that whether or not a crime is functional cannot be determined objectively; surely it depends on an individual’s relationship to the crime.
  4. Functionalists assume that society has universal norms and values that are reinforced by certain crimes being punished in public. Postmodernists argue society is so diverse, there is no such thing as ‘normal’. 

Revision Bundle for Sale 

If you like this sort of thing, then you might like my Crime and Deviance Revision Bundle

Crime Deviance A-Level Revision.png

It contains

  • 12 exam practice questions including short answer, 10 mark and essay question exemplars.
  • 32 pages of revision notes covering the entire A-level sociology crime and deviance specification
  • Seven colour mind maps covering sociological perspective on crime and deviance

Written specifically for the AQA sociology A-level specification.

Related Posts

Sources used to write this post:

Haralambos and Holborn: sociology themes and perspectives, edition 8.

Assess the Marxist View of the Role of Education in Society

Assess the Marxist View of the Role of Education in Society

sociology-of-education-coverAccording to Marxists, modern societies are Capitalist, and are structured along class-lines, and such societies are divided into two major classes – The Bourgeois elite who own and control the means of production who exploit the Proletariat by extracting surplus value from them. Traditional Marxists understand the role of education in this context – education is controlled by the elite class (The Bourgeoisie) and schools forms a central part of the superstructure through which they maintain ideological control of the proletariat.

Firstly, Louis Altusser argued that state education formed part of the ‘ideological state apparatus’: the government and teachers control the masses by injecting millions of children with a set of ideas which keep people unaware of their exploitation and make them easy to control.

According to Althusser, education operates as an ideological state apparatus in two ways; Firstly, it transmits a general ideology which states that capitalism is just and reasonable – the natural and fairest way of organising society, and portraying alternative systems as unnatural and irrational Secondly, schools encourage pupils to passively accept their future roles, as outlined in the next point…

Secondly, the second function schools perform for Capitalism is that they produce a compliant and obedient workforce…

In ‘Schooling in Capitalist America’ (1976) Bowles and Gintis suggest that there is a correspondence between values learnt at school and the way in which the workplace operates. The values, they suggested, are taught through the ‘Hidden Curriculum’, which consists of those things that pupils learn through the experience of attending school rather than the main curriculum subjects taught at the school. So pupils learn those values that are necessary for them to tow the line in menial manual jobs.

For example passive subservience of pupils to teachers corresponds to the passive subservience of workers to managers; acceptance of hierarchy (authority of teachers) corresponds to the authority of managers; and finally there is ‘motivation by external rewards: students are motivated by grades not learning which corresponds to being motivated by wages, not the joy of the job.

A third Marxist idea is that schools reproduce class inequality. In school, the middle classes use their material and cultural capital to ensure that their children get into the best schools and the top sets. This means that the wealthier pupils tend to get the best education and then go onto to get middle class jobs. Meanwhile working class children are more likely to get a poorer standard of education and end up in working class jobs. In this way class inequality is reproduced

Fourthly, schools legitimate class inequality. Marxists argue that in reality class background and money determines how good an education you get, but people do not realize this because schools spread the ‘myth of meritocracy’ – in school we learn that we all have an equal chance to succeed and that our grades depend on our effort and ability. Thus if we fail, we believe it is our own fault. This legitimates or justifies the system because we think it is fair when in reality it is not.

Finally, Paul Willi’s classic study Learning to Labour (1977) criticises aspects of Traditional Marxist theory.

Willis’ visited one school and observed 12 working class rebellious boys about their attitude to school and attitudes to future work. Willis described the friendship between these 12 boys (or the lads) as a counter-school culture. They attached no value to academic work, more to ‘having a laff’ and that the objective of school was to miss as many lessons as possible.

Willis argued that pupils rebelling are evidence that not all pupils are brainwashed into being passive, subordinate people as a result of the hidden curriculum. Willis therefore criticizes Traditional Marxism. These pupils also realise that they have no real opportunity to succeed in this system, so they are clearly not under ideological control.

However, the fact that the lads saw manual work as ‘proper work’ and placed no value of academic work, they all ended up failing their exams, and as a result had no choice but to go into low-paid manual work, and the end result of their active rebellion against the school was still the reproduction of class inequality. Thus this aspect of Marxism is supported by Willis’ work.

Traditional Marxist views of education are extremely dated, even the the new ‘Neo-Marxist’ theory of Willis is 40 years old, but how relevant are they today?

To criticise the idea of the Ideological State Apparatus, Henry Giroux, says the theory is too deterministic. He argues that working class pupils are not entirely molded by the capitalist system, and do not accept everything that they are taught. Also, education can actually harm the Bourgeois – many left wing, Marxist activists are university educated, so clearly they do not control the whole of the education system.

However, the recent academisation programme, which involves part-privatisation of state schools suggests support for the idea that Businesses control some aspects of education.

It is also quite easy to criticise the idea of the correspondence principle – Schools clearly do not inject a sense of passive obedience into today’s students – many jobs do not require a passive and obedient workforce, but require an active and creative workforce.

However, if you look at the world’s largest education system, China, this could be seen as supporting evidence for the idea of the correspondence principle at work – many of those children will go into manufacturing, as China is the world’s main manufacturing country in the era of globalisation.

The Marxist Theory of the reproduction of class inequality and its legitimation through the myth of meritocracy does actually seem to be true today. There is a persistent correlation between social class background and educational achievement – with the middle classes able to take advantage of their material and cultural capital to give their children a head start and then better grades and jobs. It is also the case that children are not taught about this unfairness in schools, although a small handful do learn about it in Sociology classes.

In conclusion, while Marxist theory might be dated, all of the four major ideas still seem to have some relevance, especially their ideas about the reproduction and legitimation of class inequality, so I would say Marxism is one of the more accurate perspectives which helps us understand the role of the education system today, both nationally and globally.

Related Posts

The Marxist Perspective on the Role of Education in Society

Social Class and Educational Achievement Essay Plan

For more essay plans please see this main post of links….. ‘sociology revision and exam advice‘… all tailored towards AQA A level sociology.

Non-Participant Observation

Non-Participant Observation is where researchers take a ‘fly on the wall approach’ and observes individuals and groups without getting involved in the life of the group. You would have come across this type of method in the form of the OFSTED lesson observation.

Non-Participant Observation can either be structured or unstructured – the former is where you have an ‘observation schedule’ and look for certain things happening, the latter is where you just observe and note down anything that stands out.

NPO can also be overt (like the OFSTED inspection) or covert, in which case it would either involve some infiltrating a classroom, or a workplace and observing without people being informed (as you can imagine this would be quite difficult to do in practice, or more realistically it might involve the use of hidden cameras to film covertly.

Some General Advantages of Quantitative Non Participant Observation

They have good reliability and are good for making comparisons

They are relatively quick and cheap to carry out

Some General Disadvantages of Quantitative Non Participant Observation

They lack validity because you are less able to ask why people are acting in the way that they do compared to participant observation

Ethically they can be dis empowering for respondents (OFSTED inspections)

Participant Observation in Social Research

Participant Observation is where the researcher joins in with the group being studied and observes their behaviour. This post covers the theoretical, practical and ethical strengths and limitations of using overt and covert participant observation in social research.

participant-observationParticipant observation is closely related to the ethnographic method (or ‘ethnography’), which consists of an in-depth study of the way of life of a group of people.

Ethnography is traditionally associated with anthropology, wherein the anthropologist visits a (usually) foreign land, gains access to a group (for example a tribe or village), and spends several years living with them with the aim of uncovering their culture. The ethnographic method involves watching what participants do, listening to them, engaging in probing conversations, and joining them in day to day tasks as necessary; it also involves investigating any cultural artefacts such as art work and any written work if it exists, as well as analysing what religious rituals and popular stories can tell us about the culture. Ethnographic research has traditionally involved taking copious field notes, and the resulting ‘monographs’ which are produced can take several months, if not a year or more to write up.

To cut a long winded definition short, ethnography is basically the same as participant observation, but includes the writing up of a detailed account of one’s findings:

Ethnography = participant observation + a detailed written account of one’s findings.

Participant Observation and the use of other methods

Most participant observers (or ‘ethnographers’) will combine their observations with other methods – most obviously unstructured interviews, and some will combine them with more formal questionnaire based research, normally towards the end of their study period, meaning many of these studies are actually mixed-methods studies. Nonetheless, Participant Observation is still technically classified, for the purposes of A-level sociology as a ‘qualitative’ method.

Overt and Covert Observation

An important distinction in Participation/ Ethnography is between covert and over observation.

  • Overt Observation – this is where the group being studied know they are being observed.
  • Covert Observation – this where the group being studied does not know they are being observed, or where the research goes ‘undercover’.

These both have their strengths and limitations – overt research is obviously more ethical because of the lack of deception, and it allows the researcher to ask probing questions and use other research methods. Covert research may be the only way to gain access to deviant groups, it may enable you to gain fuller ‘immersion’ into the host culture and avoids the ‘Hawthorne Effect’. However, ethically it involves deception and can be very stressful for the researcher.

The Strengths of Participant Observation

Theoretical Advantages

The most significant strength of both types of participant observation is the high degree of validity the method achieves. There are at least five reasons for this:

participant observation anthropologyYou can observe what people do, not what they say they do – In contrast to most other methods, participant observation allows the researcher to see what people do rather than what people say they do.

 

Participant Observation takes place in natural settings – this should mean respondents act more naturally than in a laboratory, or during a more formal interview. This should mean the Hawthorne effect will be less, especially with covert research. You also get more of a feel for respondents’ actions in context, which might otherwise seem out of place if in an artificial research environment.

Digging deep and gaining insight – the length of time ethnographers spend with a community means that close bonds that can be established, thus enabling the researcher to dig deeper than with other methods and find out things which may be hidden to all other means of enquiry.

Verstehen/empathetic understanding– participant observation allows the researcher to fully join the group and to see things through the eyes (and actions) of the people in group. Joining in allows the researcher to gain empathy through personal experiences. This closeness to people’s reality means that participant observation can give uniquely personal, authentic data.

Flexibility and generating new ideas – when completing questionnaires researchers begin with pre-set questions. Even before starting to collect the data, therefore, the researchers have decided what’s important. The problem with this is what if the questions the researcher thinks are important are not the same as the ones the subject thinks are important. By contrast, participant observation is much more flexible. It allows the researcher to enter the situation with an open mind and as new situations are encountered they can be followed up.

Practical Advantages

There are few practical advantages with this method, but participant observation might be the only methods for gaining access to certain groups. For example, a researcher using questionnaires to research street gangs is likely to be seen as an authority figure and unlikely to be accepted.

Ethical Advantages

Interpretivists prefer this method because it is respondent led – it allows respondents to speak for themselves and thus avoids a master-client relationship which you get with more quantitative methods.

The Limitations of Participant Observation

Theoretical Disadvantages

One theoretical disadvantage is the low degree of reliability. It would be almost impossible for another researcher to repeat given that a participant observation study relies on the personal skills and characteristics of the lone researcher.

Another theoretical disadvantage is the low degree of representativeness. Sociologists who use quantitative research methods study large, carefully selected, representative samples that provide a sound basis for making generalisations, In contrast, the groups used in participant observation studies are usually unrepresentative, because they are accessed through snowball sampling and thus haphazardly selected.

Critics also question how valid participant observation really is. They argue the method lacks objectivity. It can be very difficult for the researcher to avoid subjectivity and forming biased views of the group being studied. Also researchers decide what is significant and worth recording and what’s not, therefore, it depends on the values of the researcher. In extreme cases, researchers might ‘go native’, where they become sympathatic with the respondents and omit any negative analysis of their way of life.

A further threat to validity is the Hawthorne Effect, where people act differently because they know they are being observed, although participant observers would counter this by saying that people can’t keep up an act over long time periods: they will eventually relax and be themselves.

Also, the methods lack a concept of social structures such as class, gender or ethnicity. By focussing on the participants own interpretation of events, the researcher tends to ignore the wider social structures, which means giving only a partial explanation.

Practical Disadvantages

Firstly, this method tends to be time consuming and expensive in relation to the relatively small amount of respondents. It can take time to gain trust and build rapport, and so for this reason, it may take several days, weeks or even months, before the respondents really start to relax in the presence of the researcher.

Participant Observation also requires observational and interpersonal skills that not everyone possesses – you have to be able to get on with people and understand when to take a back seat and when to probe for information.

Gaining access can also be a problem – many people will not want to be researched this way, and where covert research is concerned, researchers are limited by their own characteristics. Not everyone can pass as a Hells Angel if covert observation is being used!

Ethical Disadvantages

Ethical problems are mainly limited to Covert Participant Observation, in which respondents are deceived and thus cannot give informed consent to participate in the research.

Legality can also be an issue in covert research where researchers working with deviant groups may have to do illegal acts to maintain their cover.

Some advantages of Overt compared to Covert Observation

Students often think that Covert Observation is superior to Over Observation, however there are five reasons why Overt might be a better choice of research method:

1. You can ask awkward, probing questions

2. You can combine it with other methods

3. You can take on the role of the ‘professional stranger’ – respondents might tell you things because they know you are not ‘one of them’

4. It is less stressful and risky for the researcher

5. It is easier to do follow up studies.

Related Posts

Learning to Labour by Paul Willis – A Summary

https://revisesociology.com/2016/01/25/learning-to-labour-by-paul-willis-summary-and-evaluation-of-research-methods/

 

Sources:

Bryman (2016) Social Research Methods

Chapman et al (2016) Sociology AQA A-level Year 1 and AS Student Book

 

Sociological Theories of Crime and Deviance – A Very Brief Overview

A brief summary table covering structural and action, consensus and conflict, and modern and post-modern perspectives on crime and deviance. Not sure how well it will cut and paste mind!

Students will obviously need to know more than this, but it’s still important to review the basics from time to time to check your understanding and how all the bits fit together!

Theory

Key Name

Key concepts

Criticism

  1. Functionalism

Durkheim (1895)

  • Social Integration

  • Social Regulation

  • Social chance

C.

Assumes the laws are created through value consensus.

  1. Bonds of Attachment

Hirschi

  • Bonds of attachment

  • Commitment, attachment, involvement, belief

C.

Lack of attachment does not automatically lead to people becoming criminals. There are also ‘pull factors’ such as peer group pressure.

  1. Strain Theory

Merton (1938)

  • There is a strain between the success goals and the legitimate means to achieve those success goals

C.

Exaggerates working class crime – Ignored non-utilitarian crime.

  1. Subcultural Theory –

Albert Cohen (1955)

  • Lack of success leads to Status Frustration

  • Leads to a a Delinquent subculture

  • Deviance is collective not individual response

C.

Willis’ research criticises this – status frustration does not lead to a subculture – boys form a subculture because they think school is irrelevant to their future lives

  1. Subcultural Theory “Delinquency and opportunity”

Cloward & Ohlin (1962)

  • – Illegitimate opportunity structure Criminal, conflict and retreatist subcultures ……

C. TW + Y say this theory still assumes people are committed to achieving wealth. Some, e.g. hippies, aren’t.

  1. New Right / underclass theory

Charles Murray (1989)

  • Long term unemployed, live off benefits

  • High numbers of lone parents.

  • High rates of crime

C.

Marxists would argue that Long term unemployment is a structural failing of the Capitalist system

  1. Interactionism – Labelling Theory

Becker (1963)

  • Agents of Social Control stereotype and marginalise minority groups

C. Blaming authorities absolves criminals of responsibility

  1. Interactionist – Labelling Theory

Becker (1963)

Labelling can lead to crime –

  • Master Status

  • Self fulfilling prophecy

  • Deviant career

  • Deviant subculture

C.

  • Too deterministic

  • Why are some people more likely to be labelled than others?

  1. Trad Marxism

Gordon

  • Capitalism Competition Dog eat Dog society;

  • Prison for W/C neutralises opposition vs system

C.

Crime was still present in communist societies.

  1. Trad Marxism

Chambliss

  • All classes commit crime

  • Inequality in capitalist system is linked to crime

C.

Crime in the UK has been decreasing while inequality has been increasing

  1. Trad Marxism

Snider

Many of the most serious deviant acts are “corporate crime” (M/C)

C.

Left Realists argue that Marxist focus too much on corp. crime; burglaries cause more distress and victims = W/C

  1. Neo Marxism – The New Criminology

Taylor, Walton and Young (1973)

  • Fully Social Theory of Deviance.

  • Criminals are ‘political heroes’

C.

  • LR’s say W/C criminals are romanticised

  • LR’s say victims neglected

  • Fems say that focus is only male crime.

  1. Realism in general

Taylor Walton and Young (LR) and Wilson (RR)

  • We should abandon the grand narratives of previous theories and focus on practical solutions to crime

c.

Marxists argue these are ignoring the root cause of crime

  1. Left Realism

Lea + Young

  • 3 causes of crime – relative deprivation/ subculture and marginalisation

C. Marxists argue these are ignoring the root cause of crime

  1. Left Realism

Lea and Young

  • Solutions to crime include Reducing inequality and more community policing

C. Community policing is really about the state controlling people’s lives.

  1. Right Realism

James Q Wilson

  • Cost/benefit cause of crime

  • Broken windows/

C.

Jones (92) says that lack of investment is more important than Z.T. in preventing crime.

  1. Right Realism

James Q Wilson

  • Solutions to crime include target hardening and situational crime prevention

C.

Crime displacement

  1. Postmodernism

Robert Reiner

  • Increase in consumerism is a fundamental reason behind increasing crime

Can’t explain decrease in crime since the mid-1990s

  1. Late Modernism

Jock Young

  • The vertigo of Late Modernity- Crime today is linked to anomie/ crisis of masculinity

C. Is this any different to Strain Theory?

Giddens – Modernity and Self-Identity

A brief summary of Anthony Giddens’ work on the relationship between the self and society in late-modern age.

Self-identity, history, modernity.

Drawing on a therapeutic text – ‘Self-Therapy’ by Janette Rainwater – Giddens selects ten features which are distinctive about the search for self-identity in the late modern age:

  1. The self is seen as a reflexive project for which the individual is responsible. Self-understanding is relegated to the more inclusive and fundamental aim of rebuilding a more rewarding sense of identity.

  2. The self forms a trajectory of development from the the past to the anticipated future. The lifespan rather than external events is in the foreground, the later are cast as either fortuitous or throwing up barriers which need to be overcome.

  3. Reflexivity becomes continuous – the individual continuously asks the question ‘what am I doing in this moment, and what can I do to change?’ In this, reflexivity belongs to the reflexive historicity of modernity.

  4. The narrative of the self is made explicit – in the keeping of an autobiography – which requires continual creative input.

  5. Self-actualisation implies the control of time – essentially, the establishing of zones of time which have only remote connections with external temporal orders. Holding a dialogue with time is the very basis of self-realisation, and using the ever-present moment to direct one’s future life course is essential.

  6. The reflexivity of the self extends to the body. Awareness of the body is central to the grasping of the moment. The point here is to establish a differentiated self, not to dissolve the ego.

  7. Self-actualisation is understood as a balance between opportunity and risk. The individual has to be prepared to take on greater levels of risk than is normal – to change is to risk things getting worse.

  8. The moral thread of self-actualisation is one of authenticity… Personal growth depends on conquering emotional blocks and tensions that prevent us from understanding ourselves – recover or repeat old habits is the mantra.

  9. The life course is seen as a series of ‘passages’. All such transitions involve loss.

  10. The line of development of the self is internally referential – it is the creation of a personal belief system by which someone changes – one’s first loyalty is to oneself.

    Giddens now asks how can we connect up these ten features of self-identity to the institutional transformations characteristic of the late-modern world?

Lifestyle and Life Plans

Therapy (and it’s focus on self-identity reconstruction) is a response to the backdrop to the existential terrain of late modern life which consists of the following features:

  • it is reflexively organised

  • it is permeated by abstract systems (money/ time)

  • the reordering of time and space has realigned the global and the local.

This has resulted in the following societal level changes 

  1. We live in a post-traditional order, the signposts offered by tradition are now blank

  2. We have a pluralisation of lifeworlds – the milieu which we are exposed to are much more diverse.

  3. Experts do not agree, so there is no longer a certain source of knowledge.

  4. The prevalence of mediated experiences – the collage effect of the media – we have new communities and shed loads of new possibilities.

All of this has results in the primacy of lifestyle (and thus lifestyle planning and therapy)

A lifestyle may be defined as a more or less integrated set of practices which an individual embraces because they give material form to a particular narrative of self-identity. A lifestyle implies a plurality of choices – it is something which is adopted rather than handed down (and should not merely be conflated with consumerism in this instance).

(NB Giddens also says that we do not all have complete freedom of choice over our lifestyles – we are restricted by work, and by class etc… and moreover, the lifestyle pattern we choose limits what we can do if we wish to maintain an authentic narrative of the self.

Life planning becomes essential in the above social context – life planning is an attempt to ‘colonise the future’.in conditions of social uncertainty – which is precisely what modern institutions do at the societal level.

Thus life-planning and therapy kind of ‘mirror’ a broader (globalised) social context which is itself reflexive.

Two things in particular become central to ‘life planning’– (1) The Pure Relationship comes to be crucial to the reflexive project of the self and (2) the body becomes subject of ever greater levels of personal control, which I’ll cover in the next blog post or two.